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Espresso vs Coffee: Caffeine, Flavor & Preparation

Espresso vs Coffee: Caffeine, Flavor & Preparation

Clark Clark
7 minute read

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When figuring out where you land in the battle of espresso vs. coffee, you must understand what makes espresso different from your usual cup of coffee, if anything at all.

Is an espresso just a shot of coffee?Espresso, in essence, is a shot of concentrated coffee, but the preparation is different from a regular cup.

Espresso has existed in some form since the late 1880s when Italian inventors began using steam to power their coffee endeavors. 

By the early 1900s, the first espresso machine was patented by Luigi Bezzera of Milan. Bezzera sold that patent shortly after to what would later become the La Pavoni company, which still makes espresso machines today.

What is the difference between regular coffee and espresso? The difference between regular coffee and espresso is the grind and brewing method. Otherwise, espresso is just a type of coffee.

Caffeine in Espresso vs Coffee

Fans of espresso may like it as their regular order because they believe it yields a higher concentration of caffeine to kick off their day. It’s a little more complicated than that, though.

Is espresso stronger than coffee?If you measure caffeine content per ounce, espresso is more potent than regular coffee. Each ounce of espresso has about 64 mg of caffeine, but the average cup of drip coffee has about 80 milligrams of caffeine in each 8 ounce serving. 

While it may look like you’re getting a bigger energy boost from espresso ounce by ounce, a shot of espresso is typically only around a single ounce. That means less caffeine than a regular drip coffee or even a French press coffee if that’s all you’re sipping. 

For those ordering a double shot of espresso from their local barista, it still may not be the strongest coffee out there. 

Pour-over coffee, where almost boiling water is poured over coffee grounds, yields about 133 mg of caffeine per cup. Steeped cold brew coffee is even stronger, with some beans giving you more than 200 mg of caffeine in each cup. 

Gold coffee has more caffeine content than standard medium roasts and gets stronger the longer you steep it.

Note: When we talk about cold brew, we’re talking about coffee steeped in cool to cold water and chilled overnight, not iced coffee. Iced coffee, which is regular coffee served over ice, has similar caffeine content. You’ll see both served at popular shops like Starbucks.

Keep in mind that the U.S. Food and Drug Administration (FDA) recommends no more than 400 mg of caffeine per day for healthy adults. That’s about four regular serving-size cups of coffee.

The amount of caffeine in your coffee isn’t just about the type of coffee but the brew method, too.

Grind and Brew Methods

Espresso is less about the beans and more about how those beans are used.

Can you make espresso from regular coffee?You can make espresso from regular coffee beans. While traditional espresso and espresso drinks typically start with a dark roast for a smoother coffee flavor, you can also use a blonde roast if you don’t mind the acidity.

The idea of espresso beans is something of a misnomer. You can use arabica beans or robusta for an espresso, and you can use your preferred coffee roast. It’s more about the grind and how the beans are brewed.

If you see espresso beans at the grocery store, that’s a description of the grind. Espresso requires a fine grind. Your home grinder may not cut it, which is why many espresso fans buy bags of ground coffee beans labeled for espresso or head to their favorite coffee roasters.

Those grounds then go through the espresso extraction process. Hot water is forced through the coffee grounds under high pressure. 

Classic espresso machines use a lever, or “pulling a shot,” to control the force and the output. Today, many machines for home use are automatic, so they’re just as easy to use as your usual coffee maker.

The result is a concentrated shot of liquid that’s just a little thicker than a filter coffee. You can sip it as it comes, but most coffee drinkers like it with steamed milk or in their preferred style.

Flavor and Drink Options

Espresso comes in a variety of forms outside of a shot of espresso. On its own, the flavor of espresso can be too bitter or intense for some, a reason why it’s popular in coffee drinks.

Popular espresso preparations include:

  • Caffè latte: Add one part espresso and two parts hot milk, and top with a thin layer of foam.
  • Cappuccino: A cappuccino consists of equal parts of espresso, hot milk, and milk foam.
  • Caffè macchiato: Also known as an espresso macchiato, add a splash of steamed milk and foam to a shot of espresso.
  • Americano: Hot water is poured over 1-2 shots of espresso.
  • Flat white: A flat white is similar to a cappuccino with more espresso and no milk foam.
  • Mocha: A mocha, or mocha latte, is essentially a latte with the addition of cocoa powder or chocolate syrup. Top with whipped cream for an added treat.

If you see something about crema on a cafe menu, that isn’t an added ingredient. That refers to the layer of foam that forms at the top of your espresso following high-pressure espresso extraction. 

A fresh roast will have a thicker layer of crema, so it’s often a sign of quality in both the bean and the roasting process. A darker layer means a more robust cup, so expect more caffeine per 8-ounce cup if you notice your crema has a deeper hue.

What to Choose

Espresso does come with its benefits. Many coffee lovers enjoy espresso for its intense coffee flavor and versatility. If you’re traveling throughout Europe, it can be fun to choose your favorite preparation rather than sip on a simple black coffee. 

Back at home, though, you should drink what you like. If you like how quickly an espresso comes together, go for it. That’s if you like hitting the coffee shop regularly or want to shell out quite a bit of cash for an automatic espresso machine. An AeroPress can only do so much.

If caffeine alone is what you’re after, you already know how caffeine content varies based on the quantity of espresso in your coffee drink. There are other ways to get your caffeine boost, especially if espresso hasn’t been agreeing with your stomach.

Low-acid Golden Ratio has 50% more caffeine than your average coffee per gram.You have more control over your caffeine intake, too. If you want a lighter cup, steep for less time. Interested in something stronger? Leave the pouch in your cup longer.

Start with a variety pack to find the right Golden Ratio flavor for you, or stick with the Original Gold if you want more of a traditional cup. 


  1. The Effect of Time, Roasting Temperature, and Grind Size on Caffeine and Chlorogenic Acid Concentrations in Cold Brew Coffee

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