Coffee, AKA liquid gold, is a beloved morning beverage devoted to waking us up for the day.
Strong coffee lovers may choose espresso as their ideal beverage, while lighter-roast coffee lovers choose a more mild brand mixed with cream and sweeteners.
In the end, what are the differences between coffee and espresso, and why should you choose one over the other?
We can help you with that choice!
Us coffee fanatics love to debate about which one of the two is actually better.
Let’s compare both to help make an informed decision.
What Is Espresso?
Espresso is a strong cup of coffee brewed with a special machine that uses high pressure.
It originated in Italy in the 19th century and has been the go-to in the cafés there ever since.
The espresso-based specialty coffee craze later arrived in the US, and you can now find espresso in coffee houses across the country.
Espresso coffee is usually served in a tiny cup, but it’s also used for coffee-based specialty drinks.
Given its concentrated, bold flavor, it’s the right option for lattes, cappuccinos, and macchiatos.
The best cappuccino machine models also make a mean espresso.
What Is the Difference Between Coffee and Espresso?
The coffee vs espresso debate is largely a matter of opinion, but the two do have important differences.
The brewing method is the most important distinction between the two.
So how does a coffee maker work?
Well, gravity takes care of the brewing, and the method is simple: just pour hot water over ground coffee beans and wait.
This can be done with a filter coffee machine or a cone, but the basic function is the same.
The resulting coffee is smooth but not as strong as espresso and is usually served in bigger cups or mugs.
Espresso is prepared with pressure, which is where its Italian name comes from.
An espresso machine drives a small amount of hot water through a filter filled with ground coffee.
Coffee vs espresso also comes down to the beans, in particular how they’re roasted.
Even so, there isn’t a specific espresso bean, so pick the type of coffee beans you like the best.
You can make coffee with a dark roast if you like a really strong taste, but many people like their coffee a little lighter.
Since you’re drinking a larger volume of it, this makes sense.
Try medium or light roasts, and notice their complex flavors.
There’s so much more to know, so be sure to check out our handy guide for different types of coffee.
Espresso fans often pick dark-roasted beans that have a bold taste and are oily.
It’s the traditional Italian flavor, but you can absolutely use medium roasts if they’re your preference.
A warning to those using automatic espresso machines with grinders: be careful with dark roasts!
Oily beans may stick to the walls and clog your espresso maker, so medium or medium-dark roasts may be the way to go.
We reviewed the best coffee beans for espresso to help you make your pick.
As you’ll probably know, a pot of drip coffee can easily take 10 minutes or more to brew, depending on the size.
During this time, the water is in contact with the beans for a longer period, which allows for different flavor profiles to arise.
With espresso coffee, the brewing is fast, so the water’s only in contact with the coffee for a couple of seconds.
The pressure and the finely ground beans make the coffee strong, despite this shorter time.
The right coffee grind fineness depends not only on coffee vs espresso but also on the coffee maker.
The exact setting depends on your grinder, but this is a general guide:
- Turkish coffee: A Turkish coffee pot requires extremely fine coffee, close to a powder.
- Espresso: Espresso makers use finely ground coffee, somewhere around table salt in size. The same goes for stove-top espresso coffee makers.
- Drip coffee maker with paper filter: Paper filters work best with a medium grind. This is the type you’ll most commonly find in major store-bought brands.
- Drip coffee maker with metal filter: The same coffee maker but with the paper filter switched to a permanent metal filter. Use a coarse grind to not block it.
- French press: This type of coffee maker requires a coarse grind to not block the filter and break the press.
- Cold-brew and pot coffee: Go for an extra coarse grind for cold brews. It’s also the best choice for those outdoor moments preparing coffee in a pot.
Learn more about the grind size for every brewing method in this video.
Don’t have a burr grinder?
You can buy whole bean coffee from local roasters and coffee shops and ask them to grind it for you.
Just let them know which type of coffee maker you use, and they’ll know the right setting.
Taste and Texture
Coffee takes longer to brew, which gives the oils and flavors in the coffee time to flow out of the beans.
You’ll get a rich, full taste and will appreciate the subtler notes of the flavor profile.
Espresso is usually stronger and thicker, almost like a syrup.
It often has a bold flavor, that, depending on the beans and the barista, can turn a bit acidic.
Another thing that defines espresso coffee is crema—the thick and creamy foam on top that forms because of the pressure.
Drip coffee can be enjoyed in any size.
You can have anything from several smaller cups during the day to a full, 20-ounce venti in the morning.
The difference between coffee and espresso here is just a matter of which size you like best.
Espresso, on the other hand, is, by definition, a very small cup of coffee.
They’re made so fast and are consumed so quickly that Italians drink their espresso standing at the bar without even taking a seat!
There’s also ristretto, which is made with half the water of espresso and can be enjoyed in just a sip or two.
There’s been much debate over the health effects of coffee, but here are some insights from studies:
- Moderate coffee consumption is more beneficial than harmful to your health. Given that espresso and coffee come from the same plant, they have many of the same benefits.
- Drinking coffee may give you some protection from diseases like type 2 diabetes, Parkinson’s, cardiovascular diseases, and even cancer. Paper filter coffee is the healthiest choice for lowering harmful LDL cholesterol.
- More than two cups of espresso per day may increase the risk of coronary heart disease. This is most likely because espresso is consumed faster, and the concentration of caffeine is high. For those with cardiovascular issues, it’s better to limit espresso consumption to two cups a day.
Does Coffee or Espresso Have More Caffeine?
Espresso packs more caffeine in a smaller space than coffee, but its small serving size makes the total quantity of caffeine lower.
An 8-ounce coffee cup has 85 to 185 milligrams of caffeine.
A 1-ounce shot of espresso, on the other hand, has anywhere between 40 to 75 milligrams.
Is Espresso as Good for You as Coffee?
Espresso can be as good for you as coffee since they both come from the same plant.
The answer depends on the quantity of coffee you drink and the extras you put in them.
Cream, sugar, and other additives will hike up the calorie count fast in both cases, and moderation is key.
Is Instant Coffee Bad for You?
Instant coffee isn’t bad for you when consumed in moderation, just like brewed coffee.
Instant coffee is made from dried coffee, so it has some of the health benefits coffee has.
However, it does have a slightly higher concentration of the carcinogenic chemical, acrylamide.
What Is the Difference Between an Espresso Machine and a Coffee Maker?
The difference between an espresso machine vs coffee maker is that an espresso coffee machine uses pressure for extraction.
A coffee maker, on the other hand, uses gravity to push water through a filter.
Coffee makers have much simpler mechanisms than espresso machines, which is why they’re cheaper.
Is There a Difference in Drip Coffee Makers?
Yes, there is!
Check out these different types of coffee makers:
- Traditional drip coffee maker
- Pour-over coffee maker
- Grind and brew
- Thermal coffee maker
- Pod machine
- Dual coffee maker
- Commercial coffee maker
- French press
Traditional Drip Coffee Maker
A traditional drip coffee maker is just about the simplest thing there is.
You just load up the water tank, put some ground coffee in the filter, and press a button.
A few minutes later, you have a full pot.
Many models available are even programmable, so you can wake up to a fresh pot every morning.
Cuisinart is a fantastic brand for this range, and it has many reliable, fully programmable options that come with charcoal water filters.
Check out our reviews for the best Cuisinart coffee maker here.
Pour Over Coffee Maker
Manual pour-over models include no more than a glass carafe and a filter.
You place the coffee in the filter and pour hot water on it, and you get an excellent cup of coffee, with no electricity required.
Grind and Brew
Grind and brew coffee makers prepare your coffee from fresh beans every day before brewing.
These kinds of coffee makers are available for both espresso coffee and drip coffee.
See the best grind and brew coffee maker models here.
Thermal Coffee Maker
Thermal coffee makers are drip coffee makers that come with a thermal carafe or internal tank that keeps your coffee hot.
They’re great for offices or people who prepare a full pot in the morning and get refills during the day.
We found the best thermal coffee maker for those of you who love to keep your coffee scalding hot for hours.
Many brands now make easy-to-use pod machines that work on K-cup style pods and give you on-demand coffee in minutes.
They’re easy to use and have a great variety of drinks, from drip coffee-style beverages to teas and specialty coffees.
You just insert a pod and press a button or two, depending on the model.
The machine warms up the water and drives it through the pod, ending with an easy cup of coffee.
Dual Coffee Maker
Why would you have to settle for coffee or espresso?
Some of the best dual coffee maker models have the option of either a pot of coffee or an espresso-style drink.
Other models allow you to switch between a pod or ground coffee.
Either way, they offer amazing variety.
Commercial Coffee Maker
Commercial coffee makers come in different types, from pod machines to massive 60-cup coffee urns.
Some have a tank that keeps water hot for hours, making them able to produce a full pot in as little as 3 minutes.
They all work in different ways, so make sure you check out our review for the best commercial coffee maker here.
A French press doesn’t exactly produce drop coffee, but you do get a beverage very much like it.
The difference is that it’s even better for appreciating the complex flavor profiles of the beans.
To use a French press, mix the coffee and hot water in a container and leave it to brew for a couple of minutes.
Then, press the metal filter down to separate the beverage from the grounds.
Espresso Maker Types
Espresso makers are also available for all budgets, with varying complexity.
These are the most common types:
Capsule machines, like Nespresso, are by far the easiest option.
Just pop in the pod, press a button and in less than a minute, you’ll enjoy an espresso with a thick layer of crema.
Some of the best budget espresso machine models are in this category, as they offer you consistent quality with an easy brewing method.
Automatic espresso machines grind your coffee from beans and brew it with the push of a button.
You can usually control some of the brew strength settings to tailor the coffee to your liking.
Many of these machines also include milk frothers for lattes and cappuccinos.
For these options, see our reviews for the best cappuccino maker.
Manual espresso coffee makers give you the chance to really learn how to brew an espresso shot like a pro.
Control the temperature, pressure, or brewing velocity and learn how to impress family and friends.
These kinds of machines are a bit more expensive, with professional models costing thousands of dollars.
You can, however, find some great budget options.
For instance, check out our review for the best budget espresso machine to find the right one for you.
One budget-friendly option is the stove-top coffee maker.
It makes a strong cup of coffee that’s brewed with pressure, so it’s technically close to espresso coffee.
However, it’s not quite as concentrated.
You can still use it as a base for homemade lattes and cappuccinos, though.
Can You Use Espresso in Drip Coffee Maker?
You can use beans roasted for espresso in a drip coffee maker, as long as they’re ground to the right type of filter. If you use finely ground espresso, you may end up blocking the filter and overflowing the coffee maker.
Can You Make Espresso With Regular Coffee?
You can make espresso coffee with a regular coffee bean but not a drip coffee grind. If you try preparing an espresso with medium-ground coffee, you’ll end up with sour, acidic, under-extracted coffee.
Is Espresso Better Than Drip Coffee?
Espresso coffee can be better for giving you a quick boost of energy instead of drinking a large cup or mug. It’s also great with dessert after a meal, in the European way. Which one is better is really up to you.
Helpful Related Information
For those who love their freshly ground beans, this Cuisinart burr grinder is a must.
Love your hot coffee on the go?
Check out this vacuum-insulated Juro tumbler.
For new baristas, this espresso tamper and milk pitcher combo will come in handy.
To get the perfect milk foam for your espresso-based specialty drinks, you’ll need a milk frother, like this manual PowerLix model.
If you are leaning towards choosing espresso for cappuccino as your favorite drink, check out our favorite cappuccino machines.
Also check out our best budget espresso machines for those on a budget.
Experiment with different coffee beans to grasp the exact flavor notes that you like.
For our favorite coffee beans, check out our list here.
In the battle of coffee vs espresso, it’s tough to pick a clear winner.
The best way to make coffee is up to you.
If you love a big mug of coffee in the morning, a drip coffee maker will likely be the best.
For those who want to experiment with barista-style latte art creations, espresso is the right way to go.
Luckily, you can find dual coffee makers that combine the best of both worlds.