Espresso and Coffee (What's the Difference?)

What’s the difference between coffee and espresso? Are they the same thing or is an espresso bean just darkly roasted coffee? Can I actually make espresso at home, or do I have to go to a coffee shop and order espresso from a trained barista who knows how to use all the fancy equipment? We are going to dive into espresso, what it is and how it is different than your common cup of Joe.

Espresso Brew Pressure

The main factor in distinguishing the difference between black filter coffee and espresso is the way it is prepared. While some roasters will roast coffee differently with espresso in mind, there is nothing unique about a coffee bean itself that classifies it as espresso. True espresso is prepared under high pressure, nine atmospheres of pressure to be exact. Atmosphere as a measurement of pressure equates to the amount of pressure exerted by the earth’s atmosphere. It is also called nine bars of pressure or a total of 130 pounds per square inch (PSI). Hot water pressed into a finely ground bed of coffee (often called a puck because of its shape) and filtered with a metal sieve to produce whatever is left of the water and extracted coffee compounds is what we call espresso.

Espresso was created in Italy when simply brewing a cup of coffee happened to be too long. In the early 1900’s a machine was developed that pushed steam through a passage to brew coffee quickly. Over the years companies like La Pavoni, La Marzocco, Gaggia, and others tweaked the espresso machine design to produce some of the best coffee in the world.

Total Dissolved Solids

If you want to get technical the total dissolved solids (essentially whatever is taken from the ground coffee while water is passing through) in a shot of espresso ranges from 7.5% - 9.5% total dissolved solids, whereas coffee prepared through a traditional coffee maker, french press, etc, contains .8% - 1.6% total dissolved solids (according to the Specialty Coffee Association). Essentially, per water there is a much higher percentage of stuff extracted from the coffee grounds in a shot of espresso compared to a cup of black filter coffee. This lends to a thicker mouthfeel, what is also called viscosity, and more concentrated flavors. 

Resistance and Pressure

True espresso cannot be made without proper brew pressure. In order to do this it requires a machine that can apply the amount of pressure needed to brew espresso. One other important piece to note is that to make espresso a powdery fine grind size is also required. In part, what creates the pressure is the resistance formed by the fine grounds packed together in a basket.

Consider you have two pipes and one pipe is filled with rocks and the other is filled with sand packed tightly together. Which pipe will allow water to flow through with less resistance? The pipe with rocks, and the opposite is true with the pipe filled with sand. The same thing is happening with espresso. With a fine grind size, resistance is created along with an espresso machine’s water pump exerting pressure on the coffee. The increased surface area of the finely ground coffee all contributes to a high percentage of compounds being released from the coffee, extracted by the water resulting in a highly flavorful, syrupy shot of coffee called espresso.

Recommended Espresso Products:

• Gaggia RI9380/46 Classic Pro Espresso Machine
• Gaggia Replacement Pressurized Filter Basket
• Rancilio Silvia Espresso Machine
• Quickmill QM67 Dual Boiler Espresso Machine
• Nespresso Pixie Espresso Machine
• Nespresso Capsules Variety Pack


Finding That Perfect Espresso Shot

Pulling a shot of espresso can be one of the most frustrating but rewarding things one can set out to accomplish. Some suggest it should be left up to the pros, but from my experience, espresso at home can be quite enjoyable. Some of the most delicious coffee I have had has been a straight shot of espresso right from my own kitchen. 

The natural question for the coffee lover is, can this be had at home? The answer is yes. We put together a review of some of the entry level machines that can help you achieve the perfect espresso shot at home depending on your needs. In order to get true espresso it’s also worth looking into an espresso grinder.

While it takes some financial investment to get going, those who have decided to invest in a home espresso setup have rarely regretted it. For the aspiring coffee aficionado home espresso is a new world to explore. If you make the leap, I don’t think you will regret it.

READ MORE: Want Espresso at Home? Consider These Machines First

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