Although espresso is technically coffee, there are some differences between the two drinks. For people who already know the difference between coffee and espresso and have a particular preference between the two, it can be quite disappointing to order an espresso and get a cup of drip coffee instead.
- 1 What Is Coffee?
- 2 What Is Espresso?
- 3 Is There Milk in Them?
- 4 Is Coffee Weaker or Stronger Than Espresso?
- 5 Do You Need a Special Kind of Coffee for Espresso?
- 6 Can You Grind Your Own Espresso?
- 7 Can You Make Instant Espresso?
- 8 Is Espresso Healthy?
- 9 Final Thoughts
We’re going to walk you through the difference between espresso vs coffee. This helps you understand both the difference between coffee and espresso with regards to the production process and the taste.
You’ll find that the overall taste is completely different, even if you start out with the same coffee and espresso beans, and that the two terms can’t be used interchangeably.
What Is Coffee?
Coffee (coffee beans) is a natural, agricultural product that is used to brew different types of coffee, including espresso. Coffee beans are basically the seeds of the coffee plant, which, after fermentation and roasting, are brewed using different techniques.
The basic type of brewing that is well-known throughout the world and has different names such as Turkish coffee or cowboy coffee simply involves boiling ground coffee beans in hot water. This method is known as a decoction. Other techniques include making coffee using a French press, a drip coffee maker, etc.
This brings us to a very important question – what is espresso, and how is it brewed to make it different from decocted coffee?
What Is Espresso?
Espresso is a tiny but almost violently strong shot of coffee.
The process of making espresso involves using a special espresso machine that forces hot water to pass through a puck of ground coffee beans at high pressure (the puck is basically compressed coffee grounds in a shape that resembles a hockey puck). You usually use a special espresso machine to brew a shot.
Espresso machines are completely different from other coffee makers. The coffee flavor is extracted using hot, pressurized water and very finely ground espresso beans. When you make espresso the brewing cycle is much shorter than the process for drip coffee.
Another unique feature of an espresso coffee is the layer of crema (foam) on top. In fact, the crema in a cup of espresso can even help you identify whether or not fresh coffee beans were used during the manufacturing process.
Basically, the high-pressured water absorbs more carbon dioxide released during the coffee extraction process. When this extracted coffee enters an empty cup, and the pressure is released from the liquid, this carbon dioxide forms a bubbly layer on top. Freshly roasted coffee will have a thicker layer of crema. The darker the crema, the stronger the drink is.
Types of Espresso
Within this category, there are different types of espresso shots that you can get. These include:
- Doppio- contains 2 shots of espresso within a single cup
- Lungo- similar to doppio but the espresso flavor is more concentrated
- Ristretto- this contains a single, concentrated shot of espresso
- Café Noisette- contains a double shot of espresso and a single shot of steamed milk
- Macchiato- contains 2 shots of espresso with a little foamed milk.
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How to Drink Espresso
Even though it’s served as a shot, you shouldn’t drink it the same way. Start by stirring it to dissolve any floating bits and then sip it slowly to be able to soak in the flavor properly.
Is There Milk in Them?
Although both drip coffee and espresso are brewed with water, they may have some variants that have milk in them; for instance, an espresso macchiato. As both beverages can have milk in them there’s really no difference between espresso and coffee in this regard.
Espresso is also often used as a base for many caffeinated drinks that contain milk, such as:
- Cappuccino- contains espresso and both steamed and foamed milk (Do Cappuccinos have Caffeine?)
- Mocha- contains espresso, milk, and chocolate
- Flat white- contains a little bit of espresso with extra milk (ideal for people who can’t stomach very strong coffee).
Many other beverages use either espresso or coffee as a base – the variety depends on what the café you’ve gone to has on the menu or what equipment you have to make your drink at home.
Is Coffee Weaker or Stronger Than Espresso?
Generally, a cup of drip coffee (percolator vs drip) will have a higher caffeine content than a shot of espresso. However, espresso has a higher caffeine concentration per ounce. Therefore, when it gets down to the difference between espresso and brewed coffee, the espresso will taste stronger but have less caffeine.
Most people will have a shot – at most 2 – of espresso at one time, so the caffeine they’ll be getting will be less than what they would get from a cup of drip coffee. The espresso shot is roughly one ounce while your typical cup of coffee will be 6 to 8 times that. The larger amount in a cup of coffee results in higher caffeine intake while the caffeine per ounce is higher in espresso.
The reason why espresso shots are more intense is that, as we said, the per ounce concentration is higher. The brewing process with an espresso maker also uses very finely ground coffee and high pressure, so more flavor is extracted.
Do You Need a Special Kind of Coffee for Espresso?
The coffee beans used for coffee and espresso are essentially the same. The way they are processed varies.
Coffee used for espresso includes a blend of different types of beans. These espresso beans are roasted until they are quite dark and almost oily-looking. There are many roasting stages and you can find light, medium, and dark roasts available. After the beans are roasted, the blend of espresso and coffee beans is then ground to an extremely fine consistency, almost like powdered sugar.
Espresso is usually made from Arabica or Rustica coffee beans – an Arabica coffee bean has a sweeter, fruitier taste, whereas Rustica has a nuttier flavor.
The coffee grinds you use for drip coffee are quite course and will need to be brewed for longer to release the full flavor. Espresso needs to have the espresso beans to be ground into a fine ground powder.
While you don’t need a special kind of coffee and espresso beans to make a shot of espresso, you do need a special kind of espresso machine to brew a perfect shot!
Can You Grind Your Own Espresso?
If you want to grind your own espresso, you’re going to need an espresso grinder. Luckily, there are automated and manually operated ones, so you can choose the machine that fits your budget.
If you’re using a Burr grinder, add the coffee beans to the filter and select the fine or superfine grind size (if it’s numbered, go for the highest one or test out a couple of different settings to see which one gets you the best grind).
Once you’ve been grinding for a while, stop the machine and check if the coffee clumps together when pressed – if it doesn’t, keep grinding until you reach that stage.
If you’re using a blade (hand) grinder, just remember that your grinds will not be as consistent as with a burr grinder. Most hand grinders work when you press down the lid of the machine.
Grind the coffee beans in 2-3 second bursts (if the blade gets too fast and warm, it will release the bitterness in the coffee). It usually takes a total of 20 seconds to grind the coffee, but this may vary depending on the blade. Check to see if they’re ready in the same way as for a burr grinder. You might notice some larger chunks – just pick these out before brewing.
A word to the wise; espresso brewed from freshly ground coffee beans will produce a better-tasting drink, so grind and brew as much coffee beans as you intend to make at the time.
Can You Make Instant Espresso?
In order to make an instant shot of espresso, you’ll need instant espresso powder. This is not the same thing as instant coffee. Instant espresso powder is generally stronger and more intense in flavor to match the expected flavor profile when you drink espresso and coffee.
Add about a teaspoon of the powder to around 8 ounces of hot water or cold water (depending on your preference). Stir the mix until it is completely mixed together. Give it a taste and if it’s not strong enough, add more powder. Make additions gradually to avoid overpowering the drink. If you add too much powder then level it off with more hot water.
You can add sugar, milk, or flavored syrups, depending on how you like your shot of espresso.
Since instant espresso is not made using high pressure, the layer of foam on top may not always be there. This depends on the brand and the blend you buy.
Is Espresso Healthy?
Espresso is considered to be healthier than some other forms of coffee since no coffee filter is involved. This allows the oils and nutritional minerals in the coffee grinds to pass through the extraction process. Espresso also contains valuable antioxidants and is low in calories (a great option for weight-watchers).
It is important to note that unfiltered coffee has the ability to raise your cholesterol levels. As long as you only take a shot or two at a time, you should be fine. If your dosage is higher, it might be something to be concerned about.
Now that you know what exactly drip coffee and a shot of espresso is, you can clearly see that the two beverages are definitely not the same. Not just because they are brewed differently, but also because the end result is different.
Espresso is a small, but very intense shot of coffee. Other types of coffee, including drip coffee and otherwise brewed coffee, are served in larger quantities and have higher caffeine content.
You can use the same coffee beans to produce both. The taste will be completely different between coffee and espresso because of the different roasting time, grind size, and brewing time.
Perhaps the one similarity the two have is that using freshly ground coffee beans will produce a more delicious tasting cup of drip coffee or espresso. The major difference between espresso vs coffee is in the grind of the coffee beans and the need to use a special espresso machine for brewing!
The next time you go to a café, make sure you order the drink you like, not the one with the fancier sounding name. If you order an espresso, you’ll get it faster since it requires only 20-30 seconds of brewing as opposed to regular coffee, which may take a minute or longer, depending on the size of the coffee grinds. Get your cup of coffee or espresso, or any blended variety, and enjoy!
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