The difference between espresso and coffee … and how to make espresso

by | Dec 22, 2019 | coffee | 0 comments

Head of cream on espressoA shot of espresso with a strong head of cream.

Ask any coffee lover, “What is espresso?” And he or she will probably smile.

Espresso is coffee in its most romantic and symbolic form.

Compared to regular, drip-brewed coffee, espresso is full-bodied, aromatic, and slightly bittersweet.

In this sense, it traces its history to the Middle East at the beginning of the 15th century. At that time, and in many parts of the world today, coffee was not drunk from large cups, but from small cups … rich and deep and dark.

So, what exactly is espresso?

Technically, espresso is coffee made by pushing hot water through tightly packed coffee grounds at high pressure.

With a drip coffee maker, the coffee is brewed with water that falls through a lightly stacked coffee, under the effect of gravity.

But with an espresso machine, the heat of the water and the pressure applied have a very specific and different effect on the grinding of the coffee. The chemical process that takes place is different from what can be done with gravity fed water.

In other words, to make espresso, you have to use an espresso machine. Regular coffee makers cannot apply this type of pressure to the water.

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Different types of espresso machines …

Breville espresso machineA semi-automatic espresso machine from Breville, including a milk frothing wand.

The first patents for espresso machines were granted in Europe in the early eighteenth century. But it wasn’t until nineteen forty-eight that Achille Gagglia of Italy created the first modern espresso machine.

Until fairly recently, the pressure required to make an espresso was achieved by the operator pushing down on a handle, which leveraged a plunger to push the water out.

You can still buy manual espresso machines, but you can also buy automatic machines.

Automatic espresso coffee machines heat water to the exact right temperature, compress the coffee grounds under the correct pressure, then apply the correct pressure to the hot water and push it through the grind.

Espresso coffee maker for Bialetti cookerYou can also prepare an espresso with an espresso machine on the Bialetti stove.

What is espresso? It depends who you ask.

Technically, it’s not difficult to describe what it takes to make an espresso. But when you start asking espresso aficionados about espresso, you’ll get a lot of different answers.

Some will tell you that an automatic espresso machine can never make espresso as well as a manual machine.

Others will bemoan the fact that very few people actually drink single glasses of espresso. Most people drink lattes, cappuccinos, and a host of other variations, adding steamed milk and various flavors to a single or double espresso.

Either way, espresso is the way of making coffee that carries with it all the mystery, romance, and history of coffee through the ages.

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More information on espresso and espresso machines.

Learn more about espresso machines.

Our video demo of the Breville Duo-Temp Pro.

Our opinion on the Nespresso Inissia.

Cafe Liegeois Nespresso compatible capsules.

Rosso Caffe capsules compatible with Nespresso.

Nespresso compatible Gourmesso capsules.

Make an espresso on the stove with a Bialetti.

Make espresso-based drinks like cappuccino, latte, etc.

cup of espressoOne shot of espresso

If the coffee you once loved is no longer yours, try one of our Coffee Detective gourmet coffees.

Yes, we have our own cafes!

Take your pick from some of our favorites. They’re roasted fresh when you order them and shipped for free anywhere in the continental United States.

You can find our full collection of coffees at the Coffee Detective Gourmet Coffee Store.

But feel free to start here, with a choice of some of our favorite coffees – whole or ground.

And before you go, subscribe to the Coffee Detective newsletter …

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About the Author: Nick Usborne aka Coffee Detective is a lifelong writer and coffee enthusiast. Find out more …

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