The Difference Between Espresso and Coffee
You might be surprised to learn that the many variations of drinks that can be made from coffee beans really come down to the brewing techniques used. This is because the coffee bean is one of the more flexible brewing mediums we know of. In this article, we take a look at the difference between espresso and the coffee most Americans drink, beverages made from the same bean.
When discussing the difference between espresso and coffee, it can be easy to make a one sided argument. I will undoubtedly do it in this article. This is unfortunate because both espresso and coffee have their places in world culture. Some mornings I want to experience the quality taste of an espresso. Other mornings, I just want a large cup of something warm to hold and drink as I get ready for the day ahead. When considering the difference between these two forms of coffee, keep in mind there is no “right” selection. It is more a matter of personal taste and preference.
We use the generic term “coffee” for the morning drink that millions of us Americans drink. You might be surprised to know that the rest of the world views the 8 ounce cup we consume as unique to us and give it the name American Coffee. Moreover, this is also used as a bit of an insult. Why? It is considered a very bland form of coffee, one that requires sugar and flavored creamers to make it enticing enough to drink!
This blandness helps explain how your normal morning coffee is different from espresso. The coffee is made by taking coffee beans, grinding them into a loose collection of grounds and passing boiling hot water over them. We’ve all seen how this happens when using and later cleaning our home coffee maker.
The problem with this approach is you really don’t get an accurate impression of the flavors in the coffee beans. Imagine taking your favorite wine, emptying out half the bottle and filling it back up with water. This is essentially what American coffee is. It is also the reason you tend to see everyone dumping sugar, chocolate, cinnamon and whatever else into it to get a decent flavor of something…anything!
As watered down as American coffee is, espresso goes for the opposite effect. The name of the game with espresso is intensity. The goal when making a good espresso is to produce a small cup that minimizes the water influence while capturing and intensifying the flavors of the coffee beans being used. Much like drinking wine, you should experience hinted at flavors as the espresso passes over your. This is then followed by a slight bitterness of the bean which slowly fades away.
To get this effect, espresso is made in a very particularly manner. The first step is to use a quality coffee bean. Because the taste is going to be so intense, an espresso made from a bad bean will taste terrible. Don’t buy a cheap brand! Go with high end brands like Illy or Lavazza. A poor bean is going to produce a horrible espresso. Don’t subject yourself to that!
The next step is to capture the full flavor of the bean. This is done by using an espresso machine. The bean is ground to a very fine size and then packed into a small compressed area in the espresso machine. Steamed water is then shot through the coffee under high pressure. The goal is to saturate the grounds and draw out all the obvious and subtle flavors. The time and pressure used in doing this is dependent upon the person brewing. Given this, brewing a cup of espresso is as much an art as a mechanical process.
You undoubtedly are familiar with how much American coffee you can drink without the caffeine bothering you. The same is probably not true of espresso. It is vital that you realize that although espressos are small in size, they essentially carry the same amount of caffeine as a normal cup of coffee. Tossing back three espressos will have you vibrating around the coffee shop. Be careful!
So, what can we say about the difference between American coffee and espresso? Well, I would simply say they come from the same bean, but represent opposite ends of the spectrum when it comes to the brewing process. Personally, I prefer espresso because the flavors that come out are amazing. If you enjoy the subtle flavors in a glass of good wine, you will probably prefer espresso as well. If you have never tried espresso, I would encourage you to do so a few times. The explosion of taste in your mouth will amaze you!