Espresso vs. Coffee – What’s the Difference?
As a coffee aficionado, it is vital to know your brews. Unfortunately, many coffee lovers that have been making and taking coffee for many decades still do not understand the difference between coffee and espresso.
To simply state it, all espressos are coffee but not all coffee is espresso. Well, that might not be very clear for some, but our comprehensive comparison below will make things clearer.
In definition, espresso is a strong black coffee that is made by forcing steam at high pressure through finely ground coffee beans.
Coffee, on the other hand, is brew made by pouring hot water over more coarsely ground beans placed on a filter. But, coffee can also be made through siphoning and by steeping coffee grinds in cold water for many hours.
Period and Place of Origin
16th Century AD in the Arabian Peninsula
9th Century AD in Ethiopia and Yemen
40-75 mg for every 1 oz shot
80-185 mg for every 8 oz cup
Medium for pour over, coarse for French press, extra-coarse for cold-brewing
How it is Made
Made using an espresso machine that uses pressure to push almost boiling water through finely ground coffee beans
Coffee grinds are placed in a filter and hot water poured over it for pour-over coffee or by steeping course grounds in water before pressing them out using a plunger for French press
2-4 minutes for pour over, 4 minutes for French press and at least 12 hours for cold brewing
Types of Drink
Drip coffee, French press, cold brew, instant coffee, Aeropress
Espresso, latte, cappuccino, macchiato, flat white, mochaccino, Americano
Espresso vs. Coffee
1. Caffeine Content
Caffeine is one of the main reasons why many people take coffee, and so as you compare coffee and espresso, it is vital to understand what each beverage contains to determine which one will work for you.
Typically, the amount of caffeine that you get from you brew will depend on the serving size as it is obvious that the more coffee you take the more caffeine you get.
However, given that espressos are bolder and stronger, they will typically have more caffeine. A typical double shot of espresso (2 ounces) will contain between 60 and 100 mg of caffeine.
For coffee, a 2-ounce serving will contain only 16 to 30 mg caffeine meaning it can be as little as a quarter of what you get from the same quantity of espresso.
But given that espresso is served in shots and few people can drink a full cup of espresso, coffee still provides more caffeine than espresso. And this is because a standard 8-ounce cup of coffee has at least 80 mg caffeine compared to the 40 mg you would get on a 1-ounce shot of espresso.
Coffee beans need to be roasted to bring out their rich flavors and there are different ways and types of roasts which will be ideal for different kinds of brews.
For the best espressos, you need coffee beans that have been roasted till they are very dark. Dark roasting not only brings out the rich and bold flavors but can also withstand the high pressure under which espressos are brewed.
With a dark roast, you will also get a full body flavor with low acidity, and it is also more ideal for making milk-based espresso drinks like cappuccinos and lattes.
For coffee, a lighter roast is more preferred, and this is more so for pour-over brewing because it brings out the brighter and fruitier flavors which are what many coffee lovers like.
3. Grind Size
Espresso making is one of the most unforgiving methods of making coffee, and so if you get something as simple as the grind size wrong you can end up with a horrible tasting brew.
You need the grind size to be fine to make the perfect espressos. Nevertheless, if the grind is too fine, the brew will end up being too bitter because of over-extraction.
Also, if you make the coffee grounds a little too course, you will not get that punch and bold flavor you would expect from an espresso shot as the coffee beans will be under-extracted.
A simple way to tell whether the grind size is right for espresso or not is by checking the size of the particles, and if they are between the size of flour and salt particles they will be perfect.
For pour over and French press coffee, you need a coarser grind. To be more specific, the grind for French press should be coarse given the longer brew time and to ensure you do not end up with grinds in your cup while a medium grind is perfect for pour-over.
4. Brewing Methods
Although there are different types of espresso machines, the principle behind this coffee brewing method is the same. And this principle is passing heated water through coffee grounds at high pressure.
The process takes 20-30 seconds and although different machine will have different pressure rating, you will typically only need 9 bars of pressure to make espresso.
The different types of espresso makers include manual, semi-automatic, fully automatic and super automatic. Manual espresso machines will give you a more hands-on approach while the super automatic models are those that will do everything for you at the push of a button.
With coffee, the tastes that you get from these different brewing methods differ, and so before you settle on any method, you should first identify the kind of coffee that you prefer. Also, the brew time will vary with the cold-brew being the slowest and automatic coffee makers being the fastest.
The flavor that you get from your brew is another key element that sets coffee and espresso apart, and it is also what many people will consider when choosing between the two.
Because espresso is typically a blend of different beans from different parts of the world, the brew provides subdued acidity, a heavy body and a great balance of different coffee flavors.
With drip coffee, you will not get the same full range of flavor that you would get from espressos because the paper filters will filter out a huge portion of the natural oils in the coffee beans.
Also, the relatively longer brew time of coffee will bring out more phytic and tannic acids which may prevent the desirable flavors from coming out.
While still at the flavor, it is also important to note that making espresso from beans that are over-roasted or using super fine grinds can make the brew too bitter.
6. Acidity and pH
Coffee acidity is based on the taste and should therefore not be confused with the pH level. Brews with high acidity levels are referred to as bright while those with low acidity are smooth and when the acidity is too low the brew is flat.
A typical cup of coffee will have a pH level of 5 which is higher than milk's pH level of 6, and the phytic and tannic acids in the beans are what will determine the acidity and pH level.
The dark roast beans that are used for espresso will be less acidic, but the extraction time also matters. Because espressos have a shorter brew time, there is not enough time for the acids to come out, and this explains the lower acidity levels.
For coffee with longer brew time like cold brews, the acidity is likely to be higher, and so the pH level will be lower. With cold-brewing, there is more than enough time for the phytic and tannic acids to seep into the brew.
7. Serving Size
The typical serving size of a cup of coffee is 8 ounces while for espresso it is 1 ounce. But, espressos are stronger given their size and will pack more caffeine.
Coffee aficionados that like taking stronger coffee will often add a few shots of espresso to their coffee to improve its boldness and enhance its taste and flavor.
You can also take espresso as a double shot which is about 2 ounces or the 1-1/2-ounce lungo. Also, espresso forms the base for milk-based brews like cappuccinos and lattes which will have a larger serving size.
What Should You Take?
Ultimately the choice between coffee and espresso will be solely up to you, your preferences and of course what you find easy and convenient to make during the morning dash.
But, if you prefer a brew that packs a punch or just something stronger with bolder flavors and less acidity, one or two shots of espresso will be your best bet.
On the other hand, if you are one of those characters that just want to drink lots of coffee and fancy something that does not require any special technique or machine to make, coffee is it.
All in all, the best idea is always to try both espresso and the different types of coffee until you find that perfect brew. Most coffee aficionados will drink both espresso and regular coffee and will only pick their brew based on their moods.