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What’s The Difference Between Coffee and Espresso?

Difference Between Coffee and Espresso

Over 50 percent of US consumers purchase prepared coffee or tea drinks, according to Statista. Perhaps you are one of them. You will likely have encountered a variety of beverages besides a cup of joe, making you wonder what is the difference between coffee and espresso?

The Source of the Caffeine

Both coffee and espresso come from the same unroasted green beans, albeit, sometimes blended from different types. The two primary kinds of beans are Robusta and Arabica. Both are grown all over the world. However, you’ll more likely be drinking Arabica rather than the other.

Both contain caffeine though you will see decaffeinated versions of both types. The process to remove the caffeine is the same beginning with the green beans. But that is where the two beverages part ways. The differences lie with the processing and preparation.

Same Bean, Different Ways

When it comes down to a difference between espresso vs coffee, Arabica is the type of choice for the former because of its better flavor. The process involves preparation of a medium to dark roast drink because espresso is typically a rich, concentrated beverage.

You’ll find coffee, on the other hand, from light to medium to dark roasts, giving it a wider set of flavor profiles. There are also differences in the grind. You’ll see coffee as a medium coarse product so that water can freely flow through it.

Espresso differs as a fine grind. The reason is that the smaller grains mean more surface area is coming into contact with the water. That means a stronger flavor as well as a greater concentration of caffeine than coffee when compared by volume.

Preparing Coffee vs. Espresso

Espresso in a glass

A shot of espresso on classy shot glass

The grind becomes important when it comes down to preparation. The medium coarseness of coffee works well since it brews longer when compared to espresso. That extra contact time allows the water to extract the flavor from the ground coffee.

Preparing espresso is a much faster process that may take less than a minute or two. To get the most out of the beans, an espresso machine applies a great amount of pressure to the ground coffee. The fine grind and the added pressure give espresso its distinctive taste and look.

The same thing applies to the actual enjoyment of the beverage. You can linger over a cup of coffee for a while and leave the pot going. Espresso is meant to be enjoyed quickly since it’ll lose heat rapidly and become bitter. It’s also a visual experience with its crema layer on the top.

Versatility of Coffee and Espresso

You’ll also find that a difference exists in how each beverage is used. There are some variations on coffee. But when it comes to versatility, espresso has it beat, hands down. It can form the basis for a wide variety of drinks include café Americano, cappuccino, and latte macchiato.

Coffee varies in its preparation whether you use a French press, drip coffee maker, or percolator. The espresso variations involve what you do with it once you’ve made it. Methods include a proper order of additions and compliments such as steamed milk or foam.

Espresso drinks are precise in their ratio of ingredients and garnishes. Making coffee is a less fussy affair. Espresso borders more on a ritual or even an art form. It is often much more involved than simply pouring water in the coffee maker and flipping the switch.

Caffeine Content

As you may expect, there are wide differences in the caffeine concentration between the two because of the processing and preparation. Brewed coffee has a content between 95 and 165 mg per 8 oz. serving. The variation exists because of the kind of coffee and preparation method.

Light and dark roast coffees have similar amounts, but it’s how you prepare it that accounts for the difference. You can let French press coffee steep to your desired strength. And the longer you keep the water in contact with the ground coffee, the stronger it will get.

Espresso has a caffeine content of 47 to 64 mg per 1 oz. serving. Where you speak of cups of coffee, it is shots of espresso. You’ll find it served in a smaller cup called a demitasse cup. If you compare the two side-by-side, the caffeine content of espresso is between 376 and 512 mg!

Enjoying a Cup

The caffeine content is the biggest distinction between coffee and espresso. The latter has a fuller flavor and denser body that is meant to be sipped rather than gulped. And because of its strength, it’s more typical to have a single cup of espresso rather than a pot of coffee.

There is also a wide variation between the two. You’ll find coffee in a broad array of varieties and roasts. Espresso has a narrower range of profiles. When drunk as a shot, it is a stronger, concentrated beverage versus the different flavors of coffee.

Unless you’re having espresso as the basis for another drink, you’ll usually drink it hot. You can enjoy coffee hot or cold. And when it’s served on ice, it becomes more of a caffeinated thirst quencher than espresso. That use is unique to coffee unless espresso is the basis of a drink.

The Culture

Both coffee and espresso are enjoyed worldwide. Both have a certain culture associated with them whether it’s staying awake to cram for a test or getting together for the daily coffee klatch. You’ll find regional and global variations of the two which give them a unique character.

For example, Turkish coffee is a concentrated, sweetened beverage that resembles espresso in both its taste and caffeine content. As far as what is espresso, you’ll find regional drinks like the caffè crema, a similar beverage common in Austria and Switzerland.

Both drinks have deep roots in the culture as the most widely consumed stimulant worldwide. The beverages are meant to be shared and to invite conversation between people. In this sense, they have their own culture which makes them unique compared to other drinks.

The Bottom Line

Coffee and espresso are variations on the theme of a caffeinated drink from the same source. Coffee has a medium coarse grind that is brewed slowly in several ways. Espresso, on the other hand, is finely ground and prepared quickly under pressure with an espresso machine.

While both contain caffeine, espresso has three to five times more per cup. It is a full-bodied beverage that is meant to be drunk while hot. You can drink coffee hot or cold. With either one, you can savor the richness of a drink that is one of the most widely enjoyed beverages globally.