People all over the world have enjoyed coffee daily for thousands of years, and lately, espresso has risen to become one of the world's favorite beverages. What's the difference between the two? Here, we break down five espresso myths to help you get to the bottom of what's in your cup.
1. "Espresso is a type of bean"
Contrary to popular belief, coffee and espresso can actually be made from the same beans; the main distinction between the two can be found in their preparation.
To make coffee, beans are pulverized into coarse or medium grounds, similar to the texture of sugar, and brewed as boiling water is poured over them and run through a filter, typically via a coffee maker, French press, or similar vessel.
To make espresso, beans are ground into a fine powder, similar to the texture of flour, and tightly packed into an espresso maker, where hot water is pushed through the grounds with a particular amount of pressure, typically 130 PSI (a scientific term for pressure measurement, short for "pounds per square inch").
2. "Espresso is a style of roast"
While many espresso lovers prefer a deep, dark roast, both coffee and espresso can be made from beans roasted at any level. A darker roast results in more body and lower acidity, while a lighter roast is more acidic with slightly less body. Neither is better or worse; it comes down to a matter of preference, although classic espresso is made from beans roasted longer and/or at a higher temperature, referred to as a dark roast or, less commonly, "espresso roast".
Still, light roast espresso remains an option for those who want a more acidic beverage with slightly less depth of flavor.
3. "Espresso is bitter"
If you've ever tasted bitter espresso, it's likely because the beverage was prepared incorrectly. Over-extraction or under-extraction (i.e. how much time and pressure was applied to the "pull", or the moment pressurized hot water is shot through tightly-packed grounds to extract the richly-flavored liquid we call espresso) is a leading cause of bitterness. Espresso offers a wide range of flavor profiles from florals and fruit to dark chocolate; when prepared properly, it should never taste bitter or "off".
4. "Espresso has more caffeine than drip coffee"
The caffeine content of espresso vs. coffee is a point of confusion for many, and the reason boils down to a matter of serving size. Ounce for ounce, espresso often has more caffeine than brewed coffee (60 mg or so of caffeine in one ounce of espresso, versus 14 mg or so of caffeine in one ounce of coffee), but few people would drink a single ounce of brewed coffee in a sitting; most consume at least 8 ounces of coffee per cup, and the smallest cup most cafés offer is 12 ounces, which, when filled with brewed coffee, contains at least 168 mg of caffeine. So, since your favorite espresso drink is likely made with just two shots, it has less caffeine than almost any coffee served in a cup of the same size.
5. "Decaf espresso has no caffeine"
In coffee, espresso, and tea, the word "decaf" is short for "decaffeinated". This doesn't mean the beverage is completely free of caffeine; it means that as much caffeine as possible has been extracted from the beans or leaves. A cup of decaf coffee or shot of decaf espresso may contain around 5 to 10 mg of caffeine; by contrast, an 8-ounce cup of black tea consumed after dinner usually has at least 40 mg. So, while decaf espresso has minimal caffeine, it's not necessarily devoid of the natural stimulant.
Interested in learning more? Check out this article with an A to Z list of espresso drinks.