Many individuals claim to be coffee aficionados but there are still terms in the coffee world that they do not fully comprehend yet. One of the most common causes of embarrassment among coffee drinkers is the difference between coffee and espresso. When asked “What is an Espresso?” most coffee drinkers cannot give the exact answer or description.

Coffee lovers know that the two are different from each other. However, they cannot tell exactly how one differs from the other.

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What is an Espresso?

What is An Espresso?

Espresso originated in Italy. It is brewed by forcing or expressing very hot water under pressure through finely ground coffee beans.

Espresso, when compared with coffee brewed by other methods, is generally thicker.

Espresso has a high concentration of dissolved and suspended solids.

​The main characteristic of Espresso that you do not find in coffee brewed any other way is the presence of crema or foam on top. Because espresso is the product of the pressurized brewing process, its flavor and chemicals are very concentrated.

Espresso is used as the base for other coffee drinks such as caffe latte, caffe macchiato, cappuccino, caffe mocha, caffe Americano, and flat white.

Because of the brewing process, an Espresso contains more caffeine than other coffee beverages. Espresso is traditionally served in a much smaller coffee vessel called the demitasse, making the total caffeine to be less than the caffeine content of a standard mug of traditionally brewed coffee.

A typical espresso shot contains between 120 mg to 170 mg of caffeine, compared to the 15o mg to 200 mg caffeine content of a mug of drip coffee.

In order to brew an espresso, very hot water is forced through finely ground compacted coffee. The coffee is tamped down in order for the water to penetrate evenly through the grounds.

The process results in a syrupy beverage because of the extraction of both the dissolved and solid components of the coffee grounds.  The crema of an espresso is the result of the emulsification of the oils in the grounds into a colloid, a process that does not happen in other brewing coffee methods.

How Espresso is Made

To brew espresso, there is a need for espresso machine. A person who is preparing an espresso is “pulling a shot,“ a term that has a reference to pulling down the lever of an espresso machine, the handle of which is attached to a spring-loaded piston that forces hot water through the coffee grounds at high pressure. Newer espresso machines today use pressure generated by an electric pump.

The pressure is the key to brewing espresso. It is also responsible for the development of the crema and the dispersion of the coffee oils into the espresso shot. Filtered coffee that relies on gravity to let the water go through the coffee grounds in brewing a regular coffee pot has negligible pressure when measured in atmospheric bars.

Most espresso machines default to nine atmospheres of pressure, which is equivalent to about 130 pounds per square inch of pressure. In order to experience that kind of pressure, you have to dive about 300 feet under the ocean. It is a lot of pressure that allows an espresso to be brewed quickly.

The size of the coffee grounds is also paramount in brewing espresso. While a regular brew uses coarser grinds to strike a balance in releasing the coffee flavors, espresso requires finer coffee grounds. The finer coffee grounds expose more coffee bean surface area to water, resulting in highly efficient brewing method because of the short infusion process.

​How's it Different from Other Coffee Drinks?

A few simple rules to keep in mind:

  1. An espresso is a coffee beverage.
  2. It is also a brewing method.
  3. An espresso is not a specific bean or bean blend.
  4. Any coffee bean and roasting level may be used to brew an authentic espresso.

Espresso is not a dark, bitter flavored roast of coffee, as many people wrongly think. Espresso is not a roast, as it is a method of preparing coffee. Espresso is usually blended from several coffee roasts and varietals forming a bold, but not bitter, flavor. 

Espresso is an intense experience of coffee that is loved by most Europeans, particularly Italians. Americans are typically too scared to try espresso because of its bold taste and flavor. An authentic espresso is served in a small demitasse-style cup. It is to be consumed promptly after it is extracted.

Espresso Cup

Espresso is not as popular in the US as it is in Europe. There’s a lot of misinformation on how an espresso tastes like. Many people reject the idea of drinking espresso because of the belief that it is bitter. Espresso is not any bitter than your regular coffee brew. When you brew espresso using reliable equipment, fresh beans, and a skilled barista, you will be enjoying a smooth, vibrant, and satisfying drink.

It is true that some espresso turns out to be bitter. If your espresso is bitter, you can blame it on the coffee shop or the brewer who used over roasted and burned coffee beans. The same is true with any other type of coffee brewing. If you use the same over roasted and burned coffee beans in your drip coffee maker, you will also end up with bitter coffee.

Espresso can produce an incredible coffee flavor. When you drink espresso, you will find out that the 1-ounce shot is packed with the full flavors of a mug of coffee. If you are taking your first espresso shot, your taste buds will be overwhelmed by the rich flavors. It is only after drinking espresso several times will a person begin to enjoy the flavors of this coffee drink.

A well-brewed espresso is rich in flavors. It has a strong yet balanced acidity. There is a slight bitterness that rounds out the coffee acidity, creating low notes. The rich aromas of the espresso shot goes into your nostrils to the back of your throat, allowing you to savor them. A well-brewed espresso has a satisfying sweetness that no other coffee brew can give.

How to drink an Espresso

How to Drink an Espresso

If you were not born in Italy, you must have wondered if there is a right way to drink espresso. If you observe Italians enjoying their espresso in the cafes of Venice or Rome, you will feel that they have a secret or two on how to properly drink espresso.

If you are drinking espresso for the first time, knowing the proper way of drinking it will help you enjoy its rich flavors.

It will be a good idea to decide first where you will be drinking your first espresso shot. If you will do it at home, you have to make sure that you have the essentials of brewing an espresso, which will include an espresso machine, espresso beans, and an espresso cup or a demitasse cup. It will also help if you have sparkling water, lemon juice, lemon rind or lime rind, and chocolate.

If you plan to have your first espresso in a café, you don’t have to worry about preparing the essentials. Just be ready with your money.

The most important thing when making or ordering an espresso is for you to pronounce it properly. Some people wrongly pronounce espresso as “x-presso.” It is wrong because espresso should be pronounced “s-presso.”

The following are the steps in drinking an espresso:

  1. 1
    ​If you will be drinking your espresso at home, make sure to first warm up your espresso cup or demitasse cup. Warming your espresso cup will give you a better espresso shot.
  2. 2
    ​If you are drinking at home, it is now time to make your espresso shot. You can make a single shot or you can make it double, depending on the amount of caffeine you want.
  3. 3
    Sip your sparkling water. This step is optional but highly recommended. Even if you order an espresso from a café, expect the barista to serve you a small bottle or a glass of sparkling water each time you order an espresso. The purpose of the sparkling water is to cleanse your palate so you can fully enjoy the rich taste of your shot.
  4. 4
    ​​Skim the crema away. This step will raise many eyebrows. In making the perfect espresso shot, people are always trying to perfect the crema, the presence of which makes a beautiful shot of espresso. However, the crema does not taste as great as it looks. It is always recommended that you skim off the crema to fully enjoy the richness of the espresso shot.
  5. 5
    Stir your espresso. Stirring the espresso will blend the thicker parts of the shot, which has the tendency to settle at the bottom of the cup with the lighter parts on top.
  6. 6
    ​Add your stuff. As with regular brewed coffee, you can drink an espresso shot straight up, with cream, or with sugar. Nobody will question you if you add either cream or sugar on your espresso shot. It is your drink and you can have it your way. Espresso purists always enjoy their shot straight up.
  7. 7
    ​Nibble on something. If you do not know what to nibble while enjoying your espresso shot, you can imitate the Italians by nibbling on biscotti. But you are free to enjoy whatever you want to eat with espresso shot including a slice of coffee cake or even chocolate cake. It’s all up to your taste buds.
  8. 8
    Sip your espresso shot and enjoy. Having an espresso is enjoying the moment. Let the rich liquid roll over your tongue for you to taste the flavors of the bean and the texture of the drink. Enjoy the fragrance of the little cup of pure flavor and happiness.

​What's it Taste Like? Any Flavor Notes?

Espresso is full of flavors and personality. It is a very dignified drink although not every coffee drinker feels this way. This explains why people who go to coffee chain shops focus on sugary syrups instead of the quality of the beans.

A true coffee lover always looks for the key espresso flavor notes each time he gets his espresso shot.

  • Acidity - Acidity is the sour, tart taste you will find in some coffees. It is similar to the slightly bitter taste of a craft beer. An espresso shot run the spectrum of acidity, from a little acidity to a little bit too much, depending on the kind of beans and the manner of extraction.
  • Bitterness - A beginner may not appreciate the bitterness of the espresso. But as one gets used to the taste and flavor of espresso, he will begin to appreciate the bold and rich flavor of the shot. A robust espresso drink lights up the mouth with a bitter flavor that lingers even after you finish the sip. Please note, however that bitterness is not the same as the burnt flavor that you will experience in a cheap cup of coffee. 
  • Nuttiness - An espresso may not be acidic or bitter but may offer hints of a nutty taste like walnut or almond. The flavors are crisp and short-lived, depending on how much heat is applied to the beans during the drying process.
  • Pungency and spice - In order to enjoy the flavors of your espresso, you should take a sip of air into your lips after you swallow your espresso. This will allow your taste buds to identify the pungent notes of your espresso. If you have sensitive taste buds, you will experience the notes of cinnamon, ground black pepper, cardamom, nutmeg, cloves, and more.
  • Sweetness - As you get used to drinking your espresso shots, you will begin to notice the notes of sweetness in the brew. You will notice the delicate sweetness of caramel, vanilla, cocoa, brown sugar, and some tropical fruits.

​Types of Espresso Drinks

Many coffee lovers have a hard time distinguishing one type of espresso drink from another. While purist drinkers always prefer to drink straight espresso shots, many coffee drinkers prefer other variations of this delicious brew.

An Illustrated Guide to Coffee Drinks

From Visually.

  • Espresso shot - A straight espresso shot is the best way to enjoy espresso, if you will ask the espresso aficionados. But many coffee drinkers find straight espresso to be incredibly strong and bitter. It takes a lot of practice before a person can develop the acquired taste for a straight espresso shot.
  • Latte - Latte is milk and espresso at 4:1 ratio. People who are repelled by the bitter taste of straight espresso prefer the latte. A hot latte uses milk that is steamed resulting in the formation of foam that is poured over the espresso. Latte is also available iced.
  • Cappuccino - This coffee drink is always served hot. The milk in the cappuccino is aerated resulting in some foam chilling on the top of the steamed milk.
  • Americano - This coffee drink is a mixture of expresso and water that is served either hot or iced.
  • Cortado - The cortado is espresso mixed with milk at 1:1 ratio. The milk is steamed so do not expect foam to form on top.
  • Flat white - This drink is similar to a latte but the milk to espresso ratio is 3:1.
  • Macchiato - A real macchiato, different from the macchiato in your favorite coffee shop chain, is a shot of espresso topped with a blip or a couple of spoonfuls of milk foam.
  • Affogato - It is gelato or ice cream topped with a shot of espresso.


Espresso is a coffee-making process developed by the same Italian culture that gave the world such famous wines as Barolo, Bolgheri, and Brunello. It is the same culture that introduced the world to gelato ice cream and tiramisu, along with the other finer things in life.

Espresso coffee brewing extracts the best of coffee’s taste components, minus the worst. It is a brewing process that extracts hundreds of the best aromatic compounds that may be found in the roasted coffee.

Espresso is the coffee drink that allows the drinker to experience the rich flavor of coffee that cannot be enjoyed in other coffee brewing methods.

If you love coffee and you want to get the best out of it, then an espresso shot is the one for you!

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