Coffee vs Espresso shot: Debunking the Myths

 

by {Melanie Rose}

For the longest time I did not know that there was a difference between the 20 ounce coffees I had to have every morning and the espresso that is used for making the beautiful specialty coffee drinks from the local boutique coffee shop. Every morning I would start my day by walking down to the boardwalk where I lived, buy a big ole’ coffee and take it back to my home office. Rarely did I indulge in the enticing lattes, cappuccinos and mochas that graced the chalkboard at that local cafe.

Then in 2004 I took a vacation trip to Italy. What a shock to the system! My friend and I would order our morning java and receive a teacup that was about 3/4 full, as opposed to the monster-coffees that we had become accustomed to. I found myself getting pretty irritated when the unaccommodating Italians would not fulfill my request for more coffee without charging me more money, and the exchange rate at that time was not in our favor.

Then one day we wandered into an espresso cafe close to St. Mark’s Basilica in Venice. This is where the local businessmen would hang out while on their breaks, congregating around the bar, engaging in lively conversation and sipping Espresso shot out of tiny cups. While there are tables in the cafes there, locals stand at a bar, don’t ask me why. But I digress.

coffee-vs-espresso

I had to ask what was in those little cups, and so it was in that Venetian cafe that I discovered real, {Italian espresso}. I fell in love before I even tasted it. The aroma wafting from the demitasse cup hit me first. Then the rich, syrupy extract with its thick crema hit my lips and it was all over. No more coffee for me… I’ve seldom had a regular coffee since that day.

Once back home, this evolved into me dragging my laptop into coffee shops and sipping on 2 espressos a day (I like a short Americano with 3 shots) while doing my work and making new friends, to eventually buying my own espresso machine. I was officially either an addict or a zealot, and I’m still not sure which. But even so, all this time I did not really know the difference between regular brewed coffee and Espresso shot.

Somewhere along the line I noticed a few things. One is that I would get serious headaches from regular coffee. I don’t get them from espresso. Also, if I miss my morning espresso, I don’t get the caffeine withdrawal symptoms that I get from coffee. So I finally did the research to find out the difference between the two.

Myth One: Espresso is Made With Espresso Beans

You can make regular coffee with any roast or blend of coffee beans, and any type of grind. You can also make Espresso shot with any roast or blend of coffee bean, but for a cup of espresso that delivers the desired complex aroma and taste experience, there are a few important factors that need to be in play:

The best type of bean for espresso is “Arabica”, which is a particular coffee from the mountains of the southwestern highlands of Ethiopia. It’s one of the oldest species of coffee, having been grown in Africa for well over 1,000 years. Stay far away from Robusta coffee beans, which are often used as filler with Arabica.
Contrary to popular opinion, espresso is best made with beans that are medium roasted for a sweeter flavor, not dark roasted. A darker roast will cause a more bitter, less appealing character.
The beans are oily looking.
The beans are ground to a much finer consistency than for drip coffee. A good grind for espresso will be similar to a fine powder.
Most purveyors of coffee will have an “espresso blend”, but these blends are often the darker roasts because a lot of people just don’t know better. So it’s a good idea to do some research before buying espresso whole beans or ground beans.

Myth Two: Espresso is Just Stronger Coffee

In fact the final creations are two very different drinks. Coffee is brewed or dripped and is essentially like tea in that it is more watery and a typical yield of the process is about 8 ounces.

Espresso is actually a coffee extract, whereby the oils and other properties of the ground beans yield a fine syrup with a creamy layer (called the crema) on top of the drink. Espresso is much richer, complex and flavorful than brewed coffee. It’s also more suitable as the base for the milk-based lattes, mochas and cappuccinos.

Of course, espresso is more costly on every level, so if you are happy with your traditionally brewed coffee, you may want to stick with your winning formula.

Myth Three: You Can Make Espresso with a French Press

Yeah, you really can’t. Probably the closest you will get to real espresso is with the {Aeropress Coffee and Espresso Maker}, one of the newer presses available to coffee lovers right now. A French press is fine for traditional coffee, though personally I’ve never been enamored with them. But it won’t provide you with a real shot of espresso.

Here is why. To make traditional brewed coffee, one must pour ground coffee beans into a filter of some sort, and then run water over and through the grounds and the filter. With a french press this is accomplished by pushing an aluminum filter down onto the grounds, which are sitting in the bottom of a glass carafe. Then the coffee sits – or brews – for around 6 minutes.

To make espresso, specialty machines appropriately called espresso machines, are used that put the coffee bean grounds through three phases in order to extract the “shot”.

But first the coffee grounds are packed into a small filter basket (around 58mm) and tamped down so that they are very tightly compressed into a disc commonly called the puck. This smaller basket is fit into a portafilter that is attached to the machine under a “grouphead” which is a water dispenser unit that sprays water onto the disc of coffee within the filter basket.

From there, the ground beans go through the following process:

The first phase is a pre-soaking process that happens whereby the individual grains of the grounds are sprayed to preserve the outer layer of the puck.
Extraction is the second phase, where water passes through the layer of grounds at a stable temperature and pressure. This is a complex process, requiring chemical and physical alchemy.
The process is finished with an emulsion of the oils extracted in phase two. The end result is the syrupy coffee substance with it’s accompanying layer of crema.
Conclusion

There are really 5 major differences between coffee and espresso.

First, the coffee beans. You can really choose any type of whole coffee bean or ground coffee beans for traditional coffee, according to your taste.

But if you want a quality shot of espresso, it’s best to stick with a medium roast of 100% Arabica coffee beans or ground coffee beans.

Second. The grind. Depending on what type of coffee machine you are using, the grind of the coffee can range from coarse to fine. Espresso must be ground to a fine powder.

Third. The time it takes. Making yourself a pot of coffee can take anywhere from 5 minutes to 15 minutes, depending on the coffee delivery system that you are using. Espresso is fast. Once you’ve loaded the portafilter into the espresso machine, you will have your shot in one to two minutes.

Fourth. The consistency. Traditional coffee is coffee grounds with water run through it and produces a drink that is slightly more viscous than tea.

Espresso is an emulsion composed of stratified oils that is extracted from the coffee grounds, characterized by a syrupy consistency and a frothy “crema” layer on top.

Five. The serving size. Coffee is typically served in a cup or container that holds 8 oz. or more. Espresso is extracted in shots of 1 to 2 ounces, and is either served straight up or blended with milk or water for specialty drinks.

I hope this article has helped to clear up any confusion you may have had regarding coffee versus espresso. Either way you like it, here’s to a morning stroll and the rich aroma of coffee wafting through your home as you start your day, once again, a little bit warmer and a whole lot satisfied.

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