Difference between Coffee and Espresso

Updated on June 15, 2017

Gone are the days when you could simply ask for a cup of jo. Now the world of coffee has expanded. It includes coffee shops with complicated or minimalist themes, baristas, and people with preferences between the work of one barista over the other, and types of blends, roasts, and serving sizes. In such a context, you need to get a few coffee related facts straight. Let’s start with the simplest of them, like knowing the difference between coffee and espresso.

Definitions

Coffee
A cup of coffee

Coffee is a beverage made from ground coffee beans. Earliest mentions of the brew date back to the 15th century in Yemen. By the 16th century, it had reached Turkey, Persia, and North Africa. There are different ways of making the brew and it depends on what each person prefers. You can get filter coffee, drip-over, French press, brewed, instant, or Turkish coffee to name a few. In all cases, ground coffee beans are introduced to water at various temperatures.

The process is more or less controlled. With instant coffee, for example, all you have to do is to add hot water to the coffee. With Turkish coffee, the finely ground coffee is simmered, then poured with the grounds and allowed to settle in the cup. Each process is specific and gives out a different taste. Also, you can prepare any type of coffee with basically any type of beans. It all depends on how you like it.

Espresso
A cup of espresso

Espresso is coffee made by forcing hot water through finely ground coffee beans at a very high pressure. The result is a full flavored, thick coffee, perfect to use as a base for other types of coffees such as cappuccinos, macchiatos, and such. The perfect espresso has three parts: the heart, the body, and the crema. They are visible when it is served in a glass. The heart is the bottom layer of the beverage. It is dark brown and bitter, perfectly balancing out the sweetness of the drink. The body is the middle layer, which should be caramel in color. The crema is the top foam and it holds the most aroma and the finest taste of the espresso. When offered such an espresso, you must drink it before the three layers become one and the taste is altered.

The drink is only made using an espresso machine, capable of giving you control over temperature and pressure in order to make the perfect cup. The patent of the machine was registered in 1884 in Turin, Italy by Angelo Moriondo and the device is nothing short of impressive. Espressos are usually associated with drinks you get in cafes, as the specialized equipment is big, expensive, and would take up a lot of space in a regular kitchen. Home versions of the device are available, however.

Coffee vs Espresso

So what is the difference between coffee and espresso?

Coffee is made in various ways, while espresso is one way to make coffee. A general acceptance is that coffee is what we call any boiled or brewed cup, while espresso has a specific type of preparation. While to make the simplest cup of coffee you need to boil water and make it interact with ground coffee, espresso means nearly boiling water being pushed down with great pressure. Espresso coffee is usually ground finer than regular coffee because the high pressured water must seep through it without allowing air pockets to form.

Regular coffee can be served in big cups and savored at one’s own pace. Many people pick up a tall coffee and drink it while they take a walk in the park, as they arrive at work and attend a meeting, or simply while they go through their morning routine. An espresso is something served in a coffee shop and drank quite quickly to reap the full benefit of its aroma.

When it comes to caffeine, a regular coffee can have more or less caffeine, depending on how much was used to make it. However, based on a general acceptance of how much it takes to make a strong coffee, note that it would still be milder than an espresso.

Coffee has been around for hundreds of years with just as many ways of preparing it, from the French press to the Turkish kettle. Espresso, on the other hand, is a concept dating back to 1884 when the first espresso machine was invented in Italy.

Comparison Chart

CoffeeEspresso
Has many ways of preparationCan only be made with a special machine
Is usually boiled water added to ground coffee beansIs nearly boiled water that is added by high pressure to finely ground coffee beans
Uses ground coffee beansNeeds coffee beans that are finer ground
Has been made all over the world in a variety of ways since the 15th – 16th centuriesWas invented in the 19th century in Italy
Can be sipped at willShould be drunk quickly
Contains a moderate amount of caffeineContains a lot of caffeine