How is Espresso Different from Coffee?

Espresso originated in Italy around 1940-45 where they used mostly dark roasted beans but it can be made with any type of coffee bean at any level of roast. All espresso is coffee but not all coffee is espresso, which is set apart by its brewing process. Most coffee is brewed by allowing hot water to flow through ground coffee but espresso uses very high pressure to force the hot water (88°-93°C or 190°-200°F)  through finely ground coffee that has been packed into cakes.

The process usually takes about 30 seconds and the shorter exposure to water means there’s less acid than other brewing methods and the aromatic oils are preserved. As a result, espresso is generally thicker than coffee brewed by other methods and it is rich, aromatic, and velvety with a natural layer of crema, or foam, on top.

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Ideally, espresso is started by freshly grinding the beans. When making espresso, a fine ground coffee allows for more of the bean surface to be exposed to water for a more efficient brewing but if the grounds are too fine, they will clog the machine so it’s important to find the right grind for your machine. It is also important to pay attention to time, temperature, and pressure.

Espresso can be enjoyed alone served in demitasse cups which hold 2-4 ounces or as part of a variety of coffee drinks. Some coffee shops will not serve less than a doppio, or double shot of espresso. One shot of espresso is about one fluid ounce (30 g) and contains approximately 64 mg of caffeine whereas coffee has about 95 mg per 8 oz. cup (237 g).

Combined with milk or additional water, espresso is used to make drinks such as americano, cappuccino, latte and more. Most espresso-based coffee drinks sold in coffee shops contain more than one shot of espresso. For example, at Starbucks, a Grande Caffè Latte (16 oz) contains 150 mg of caffeine as does their Grande Iced Skinny Mocha (16 oz).

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Here is what some of the most popular espresso-based drinks are made of.
  • Affogato: Two shots espresso, three ounces of vanilla ice cream.
  • Americano: Two shots of espresso, three ounces of hot water.
  • Breve: Two shots espresso, three shots of half & half.
  • Cafe Noisette: Two shots espresso, one ounce steamed milk.
  • Con Panna: Two shots espresso, three ounces of whipped cream.
  • Cappuccino: Two shots espresso, two ounces steamed milk, two ounces foamed milk.
  • Flat White: Two shots espresso, four ounces steamed milk, topped with a hint of foamed milk.
  • Latte: Two shots espresso, ten ounces steamed milk with a hint of foamed milk.
  • Mocha: Two shots espresso, two ounces chocolate, one ounce of steamed milk.
  • Red Eye: Regular coffee topped with a shot of espresso.

Most popular American coffee shops also add flavored syrup and whipped cream to their specialty drinks.

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How to make espresso at home

AeroPress: An AeroPress is a very simple machine, usually made out of plastic that is lightweight and great for travel or even camping. It can be used to make regular coffee (1-3 cups per press) or espresso using a fast, total immersion brewing process resulting in low acidity and less bitterness. An AeroPress is a tube with a filter at the bottom. The coffee is placed at the bottom and water is added. A plunger creates pressure that forces coffee into the cup. They are usually easy to clean. Look for a microfilter to avoid grit, BPA free, and included tote bag if you plan to use it outside of your home. You may also need to purchase replacement filters. Aeropress Coffee and Espresso Makers typically cost about $30-$35.

Moka Pot: Moka Pots originated in Italy and come in various sizes making 1-12 cups of strong, rich, and velvety coffee on your stovetop in less than five minutes. To make coffee, fill the lower chamber with water, insert the funnel and fill it with ground coffee. Screw the pot on top and heat. As the water gets hot, it will gurgle and come out of a center post to fill the upper pot. Stir and serve. Moka Pots are easy to clean and range in prices from about $20-$50.

French Press: You cannot make a genuine espresso with a french press but if you are desperate, you can make an adequate substitute. It will not be frothy like espresso but will be richer than regular coffee. Normally with a french press, you use a coarse ground coffee but for an espresso-like brew, you will need it finely ground and it will take a little more coffee than usual. You will need to heat the water in a kettle to just below 200 degrees. To release the flavor of the beans, add a splash of hot water to the grounds and let them soak for about thirty seconds. Pour the rest of the water over the grounds, close the lid, and steep for about four minutes. Press the plunger halfway, slowly and steadily. Raise it up and plunge again. Expect to pay $15-$30 for a french press.

Espresso Machine: Espresso machines come in a variety of styles; some are mostly manual and others grind, tamp, and brew the coffee for you. Many will also steam milk. Espresso machines come in dozens of styles starting at around $40 and going up into the thousands.

If you want to add steamed or frothed milk

Steamed milk: Heat milk in a pan on the stove or in the microwave until it reaches between 140 and 155 degrees Fahrenheit (60-68 Celsius).

Frothed milk: Place heated milk in a small bowl and whisk by hand or with an electric mixer. Alternatively, place in a small jar with a lid and shake.

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So, there you have it, the answer to the question: “How is Espresso Different from Coffee?”

Now that you know that espresso is coffee that is made by using pressure to force water through freshly ground coffee, you can decide what the best method for making it is for you. Click below to take a closer look at the machines used in each of the methods mentioned above. If you have any questions or comments, please leave them below and I will get back to you as soon as possible.

==> CLICK HERE for Espresso Machines, AeroPress, Moka Pot, and French Press Options <==


As an Amazon Associate, I earn from qualifying purchases. ~Theresa

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16 Replies to “How is Espresso Different from Coffee?”

  1. Wow!

    I didn’t know so much goes into making espresso. I would think that since making espresso is a somewhat complex process that the espresso machines would be more expensive.

    And I think it’s pretty cool that there are espresso-based drinks for those who don’t want to drink straight espresso. I like that the different ones have their own names.

    I love that you even included how to make espresso at home in this post.

    Thanks for this great info!

  2. Love Love Love this! So informative. Growing up in my house when we were little my Dad used to have a shot of espresso without fail every morning he always used to say after it ‘that will make the hairs on my chest grow’ reading this post has made me smile, brought a lot of nostalgia my way!  

    1. Hahaha! I recall that expression but I don’t think it was tied to espresso. The words must have been meant for my brother as I managed to grow up without chest hair!

  3. So are you saying that my Starbucks Vanilla Grande Caffè Latte has espresso in it, Lol. I had no idea despite the fact that I don’t care if espresso is in my latte. I just know that is it delicious. Also I tried shots of espresso before and I just feel it’s too thick for me. Thanks for sharing the difference between espresso and coffee, enjoyed the article.

    1. Thanks for your comment. I usually drink something with chocolate in it when I go to Starbucks. Sometimes it masks the flavor of the espresso, but my body knows it’s there and is always sure to remind me right around bedtime.

  4. This is a very interesting article, I always wondered what the difference was.  At home I make a regular cup of coffee with my keurig then I shake heavy whipping cream in a jug and when I pour it out, its nice and frothy just how I like it.

    I am wondering if this can be done with a keurig machine?  Also is there a difference in caffeine content, I was always told espresso was sooo much stronger than regular coffee just packed in a smaller serving?

    1. By serving, coffee has more caffeine because a serving of coffee is larger than a serving of espresso. Ounce for ounce, espresso has more caffeine. A Keurig machine works like an automatic drip and does not create the amount of pressure needed for espresso.

  5. I’m glad I read your post because I forgot so much of this info! I purchased an aero press around Christmas for myself and loooove it. It does take a little more time but it’s totally worth it. Besides that, it’s much better for the environment compared to all the k-cups I used to use! Thanks for the break down of popular espresso drinks too. That’s so helpful!

  6. Wow! I did not know there was so much to learn about espresso. You have to pretty much be a bartender if you want to become a barista. It would be a nice crossover.

    I know you recommended getting an espresso machine to make espresso. It makes sense. Which one is the top of the line though? I want to spare no expense for my morning brew.

    Thank you for sharing and I hope you make it a great day!

  7. I always wondered what the difference is between espresso and just normal cup of coffee, your post has helped me understand the difference.
    I also have learned other things about coffee too, I am so happy I came across your website, very helpful.

  8. oh my gosh, as much as I have always loved coffee, I have grown very tired and bored with my k-cups. lol I used to love espresso and my husband enjoys a good cappuccino. Reading this, you are convincing me that I NEED to get a machine so I can make some REAL coffee!! My husband will probably love you for it, too!! lol

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