The Complete Espresso Coffee Guide

Table of Contents

When it comes to brewing your favorite drink you may want to know a little more about what it is, how it’s made and even how it’s different from other drinks.

Or you might be looking to expand your horizons a bit and want to check out different options.

So, let’s take a look at the espresso and just what you might want to know.

What is Espresso?

Let’s start with the basics of just what an espresso really is. You likely already know that it’s a type of coffee drink, but it’s actually a little different than you might be used to if you tend to drink regular coffee. That’s because espresso is actually much more concentrated and bolder than a standard cup of coffee.

The beans that are used to make espresso and coffee both come from the same type of plant, but they are treated a bit differently when it comes to coffee beans versus espresso beans.

Once you’re ready to grind them they’ll also be ground differently, with espresso beans being ground much finer.

In the end, you’ll have a drink that is bitter, acidic and bold, and all of these to a higher degree than you would get with a standard cup of coffee. Though, it’s important to note that this end result will vary slightly based on the specific blend of beans that you get (some are bolder or sweeter than others).

cup of espresso on a saucer

Top Differences Between Coffee and Espresso

There are actually several differences between a traditional cup of coffee and espresso. 

We’re going to take a look at some of the main differences that you’ll find from the size of the drink that you’re going to get to the way it’s prepared and even the way that it tastes, so you can figure out if espresso is really the right option for you.

Brewing Method

First, these two types of coffee drinks are brewed differently. A cup of coffee is easy to find because most people have a coffee maker in their home and you’ll find them at any restaurant, convenience store, or coffee shop.

The coffee is all about slowly filtering hot water through coffee grounds and that means it’s going to take a few minutes (at least) to get a cup.

On the other hand, a shot of espresso (as it’s generally called) is a little more difficult. Some people have espresso makers but they’re not quite as common. Also, you will generally only find them at coffee shops rather than being able to get your favorite espresso at a restaurant or at the gas station.

Espresso is made with extreme pressure on the grounds and then pushing almost boiling water through the grounds to get your drink within only a few seconds.

Taste

The flavor of espresso is most definitely going to be bolder and more intense than you will get from traditional coffee. While the flavor profiles of each will vary slightly based on the specific beans that you use (as well as whether they are fresh ground or not) an espresso is made with a more pressurized and quick process that increases the intensity.

You can get some pretty bold coffee, but you won’t get a cup that’s as bold as your standard shot of espresso. There is a great deal more of the flavor directly from the beans in the espresso.

Pressure

When coffee is brewed you’re actually using gravity to make it work. That means there’s not a whole lot of pressure involved. You pour the coffee grounds into the filter and you may tap the pot down to get them a little more packed, but you don’t want them too packed because you want the water to drip through easily (thus the name ‘drip coffee’). The water will flow through the coffee grounds but there is minimal pressure used.

With espresso, however, you’re going to have a great deal of pressure because that’s exactly what makes your espresso what it is. You will put the grounds into the top of the machine and tamp them down firmly to create a solid puck of your grounds.

Then, the water is forced through as quickly as possible, which means that you’re using a great deal of pressure (or bars) to do it and to create the end result, a shot of espresso.

Ground Coffee vs. Ground Espresso

What about the grounds that you’re going to use? Well, when you’re making coffee you want your grounds to be a little coarse. That’s because you don’t want them to get pushed through the filter and into your coffee.

You also don’t want them to dissolve too much and make your coffee bitter. If your grounds are too coarse, however, you could end up with a very mild flavor (which isn’t what you want from your coffee).

With espresso you want a very fine grind because you want to make the most of all the grounds and the flavor that they provide. The finer the grind the better extraction you’re going to get. But at the same time you want to make sure that you don’t get it too fine because the grounds could be pushed into the cup by the force of the water (it’s going to be that intense).

Serving Size

When it comes to drinking your favorite beverage you’re going to have a different size for each as well. A standard cup of coffee, for example, is 8 ounces (though you can also make larger cups). On the other hand, the standard shot of espresso is only 1 ounce (though again, you can have larger cups as well).

holding a cup of coffee

Caffeine and Acid in Espresso

When it comes to the caffeine in your espresso you’re definitely going to love it, at least, if you’re the type of person who really likes a lot of caffeine. But you should be aware of just what it’s going to mean for you and your overall health. That’s because too much caffeine can be bad for you.

Too much caffeine could keep you up at night (though not everyone experiences this). Or it could make you jittery or unfocused.

On the other hand, some people find that caffeine does the exact opposite, helping them to wake up and feel more focused during the day. In general, you’ll find that a double shot of espresso has around 120 milligrams of caffeine.

Acid, on the other hand, can be another problem. But you might be surprised to know that espresso actually has less acid than traditional coffee.

That’s because it actually has an additional compound in it that’s called N-methylpyridium (you don’t need to remember that). What you should know is that this ingredient comes in dark roasted coffees and espressos only, and actually stops the body from producing stomach acid.

Overall, you’ll get a decent amount of caffeine in a small amount of espresso and you won’t have to worry as much about the acid content.

cup of cappuccino on a saucer

Popular Types of Espresso Drinks Compared

If you have ever drank espresso or if you’re considering it you may want to know more about the different types of drinks that you can get. After all, there are plenty of different drinks that can be made with coffee, so why wouldn’t there be plenty to make with espresso as well?

Pure Espresso

First up, of course, is the standard espresso. An espresso is served in a ‘shot’ rather than as a cup like with other forms of coffee. That’s because espresso is more concentrated and therefore a great deal stronger per serving size than a standard coffee.

A single shot is only a single ounce, or you can sometimes even get what’s called a ristretto, or a ¾ ounce shot. You’ll also find a lungo, or 1 ½ ounce shot and a double shot. Any size shot is served in a small demitasse cup and should be drunk quickly rather than sipped like a traditional coffee beverage.

Espresso Macchiato

Next up is the espresso macchiato, because it’s one of the simplest drinks to make with your espresso. This one uses a single shot of espresso and covers it with a thick layer of foamed milk.

You can choose to add other ingredients like caramel and chocolate or anything else, but the standard macchiato only needs those two ingredients.

Espresso con Panna

Another simple drink to make is the espresso con panna. This one is also only two ingredients, but slightly different. With this drink you’ll use a single shot of espresso and add a thick layer of whipped cream to the top. This is another that can have additional ingredients added, but the standard is quite simple.

Café Breve

There are actually several easy drinks with an espresso and the café breve is the next. This one uses steamed half and half instead of milk, which makes it slightly different from the standard cappuccino (which we’ll get to in a moment) and quite different from the creamy flavor of the espresso con panna as well. You’ll use a single shot of espresso with the thick layer of steamed half and half or light cream.

Cappuccino

Next is the cappuccino, which uses a single shot of espresso topped with steamed milk rather than foamed milk as you will find in a macchiato. It’s also full milk rather than half and half, which makes it a bit creamier than what you would get with the café breve.

Café Latte

The café latte starts to add a little complexity to the process. This actually includes a single shot of espresso with approximately 6 or even 8 ounces of steamed milk on top.

This is similar to the cappuccino but with a larger quantity of steamed milk. If you stop right there you have what’s more commonly referred to as a flat white. If you finish it off with a thin layer of milk foam, however, you have a café latte.

This drink commonly comes in larger sizes and a double shot of espresso is another common aspect. There are also slight variations that are known as café con leche or café au lait. You can experiment with different ones at your favorite coffee shop.

Café Americano

The café americano is actually a very simple drink because all you need is a single shot of espresso and about 6-8 ounces of water. So, in quantity of ingredients it’s similar to a flat white (like we mentioned above) but with water instead of steamed milk you’re going to have a slightly less creamy flavor and one that is instead a little more like a regular cup of coffee.

Flavored Espresso Drinks

Flavored drinks are the ones that you commonly see at your favorite high end coffee shops.

These start with a single shot of espresso and then add some kind of milk or dairy topped with flavored syrups and whipped cream. For example, a macchiato may add chocolate syrup or caramel syrup and then whipped cream on the top.

These types of drinks have become quite popular but they’re not the official or traditional form of any of the ones we’ve already mentioned. That doesn’t mean that you can’t enjoy them, however.

Also, you can order any of the drinks above and then add whatever ingredients you like to them. Or, in many coffee shops they might already have a name for the drink you want with all of the ingredients (such as a caramel macchiato).

Iced Coffee

There are several different types of iced coffee out there and which one you prefer will depend specifically on you. A standard iced coffee is simply coffee (or espresso in this case) poured over ice. But that can water down your coffee quite a bit. It’s best to prepare your espresso before you’re ready to drink it.

Brewing a stronger shot of espresso and then chilling it in the fridge makes sure that your ice doesn’t melt too quickly. You should also add any ingredients like spices or sugar before you put it into the fridge. Then, let it chill for at least a few hours, pour over even more ice and you’re ready to mix it up.

You can add half and half or whole milk on top of your drink and then add things like flavored syrups to really get the best flavors. Once again, it’s all up to your personal preference.

espresso

How to Make Espresso Without an Espresso Machine

For those lucky enough to have an espresso machine the process is simple, but not everyone has the space or the money to buy a machine that takes up a lot of space and only serves one function. So, you may need to find other ways to make your favorite cup of espresso.

Keep in mind that these methods will not produce a ‘true’ espresso, but will allow you to get as close as you can without getting a real machine or going to a coffee shop to have the local barista pull you a shot.

French Press Method

First is the French press method, which is a type of beaker with a piston in it. This is actually a relatively inexpensive tool to get and it allows you to make regular coffee as well as espresso so it’s something that can be a bit more convenient. Not to mention it comes in different sizes so you can get something that fits your needs.

All you’re going to need to get started is your coffee grounds and hot water to use your French press, which is exactly what you would need if you were brewing a standard cup of coffee. But you want to make sure that you use grounds that are coarser than the standard for espresso or you could end up with grounds in your drink.

  1. Grind the beans.

    If you want to get really authentic and make sure you’re getting the best possible flavor you need to grind your own beans. For espresso you typically want a much finer grind than coffee, but with a French press you’ll keep them coarse. Also, you want to make sure you have approximately 4 tablespoons of grounds to get a double shot of espresso.

  2. Boil your water.

    You want to get your water up to about 200◦F for the perfect cup of espresso. Also, make sure you put a little hot water into the French press so that it’s heated before you add your hot water. If you don’t you could burst the press, since the glass canister can’t handle the sudden temperature change.

  3. Add your grounds.

    Once your French press has been heated pour out the water and add the coffee grounds into it. You will then add the hot water slowly. This is going to help you start to bloom the coffee and get some of the natural oils out of the grounds.

  4. Add your water.

    Now you’re going to add the rest of the water and slowly stir the grounds and water together. Make sure that you are doing this slowly so you don’t overagitate the grounds. You want to get a good balance of flavor when you’re finished.

  5. Let it steep.

    With traditional espresso you’re going to pull it very quickly, but with a French press the process is different. You’ll need to let the brew steep for up to 5 minutes to get the best possible flavor without allowing it to become over extracted. Under-extracting means you don’t get enough of the flavor. Over-extracting means that you will have a bitter or sour taste.

  6. Push the plunger.

    The final step before actually getting to pour and drink your coffee is to push the plunger down. You want to do this in a smooth and slow motion rather than the quick motion you may experience with a standard espresso machine. Make sure you do this steadily so you’re getting the maximum extraction but not forcing the grounds through the bottom of the press.

  7. Enjoy

    Finally, it’s time to pour your espresso and enjoy it. You don’t want to leave it in the press any longer than you need to at this point because it will start to become bitter. Instead, pour it through a filter into your cup (the grounds can get through to the bottom of the press) and enjoy.

Moka Pot/Stovetop Method

The next option is to use a moka pot, which is a little more specialty item but it’s still not very expensive. It’s a pot, made with stainless steel, and includes a base, a chamber for the coffee grounds and a chamber for your coffee. And all you’re going to need is water, coffee grounds, your moka pot and the stove (or a fire if you’re cooking outside).

  1. Grind the beans.

    When you grind your own beans you’re going to get the best possible flavor, which is why it’s recommended that you do so immediately before you’re ready to brew your cup. For the moka pot you want to make sure you grind them extremely fine to get the right flavor profile. If you keep them coarse like with the French press you’re going to miss out on a lot of flavor.

  2. Boil your water.

    You want to add water to the bottom of your moka pot to boil. Fresh water is important and you want to make sure that you only fill the chamber halfway so it doesn’t have too much pressure. If you overfill the water it won’t be able to get the pressure out and the pot itself can become pressurized, which is extremely dangerous.

  3. Add your coffee grounds.

    Next, pour your fine coffee grounds into the filter basket. Make sure that you shake them down slightly so they level out, but do not press them down the way you would for an espresso machine. Water needs to be able to get down through the grounds and that will be much harder to do if you have them packed in too tightly.

  4. Put it together.

    You’ll need to screw the entire pot together so all three chambers are attached. Be careful while doing this so that the pot isn’t tightened too much, which can cause pressure to build. Also, be careful of the pot being too hot if you used it to boil your water.

  5. Heat it up.

    You’ll want to use a medium heat when you put your moka pot on the stove to make sure that it’s heating properly. You need it to be hot enough that the coffee will come out of the spout, but not so hot that it comes out too quickly. Leaving the lid open is important and make sure that you are watching the pot to get the right temperature balance.

  6. Finish your brew.

    Once you start to get a good boil on your water it will build up pressure that pushes the brewed drink up and out of the valve. You’ll hear it puffing and you’ll also see a gradually lightening stream of coffee. When it starts to get to a honey color you’re ready to go. You should remove the pot and close the lid.

  7. Enjoy.

    This is the part where you get to enjoy your cup of espresso. You want to pour it directly into your cup and add any other ingredients that you might want. By the time you’re done, you’ll have your perfect espresso drink.

AeroPress Method

The final method that we’re going to talk about is using an AeroPress to create your espresso. These are actually quite simple and inexpensive. In fact, they’re even less expensive than either of the other options that we mentioned.

Plus it’s small, lightweight and easy to take with you wherever you go. And to use it you’ll only need your coffee grounds and water to get started.

  1. Grind the beans.

    First up, grinding your beans. You want to use about 2 tablespoons of grounds for your AeroPress and you want them to be extremely fine. This machine won’t work properly if your grounds are too coarse so remember to get them as fine as you can.

  2. Prepare the press.

    You’ll prepare your press by adding a filter into the lower basket and putting a little hot water through it. This is going to help heat your mug and also dampen the paper of the filter so that flavor doesn’t get into your cup. You’ll want to toss out the water and then put the press together over your mug.

  3. Prepare the grounds.

    You want your grounds to go in the first filter that you’ve already wet slightly with hot water. Make sure you shake them down so they’re flat but not packed. Then, add another filter on the top and wet it slightly as well. You want to use warm water for this too so you don’t have anything cold getting into your coffee.

  4. Press the plunger.

    Press your plunger all the way down, as far as it will go and pull it back up. The end result will be a puck of coffee grounds at the bottom. This is what you’re supposed to get and will help you get the perfect cup when you’re ready to actually push it through.

  5. Prepare the espresso.

    Next, add your hot water. You’ll want it to be about 200◦F and you want to make sure that you fill the press up to approximately the 2” mark for 2 tablespoons of grounds (though this can be adjusted to fit your personal preference). There is no need for steeping with this method and you’ll want to push the plunger down again slowly but firmly to press out the drink.

  6. Enjoy.

    That’s all there is to it. You’ll have your cup of espresso ready to go and you’ll have done it in no time at all.

iced coffee beverages

How to Make an Iced Espresso

Making an iced espresso is actually quite simple, but you need to figure out just what type of espresso you want to make.

A black iced espresso will require water, coffee or espresso grounds, sugar and ice. On the other hand a creamy iced espresso will add milk to your list to give you a richer flavor.

Black Iced Espresso

The first one we’re going to talk about is a black iced espresso. This uses just espresso, sugar and ice cubes, though it’s going to take a little time before you’ll be able to actually enjoy the drink. That’s because it’s going to need to be chilled to fully enjoy.

  1. Brew the espresso.

    First up, you need to brew your espresso. You can choose any method you like including an espresso machine, an AeroPress, French press or moka pot. The important thing is that you need up with approximately 2 ounces of freshly brewed espresso.

  2. Prepare your espresso.

    Next, you want to make sure that the drink is going to be sweet enough, so you want to add the sugar to get it to just the right flavor for you. Remember, this is entirely up to your preference so there’s no set amount. Just make sure you add it to the hot espresso so it will dissolve and you won’t have a gritty taste.

  3. Pour your espresso into a martini shaker.

    Yes, a martini shaker is the perfect way to go because it lets you chill the drink just right. Leave the lid off but keep the shaker in the freezer for at least two hours. This will let you keep the espresso flavor but still get the cool drink taste and experience.

  4. Serve the espresso.

    Once your espresso has chilled properly you can remove the martin shaker, add a few ice cubes and shake it up like you would a martini (with the lid on of course). Then pour the espresso into your glass and enjoy. If you prefer, you can also add your favorite other ingredients like chocolate shavings, nutmeg or milk.

Creamy Iced Espresso

The other option is a creamy drink that you can brew and drink almost instantly. This one is going to be quick and easy to prepare and it’s going to have a creamier consistency because you’re adding milk to it.

  1. Brew the espresso.

    First up, you need to brew your espresso. You can choose any method you like including an espresso machine, an AeroPress, French press or moka pot. The important thing is that you need up with approximately 2 ounces of freshly brewed espresso.

  2. Prepare your espresso.

    Next, you want to make sure that the drink is going to be sweet enough, so you want to add the sugar to get it to just the right flavor for you. Remember, this is entirely up to your preference so there’s no set amount. Just make sure you add it to the hot espresso so it will dissolve and you won’t have a gritty taste.

  3. Add your milk.

    While the first two steps to making this beverage are the same as with a black iced espresso, this is where you’re going to add other ingredients. You want to add in your milk or another dairy beverage which could be cream, heavy cream, half and half or even alternative milk products like almond or soy milk.

    Make sure the milk is fully chilled as this is going to help cool your espresso to get the iced effect while also keeping your ice from melting. You will want to add milk to taste, which may mean experimenting a bit to get the ratio right. Then, add your espresso and ice cubes.

  4. Enjoy.

    You’re now ready to enjoy your drink. The milk will cool the espresso almost instantly, making sure that your ice cubes do not melt and water down the drink. Stir it all together and you’re ready to enjoy with any other toppings you may want.

coffee and croissant

How to Drink Espresso

Are you now ready to enjoy your new favorite beverage? Or at least try it out? Well then, you need to know how to drink it properly. 

Luckily, it’s actually quite simple and the whole process starts with ordering your favorite espresso drink at your local coffee shop (or brewing it at home from one of the methods we’ve mentioned above).

Usually, when you order an espresso you will also get a glass of water. You’re meant to drink the water first so you can cleanse your palate and be ready for the full flavor of the espresso. After all, it’s a very small drink and you want to be able to enjoy it.

You can then skim off the crema if you prefer (not everyone likes the flavor) or you can stir your drink slowly to mix all of the flavor together. Your espresso will start to separate out slightly, separating the oils and therefore flavors, immediately after being poured. Stirring it gently redistributes all of the flavor.

Sip the espresso. You want to really sip at the espresso so you can experience all of the flavor. While you can drink it very quickly, you’re going to enjoy it more if you sip it slowly to experience it.

espresso pouring from an espresso machine

Top Espresso Uses

In general, espresso is used to give you a bit of a pick-me-up at some point during the day. Some people like to do this first thing in the morning so they are energized and ready to start their day. Others like to have one later in the day, such as after lunch, to help with that ‘mid-afternoon slump.’

In general, an espresso is meant to give you a bit of energy and to help you feel ready to take on the day, whether that’s the full day or whatever happens to be left of it. But it could just be a beverage that you enjoy drinking because there are so many different types of espresso drinks and so many different flavors.

coffee beans, coffee grounds, and latte in portafilters

Espresso FAQ

Finally, we’re going to take a look at some of the most commonly asked questions about espresso and everything that you might want to know before you start drinking it for yourself. Or maybe before you decide to try out a few different espresso drinks.

Is Espresso Stronger Than Coffee?

Espresso is stronger than coffee if you’re considering a single serving. For example, a double shot of espresso is only 2 ounces but will have about 120 milligrams of caffeine. On the other hand, a standard cup of coffee is 8 ounces and has about the same amount (or less) caffeine. 

The exact amount of caffeine in either will depend on the specific beans you use, but there is generally more caffeine to an espresso.

What is the Difference Between Espresso and Regular Coffee?

Espresso is a more intense and concentrated form of coffee. It is made using slightly different beans (and definitely a finer grind) and will be served as a ‘shot’ rather than a cup. You would drink one ounce of espresso compared to a standard eight ounce cup of coffee.

The method of extraction for espresso means that it will have an intense and bold flavor that you won’t get with coffee. Even using the darkest grounds you can find for coffee you won’t be able to mimic the true flavor profile of an espresso.

What is Espresso vs. Cappuccino?

Espresso is a straight shot of just the brewed beverage. There is nothing else added into it (unless you choose to add something after it is served to you. On the other hand, a cappuccino is a specialty beverage that is brewed with steamed milk.

Does Espresso Have Milk?

Espresso does not naturally have milk. An espresso is just a shot of the beverage itself with nothing added to it. 

That does not mean that you can’t add milk but technically, adding milk would change your beverage from a standard espresso to a completely different drink depending on the format of the milk (milk foam would be a macchiato, while steamed milk creates a cappuccino).

Can You Use Regular Coffee for Espresso?

While you can technically brew a cup of espresso with coffee beans you will not be getting a true espresso that way. You will instead be getting something that is a hybrid between coffee and espresso. 

So, if you’re looking to get a real espresso you should look for beans that are made specifically for that purpose, rather than using whatever you may have at home.

Perfect latte coffee on a white saucer with spoon

Conclusion

When it comes down to it there is a lot to know about espresso. There is a lot that you can do with it and definitely a lot of things to know about how to prepare it for yourself, whether at the coffee shop or at home.

Just make sure you’re not missing out on all of the great flavors you can get with espresso in your mix.

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Sources

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