Espresso is strong black coffee—i.e., no dairy added—that has a unique brewing method. Espresso is made by forcing steam through finely-ground coffee beans. Like regular drip coffee, it can be made from any type of coffee bean, though generally a blend is used to create optimal flavors. Regular drip coffee — a.k.a., filtered coffee or pour-over — is made by pouring water over more coarsely-ground, roasted coffee beans in a filter.

This comparison examines the differences in brewing method, flavor, caffeine content, acidity and health effects of espresso and drip coffee.

Comparison chart

Coffee versus Espresso comparison chart
Edit this comparison chartCoffeeEspresso
Caffeine Content 80-185 mg per 8 ounce cup (236 ml) depending upon the brew and the type of roasted coffee used 40-75 mg per 1 ounce serving
Types of Consumption Drip Coffee, Espresso, Brewed, Instant, Decaf Brewed, Decaf Instant, Plunger, Filter Milk-based: macchiato, cappuccino, flat white, cortado, piccolo, galão, latte. Water-based: Americano, long black. Others: red eye, latte macchiato.
Origin Period 9th Century AD 16th Century AD
Cultural connotation Fast Paced Tamp
Place of Origin Ethiopia and Yemen Arabian Peninsula
Brewing Method Ground coffee beans are placed into a filter and allowed to brew in a machine. The two most commonly brewed coffees at home are the French press method and the automatic drip. Espresso is made by forcing a small amount of very hot water through finely ground and tamped coffee to produce a concentrated beverage.
Properties related to Cancer None of the ingredients in coffee have been associated with fighting disease or enhancing health. Research is still being carried out on whether the high content of caffeine in coffee is a risk factor or not. None of the ingredients in coffee have been associated with fighting disease or enhancing health. Research is still being carried out on whether the high content of caffeine in coffee is a risk factor or not.
Serving Size 8 fluid ounces (236 ml) 1 fluid ounce

Brewing Methods

In order to be made into coffee, the whole coffee bean must be ground. Most ground coffee is for brewing in a home coffeemaker. In automatic drip systems, the beans are ground to a medium coarseness. Hot water drips onto the ground coffee and extracts its essence through a filter. The grounds are discarded after use. Coffee can also be boiled or placed in a percolator for brewing, and numerous other brewing methods exist, including single-serve coffee systems, like the Keurig, Tassimo and Nespresso. Some brewing methods, such as using a French press, don’t filter the coffee through paper, instead allowing the coffee to keep its natural oils and much of its natural body.

Espresso is an alternate brewing method. Very hot water under pressure is forced through finely-ground, compacted coffee for 20-30 seconds. The result is a beverage that is thicker than normal coffee. In addition, froth is formed on top of the beverage. This froth is called crema. The crema is the result of emulsifying the oils in the coffee into a colloid. Crema should be a dark mahogany color, with small bubbles of gas released during brewing. The presence of light-colored spots in the crema suggests the pull (a term used for making espresso due to the first esspresso machines relying on the barista to pull down a spring-loaded lever that controlled the pressure of extraction) went on too long, and the absence of crema indicates either a poorly-brewed shot or that the coffee beans lost their sugar and fat during processing.

This video on YouTube provides an overview of espresso vs drip coffee machines and their brewing methods.

In the following video, a barista from Starbucks explains the difference between espresso shots and drip coffee.

Serving Size

Brewed Black Coffee
Brewed Black Coffee

The average serving size of a cup of coffee is 8 ounces, and the typical espresso serving size is one ounce. Often, espresso will be added to coffee in shots. It is not uncommon to add up to three or four shots of espresso to a cup of coffee, and espresso is the base for drinks such as lattes, cappuccinos, Americanos and mocha caffes. Of course, espresso may also be drunk alone without mixing it into coffee or with milk.

The popular chain Starbucks offers drip coffee in five sizes and espresso in two. Drip coffee can be purchased in Short (8 oz.), Tall (12 oz.), Grande (16 oz.), Venti (20 oz.), and Trenta (31 oz.). Espresso is available in Solo (1 oz.), and Doppio (2 oz.). In Europe, espresso is typically available in four sizes: Ristretto (3/4 oz.), Single Shot (1 oz.), Lungo (1½ oz.), and Double Shot (2 oz.).

Caffeine Content

Depending on the brew, a cup of coffee contains 80-185mg of caffeine per typical 8oz serving. A 2oz. serving of espresso contains 60-100mg of caffeine. Per ounce, espresso contains more caffeine — 30-50mg/oz. compared to coffee’s 8-15mg/oz. However, as espresso is usually consumed in a serving size of 2oz. or less, a single serving of coffee generally delivers more caffeine than a single serving of espresso.


Espresso is usually a blend of different beans providing a subdued acidity, heavy body, and sweet balance to any bitter flavors. Drip coffee tends to lack the full range of flavors and oils present in the coffee beans as the paper filter filters out many of the natural oils, and the longer brewing time may allow phytic and tanic acids which mask the desirable flavors to develop.

Over-extracted espresso or espresso made using over-roasted beans is likely to taste excessively bitter, but well-made espresso should not. Complex nutty, fruity, salty and sweet flavors should instead be discernible.


The body of coffee is its physical properties – how it feels in the mouth. It can be oily, watery, or grainy; light, thin, medium, or full. A coffee’s weight and consistency impact its body. The filter used in drip coffee removes many flavor oils and produces a lighter body, while espresso tends to have a fuller body, as essential oils remain.


The aroma of coffee is volatile and is a strong indication of the overall flavor. Smoky, herbal, nutty, fruity, and complex notes may be discernible. Neither drip coffee nor espresso should ever smell burnt – this generally points to an incorrectly prepared beverage.


The bitterness, tasted at the back of the mouth, is to some extent desirable in coffee, but is specifically desirable for espresso preparations. Robusta beans produce a more bitter flavor than arabica beans, and well-balanced bitterness ensures a full flavor. The sweetness of coffee can usually be tasted at the tip of the tongue and is mild and smooth.

Acidity and pH Level

Coffee acidity is not the same as its pH level and shouldn’t be confused with sour, unpleasant bitterness. It is, in fact, a ‘measurement’ based solely on taste. High acidity is considered "bright," while low acidity is often defined as being "smooth," and acidity that is too low is seen as "flat." Combining sugar with coffee produces an acidity which increases coffee’s sweetness, i.e., the taste that is referred to as acidity is sweetened.

Coffee typically has a pH level of 5 – a little less acidic than tomato juice (4) and a little more acidic than milk (6). Phytic and tanic acids, which occur naturally in coffee beans, cause the bitter, occasionally searing, effect in the mouth and stomach that is sometimes termed acidity.

The acidity of a beverage depends upon the coffee bean used to produce the grounds and the brewing technique. Darker roasts tend to be less acidic both in flavor profile and pH level. Cold-brewing also produces a beverage with a lower pH level. The time of the extraction process also affects the amount of phytic and tannic acids in the beverage. The shorter extraction period of espresso usually hinders these acids from seeping into the final brew. A good way to tell when the phytic and tannic acids have leached into the espresso is when the rich, dark tan color of the crema changes to a lighter straw color.


The verdict is still out on whether coffee is good or bad for you. Both drip coffee and espresso contain magnesium, calcium, and potassium. However, while espresso provides three times as much magnesium in a one ounce serving as coffee provides in an 8oz. serving, the typical serving of drip coffee delivers higher levels of calcium and potassium. Caffeine can aggravate anxiety and raise blood pressure, but it has also been linked to [ reduced cortisol response], [ stimulated metabolic response], and a [ decreased risk of dementia], and some of the oils found in coffee are said to be beneficial to the heart.


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