Is coffee stronger than espresso? As a regular coffee drinker, you’ve probably asked yourself this question. You wonder whether you’re drinking too much coffee and if it’s a healthy move to switch to espresso.
In this article, we’re going to dive into the differences between coffee and espresso and how each factor, such as bean type and roast, ultimately affects the final cup.
The Cup of Coffee vs. The Shot of Espresso – Are They Really Different?
Most people have a misconception that espresso is a different beast from coffee.
Let’s clarify something: espresso IS not different from coffee. Espresso is just a method of brewing coffee beans, and it is produced with the same beans as coffee.
Thus, all espresso is coffee, but not all coffee is espresso.
To avoid confusion in this article, we’re going to refer to coffee as “drip coffee” to distinguish it from espresso. We’re going into how drip coffee is different from espresso later on in this article.
Now, let’s dive in!
The Battle of the Beans
Every cup of coffee starts with the bean. Whether it’s drip coffee or espresso, you need to make sure that you’re using high-quality beans to produce a high-quality final product.
What Makes a Coffee Bean “Good Quality”?
Three factors determine whether a coffee bean is of good quality: origin, growing practices, and harvesting method.
- Origin – the growing location of the coffee beans will play a huge role in the final quality of the beans produced, particularly in the flavor profile and reaction of the beans to heat. The altitude and climate are the most critical factors; beans that are grown slowly in cold, high-altitude locations grow to the right size and can withstand heat better. These beans produce a better-tasting cup of coffee after they are roasted.
- Growing practices – used by farmers should also be considered. The amount of water, the type of soil, and the pruning practices used will all contribute to the proper growth of the beans. Farmers who practice proper growing methods can produce higher yields of better-quality beans.
- Harvesting Method – Once the beans have reached maturity, they must be harvested and transported quickly to preserve the quality and taste of the beans. For maximum freshness, the coffee cherries (the red fruits that contain coffee beans) must be harvested when they are fully matured and be transported and ready for processing within 48 hours.
Arabica vs. Robusta
Generally, there are two major varieties of coffee beans that are used: Arabica and Robusta. You might hear about a third variety called Liberica, but this variety is rare.
Arabica beans are by far the most common type of coffee bean used for commercial coffee production. Although Arabica beans are more expensive compared to Robusta because they only grow in high altitudes and are more difficult to cultivate, consumers prefer them because they have a more mellow and complex flavor profile. Arabica beans also have a lower caffeine content compared to Robusta beans. Therefore, most drip coffee is made from 100% Arabica beans or a blend that contains more Arabica than Robusta.
Robusta beans, on the other hand, are harder than Arabica beans. They are easier to grow and cultivate but are less popular due to their harsher flavor profile and higher caffeine content. The only exception to this rule is the traditional Italian espresso that uses 100% Robusta beans.
Single Origin vs. Blends
If you’ve ever seen these terms on a bag of coffee beans, these labels refer to the place where the coffee beans were grown. Single-origin coffee means that all the beans used in a product where sourced from one location, while blends mean that beans from different locations were used.
Generally, blends are more commonly used by manufacturers because they are cheaper and more economical to produce. However, single-origin coffee can often have a higher quality and better flavor. Single-origin coffee is more expensive and is offered by coffee manufacturers as a gourmet option.
The Roast Type
Another important factor that affects the quality and outcome of coffee is the roasting process. There are three roast types: light, medium, and dark.
- Light – light coffee roasts produce beans that are light brown in color. Since the beans are only exposed to low heat quickly, the oils have not been extracted, and there is no oily sheen on the surface on the beans. These beans are highly acidic, have the highest caffeine content, and have a toasted grain flavor. If you want to taste the original flavor of bean, the light roast is the way to go.
- Medium – medium roast beans have a brown color and are balanced in terms of flavor, acidity, and aroma. They have a light sheen of oil on the surface that is brought out by the roasting process. The caffeine level is slightly decreased compared to light roasts. If you want to taste the full flavor of your beans as well the different notes for the medium roast.
- Dark – dark roasted beans have a dark brown color and a smoky, burnt taste. The caffeine content is drastically reduced, and the oils of the beans are extracted. When it comes to dark roast, you won’t really taste the original flavor of the beans because of the smoky flavor of the roasting process.
For drip coffee, you can use light, medium, or dark roast beans. For espressos, however, you can only use dark roast beans to get the traditional flavor of the brew.
The Brewing Process
Here’s where drip coffee is differentiated from espresso: the brewing process.
Espresso is made through one process only. A pressurized steam of hot water is forced through a compressed puck of finely-ground beans using an espresso machine.
There are other ways to make coffee besides espressos, such as drip coffee, cold brew, and pour-over. All these brewing processes involve coffee grounds encountering water and allowing the water to draw out the flavor and caffeine of the coffee. For methods such as drip coffee and pour over, gravity does the work. For cold brew, however, the grounds are exposed to the water for an extended period to allow for slow extraction.
When it comes to serving sizes, espressos come in either 1oz (European) or 2oz (American) sizes. Drip coffee, on the other hand, can come in a variety of sizes. Most coffee shops serve them in three standard sizes, from regular (8oz), medium (10oz), and large (12oz). However, the sizes can vary from one coffee shop to another. Here’s how to learn more about espressos.
Is Coffee Stronger Than Espresso?
Now that you know the chief differences between espresso and coffee, the easiest way to answer the question “is coffee stronger than espresso?” is by using serving size. If you use to drink a 1oz. shot of espresso versus a 1oz. shot of coffee, espresso is going to be stronger because of the concentrated flavor and caffeine. However, if you use standard sizes, an 8oz. cup of coffee is going to contain more caffeine than a 1oz. shot of espresso.