What’s the Difference Between a Pour Over and Espresso? (Complete Guide)

Last Updated on June 27, 2023 by Barry Gray

I always love comparing different types of coffee, no matter if it involves various beans or brewing methods. It’s interesting to see how the same beans can result in so many different flavors, and it’s all thanks to the extraction and brewing methods.

In this instance, I will focus on two popular forms of coffee: the pour over and espresso. So, what’s the difference, and what else should you know about it?

Both an espresso and pour over use different extraction methods to get the coffee. Espresso uses pressure while the pour over uses gravity, with both getting different end results.

When you simply look at the extraction methods, you see that there’s a major difference between the two brewing methods. Yet, does it change the taste, and what else is there to know about both of these approaches?

That’s what I’m going to delve into right now.

espresso vs pour over

What is Pour Over Coffee?

Before I go into the differences between the two, let’s look briefly at what the pour over method entails.

This is a brewing method that I feel is becoming more popular in recent years, and it is very easy to do.

All you need is a pour over coffee maker and some paper filters. Oh, and you need those coffee granules and some hot water.

I feel the pour over looks quite cool, but it does require some patience on your part, as no pressure is included in the preparation of the coffee.

What is Espresso?

Of the two options, I would say an espresso is the most well-known. Also, it forms the base of so many drinks that most people will have experienced an espresso, even if it is in a latte or Americano.

For this, you need an espresso machine, and they can vary in both size and price. It uses pressure and water being forced through the granules to get the coffee leading to a stronger brew.

I certainly feel an espresso looks far more elaborate thanks to the equipment being used, but that’s not always a good thing.

What Equipment Do You Need?

pour over coffee maker

Both an espresso and pour over require their own equipment to produce the drink. But they are at opposite ends of the scale as to cost and what’s needed.

Take the espresso machine as an example. It can be expensive and also bulky, with not everyone having the space in their kitchen for a larger machine.

A pour over coffee maker takes up less space. Also, purchasing a pour over coffee maker is relatively inexpensive. 

How Do You Extract Coffee With Both a Pour Over and Espresso?

coffee grains

It’s immediately evident that both a pour over and espresso takes different approaches to the actual extraction of the coffee. After all, one uses a machine, and the other has no electrical input at all.

Now, I will talk about how that changes the taste of the coffee shortly, but as of right now, let’s focus on how you get the coffee in the first place.

The Coffee Grains

At the heart of it all are the coffee granules, and there is a bit of a difference in what you should use to get the best coffee at the end.

With an espresso, it must be a fine grind to get the best results. A fine grind combined with the pressure of the water being forced through the coffee does mean the maximum flavor is pulled from the coffee.

A pour over is different. While you could use a fine grind with the filter, it’s not something I would suggest you do all of the time.

Instead, I prefer a medium grind with a pour over, and I’ll explain why when taking you through how the coffee is extracted.

The Extraction Process

I’ve mentioned how the espresso uses pressure and water to extract the coffee, and that is why you need to have an espresso machine complete with pressure bars to let you know it’s working perfectly.

For an espresso, you get finely ground coffee in order to make a shot by attaching it to your espresso machine. Water is forced through the grains, and the coffee drops down below.

With a pour over, you take a different approach.

Using a medium coarse grind is key. Too fine a grind means you will over extract the coffee, which then ruins the pour over experience, while too large a grind means the water pours through the coffee, giving you a weak brew.

So, that is why a medium coarse grind is an important thing here.

To get your coffee, you add the grains to the paper filter on your coffee maker. Then, you pour hot water over the grains, making sure you do so in circles to soak everything and allow gravity some time to do its job.

Gravity pulls the water down through the grains resulting in the coffee being deposited below.

So, while you get the same end result, thanks to coffee being produced, you do go about things differently.

However, there’s another major difference, and it’s in the taste.

What is the Coffee Difference Between an Espresso and Pour Over?

different coffee options with espresso

So, let me get on with talking about one of the most important things of all about coffee: the taste.

What we have here are two completely different types of coffee that are capable of producing vastly different tastes, even if you use the same original beans.

The Taste of Espresso

Espresso is way more intense a coffee than pour over, and it’s because of the strength of the coffee pulled from the beans. The short brewing method ramps everything up from taste to aroma, but also in something else: bitterness.

I know some people love bitter coffee, but espresso is all about releasing those flavors and tastes with every single brew.

But espresso also works best with darker roasts, and that can also lead to something else appearing in the coffee: oil.

The pressure of the espresso machine can extract more oils from the coffee leading to an aftertaste in your mouth that is often very pleasant. It’s not something you get from every type of coffee either, but it’s certainly something you need to look out for. 

The Taste of Pour Over

With pour over, the taste is completely different.

My experience with pour over is a less bitter coffee offers more floral and fruity notes and has less oil. There is a noticeable difference in the intensity of the coffee as well, which is something that will certainly appeal to so many people.

I also feel a pour over manages to pull out more of the aroma of coffee. I love this about it as the aroma plays such an integral role in the enjoyment of coffee, in my eyes at least.

But when I put the two alongside one another, there is a clear and distinct difference in taste.

The Difference in Appearance

I also see a difference in the appearance of both espresso and pour over coffee. Still, again this difference is not a shock.

For example, an espresso produces something known as the crema. That’s the foam like substance you see on top of the coffee. 

This crema appears thanks to the extraction process of the coffee from the ground beans. This is where you will find the oils, proteins, and even sugars pulled from the beans, thanks to the pressure.

The crema is missing with a pour over where the drink comes across as more flat rather than anything else.

But even the color is different.

In my experience, pour over is lighter in color than the espresso. 

I put this down to the espresso having more body and being more of a dense coffee than the pour over. There is a thickness to it, and it’s the oils in the beans that really contribute to that appearance.

The Strength

Espresso certainly has a real intensity to it which is slightly missing with a pour over. However, I get that you do not always want to drink intense coffee.

You get an absolute sense of a caffeine kick with an espresso. In contrast, a pour over always feels to me to be more like a leisurely coffee to be enjoyed and thought over rather than that sudden rush.

My Recap on the Pour Over and Espresso

Both an espresso and a pour over are two completely different types of coffee you can experience. However, as always, I’ve covered so many points that it’s worth doing this quick recap to freshen your memory.

  • An espresso is a condensed shot of coffee
  • A pour over is less intense compared to an espresso
  • You need an espresso machine to make the espresso
  • You need a pour over coffee maker with paper filter
  • An espresso uses pressure to create the coffee and extract the flavor
  • The pour over uses gravity and time to extract the coffee
  • You can use a medium grind coffee with a pour over
  • A fine grind is essential for a quality espresso
  • The espresso looks darker than the pour over
  • The pour over has more flavor to it than the espresso

Overall, it just depends on what you want out of your coffee as to which one you then choose. However, I admit I’m greedy and drink both at various times thanks to the completely different coffee experience they can offer.

My Conclusion

I think it’s fair to say that espresso and pour over coffee are poles apart in their approach, extraction method, and also the end taste. However, that’s one thing I love about it all.

By using different methods, it means you can enjoy all the flavors that can be possibly extracted from the coffee beans, and that’s brilliant. If I was you, I would certainly try both approaches at different times depending on what you want at that moment.

It will certainly be worth it all from a taste and enjoyment perspective.