Espresso vs Coffee: What Differences Are You Missing?

Espresso vs Coffee: What Differences Are You Missing?

If you’re new to coffee, you probably think of espresso coffee and regular coffee as pretty much the same thing. Well, they’re actually very different from each other.

In fact, even a somewhat experienced coffee drinker may miss some crucial differences between the two, which is why, today:

In this article, we’ll break down all of the differences between espresso vs coffee so you can make an informed decision next time you order a drink at the coffee shop.

TL;DR: Espresso and coffee can involve different coffee blends, roasts, grind sizes, ratios, and brewing methods, causing espresso to have a higher caffeine concentration and a stronger taste.

But why?? Read on for a more detailed explanation!

What Is Espresso?

Espresso is a type of coffee that is brewed by using very high pressure to force hot water through a tightly packed bed of finely-ground coffee beans in a short time (only 25 – 30 seconds).

The result is a concentrated shot of espresso with a distinctive crema – a creamy foam of oils and water that helps to give espresso coffee its unique flavor and texture.

Espresso is typically served in small demitasse cups, and it can be enjoyed on its own or used as the base for other coffee drinks such as Americano, latte, and cappuccino (These can be referred to as espresso-based coffee drinks).

Whether you’re a morning person or a night owl, a good espresso is a delicious way to get more caffeine for energy recharge!

A double shot of espresso served in a demitasse cup

What’s Regular Coffee?

It’s often understood as a standard filter coffee, likely with added cream or milk to sweeten the brew.

If you’re drinking drip coffee that’s simply brewed without milk or cream, it’s called “black coffee”. It’s the purest form of coffee and often has a strong, bold flavor.

Some people enjoy black coffee because of its bold flavor, while others find it too intense and prefer to add milk or cream to mellow out the taste.

But, whether you like your coffee black or with milk, there’s no wrong way to enjoy it!

Regular coffee is commonly understood as standard drip coffee

What Is The Difference Between Coffee And Espresso?

Let’s find out in detail the difference between espresso vs coffee:

Coffee Beans

  1. Blend

Most of the time, 100% Arabica beans are suitable for both coffee and espresso due to their superior quality (especially the milder taste) compared to Robusta beans.

 Arabica beans can be used for both espresso and coffee (drip), but a blend containing Robusta can also shine with the espresso method

But, the traditional shot of espresso is made with a blend of both Arabica and Robusta to create a stronger yet balanced flavor combo, a more pronounced crema layer, and more caffeine.

The blend also makes a much better pair with sweet add-on ingredients like sugar, milk, and cream because Robusta’s earthy taste boasts an interesting contrast.

  1. Roast Profile

When it comes to the roast profile, the dark roast is typically recommended for espresso drinks.

They tend to have lower acidity and more visible oils on the surface.

Coupled with the special espresso brewing method under extremely high pressure, you’ve got yourself a dark cup of Joe with a heavy body.

When comparing espresso vs coffee, the roast profile of espresso is usually darker

Drip brewed coffee, on the other hand, goes best with medium-roast coffee to get a balanced taste and body all around.

That being said, feel free to experiment with all kinds of roast profiles, be it for espresso, drip machine, or any other method.

Who knows, you might fancy a cup that’s not commonly brewed, and that’s okay.

  1. Grind Size

One of the biggest differences between the two is the grind size, which is tied heavily with the method of extraction of coffee compounds.

For espresso, finely ground beans that are tightly tamped are a must to withstand the strong flow of water pushing through in a very short brew time.

A coarser or finer grind size than necessary can result in an under-or over-extraction. Or worse… expelled!

 Use finely ground beans for espresso and medium ground ones for drip coffee

The regular drip Joe, on the other hand, only requires a medium grind size for an optimal extraction process.

Either way, you’ll have to invest in a quality burr grinder to get the job done.

  1. Coffee-To-Water Ratio

The Golden Ratio for a Normale (normal) espresso shot is 1:3, while, for a regular cup of coffee, it’s 1:16 – 1:17.

The amount of coffee grounds is one of the aspects that directly affect the result of the brew. Having more grind compared to water means the final cup would be more concentrated and stronger.

Brewing Method – Espresso Machine Vs Drip Coffee Machine

For espresso, finely ground espresso beans are placed in a small metal basket and then tightly packed.

A small amount of water is then forced through the grounds at high pressure, resulting in a concentrated and strong coffee.

In contrast, drip coffee uses a coarser grind and a filter to brew the coffee. Hot water is dripped over the grounds with no pressure involved, resulting in a more mellow cup of coffee.

Espresso Machine

The time for brewing coffee for espresso is also much shorter, typically around 30 seconds compared to 3-4 minutes for drip.

And espresso brewing calls for an espresso machine. Semi-automatic ones give you more control than fully-automatic ones, but the latter definitely offers more convenience.

In need of reviews? Find a brand new high-quality espresso machine from our frequently updated list.

Drip coffee, on the other hand, is made with a common drip coffee machine.

Indulging in regular drip coffee with a regular coffee pot was still the preferred method of preparing coffee for many coffee drinkers in the US in 2020 because of how convenient and easy to use it is.

If you’re looking for one yourself, find our list of the top-performing drip makers here.

Technivorm Moccamaster 79112 KBT Coffee Brewer

Serving Size

Espresso is typically served in small servings in a demitasse cup as a single or double shot of espresso (1 – 2 oz/30 – 59 ml respectively).

Drip coffee is usually served in larger cups or mugs. The standard size is 8 oz (237 ml).

 Espresso is extracted and served in either a single or double shot (1 - 2 oz), different from the standard coffee cup size of 8 oz


Espresso boasts a stronger taste than coffee. The coffee roast and grind size and brewing method give it a richer, more intense, and more full-bodied flavor.

Caffeine Content

When it comes to caffeine, espresso also packs a bigger punch since it’s more concentrated.

You can expect around 63 mg of caffeine per espresso shot (1 oz).

For drip coffee, an average cup (8 oz) contains 90 – 120 mg of caffeine. That’s 11.25 – 15 mg/oz, roughly 4 times less caffeine than espresso.

For more information, check out what makes espresso have more caffeine than coffee.

How Do You Make An Espresso?

To make espresso, you need an espresso machine, which forces hot water through the coffee grounds at high pressure.

You need an espresso machine for making espresso

There are typically 3 types of espresso machines coffee lovers can choose from:

  • Prosumer espresso machines: These are professional-grade machines that can be seen at specialty coffee shops or utilized by coffee aficionados who have more skills and experience up their sleeve.
  • Semi-automatic espresso machines: These offer useful programmable functions to give the user more control and freedom over the brewing process.
  • Fully-automatic espresso machines: These are suitable for busy coffee drinkers who prioritize convenience. All processes can be automated, turning them into a personal home barista that minimizes human errors.

When making espresso, make sure to prepare fresh fine grounds with your own grinder to preserve freshness, rather than relying on pre-ground coffee.

You also need good quality water for brewing espresso. You can install a water filter into the water reservoir, or set up an under-the-counter water filtration system to ensure you’re getting fresh water that’s free of debris and unusual flavors.

Another thing to keep in mind is cleaning and descaling your coffee maker to keep it in tip-top shape and maintain a consistent brew quality.

Use freshly ground beans and clean water to make espresso

Here are some general brewing steps to get started:

  • Step 1: Fill the water tank (and fill the coffee bean hopper if it has an integrated coffee grinder).
  • Step 2: Preheat the espresso machine and the serving cup.
  • Step 3: Grind the espresso beans and add the right dosage to the filter basket in the portafilter.
  • Step 4: Tamp the ground coffee.
  • Step 5: Lock the portafilter into the group head to brew espresso.
  • Step 6: Prepare steamed milk to make a milky espresso-based coffee drink.
Add steamed milk to make milky espresso drinks like latte and cappuccino

Check out this in-depth guide on making espresso for more information.

Is Espresso Better For You Than Coffee?

Yes and no. When it comes to the espresso vs coffee debate, it ultimately comes down to personal taste.

Both espresso and drip brewing methods can produce delicious cups of coffee, so it’s simply a matter of finding the one that you enjoy the most.

Here’s simple guidance:

  • If you’re looking for a high caffeine intake, espresso is the way to go.
  • But if you want a more mellow cup of coffee, drip is probably your best bet.

So, how do you drink coffee? Let us know in the comments below!

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