Espresso Vs Coffee: Differences You Didn’t Know About

“An extra shot of espresso please!” is probably among the the majority of popular lines you hear in a coffee shop. We already know the fundamental difference between coffee and espresso however how much do we actually understand about them? What secrets ought to we uncover between our favorite black gold?

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Coffee – it’s such a general term that covers so a number of different beverages. Have you ever wondered why your morning filter coffee from your machine at home tastes and looks entirely different to the espresso coffee drinks you order in a cafe? You’re not alone! As it turns out, espresso coffee and American coffee are entirely different drinks that suit different people in different situations. Not to mention all of the other forms of coffee such as Push pot coffee, pour over coffee or even instant coffee.

Entire books have been written on all the different kinds of coffee and we could speak about this topic for days. In this post therefore, we are going to be focusing on and answering the extremely important question why would you choose one vs the other?

Preparation Brews the Difference!

So, I discussed that espresso coffee was invented to make the coffee producing experience faster and more convenient.

American coffee was likewise invented to make it more convenient to brew and drip coffee. From this perspective coffee and espresso coffee are the same. Nevertheless, this is where the similarities stop.

Filter coffee brewing

Swan Neck Spout Kettle

Swan Neck Spout Kettle

Manual Drip coffee

Filter coffee is made simply by putting ground coffee beans into contact with hot water. The The hot water and coffee pass through a filter, letting the water extract the tastes from the beans over time. This procedure normally takes around 4 – 5 minutes. Filter coffee is a gravitation brewing procedure. We pour water over the grounds and then gravitation pulls all the water through the coffee bed, extracting soluble solids in the way.

For filter coffee to work, we need to grind the beans to a medium grind size. The grind size serves as a timer for the brewing technique. Grind too fine, and brewing will take too long, (and over-extract). Grind too coarse and the brewing will be too fast, (will under-extract). The medium grind allows the water to flow for the 4-5 minutes exactly.

For our filter coffee tutorial, check this page: How To Make Drip coffee. Is a perfect article, aimed at all barista levels from beginner to advanced.

On the other hand, the brewing time for an espresso, but, is maximum 30 seconds. How is this achieved?

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An espresso machine machine forces hot water through the ground coffee at very high pressure, (around 9 bar pressure), to achieve this quicker extraction.

In order to create the necessary resistance, coffee beans need to be ground much finer for espresso coffee than for filter coffee. The water still requires to be long enough in contact with the coffee in order to extract the right amount of aromas.

Espresso Brewing and Extraction

The extraction concept applies to espresso as well, too long the extraction, you get bitter coffee. Too short and and you get sour and weak coffee. When you ground too fine, the water will pass too slow through the puck of ground coffee. When you grind too coarse, water will pass too fast.

Check our espresso brewing guide, is actually, among the best brewing guides online. We go through all of the brewing aspects and show you what you can enhance, and how to fix your espresso coffee.

Espresso vs Coffee – Look and Taste

Drip coffee is thin and has no crema. Espresso coffee on the other hand is thick, oily and, if prepared properly, has a delicious crema sitting on top. American coffee tends to taste milder and brighter compared to espresso coffee, which flavors stronger and more full-bodied.

Now, we have mentioned how espresso coffee is made differently to coffee. Espresso requires high pressure and a fine coffee grind. American coffee callsfor a filter, courser grind and gravity. These different methods of brewing allow for different properties of the bean to pass into the coffee or into the espresso. First let’s deal with the look of the coffee.


We use a filter for American coffee to stop too lots of of the potentially adverse properties from the ground coffee getting into our drink. This is due to the reality that the water is in contact with the coffee for so much longer. The obvious exception to this rule is the French push, but that’s the topic for another post! The quicker brewing method for espresso has it’s advantages and disadvantages. The fact that the water is in contact with the coffee for much less time suggests there is no need for a filter.

Coffee Oil

No filter implies one thing to coffee aficionados – oil! The oil from the coffee bean contains lots of microscopic and insoluble substances. With no paper filter, some of these compounds find their way into the espresso coffee, even in the short brewing time. These substances don’t dissolve in water, which is why they don’t pass through the filter. This makes espresso coffee a much thicker, oilier consume.

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The oils in the espresso are emulsified into a colloid. What on earth does that mean, I hear you ask? A colloid is basically tiny particles from one substance that are suspended throughout another substance. This is important, due to the reality that it offers us our crema, and brings us onto the difference in taste between coffee and espresso.


The presence of oil in an espresso implies that we get more gorgeous flavors in our coffee from the oil. Crema is literally what’s important here though. It acts almost as a cover for the espresso coffee and locks in all of these aromas, keeping espreso flavorful for longer.

Drip coffee, on the other hand, has none of the oily properties, (or at least much, much less), that we find in an espresso coffee, so these flavors are missing. Nevertheless, all is not lost for American coffee. The truth that the water is in contact with the coffee beans for so much longer implies that it is able to extract different flavors over time that we don’t find in an espresso coffee.

Tasting Notes

The tasting notes in an espresso coffee tend to be darker, nuttier and more chocolaty (in coffee terms). Lots of espressos will have a more bitter taste than drip coffee. This is due to badly prepared coffee though more than an actual quality of the espresso coffee. Well prepared espresso coffee needs to be sweet to taste.

Average tasting notes for drip coffee then, tend to be fruiter, brighter and more acidic (in terms of PH, not actual acid). Whether espresso coffee or filter coffee is tastier or better is totally down to the individual. These flavors can likewise be adjusted and manipulated depending on the type of bean used and the kind of roast, more on that now.

Fun fact: If you add sugar to coffee, as well as making it sweeter, it steeps coffee more acidic, which is how we usually handle badly crafted coffee!

Various coffee bean roastsVarious coffee bean roasts

Average Roasts for Espresso coffee and Filter coffee

To a certain extent, espresso blends do tend to be darker roasted, and the main reason for that is that it steeps the extraction easier. With darker roasts, a home barista has more chances to get a decent shot than with lighter roasts. Likewise, this choice favors the roast aromas in dark roasts. For instance with dark roasted beans we get nutty, caramel and chocolate notes. With lighter roast we preserve fruity, bright, acidic. But this discussion deserves its own dedicated space.

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Historically, American coffee beans have been roasted in the range from medium to dark. The reason was commercial. First off, it was easier to roast a consistent blend that way. A blend that people knew and got used to. Secondly, it was cheaper that way. Thirdly, coffee is an acquired taste, and the unprepared coffee lover will have a hard time changing tasting notes with every new bag of beans. And finally, an automatic American coffee maker provides you no control over the brewing recipe. Changing beans and roasts requires a higher degree of control over all brewing factors.

This is not very the case anymore even though, with the development of the specialty and Third Wave coffee movement. Coffee roasters now experiment with and use all kinds of roast for all kinds of brewing. I love to experiment with light roasted beans for my espresso machine.

A Myth Debunked – Caffeine!

Nearly everybody presumes that espresso coffee has more caffeine than coffee because it is thicker and stronger to taste. I undoubtedly did, and technically that is the case – if we are talking about the same amount of liquid. If we are talking about serving even though, our American coffee really has more caffeine in it than an espresso coffee.

Caffeine Quantities in Espresso coffee vs Filter coffee

A fundamental espresso serving is one fluid ounce. An average cup of filter coffee is 8 fluid ounces, and probably bigger for the standard coffee drinker! This implies that a standard espresso coffee has up to 80 milligrams of caffeine whereas an 8 ounce cup of American coffee has up to 185 milligrams of caffeine.

If you do the quick math, you’ll see that even a double espresso serving contains less caffeine than a standard coffee cup, so for your caffeine tweak – stick to your drip coffee!

I always raved about coffee’s versatility, and how from two ingredients, water and coffee beans we can make so a number of different beverages. Espresso and American coffee – two totally different drinks, both technically coffee. They appeal to different coffee lovers,

This article is based on an idea that firstly appeared at Coffee Brewing Methods, a website that publishes coffee brewing guides, equipment reviews, and coffee beans buying guides.

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