How Is Espresso Different From Coffee

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How is espresso different from coffee? Well I am glad you asked!

coffee and espresso
Photo By: Keith Gillette

While there are a lot of different qualities of both espresso and coffee, they both start out the same, as a coffee bean.  All the coffee we drink in North America come from only two of the twenty-five species of coffea plants that grow around the world, Robusto and Arabica.

Out of these two, Arabica is more commonly used due to the sweeter taste it has. If you wanted to use Robusto coffee beans they will work perfectly fine, just know that you will have a much stronger tasting result in both espresso and coffee.

Though both espresso and coffee come from coffee beans, they are two very different drinks. They are ground differently, have different caffeine content, the brewing method is extremely different, and the resulting taste is noticeably different as well. Below I have broken down how these two morning favorites can start out the same, yet become something completely different.

Difference In The Grind

How you grind your coffee beans is a key component in making a good espresso or coffee, and these coffees are ground completely different from each other.

Coffee beans for Espresso are ground to a very fine substance, like sand or table salt. Grinding the beans this fine means that more of the bean is exposed to air and can lose its flavor really fast. This is why it is very important to only grind what you need, and brew your cup immediately after you grind your coffee beans.

coffee grounds for espresso
Photo By:  Flockine, Coffee grounds for Espresso

It also means that more of the oils from the coffee bean are extracted into your cup. These oils create higher acidity, which give the coffee its bitter strong taste and rich flavor. When the bean is ground to a fine substance and pressure brewed in an espresso machine, those oils are extracted ten fold, and this makes for a really strong, flavorful shot of espresso, with a layer of crema on top.


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Coffee beans for Coffee are ground to a medium coarse grind like kosher salt. Due to the way coffee is usually brewed, by automatic drip maker or pour-over, the need for a finer grind would be pointless. A finer grind would cake on the bottom of the filter and not let water through easily if at all.

Photo By:  Martin Hetto, Coffee grounds for coffee

Making for a longer brewing process and a not so good cup of coffee in the end. Having a larger size grind makes it easier for the water to filter through, immersing all the grounds equally, and extracting just the right amount of flavor and caffeine for your morning cup.

Note: The length of time the beans were roasted before being ground can also play a part in how strong and flavorful your espresso or coffee will be. With a longer roast, more oils will be released. This is why you might see some bags of coffee beans labeled “espresso beans.”

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Different Caffeine Content

cup of coffe sitting on bed of coffee beans
Photo By: Diapicard

The most common misconception of an espresso is that it contains more caffeine than a regular cup of coffee. This is actually the opposite. There are many factors that contribute to the amount of caffeine that ends up in your espresso or coffee. How long the beans are roasted prior to being ground, how you grind your beans, and brewing methods, all play a role in the caffeine levels acquired.

When a coffee bean is roasted, the extraction process begins immediately. Meaning that the oils in the bean, and the caffeine it contains are in a sense pulled from the bean itself while roasting. This is why you can visibly see and feel the oil on the surface of the bean when it is roasted for a longer period. The longer the roast, the more caffeine is lost in the process. When you grind the beans after they have been roasted, you are in fact continuing this process by breaking down the bean into smaller pieces, thus releasing more and more caffeine.

shot of espresso filling from portafilter
Photo By: Kevin Butz

A shot of espresso, is exactly that, a shot (1oz), while a cup of coffee is about 8oz. There is about 64mg of caffeine in a shot of espresso and about 96mg in a cup of coffee. So technically there is more caffeine in coffee than in espresso.

On the other hand, espresso is a much more concentrated drink. So when you think about 1oz having 64mg of caffeine, and 8oz having 96mg of caffeine, the volume is what makes the difference. This is why people can drink around 7-10 espresso shots a day and not get that jittery feeling, but if you drink that many cups of coffee, you might start to feel ill by the end. Also, espresso is meant to be drunk fast and hot, while coffee is meant to be sipped on and thoroughly enjoyed over a longer time.

So in the end, if you want that quick jolt of energy in the morning, order an espresso. If you want to wake up gradually and at your own pace, order a coffee. Either way, they are both delicious!

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Different Brewing Methods

Ever notice while at your favorite cafe, that coffee comes in a carafe or pot, and espresso comes from that huge machine sitting on the counter top? This is because both espresso and coffee cannot be brewed the same way. If you brewed coffee like an espresso, the end result would not be very tasty, and vice versa.

Espresso Brew Method

Espresso is called espresso because of the short amount of time it takes to brew one shot. Like an “express” coffee.

Since the coffee beans are ground so fine for an espresso shot, there needs to be an extreme amount of pressure applied while brewing.

espresso machine
Phot By:  Isabela Kronemberger, Espresso machine

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An espresso machine is able to pressure brew the coffee grounds to about 9-10 bars. Bars are equal to levels of atmospheric pressure (weight of air) at sea level. So brewing at 9-10 bars, means 9-10 times the weight of air at sea level, and that is a lot of pressure!

This pressure forces the small amount of water used, through the grounds in a very short amount of time, extracting all those rich flavors we love so much in an espresso. If a larger grind was used, the water would flow right through and not be able to extract those oils, leaving you with a weak shot.

The water used for brewing espresso is also at a higher temperature than the water used for brewing coffee. With the water temperature being 195-205°F (91-96°C).

Coffee Brew Method

pouring coffee through four pour over filters
Photo By: Nathan Dumlao

Since the beans for brewing coffee are of a larger grind, the brewing process takes longer than that of an espresso. The grounds need to be immersed in the hot water for a longer period in order to extract the flavor and caffeine in the coffee bean. An automatic drip coffee maker or the pour-over method are good for achieving this. The larger grind also allows the water to flow through the grounds and the filter easily, without getting caked or clogged at the bottom of the filter.

This total immersion process, length of time it takes to brew, and larger grind size, allows the lighter flavors to be extracted, and more caffeine makes it into your cup.

The water temperature used for brewing coffee is also lower than the water used for brewing espresso. With the water temperature being 185-190°F (85-87°C).

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Taste The Difference

cup of coffee and cup of espresso
Photo By: Nathan Dumlao

Well it goes without saying that a shot of espresso is stronger in taste than a cup of coffee. A good espresso will have a rich, somewhat bitter flavor to it, while a cup of coffee will have a lighter, sweeter taste to it. Not to mention that some coffee drinkers add cream, milk, or sugar to your coffee, while espresso is mostly consumed black.

The reason for the richer more bitter taste in espresso is because of how it is prepared, meaning roast level and grind size. The longer the roast and finer the grind, the more oils are released.

These oils are where the rich flavors of a darker coffee come from, so in an espresso, they are extracted ten times more than in a cup of coffee.

The reason for the lighter, sweeter taste in a cup of coffee is because the coffee bean is roasted for less time and ground to a larger size. This keeps the majority of the oils in the bean, and only extracts what is on the surface during the brewing process.

Having different roast levels like light, medium, and dark, is how we determine how long a coffee bean has been roasted. The less roasting time a coffee bean has, the sweeter and lighter the taste will be. The longer roasting time a coffee bean has, the darker and richer flavors start to emerge.

Take Your Pick!

So there you have it! Espresso and Coffee are definitely different! Though they both have the same beginnings in their life cycle, their sweet and delicious lives end on very different sides of the spectrum. Either side you choose, I believe you will be very satisfied with the result. From the light and sweet taste of a cup of coffee, to the rich and thick flavors of an espresso shot, and so many more inviting coffee drinks in between. You are sure to find the one you love!


If you would like to leave any comments or have any questions about this post, please leave them in the comment section below.  I would love to hear from you!

For the Love of Coffee





4 thoughts on “How Is Espresso Different From Coffee”

  1. Ver nice explaining the attributes of coffee from espresso.

    Understanding the characteristic of what you are seeping will give a more particular enjoyment to a person.

    I like the way you have differentiated  coffee and espresso with their caffeine content due to roasting and the effect on the flavor in the way they are process or extracted.

    You delicately explained why having the same cup would give a really strong, flavorful espresso.

    Thanks for sharing this post.

    • I am glad you enjoyed this article Rose.  Mistaking coffee and espresso for either the same exact thing, or two completely different things, is a very common misunderstanding I believe.  It all depends on the process, as to which one you will end up with.

      Thanks for stopping by and sharing your thoughts!


  2. Well that was an education for me.  I never knew that expresso and coffee were almost two completely different drinks.  You nearly might as well be comparing coffee with tea lol.  Well not quite!

    I always thought that someone drinking expresso were drinking far more caffeine, than I was with my cup of coffee and thought it was almost an addiction.  Well wasn’t I wrong again.

    I assume that if roasting the beans longer reduces the caffeine levels, that this is how decaffeinated is produced, by further roasting.

    Thanks for sharing.

    • Absolutely Geoff!  

      It’s funny my sister was always like, I drink espresso not coffee, and I’m like, they’re both the same thing!!!  Hahaha.  Just made very differently.  

      Glad you enjoyed and learned something new from my article!

      Thanks for stopping by Geoff!



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