Last Updated on September 28, 2021 by John Moretti
If you’ve ever wandered into a café and been confused by the menu and its hundreds of choices between espressos and coffees, you’re not alone. Many people asked the difference between espresso vs. coffee, which tastes better, and how they’re made. Read on to have your questions answered and never get embarrassed ordering at your local coffee shop ever again.
Espresso is a rich, intense style of coffee that originated in Italy. It uses finely ground beans brewed with steam to produce a distinctive and concentrated flavor. Conversely, regular coffee can be made in various ways, but, regardless, it is generally lighter and milder than espresso.
Now that we’ve handled the basics, we can have a more in-depth look at the differences and similarities between espresso and regular coffee, as well as how to enjoy them both. Read on to discover how to brew each of them, how to serve them, what they taste like. Not only that, but we’ll also tell you which might be best for you.
Espresso Is A Style Of Coffee
First things first, espresso is a style of coffee, although it is a unique one. When you think of coffee, you’re probably thinking of drip coffee, instant coffee, or pour-over coffee. There are hundreds of styles available. Espresso is just one of many.
Nevertheless, for this article, we’ll be taking drip coffee as our regular coffee. Drip coffee is the most common kind you’ll likely find in your house, office, or favorite restaurant. It’s straightforward to make and has a memorable flavor.
So, both espresso and regular coffee are brewed from beans. Specifically, coffee beans are roasted, ground, and then brewed with hot water to make the beverage we all know and love. Although the roasts might differ, both have the same raw materials.
You brew regular coffee in such a way that the grounds spend minutes in contact with the water. However, espressos can be made in only seconds because they use pressurized steam or boiling water that’s quickly forced through the grounds.
Regardless, because both are coffee, you can expect them to taste, well, like coffee. Both are caffeinated and contain the same healthy antioxidants. The chances are that you can get both at any good café too.
Espresso Vs. Regular Coffee
Brewing Method and Equipment
You’ll need a specialized machine to brew drip coffee. It works by heating a reservoir of water, forcing it upwards into what’s effectively a showerhead. After that, the hot water drips down out the showerhead and onto the grounds. A carafe below the coffee grounds and their paper filter catches the brewed coffee, and there you go.
On the other hand, although you still need a machine to brew espresso, the process is entirely different. Espressos are brewed by forcing pressurized steam or boiling water through the grounds.
Because of the pressure that you need to brew good espresso, the machines can get pretty expensive. While any genuinely great coffee isn’t cheap to make yourself, a deluxe espresso machine can cost thousands. Fortunately, far more affordable models exist for the rest of us.
This price has a purpose, though. To get the uniquely intense and rich flavor of espresso, you do need a specialized machine. If you aren’t convinced, however, don’t panic. You can still get fantastic coffee out of a Moka pot or a French press, but it’ll take more effort than just pressing a button.
Taste And Strength
Compared to regular coffee, espresso is intense. Because the grounds-to-water ratio is heavily weighted towards the grounds, each cup of espresso is strongly concentrated. Unlike regular drip coffee, espresso doesn’t use a paper filter, so all the coffee oils and flavor notes will reach the end product.
As such, you best sit down if you’re drinking espresso. You don’t have to, but a shot of espresso can be strong enough to warrant it. The crema on an espresso, that reddish-brown foam on top, is packed with delicious and powerful aromas.
Crema results from the mixing of coffee oils and air bubbles at high pressure. It makes an espresso naturally creamier than regular coffee, even without milk. So, crema is what infuses the whole drink with flavor and leaves that legendary smooth aftertaste.
Overall, espresso has a far more robust flavor than regular coffee. It’s darker, stronger, and more flavorful.
Some people do complain that espresso is too strong, though. Others aren’t fans of its increasingly acidic taste, and many do simply prefer a lighter cup.
Type Of Beans
Both drip coffee and espresso are made from coffee beans, but they’re roasted, and ground differs significantly. Regular coffee typically uses a light to medium roast and a medium grind. For dripping hot water through the grounds and then paper filters, this works very well.
However, to get the desired intensity, an espresso’s coffee beans are roast dark and ground until they’re as fine as powdered sugar. Doing so ensures a sweeter, slightly caramelized taste, plus less acidity overall.
Note that although you can find espresso beans, they’re nothing special. There’s no particular espresso plant here, just dark roast beans.
Country Of Origin
While people worldwide enjoy regular coffee and have for centuries, espresso has a specific point of origin.
Espresso originated in Italy in 1901. Its success was unprecedented. The coffee style spread internationally, and it became popular in America, where restaurants mixed it with milk and sugar to make a latte.
You serve regular coffee a standard-size cup, and adding milk or cream is relatively standard. Many people enjoy it sweetened too and, here, brown sugar is best.
Conversely, espressos are served in a tiny cup. Although they’re far more robust than regular coffee, the actual amount of liquid is minimal because they’re so concentrated. A single shot of espresso is only 2-3 fluid ounces, while a cup of coffee is 8-12.
Espressos are also mixed with milk and milk foam very frequently. You might’ve heard of cappuccinos, macchiatos, and lattes. All of these are combinations of espresso and milk. Mix more hot water with an espresso, and you’ll wind up with an americano.
Because they’re so small, standard espressos are often drunk standing as well, or just on the go. What you do for mixed drinks varies. It’s best to judge it on the situation at hand.
Although this may surprise you, regular coffee is more caffeinated than espresso. Nevertheless, espressos are still stronger because they concentrate the caffeine they do have. As such, if you want a wake-up call, order a double espresso.
However, you can order both drip coffee and espresso decaffeinated. You can also brew with them decaf beans with no problem.
The Final Word
Neither espresso nor regular drip coffee is objectively better. Choose the one that suits you best.
If you enjoy a small, creamy, and intense cup of coffee with bold flavors and high caffeine content, order an espresso.
However, if you prefer your morning brew lighter and milder, stick to drip coffee. Not only is it more affordable, but you get more drink overall.