The Difference Between Coffee and Espresso

What is the difference between coffee and espresso? There are 5 main differences: the roast, grind, brewing method, taste, and caffeine content.

I spent several hours reading lots of articles, watching videos, and asking expert baristas to create the best article about this topic for you.

In this piece of content, you will find definitions, tables, videos, and simple-to-digest bullet points that will make the difference between these drinks clear for you.

Keep reading to find out these differences.

What is Espresso Coffee?

An espresso is a shot of black coffee prepared using the espresso brewing method.

To execute the espresso brewing method you need an espresso machine, hot water, and finely ground coffee beans.

In short words, the process to make an espresso in the next one:

The espresso machine throws pressured hot water through a portion of compressed finely ground coffee, and finally, the espresso drink is served in a cup from a special portafilter.

List of Espresso Drinks

There are hundreds of variations of espresso drinks. Here you have listed the most common ones. (Source:

  • Ristretto: The “short shot” is made with a ¾ ounce shot of espresso
  • Single Shot: A 1-ounce shot of espresso
  • Lungo: The “long shot” is made with a 1 ½ ounce shot of espresso
  • Double Shot: A 2 ounce shot of espresso
  • Espresso Macchiato: A shot of espresso with a layer of foamed milk
  • Espresso con Panna: A shot of espresso with a layer of whipped cream
  • Café Breve: A shot of espresso with steamed half and half
  • Cappuccino: A shot of espresso with steamed, wet milk
  • Café Latte: A shot of espresso is mixed with 6 to 8 ounces of steamed milk, then topped with foam
  • Café Americano: One espresso shot (1 ounce) with 6-8 ounces of hot water
  • Iced Coffee: A shot of chilled espresso with whole milk and chocolate syrup

Single Espresso Shot Preparation Process (With Espresso Machine)

You need to know how espresso is prepared, due that this is the main difference between coffee and espresso.

  1. The professional has to make sure that the portafilter is dry and clean using a towel
  2. Later on, the portafilter is filled with ground coffee (preferably with dark roasted coffee)
  3. The professional tamp the coffee down to make sure that the water will travel evenly across it
  4. Finally, the portafilter has to be inserted into the espresso machine and start the extraction for 20 to 25 seconds

What is Coffee?

Coffee is a brown drink that is created using different kinds of brewing methods and any kind of roasted coffee beans.

You can make coffee using a coffee cone, a Chemex, a french press, a stovetop Moka pot, a siphon, or an espresso machine. There are lots of methods but these are some of the most common ones.

The taste of the coffee might vary a lot depending on the brewing method and beans that you use.

The Main Differences Between Coffee And Espresso

The main differences between coffee and espresso are the roast, the grind, the brewing method, the final taste, and the caffeine content. I am going to dig deeper into these points in the next paragraphs.

1. Roast

Espresso coffee beans are roasted for a longer amount of time.

This is very important to know because when a bean is roasted for a specific amount of time, it will have properties and oils that are paramount for the characteristic flavor of a well-made espresso coffee.

Several brands distribute special espresso coffee beans. These are coffee beans that have all the pertinent properties to make the perfect espresso coffee.

On the other hand, light, medium, and medium-dark beans should be used to make normal American coffee.

Finally, it is important to know that beans less than 1 week from roast are usually considered too fresh for espresso. To achieve the best flavor, the beans have to be around 10 days from roast.

2. Grind

To make an espresso shot, the espresso machine has to throw hot water through compressed coffee grounds. This process requires very fine coffee grounds.

To make a normal coffee, you don’t need any special coffee grounds, this is because there are lots of different brewing methods that do not require pressurized hot water.

3. Brewing

One of the most important differences between coffee and espresso is the brewing method. 

To make a normal coffee you just need to use hot water through ground coffee.

However, if you want to make espresso, you need to use hot water, finely ground coffee, dark roasted beans, and pressure.

To make a normal coffee you can use a Moka pot, or a french press while to make an espresso you need to use an espresso machine or an Aeropress.

4. Taste

An espresso coffee tastes a bit different than normal coffee. This is because of the dark roasted beans and because of the filterless preparation method.

Usually, an espresso is stronger than a normal coffee.

An interesting thing to know is that the coffee grinder plays an important factor in the flavor of the espresso. A fine grind will give the ideal flavor to an espresso shot.

5. Caffeine Content

In the following table, you will find the different amounts of caffeine between a normal brewed coffee and an espresso coffee.

Keep in mind that the amount of caffeine in a cup of coffee can vary depending on the beans and other ingredients inside the drink.

Coffee DrinksSize in oz. (mL)Caffeine (mg)
Brewed8 (237)96
Brewed, decaf8 (237)2
Espresso1 (30)64
Espresso, decaf1 (30)0

As you can see in the table, a normal cup of coffee (8 oz) has 32 mg more caffeine than a normal espresso shot (1 oz).

However, keep in mind that we are talking about a shot of espresso (1 oz). If you try to drink a cup of espresso (8 oz) it will have 512 mg of caffeine.

Coffee Beans vs. Espresso Beans

Coffee beans vs espresso beans

What are the most important differences between coffee beans and espresso beans?

There’s one main difference, the roast.

Light and medium coffee beans are ideal for brewing methods like:

  • Pour-over coffee
  • Cold-brew coffee

On the other hand, dark roasted coffee beans (often found as espresso beans) are ideal for brewing methods like:

  • Espresso brewing

Espresso coffee beans are dark roasted. This is because the process of dark roasting coffee beans unlocks oils and sugars that are paramount for the creation of espresso drinks.

So, if you want to make the perfect espresso shot, remember to use the dark roasted coffee beans, because they will give the consistency, body, and flavor ideal to your shot.

Can You Use Coffee Beans for Espresso?

Yes, you can use them, but as I said before, it will not have the ideal flavor, consistency, and body that an espresso shot made with dark roasted beans has.

The Bottom Line

That was it. All the differences between coffee and espresso. You already know the importance of the roast and grinding, and how they affect the taste of the final espresso shot.

Also, you now have clear that a regular cup of coffee has way more caffeine than a regular espresso shot.

But, just to make sure, remember that the single most important difference between them is the brewing method.

Leandro Santorsola
Leandro Santorsola

Leandro is the founder of The Coffee Arsenal. His favorite relaxation method is to drink a Cafe Latte in the afternoons.