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Espresso Vs Coffee. What is the difference?



Sasha Pavlovich

 ·  27 October 2022

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An old debate

“Espresso vs coffee.” This title reminds me of those old sci-fi movies I used to watch as a kid: “Godzilla vs Magalon”, just to cite an example. Godzilla mostly won, but her enemies kept coming back. The ever mighty heroine had to prove herself time and time again!

The espresso vs coffee debate will continue as new generations reinvent what it means to drink coffee. There will always be a challenger, an underdog. Times change. Society has come a long way from the errors of the past, and yet, sometimes, we debate things out of confusion and ignorance.

In our debate, espresso is the underdog. Drip coffee was the easiest and only way of making the drink. Advancements in technology automated many tedious tasks. What people drank before the invention of the espresso machine, improved.

December 19th, 1901, marks a turning point in coffee history. Luigi Bezzera applied for a patent on improvements made to the espresso machine. Eventually, Desiderio Pavoni bought the patent and began mass production. Yes, one machine a day!

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What is espresso coffee?

Understanding what is espresso coffee will help us clear a lot of confusion. Espresso is not a coffee variety. In fact, a lot of high-end coffee shops use the same beans for their drip coffee and their espresso. The only variable is the size of the grind and the equipment used.

Espresso coffee

Espresso is a method of extraction, that’s all. Just like drip coffee, French pressing and cold brewing. Think of other things we enjoy in different ways. Take an eggplant, for example. You could grill it, fry it, or stew it. Yet, you’ll get different opinions on what tastes best.

For many people, espresso should be pungent. For a generation, what is espresso! Plain and simple. For years, that was the standard. But we have to take into consideration that drip coffee was also bold. Many roasters produced blends of arabica and robusta, the latter containing more caffeine. Today, the blond roast is becoming almost a standard. The dilemma continues: coffee vs espresso.

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What is drip coffee?

Drip coffee is water passed through coffee. A filter allows for some tasty and healthy components to sift through. Not everything in a coffee bean tastes good. To achieve the perfect cup, we need to care for 3 essentials. Coffee professionals call it the 3 Ts: temperature, turbulence, and time. Although this might sound complicated, we’ve all done it when making coffee at home.

Drip coffee

If we use a Mr. Coffee machine, they already set the ideal temperature to brew. During the process, the pulsating motion the boiling water makes over the coffee grounds will stir them up (turbulence) to help with the extraction. And lastly, the brew will stop after some time, in proportion to the amount of water.

Drip coffee drinking has evolved with the times. The diverse coffee “waves” have left their marks decade after decade. Nowadays we see two major groups of coffee lovers. The “bold, and the mild crowds”, the coffee vs espresso. The complexity of opinion gets aggravated when each individual pours in different other components additional ingredients in their cup. Each cup reflects an opinion. The amount of caffeine in coffee vs espresso is another debate.

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Which has more caffeine?

Well, they both have loads of caffeine. But this is when it gets tricky. An 8 ounce serving of drip coffee contains 70-140 mg of caffeine. More if you go large. The typical 1.5 shot of espresso contains 60-80 mg of caffeine. So if you are a purist and only drink black coffee, technically you would ingest more caffeine by drinking drip coffee.

Wait, you might question, what if you had a double shot? Just do the math. But, is espresso stronger than coffee at any time? Most milk-based drinks require a double shot of espresso. A triple portion will have more caffeine in espresso shot per drink than a regular coffee. Here’s the other feud, caffeine in espresso shot proportions.

Coffee variety plays a role in the amount of caffeine per cup. Arabica coffee has half the caffeine than robusta. Most cafes favor the smooth and fruity arabica. For profile balance, beans are blended.

One last factor to consider is the roast shade. The darker the roast, the less caffeine it contains, as caffeine cooks away.

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What is the difference between drip coffee and espresso?

Brewing method

We make drip coffee, either pour-over or by machine. In a coffee shop, they use well-calibrated equipment for a consistent cup time after time. If they grind their beans, they’ll use a medium to coarse grind that allows water to pass through the coffee for a period of time. The grinder, usually a half a horsepower machine, can grind amounts of coffee in excess of a pound, if needed.

Our product, when brewed, would look like dark hot water. Drinking it black, allows you discern flavors and fragrances, sweetness and/or bitterness, acidity and freshness.

To make espresso you need a machine. A basic machine would do. The goal is to achieve an extraction between 25-30 seconds while applying about 140 pounds of pressure (9 bars), to fine ground, well tamped, coffee. Usually, this pressurized water goes through a tiny injector the size of a needle pin. Ideally, the bed of coffee would receive a well-dispersed amount of water before coming down to the cup. This delay is between 3-5 seconds. That’s an indicator of a perfect grind to pressure ratio.

And then there’s the crema. If you don’t have your creamy foam on top, then something went wrong. It’s funny how things change. In the heydays of espresso, crema wasn’t desirable. Today, what is espresso must have crema.

Drip coffee maker

Serving size

Even now the times and tastes are changing. You’ll find the two major coffee national retailers accommodating all types of coffee drinkers. One thing is true for both: the large serving sizes. Even though we have cut down our soda and candy portions, people still want that large latte or coffee cup every morning (or afternoon).

For espresso, the traditional 12 grams double, became 18 grams as an average. Some even made 21 grams their standard and discarded the single short (ristretto) altogether. So to the question, When is espresso stronger than coffee? Maybe in this context we see an answer.

Therefore, how much you drink will affect your caffeine intake. What espresso is today might change sooner than we can perceive it. Someone will revisit the caffeine in coffee vs espresso debate. Sadly, misinformation prevails.

Flavor and taste

It’s difficult to convert an espresso or black drip coffee purist to switch their drink preference. Americano, for instance, was born when servicemen during wartime adapted espresso to what they drank back home. Sometimes is not the caffeine in coffee vs espresso, but just a matter of personal taste.

Who wins?

It’s safe to ask for a truce. If caffeine is what you’re looking for, both espresso and drip coffee will provide it. How much will depend on the quantity you drink. We might know many drip coffee drinkers that gulp down several cups of coffee, if not full pots, every day. Particularly, because it’s easier to make. But the espresso drinker is not that far behind. I had an acquaintance who drank 12 long shots of espresso a day. (Sadly, he passed away from COVID-19). He was a restaurant owner with access to a high-end espresso machine.

I have to admit that I love the workings of an espresso machine in and out, and love extracting the perfect espresso. But I pour water into my drink and enjoy a perfect americano. Some call that, “drip coffee in disguise.”

Espresso vs Coffee

author sasha
Sasha Pavlovich

Hi, I'm Sasha Pavlovich and welcome to my blog about coffee! As an experienced barista, I have a deep passion for coffee. I love to share my knowledge and enthusiasm with everyone, and I never get tired of talking about it. Whether you're a novice or a connoisseur, I'm sure you'll find something on my site that will make you appreciate the wonderful world of coffee even more.