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What’s the Difference Between Coffee and Espresso?

coffee and espresso difference

Coffee is a very broad term for a variety of beverages that are made from coffee beans. These beans come from either Robusta or Arabica, the latter being by far the most popular one. Robusta, on the other hand, while being less popular, has higher concentrations of caffeine than Arabica. Espresso is a specific drink made from coffee beans. While coffee can be made from any grind type (coarse, medium, or fine grind type), espresso is made strictly from fine grounds. This is the main difference between Coffee and Espresso.

You don’t want to experiment with this aspect, as you’ll end up with a drink that doesn’t even look like the real deal.

We’ll now explain in depth the most important aspects of espresso brewing technique, and show you why it is so special. Frankly, coffees come in so many sizes and flavors, and it’s hard to explain them all in one short text. Espressos, ristrettos, latte macchiatos, cappuccinos, mochas, Americanos, each deserve a text on their own, as they make our life just a tiny bit tastier, more energetic, and joyful.

Roast type

In another text, we’ve talked about different roast types, and how they are used for different kinds of coffee. Generally speaking, a dark blend (French blend) is used for espressos. Dark roasted beans are exposed to high temperatures for an extended amount of time, and thanks to this prolonged exposure coffee oils, aromas, and flavors are extracted as much as possible. So if you roast your beans, you would want to pay attention to this important aspect.

On the other hand, coffee can be made from light and medium roast beans. Light roast coffee has a mild, almost „pale“ taste, with high acidity. In the universe of „java“, acidity is not necessarily a bad thing. It adds that characteristic sting to your favorite caffeine drink.

Medium roast coffee has a fuller, stronger taste, with less acidity.

Grind Type

There are several grind types which differ in the size of resulting coffee particles. A coarse grind is the rawest, biggest grind size, sharp-edged and „rocky“. French Press coffee works the best with this kind of grounds.

You simply don’t want to mix grounds used with French Presses and espresso grounds. The answer is simple- coarse grounds are used with French Presses, while espresso only works well with fine grounds, which have a powder-like structure.

Medium size grind style has a „sandy“ structure. The particles are not that big but are still visible and palpable. A lot of different varieties of coffee are made with these grounds- flat filter, Aeropress, and pour-over-the-filter coffees, for instance.

The rule of the thumb is: coarser grounds need a lot of time to brew properly, while finer ones will brew much faster. This is how espresso got its name- espresso means fast, express in Italian. You simply cannot order an espresso and wait more than several minutes before the waiter brings it to you (even if he’s busy). The essence of espresso is the brewing speed, which is why it became so popular. A lot of people just want to gulp a shot of their „dose“ and continue with their work. Nowadays people simply don’t have the time to sit down and slowly sip their caffeinated beverage (at least not every day).

Extraction is done most efficiently with finer grounds. Thanks to the powdery structure, the water that’s passing through the portafilter can extract all aromas, scents, oils, and of course, caffeine. Inversely, coarser grounds are extracted less efficiently, which is why the brewing process has to be prolonged. For instance, French Presses take about 3 minutes to brew a cup of coffee. If you shortened the brewing time, you’d end up with a bland, „pale“ drink with almost no caffeine.

Brewing Method

Espresso Brewing Techniques

Strictly speaking, espresso is only one variety of coffee, and it is made when highly pressurized water passes through a filter (portafilter). Before this, the portafilter has to be filled with finely ground coffee. As a result, one shot of espresso has a high concentration of everyone’s favorite drug- sweet caffeine, thanks to high pressure and fine grounds.

Because it’s pretty hard to manually produce so much force and pressure and still get it right, most espresso makers need some help of technology. First such products are Lever Espresso Makers, which were designed in Italy, the cradle of good coffee. Lever espresso makers are a perfect blend of manual labor and technology. This means that you’ll still be able to tailor the drink to your tastes, even though the machine pressures the water through the portafilter. We recommend this La Pavoni lever machine:

This doesn’t mean that all the work cannot be done manually. Flair espresso makers are completely manual. Thanks to the smart design, you’ll be able to achieve the about the same amount of pressure as with automatic and semi-automatic coffee makers. Here’s a good Flair Manual Press:

Needless to say, today we have so much automatic espresso makers with different gadgets, technological gimmicks, and accessories. These machines (sometimes called “super automatics”) often have built-in grinders, automatic milk frothers, anti-scaling devices, and numerous other things designed to make your life a bit easier.

Also, some of these super automatic espresso makers are programmed to remember your past choices and adapt to your preferences. They are controlled via touch screen or a rotary switch, which makes them super-easy to use. Finally, these machines are versatile- they make a wide variety of drinks starting from espressos, ristrettos (super concentrated coffee), latte macchiatos, cappuccinos, mochas, Americanos, extra-long coffees, etc.

Of course, all this comes with a price. Some of these makers cost more than some good second-hand cars or even more than a brand new computer. But let’s face it, a second-hand car or a brand new computer won’t consistently brew you a perfect cup of your favorite caffeinated drink. We’ve chosen one of the most expensive ones:

To be frank, these coffee machines are for people who don’t want to mess around with different brewing techniques. Pragmatism, efficiency, and modern technology are extremely important to people who buy automatic espresso machines.

What binds all these different methods for brewing espresso is speed. They are all extremely quick and take only a few seconds to brew a fine shot of your dose of caffeine.

On the other hand, if you like to do things manually and try different ways of doing them (and if you are ready to make a lot of mistakes in the process), then some semi-automatics (like lever makers) or completely manual products (like flair espresso makers) will be the best for you. Note that, manual coffee makers aren’t as near as versatile as super automatics. In the end, you’ll have to weigh the pros and cons by yourself.

Coffee Brewing Techniques

We’ve already mentioned some. French Press is a popular technique, that is completely manual. The water is gently pressed through the filter (mostly made from steel) and after about 3 minutes your cup will be ready. Not exactly the best technique when you get up late for work and just want to gulp in your morning cup as fast as possible. On the other hand, French Press coffee is good for cold-brew coffee, which, as the name implies, doesn’t use heat in the extraction process. Cold-brew, however, is even slower than the standard French Press, and you’ll have to wait for about 10-12 hours!

Turkish coffee is the opposite of French Press- it is fast, doesn’t need any filters, and uses extra-fine grounds. The finest grounds are used for Turkish coffee. The answer is simple- fine coffee residue falls more easily than coarser residues. Thanks to extra fine grounds, Turkish coffee is still clear, but you’ll have to be careful as you approach the bottom of the cup! You don’t want to end up with a mouthful of coffee residues, it’s gross, and will make your teeth look like you’ve chewed on a ton of firecrackers. Joke aside, Turkish coffee, like espresso, is a fast coffee-brewing technique, taking about 5-10 seconds, depending on your preferences. Another important disclaimer: you don’t want to stir your Turkish coffee. It will make all the residues go up, which will simply ruin your drink.

Drink Type

Drinks like latte macchiatos and cappuccinos are made by mixing espresso shots with steamed or foamed milk. Sometimes, other ingredients, like chocolate or caramel are to these derivatives of espresso.

Ristretto is espresso on steroids. The same amount of coffee grounds is used for both caffeinated drinks, while ristrettos are shorter than espressos. This means that ristretto is a drink with a high caffeine concentration. In Italian, ristretto means “concentrated”.  Extra fine grounds are used for ristretto, just like the ones for Turkish coffee.

In America, a completely different sort of coffee has long ago become extremely popular- drip coffee. A drip or percolating coffee makers have become a symbol of offices and working spaces. Drip coffee has a lower concentration of caffeine, but it is much longer than espresso.

Turkish coffee, while being strong and with a full-body taste, has a lot of residues. On the other hand, espresso is almost completely residue-free. Turkish coffee is also sometimes mixed with a bit of milk.

Added flavors

K-Cup coffees often have a plethora of added tastes like coconut, hazelnut, caramel, or chocolate. You’ll never see flavored espresso. The essence of espresso is the strong taste of high-quality coffee beans, and nothing more.

Espresso derivatives (cappuccino, latte macchiato, and mocha), are sometimes flavored, which is why many hardcore coffee fans don’t regard them as espresso drinks.

Nespresso capsule coffee makers are becoming more and more popular. These capsules also have a variety of different flavors to suit everyone’s needs. Most importantly, capsule makers can also brew a good shot of espresso!

Generally speaking, espresso is all about full-body taste, with a good balance of acidity and bitterness. If you have to add sugar, add just a little bit in order not to mask the beautiful taste of extracted.