Espresso vs Drip Coffee – Can’t Decide? What is the difference, anyway?

Do you ever go into your favorite coffee shop and wonder if you should try an Espresso instead of your usual drip or pour-over cup of coffee? Wondering what the difference is? Will I like the taste? Is it going to make me feel jittery from all that caffeine? What is all that foam on top, and why is it there?

Here are the answers to your musings over espresso and a regular cup of coffee.

Do you use the same coffee beans for drip coffee and espresso?

The main difference between espresso and drip coffee is how the beans are ground and how the coffee is extracted from the beans. An espresso bean is not a particular type of bean at all. It is a very, very fine grind of a darker roasted bean. The grind is so fine that it is like powdered or table sugar! The grind used in a drip coffee pot or pour-over is much more coarse.  Espresso takes very little time to make, usually under a minute.  Drip coffee takes more time.

Espresso beans are roasted until they are a darker roast, and are oily looking.  Many people use these same types of beans for their drip coffee too – How many beans are in a cup of coffee?

How is Espresso made compared to Drip Coffee?

Espresso is pulled or extracted with a particular espresso machine. The powdery grind is then packed tightly, and boiling water is used. The machine’s pressure forces the boiling hot water through the grind, and out comes your delicious espresso! 

It is super concentrated and has a layer of crema on top. Espresso has the viscosity or thickness of pouring warm honey. You can even put some honey into the espresso- doesn’t that sound yummy?

Drip Coffee Maker vs. Percolator – Which Makes Better Coffee?

What is the Crema on Espresso?

The layer of crema on top is just like the layer of foam you get on a cold beer. With such high pressure in making the espresso, there are gases, and when the hot liquid hits your cup, it cannot hold all those gasses, so the chemicals attach to them and form the crema. Freshly roasted beans produce more crema or foam than ones that were not roasted so recently. Also, darker crema means stronger tasting coffee.

Espresso is served in a tiny cup and should be savored. Espresso drinks include cappuccinos, lattes, and flat whites.  All of these drinks use espresso and steamed/frothed milk.

Besides, espresso has some benefits over drip coffee. For one thing, espresso doesn’t use paper or metal filters, as many drip coffee machines do. This allows many of the oils and minerals that are naturally present to flow into the coffee, giving it more health benefits.

You can also eat espresso beans! They can be eaten to gain energy. They will have a bitter taste, so I recommend that you choose chocolate-covered espresso beans! Healthy for mind and body.

Drip coffee is much easier to make at home. You can use the pour-over method, French Press, or a typical coffee maker. Drip coffee has a simpler, more rounded taste profile than espresso. There is no crema or foam layer with a drip or French pressed coffee.

How do you grind the beans for espresso and pour-over coffee?

With your average coffee maker, or if you pour the hot water over the coffee grounds, the hot water gets dripped or poured over or through your coffee beans. Usually, a paper or metal filter is used between the water and the coffee (Cone vs Flat Coffee Filter). Drip coffee beans are generally ground more coarsely than the finely ground espresso beans described above. This makes the coffee less intense and, therefore, less concentrated.

The more coarse the grind of your bean, the weaker your coffee will taste.  The finer it is ground, the more robust it will taste.  Grind your drip coffee too fine, and you may end up with bitter-tasting coffee – Burr Grinder vs Blade Grinder – Which grinds more evenly?

But wait! Fine ground coffee (How many times can i reuse coffee grounds?) makes a delicious espresso. So, why doesn’t it work to make drip coffee? The water is dripped over the beans is a long process, and that means the water is in contact with the beans for a more extended period, as you wait for the water to filter through the coffee and make its way into the coffee pot.  

If you love to grind your coffee beans very fine, use less coffee, and you will be happy. Remember, though, too fine a grind, and it is easier for the solids to get through your filter, and your coffee will not be clear. This is especially true if you are using a metal or fixed filter.

What type of roast produces better coffee?

Using a dark roast or light roast for your drip coffee is just your taste preference. A lightly roasted bean sees less heat, so it has more moisture left in it and will be denser. It also has more caffeine and a brighter taste. Darker roasts “cook” longer and will be less dense and will have less caffeine. The body of a darker roast is thicker and nuttier in flavor. Either one works well in a drip coffee maker or French Press.  

Speaking of caffeine, do you get more or less caffeine with an espresso or a cup of coffee? Earlier, we wondered if the espresso shot would make us jittery. Of course, that depends on you and whether caffeine makes you antsy.  Having said that, you get more caffeine in your regular cup of drip coffee than you do in an espresso shot. Surprised?

This is because when you make an espresso, it makes about one ounce. No one drinks just one ounce of drip coffee! A cup of joe in your favorite coffee shop is usually 8-12 ounces. Espresso has a higher concentration of caffeine per ounce, but because you are drinking more drip coffee, you get more caffeine. Caffeine amounts vary from café to café, but a shot of espresso can contain from 50-80 milligrams of caffeine, and a 12-ounce cup of coffee can have 120 milligrams!

So, Which is better? Coffee or Espresso?

All in all, how one drinks their coffee is a very personal preference. Some people love strong black coffee, and others love some cream and/or sugar in it. With espresso, some love it with sugar, and some like it best made into a latte or cappuccino. Drinking a mug of freshly brewed coffee is an entirely different experience than having a shot of espresso. 

Espresso is savored in European cafes, sipped slowly, despite it being only one ounce. The most significant difference besides personal preference is the brew method. Espresso is brewed quickly and is more concentrated than the slower brewed drip method. It uses a darker roast with less acid and is pressured with steam in the espresso machine. The grind is much finer. 

The beans you choose to use can be the same regardless of your brewing method, be sure to grind it correctly.

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