You are not alone if you are not 100% certain of the main differences between espresso and drip coffee. Although lots of people love coffee, most are not knowledgeable enough about espresso or familiar enough with it to understand how it differs from other coffee brewing types, and with so many different options out there when it comes to brewing your coffee, it can be confusing.
However, while espresso and drip coffee are quite similar in that they are made with coffee grounds and water, there are some marked differences between the two that impact how they taste. Knowing how drip coffee and espresso differ from one another means that when you go to a coffee shop, you know exactly what you are getting in your cup, and if you want to start brewing your own coffee at home, choosing the right coffee maker will be easier.
The Basics of Espresso
Many people think espresso is a mysterious liquid different to coffee, but the truth is that it’s just coffee – it’s not for only hardcore coffee fans. Espresso refers to the brewing process that is used to make this type of coffee. It works by forcing hot water through finely ground coffee beans under a lot of pressure. A modern espresso machine will use eight to ten bars of pressure to pull an espresso shot in under thirty seconds. While there are other ways to make coffee that is similar to espresso at home, like an AeroPress, the only way to get true espresso is to use a high-powered espresso machine.
As long as the machine is used correctly and all the components are right, you will get a balanced, highly concentrated shot of coffee with a layer of crema on the top. This is a fine foam that is created when the coffee oils come into contact with air. Espresso has a very intense flavor, and some people enjoy it on its own while others like to mix it with water or milk to create a range of espresso drinks like cappuccinos, lattes, and Americanos. Some popular espresso drinks include:
- Latte: a shot of espresso that is combined with between nine and fifteen ounces of steamed milk
- Cappuccino: a shot of espresso mixed with equal parts steamed milk and milk foam
- Americano: a shot of espresso diluted with hot water. A splash of milk is sometimes added
- Macchiato: a shot of espresso with a splash of milk
Espresso Vs. Drip Coffee
Now that you understand what espresso is and how it is made, it’s time to understand how the drip coffee differs from espresso. The main difference between espresso and coffee machine coffee is the brewing method. While you can still make similar drinks using drip coffee such as a drip coffee latte, drip coffee is not the same as espresso, as it is not made with the same high levels of pressure.
What is Drip Coffee?
Drip coffee uses a tried and tested method of brewing the coffee through slow, dripping extraction that occurs as the water flows through the coffee grounds. This is certainly not a new way of brewing coffee – in fact, the electric drip coffee machine has been around since the mid twentieth century. Drip coffee typically uses a volume of around 5oz, although larger mug sizes are often used. Compared to espresso, the strength is changeable and will depend on the coffee to water ratio that you use, allowing you to adapt it to how you like it; something that you can’t do with espresso. It will take as little as three minutes to brew in a top of the range machine, but most standard carafes that brew several cups of drip coffee at a time take around 5-10 minutes, depending on the machine you’re using.
While espresso is customizable after it has been brewed with what you decide to add to it, drip coffee can be customized more throughout the brewing process. Unlike espresso, it does not have the same defined parameters and restrictions, and you can play around with things like the coffee to water ratio much more to get the kind of brew that you want at the end of the process. This makes it an ideal choice for those who want the option to brew a very strong coffee or a weaker coffee depending on what they are feeling in the moment.
Intensity and Flavor
The flavor and intensity is a key difference between these two coffee brewing types. Is drip coffee better? The truth is that neither of these methods of brewing coffee is better than the other, and it all comes down to your personal taste and preferences. Compared to a shot of espresso, drip coffee tends to have a cleaner body with a more rounded flavor profile. It’s much less concentrated, and as a result, far less intense compared to espresso.
If you’re using the golden ratios for brewing your coffee, for example, you will need around 16g of coffee beans to brew a regular mug of drip coffee. On the other hand, a standard shot of espresso uses the same amount of coffee if not even more but results in a much smaller volume. Compared to the eight-ounce mug of drip coffee, you’ll get around one ounce of espresso.
The difference between brewing using an espresso machine or a drip coffee maker is another major factor to understand when figuring out what makes espresso and drip coffee different. Unlike the espresso machine, a drip coffee machine relies on gravity, rather than pressure, to brew the coffee. Drip coffee is made by simply pouring hot water over coffee grounds. Normally, there is a paper filter that separates the grounds from the brewed coffee.
On the other hand, espresso made in an espresso machine is the result of a more intense process that requires high amounts of pressure. Compared to drip coffee machines that you can get hold of fairly cheaply, a good espresso machine is likely to get you back at least a few hundred dollars and is the result of modern engineering.
Which Brewing Option is the Most User-Friendly?
If you want to start brewing your own coffee at home, whether or not to brew espresso or drip coffee might be something that you are considering. Since espresso is concentrated and very intense in flavor, a small mistake can seriously impact the taste of your coffee, which means that it might not be the best option for anybody who is just starting out with brewing their own coffee at home. On the other hand, a drip coffee machine will be far more forgiving since it makes a larger, less concentrated brew and a small mistake will be much less noticeable in your final cup.
When making espresso, it is crucial to be very precise with the amount of coffee and water that you use. The grounds will also need to be perfectly and evenly tamped before brewing to make sure that the shot is balanced. Even the smallest of variations in the density or depth of the coffee will result in a process known as channelling, where water drains through some areas of the coffee grounds more than others, leading to an imbalance in the flavour in your cup.
Along with this, if you want to start brewing your own coffee at home, the price differences between the two methods are also worth considering. You will likely need to invest a few hundred dollars at least to get the right espresso machine for your home, while on the other hand, a good drip coffee machine can be obtained quite cheaply and is much easier to set up and learn how to use. Along with this, many drip coffee machines for the home are designed to be easy to clean and maintain, while espresso machines tend to require more specialized and expensive maintenance on a regular basis to ensure that they continue working correctly and stay in good condition.
The final brew will also differ based on whether it is espresso or drip coffee. For the most part, drip coffee is just a simple mug of coffee that you might add milk, cream, or sugar to before drinking. It’s simple, plain, and satisfying with no frills attached. On the other hand, espresso is much more versatile. Since there is eight ounces of flavor packed into a small shot of coffee, you can easily cut it with a range of other liquids without losing the coffee flavor and aroma. There are now lots of beverage options with a primary ingredient being an espresso shot before adding a wide range of further ingredients including milk, cream, ice cream, and even tonic water.
While espresso and drip coffee are both types of coffee beverages that are brewed with coffee grounds and water, the difference between the two is the extraction method. Making an espresso uses pressure to create an intense shot of coffee, while drip coffee is slowly extracted from the grounds and results in a larger, less concentrated cup.