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.
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).
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.
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.
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.
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