So you love coffee and have been drinking it for years, but let’s be honest, you don’t really need to know anything about your beverage or understand it. Good thing you don’t have to in order to love and appreciate it. Simply order it the way you like and then just enjoy, really that’s all there is to it. However, you may sometimes be wondering to yourself,
What the heck is an Espresso and how is it different from coffee?
Is it the same thing or just really strong coffee? Is it a more expensive way to order it? Does it cost more? Does it have more caffeine? These are honest questions you might be asking yourself, so let’s break it down and find those answers.
What is Espresso?
Simply put, espresso comes in a ridiculously small cup (1 oz) made from a different brewing process and packs almost as much caffeine. It tastes wonderful and hits the spot to get you alert. If you are used to drinking a larger cup for your coffee experience, you may find yourself still thirsty after a shot of espresso.
An espresso is also much thicker in substance than coffees brewed from other methods. The higher consistency, the presence of natural coffee bean oils and concentration give it its characteristic taste. With drip coffee, much of the natural oils get filtered out.
The traditional mark of a good espresso is a layer of rich golden foam resting on the top called “Crema”. This crema locks in the flavor and gives the small drink a luxurious deep taste similar to actually putting cream on top. This crema can last a long time floating on top, however, usually, the drink doesn’t last that long.
You can order your simple espresso in various sizes:
– Ristretto: shorter steam time and uses less water making a “short-shot” of espresso
– Shot: Regular 1 oz shot of espresso
– Doppio: Double shot
– Lungo (Café Allongé): longer steam time to make a 1.5 oz drink
Espresso also forms the starting point for many other drinks popular at coffee shops. Once the shot of espresso has been brewed into a larger cup, it can be made into these popular drinks:
– Cappuccino: Espresso with 2 equal parts of milk and milk foam on top
– Cafe Latte: Espresso, with milk and milk foam on top
– Espresso Macchiato: Shot of espresso with a touch of milk foam on top
– Mocha: Espresso with chocolate syrup with milk and whipped cream on top
– Flat White: 2/3 espresso with milk foam on top
– Americano: Equal parts espresso and half water
– Breve: Espresso with half and half milk cream with milk foam on top
– Cafe Au Lait: Half espresso and half milk
– Vienna Coffee: Espresso with whipped cream on top
Originally, espresso comes from Italy where the machine was invented by Angelo Moriondo back in 1884. The first machines were not made for brewing individual cups but rather larger portions for big groups.
What is Drip Coffee?
Drip coffee is an American staple and pots of it are brewed constantly all over the country from people’s homes to gas stations to fancy coffee shops. The classic diner-style cup is 8oz but if you order from a coffee shop on the go with larger paper cups, you can go up to 16oz or even 20oz for a Venti size at Starbucks.
In North America, coffee culture has it that people find comfort in drinking a larger sized mug. The idea of larger takeaway cups came from 7/11 convenience stores in the 1960’s who were offering coffee on the go in styrofoam cups with different sizes. Customers preferred the larger sizes ever since.
Everyone is different however most people prefer to add milk (or cream) and sugar to his or her cup. More lately people have been substituting milk for soy or almond milk and sugar with brown sugar, splenda or agave nectar.
Sometimes the beans are flavored and you can have your coffee as French Vanilla, Irish Cream or Hazlenut.
Brewing an Espresso
The difference in the way that the espresso is brewed is that instead of hot water passing through the grinds, steam gets pushed through them. The coffee grinds need to be very fine in order for this process to work effectively.
This method is a lot faster than brewing an American traditional style cup/pot of drip coffee. You may be used to waiting for the coffee to drip through the filter until ready. However, with the steaming process, a shot can be produced in just 30 seconds.
There are different kinds of equipment that can be used to make an espresso (mostly either a home version or a coffee shop version). At home, you can use a stovetop espresso maker called a Moka, or you can treat yourself to a countertop espresso machine.
The main component in the machine is a heating element which will get that water at that best 200 °F (90 °C) temperature. The steam pushes through the compressed puck of grounds and then out into the waiting cup.
At the coffee shop, a bigger machine is used as it can more precisely keep an exact water temperature for steaming and do multiple cups at once.
Brewing a pot of drip coffee
What most Americans are familiar with, the water basin is heated much like a kettle and the hot water pass through a filter filled with coarser ground coffee beans.
This is where the brewing process differs and takes more time, water uses gravity to pass through the grounds, unlike the espresso method which pushes steam through the coffee.
It is because of this drip style coffee needs coarser grounds to get the best-tasting coffee. Using fine grind, the water would take too long to pass through it and could end up tasting bitter.
Additionally, there are other ways to consider when making this type of coffee, for example, there is the French Press and Pour Over methods.
A difference in coffee beans?
Espresso refers to the brewing method and not the actual beans. You can make espresso from any kind of coffee bean and roast. That being said, traditionally, when making espresso, medium to darker roast is usually preferred.
Also, a mix of different beans can be used as well to add more depth and variety to the taste. There is a movement called “single origin espresso” where only beans one from one particular farm is used in order to taste the bean’s purest form.
*Show image of fine, medium and coarse coffee
Which has more caffeine?
The specific amount of caffeine found in any coffee (no matter what kind) can vary quite a bit depending on bean type, roasting level, brewing method, water temperature and brewing time.
Typically, here is the most average comparison:
Brewed 8oz cup of coffee: 110mg of caffeineEspresso 1oz shot: 75mg of caffeine
This may actually come as a surprise to most people as espresso has somewhat of a reputation for being stronger and more potent. Which it actually is if you look at the amount of caffeine to the volume of liquid, this is indeed way more potent. However, your classic brewed cup of Joe packs the more caffeine overall.
Many people will also think that the darker the roast then that means the more caffeine in the bean since it has such a rich dark color. Truthfully it is actually the opposite. Reason being is that the heat from the roasting process actually burns off caffeine as well. So the darker the roast, the less caffeine is left.
Which one is cheaper? Which one is more expensive?
As we discussed before, the true difference isn’t with the type of bean but how you brew it. Therefore ‘espresso’ beans could not be considered more or less expensive. Now that we have a constant, let’s look at how much actual coffee each service uses up.
A single shot of espresso is 1oz and it takes 7 grams of coffee to make itA regular cup of coffee is 8oz and it takes 14 grams of coffee to make it
So as you can see, for the basic version of each beverage, the espresso comes out cheaper using fewer grams of grinds per serving.
Just enjoy what you like, it’s not a competition
Enjoying your coffee the way you like is the important thing. Personally, I find that a good cup of coffee has a place in my heart just as much as enjoying a double shot of espresso.
Culturally Europe is where it’s at home for espresso, most don’t even consider a full cup of drip coffee an option. Café life is where it’s at to sit outside, sip on your favorite version of espresso and watch the world go by or enjoy great discussions with your friends (even strangers!).
There is also a special feeling when holding a full cup of rich drip coffee in a coffee shop in the brisk fall weather and catching up with friends or reading the news. The coffee shop buzz is alive and that inviting feeling keeps people coming.
A note about using fresh ground coffee
There are a lot of people out there that buy their coffee pre-ground in bags or tins. Grinding takes a whole separate machine, can be pretty annoying to deal with plus grinders are loud. Why bother with the fuss?
Well no matter what your preference is, espresso or drip coffee, using fresh grounds makes a very big difference.
Would you like to make it at home?
Espresso:There are vastly different price points for producing your own espresso at home. Super entry level is the stovetop Moka pot, although it will not produce the crema foam at the top of your cup, however, it will make a deeply satisfying cup for sure. I thoroughly enjoy that process myself.
Afterward, you get into machines because really, that is how the proper heat and pressure can be generated for what an espresso is all about.
Here is the beentry-levelvel machine you can find on Amazon right now to get you started:
Mr. Coffee BVMC-ECMP1102 Cafe Barista
A great simple machine that actually gives you a lot of options because it comes with a milk dispenser. The easy touch controls are obvious to understand and quite simply you can make your own espresso, latte and cappuccino. At this price point, this machine is the best rated by customers and can do more than its competition.
Drip Coffee:Drip coffee machines can start off really inexpensive and go up from there stacking on features. Before any of that, the most basic method is Pour Over. Although you need some patience, it is a wonderful ritual.
Cuisinart DCC-1200 Brew Central 12 Cup Programmable CoffeemakerThis machine is one of the best selling units on Amazon for a reason, packed with the essential features and the design is very simple and pleasing. A model that came out a long time ago and still used by people who originally bought it. Also comes in Red.
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