Have you ever wondered what the actual differences are between espresso and coffee? Perhaps you’re confused because you’ve seen people use the two terms interchangeably? If so, you’re not alone.
If we’re being technical about things, yes, espresso is coffee in essence. After all, it’s made from coffee beans, and uses the same secondary ingredient: water.
However, further examination reveals that espresso and coffee essentially represent two main, distinct genres of coffee. Yes, there are some similarities, but much more difference when all is said and one.
So, with that said, below we’ll take a look at the difference between coffee and espresso, mainly in regards to how each is made, flavor profiles, and the various beverages one can make from each.
This is where it all starts. Different levels of coarseness with the coffee grounds is the first main variance between the two.
The grind level with espresso is on the finer end of the spectrum. Although not as fine as Turkish, espresso grind has a consistency that is similar to grains of table salt.
When ground correctly, you should be able make the grounds stick together with a little bit of pressure. Any type of beans can technically be used for espresso, but using a medium-dark roast is preferred for best results.
Different coffee brewing methods have slightly different grinds, but for standard drip makers, the coarseness is about twice of what you’ll find with espresso. When ground, the coffee will not stick together, and has the consistency of couscous. Any type of bean can be used for drip coffee.
The brewing method is the other main difference between coffee and espresso.
Brewing espresso always involves the same factors. The espresso machine exerts up to 15 atmospheres (ATM) of pressure that forces a small amount of hot water through the tightly packed coffee portion, which is either in a portafilter, or inside of the machine if it’s an automatic model.
The result is a 1 to 1.5 ounce shot of thick, concentrated coffee, with a noticeable head of foam on top known as “crema”
Regular coffee involves hot water passing through grounds as well, but without any pressure. Ground coffee is placed in a filter or brew basket, where it remains while the water slowly passes through and into the carafe, mug, or cup.
The grind coarseness and brewing methods result in two vastly different flavor experiences.
Espresso - As you probably already know, espresso has a much stronger and more concentrated flavor as opposed to ordinary coffee. The crema on top is a tad bit sweeter, and the coffee’s flavor is brought to its fullest. The aroma and strength are unmatched when in their simplest form; the shot.
Coffee - Brewed coffee has a similar flavor profile, but it is not nearly as strong. While it is thinner, it does have a fuller body, and more flavor complexities that can be sensed. It’s also easier for most to drink without additional ingredients.
This is a subject that can cause a little confusion. Many think of drinking espresso as some easier way to get a stronger jolt of caffeine effect. In reality, it depends on how much you’re having, and how you’re drinking the espresso.
On average, a 1 ounce shot of espresso has around 68 mg of caffeine. By comparison, drip coffee has around 12-16 mg per ounce.
However, nobody is going to drink more than a few ounces of espresso at a time. If you have a double shot of espresso, you’re likely getting around 140 mg of caffeine. If you drink a 12 ounce cup of coffee, you’re getting around 180 mg.
So, although espresso has more per ounce, you get more caffeine with a moderate sized cup of coffee.
There are several different beverages one can make using espresso shots and brewed coffee. For espresso drinks, we’ll focus on what the espresso can be used to make, while the coffee section focuses on different brew types.
Here are some espresso beverage types.
Perhaps the most popular of all espresso drinks, a latte is made by combining espresso with any type of milk. If the latte is hot, it will have steamed milk with about 1 to 2 inches of dense foam on top.
Iced lattes are made by simply combining cold milk with espresso shots, and poured over ice.
This is a very drip coffee-like beverage that is made by combining espresso shots with hot water. The result is a smooth, full-bodied coffee beverage that has a more uniform flavor profile.
Although some mistakenly refer to any type of espresso drink with steamed milk as a cappuccino, that’s not entirely correct. A cappuccino is similar to a latte in that it has steamed milk and foam, but rather than a small amount of foam on top, a cappuccino is half foam, half steamed milk, giving it a lighter, airier feel and a slightly sweeter taste from the foamed milk.
Here are some coffee beverage types.
The most basic and popular of all coffees, drip coffee is made by slowly passing hot water through a basket or filter full of grounds, where it then “drips” into the mug or carafe below.
This method uses coarsely ground coffee. When brewing a french press, the coffee is placed into the carafe, and then hot water is added and left to brew the grounds for a few minutes. When the coffee is ready, a plunger-like filter is pressed down, trapping the grounds at the bottom, enabling the carafe to be poured.
Turkish brewing is one of the oldest methods, and can be done a few different ways. It involves brewing coffee that has been ground to a fine powder, where it’s then mixed in with hot water and dissolved. If desired, the grounds can be strained out.
This is a variation on drip brewing. Coffee is placed into a basket or filter, and then hot water is hand-poured over the grounds, passing into the mug or cup below. This is popular among coffee enthusiasts, as it gives them more control over the brewing.
The easiest and arguably best way to make iced coffee, cold brew is made by combining coarsely ground coffee with cold water, where it sits anywhere from 12-24 hours before being strained out. The result is a smooth, full-bodied iced coffee with complex flavors.
As you can see, there are some small, yet significant differences that exist between espresso and conventionally-brewed coffee. Now that you know how it all works, you can appreciate the many forms a coffee bean can be made into, and all the different beverages that come from it.