When you walk into the coffee shop, do you actually know what you’re ordering? Sure, the menu outlines the various beverages available but how well do you actually know your java? Drip coffee and espresso have a lot of similarities and a lot of differences. It may even say “espresso machine” on the coffee maker, but are you really getting an espresso? There are many myths and misconceptions surrounding the two hot beverages.
So, what makes coffee and espresso different? They both come from the same basic coffee beans, after all. Let’s take a look!
One of the major differences between coffee and espresso is the brewing time. An espresso shot can be made in about 30 seconds using an espresso maker while drip coffee or French press coffee could take five minutes or more depending on the machine and whether you want to add steamed milk to make a latte or cappuccino. Usually, when you walk into a coffee shop and order a beverage made with espresso, the drink will be made on-demand. On the other hand, most coffee shops have drip coffee already prepared in large batches for their customers.
Why the time difference? It has a lot to do with the method of extracting the flavor from the coffee bean. Espresso is made by forcing hot water through tightly packed grounds. The air used in forcing the water through is what leaves the foamy appearance on the surface of brewed espresso. When making drip coffee, the water moves through the grounds and then through the filter using gravity. The amount of coffee grounds used, the size of the grind, and the tightness at which the grounds have been packed can all affect brewing time and flavor. However, at a minimum, you can expect four or five minutes for drip coffee.
Typically, a cup of coffee is about eight to ten ounces. A shot of espresso is usually one ounce. Contrary to what many believe, there is actually more caffeine in a cup of coffee than there is in a shot of espresso. This difference in serving size obviously dictates how many people consume their coffee and espresso.
You will often find espresso used in mixed beverages or added to flavored beverages to add some additional caffeine content and flavor. On the other hand, coffee is often simply enjoyed as-is. Of course, people will add their choice of sweetener or cream if they desire, but coffee tends to be on the more simple side of things when compared with espresso. That’s not to say you can’t sit down and enjoy espresso by itself. Many people enjoy sipping espresso for its bold flavor.
Speaking of bold flavor… if you want to taste every single note inside the coffee bean then you will probably want to try an espresso. Some people describe the flavor as “bold” while others might use terms like “full” or “fragrant.” The process of making espresso helps retain all of the flavors inside the bean for you to enjoy.
On the other hand, coffee tends to be a little more muted when compared with espresso. The filter process used in drip coffee can remove some of the flavors that add to the “fullness” of espresso. For some people, this is preferable. There’s no right or wrong way to get your caffeine fix. Different strokes for different folks, right?
Time to consume is one major consideration when it comes to taste. If you are making a pot of coffee you can count on your second cup tasting as good, or almost as good, as your first cup. With espresso, you want to consume your beverage immediately as the flavor can deteriorate much more quickly. You would never make a pot of espresso to enjoy throughout the morning because your next cup would not taste nearly as good as the first sip and you would likely end up pouring your precious espresso down the sink.
Grinding beans for espresso and drip coffee is very different. A lot of people compare espresso grinds to something very fine like powdered sugar. Coffee grinds are far coarser by comparison. This different size of grind is due to the different brewing methods. With drip coffee, the water spends much more time extracting flavor from the bean. Espresso is a 30-second process and the water is forced quickly through the finely packed grounds. The fine grind in espresso creates a greater surface area for the water to extract flavor in a short period of time. Using coffee grinds in espresso would likely create a weaker flavor while using espresso grinds in coffee would create a very strong flavor and potentially some fine grinds making their way into your mug. Not an ideal beverage for most coffee drinkers.
At the end of the day, espresso and coffee rely on the same beans and very similar roasting processes to achieve their unique flavors. The real difference is in the brewing method and the preparation required. Both have their individual properties that may be appealing to some. If you have never tried both of these methods of caffeine consumption, then you should really see what all the fuss is about. There’s no right or wrong way to enjoy your morning caffeine fix—try it all and see what’s right for you!