Coffee and espresso are the same thing, right?


Well, how come there’s a difference between coffee and espresso?

Coffee is used to refer to all coffee in general but it also refers to coffee that’s brewed differently to an espresso.

Today, we’ll clear this up.

There are 2 main methods to brew coffee. You either filter it using pressure from gravity or extract it using high pressure.

Extracting coffee with high pressure results in higher concentrated coffee than brewed coffee.

There is a wide variety of espresso-based drinks from cappuccino to mocha. Brewed coffee is much simpler. It’s used to make cafe au lait or cafe con leche. This is brewed coffee with heated milk added.

Espresso making is much more involved than simple coffee brewing. Some take espresso to a geek level. Adjusting variables such as ground coarseness or water temperature is called dialing in and if that’s what you’re here to read about, read on…

What Is Coffee?

Coffee comes from coffee beans which originate from the seeds of berries or cherries of the Coffea plant. The cherries are picked and processed then the seeds are dried and roasted.

Coffee was discovered in Ethiopia in the 16th Century. The Ethiopians boiled coffee beans in hot water as they believed it had medicinal properties.

Ethiopia introduced coffee to Yemen, who introduced it in turn to the Ottoman Turks. The Turks began roasting coffee beans.

Coffee then spread to Europe and the rest of the world.

Both brewed coffee and espresso coffee start off as coffee beans.

Types Of Coffee Bean

Arabica, Robusta, and Liberica are the three main types of coffee beans.

Arabica is the most common coffee bean accounting for roughly 60% of the world’s coffee.

Robusta is the second most common coffee bean. These beans contain double the amount of caffeine as Arabica.

Liberica is grown in the Philippines, but it rarely becomes commercially available.

Interestingly, the most expensive coffee bean is kopi luwak or civet coffee which costs $500 a kilo.

This is made from the seeds of Coffea cherries that have been digested and excreted by the palm civet. A civet is a small raccoon-like animal that lives in the jungle.

Yep, that’s right, they’ve been pooped by civets!

Brewing Techniques

Brewed coffee is made by soaking ground coffee in hot water and then filtering out the coffee grounds through a paper filter or French press.

Brewed coffee is lighter in flavor and color. You can make cafe au lait and cafe con leche by adding hot milk to brewed coffee.

Drip/Pour Over

The pour-over or drip method is probably the simplest manual method of brewing freshly ground coffee.

This method relies on gravity to extract the coffee from the grains.

Hot water poured over coffee grains soaks into the coffee grains. While it soaks in, the water extracts the compounds then filters through to a container below.

Many prefer this type of coffee because it is light in color and taste.

French Press (Cafetière)

The French press was invented by Paolini Ugo. It’s a coffee pot with a plunger made of mesh.

Coffee grains are steeped in hot water. The plunger is then pushed down on the coffee brew, separating the water from the coffee grains.

Cafe Au Lait is made with French press coffee and steamed milk.

Look out for our forthcoming piece on the best French presses.

Moka Pot

The most basic type of espresso maker is the moka pot.

In 1933 an Italian engineer called Alfonso Bialetti invented the moka pot. It’s named for Mocha in Yemen.

A moka pot consists of 3 parts. At the bottom is a chamber for hot water. Above is a perforated vessel called a basket and the coffee grounds go in here. At the top sits a pot.

Pressurized steam pushes the hot water from the bottom chamber into the basket. The water pushes through the tightly packed coffee grains and moves up into the pot.

The moka pot is basically an espresso maker as it works on the same principle.

What Is Espresso?

The word espresso is Italian, which means to push through. It refers to the extraction method. Boiling water acts as a solvent. When water is pushed through coffee grains by pressurized hot water, the compounds fuse with the water to become coffee.

But to make excellent espresso, factors like grind coarseness, pressure, and water quality are essential.

How to Make Espresso

There’s an art to making coffee like a barista with an espresso machine.

Most important is the pressure of the espresso machine. Secondly, the coffee must be fresh and of good quality. The coffee needs to be fine to medium ground. If it’s too fine, it can clog the machine. If it’s too coarse, it exposes the coffee to less water.

For a 2oz espresso shot, you start with about 30ml of coffee granules. The grounds are pressed into the capsule with a tool called a tamper to create a coffee cake.

When the coffee cake capsule is screwed into place, you can press the button. The espresso coffee will trickle from the spout straight into the cup.

What Makes Great Espresso?

No matter what type of espresso maker you’re using, the principle is pretty much the same. For espresso that is dark and concentrated, pressurized hot water is forced through coffee grounds.


The most essential factor in producing a perfect espresso is the amount of pressure forced through the coffee.

Higher pressure results in a higher concentrated coffee and more luxurious crema, which is an indication of a quality espresso.

Modern espresso makers can create pressure as high as 134 bars of pressure per square inch. That’s 4 times as high as the tire pressure of your car.

An excellent espresso shot depends on the water temperature, the amount of coffee, and the size of the espresso you’re making. Baristas work hard at balancing.

The sign of a well-made espresso shot is the fine caramel foam that sits on top called crema. It’s a sign of freshness and good quality.


Crema became an indicator of quality coffee as a result of a marketing campaign by Achille Gaggia in 1948.

Gaggia introduced a new type of espresso maker which provided more pressure than other makers.

The higher pressure produced a more luxurious foam. And so it was to become a compelling selling point.

Crema eventually came to be an indication of a quality espresso.

Grind Coarseness

The coarseness of ground coffee must be dialed in for the best espresso. If it’s too fine, it can clog the machine. If it’s too coarse, the coffee won’t extract as the water will just rush through.

For drip coffee, fine to medium ground coffee is best.

Water Temperature

Water temperature has to be just right when making espresso coffee. If it’s too cold, it won’t extract the coffee. But, if it’s too hot, it can over-extract, which makes it bitter.

Water To Coffee Ratio

A ratio of 1:17 of coffee to water is advised for the ideal espresso. For two cups of coffee, this would amount to 500 milliliters of water to 30g of coffee.

For a French press, the recommended ratio is 1:15 coffee to water. This is about 3 tablespoons for each cup of water.

For drip coffee makers, a rule of thumb is to use 1 to 2 tablespoons of coffee for every six ounces of water.

Moka pots have a filter basket, so the ratio is already calculated. The coffee to water ratio of Moka Pots is 1:7.

The Espresso Machine

The difference between moka pot espresso and modern machine espresso comes down to pressure.

A moka pot uses the pressure of gravity which is minuscule compared to the pressure from an espresso machine.

Most espresso machines create around 130 pounds of pressure per square inch (psi). It’s easier to visualize by looking at car tire pressure, which usually goes up to 30psi.

An Italian called Angelo Moriondo built the first industrial espresso machine, which was patented in 1884. This steam-driven machine brewed coffee in bulk rather than on-demand.

An Italian Chemist called Ernesto Illy invented the first automatic espresso machine in Turin, Italy. Illy studied chemistry at University. When he completed his degree, he started working for his father’s coffee company in Trieste, Italy.

Illy used his chemistry knowledge to find a way to extract coffee better.

Illy dedicated his life to his father’s company, always finding ways to improve the quality of coffee.

Types Of Espresso Machines

There are 5 types of mechanisms that drive modern espresso machines.

Lever Driven

Lever-driven espresso machines can be defined into 3 main categories, automatic, semi-automatic, and manual.

Automatic espresso machines are commonly found in households. Automatic machines are fully automated. Just press a button, and it’ll dispense the coffee grounds and brew it.

Semi-automatic espresso machines will make the coffee, but you have to prepare the coffee capsule. Once the coffee capsule is screwed into place, you just have to press the button.

Manual lever-driven espresso machines are favored by people who take their coffee a bit more seriously. Lever-driven devices don’t need electricity, ideal in a power cut.

Steam Driven

With steam-driven espresso machines, steam pressure is used to force water through the coffee cake, much like the moka Pot.

Electric steam-driven espresso machines have internal water boilers, which create pressure of approximately 1.5 bars of pressure.

Some feel that home steam-driven espresso appliances aren’t capable of producing an excellent cup of coffee. 9 bars of pressure is considered the minimum for an excellent espresso.


Pump-driven espresso machines have a motor integrated to create the high pressure needed to produce a strong cup of espresso.

Pump-driven espresso machines can produce pressure as high as 135 psi.

Air-Pump Espresso Machines

A new type of espresso maker has emerged, the air-pump machine. Boiled water is added to the device. The air compression comes from a hand-pump, electric air compressor, or carbon dioxide / nitrous oxide cartridges.

Types Of Espresso Drinks

We’ll look now at a range of espresso-based drinks you can enjoy beyond a simple, short shot.


There are 2 types of espresso, both served in a tiny coffee cup called a demitasse. A ristretto fills less than two-thirds of a demitasse, so it is the most potent shot. A lungo is brewed to fill more than two-thirds of a cup.

Double Espresso or Doppio

A double espresso is twice the volume of espresso. It measures around 1.5oz, and a good shot will have a creamy layer of crema.


Cappuccino is made in 3 equal parts. One-third espresso, one-third steamed milk, and one-third foam.

For cappuccino foam, hot water vapor blasts from a steam wand into cold milk.

The type of milk used will create a different kind of foam.

Whole milk has a higher fat content, which will produce a more stable foam below room temperature. This is ideal for takeaway coffee.

That said, semi-skimmed milk produces more stable foam in higher room temperature.

Dry Cappuccino

Dry cappuccino is just like a cappuccino but there are more foam and less steamed milk.

Cafe Latte

A double ristretto shot forms a third of a latte. This is topped with two-thirds hot milk and a thin layer of foam.

Flat White

One part espresso, two parts steamed milk.


For an Americano, a shot of espresso is poured over a cup of hot water.

Espresso Macchiato

Macchiato is a single espresso shot topped with crema. The creamy foam of a macchiato has spots of caramel-colored coffee.

Cafe Mocha

Made with hot chocolate, espresso, and hot milk.

Cafe Noisette

An espresso topped up with one-third hot milk.

Cafe Affogato

A ball of vanilla ice-cream in a shot of espresso.

Con Panna

An espresso shot topped with whipped cream.

Black Eye

One part espresso to two parts brewed coffee.

Cafe Vienois

Made in thirds. One-third espresso, one-third hot milk, and one-third whipped cream.


So, which contains more caffeine? An espresso or a brewed coffee?

You’d assume that due to its high concentration, an espresso shot would have a higher caffeine content than a cup of brewed coffee.

In fact, a 12oz cup of brewed coffee contains 120mg of caffeine. Whereas a 2oz shot of espresso has about 80 milligrams.

But, when you look at caffeine content per ounce, espresso has 40mg per ounce, and brewed coffee has 10mg per ounce.


It seems that espresso-making has a culture of its own. Coffee enthusiasts reach geek levels when dialing in on the best cup of espresso.

Drip coffee isn’t so involved. But, it doesn’t mean it’s not good enough for coffee lovers. It just makes a lighter, less intense cup of coffee.

Bookmark BestCoffee for all your coffee-related needs and come back soon!

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