Espresso v. Drip Coffee: A Complete Comparison

Read on to discover the difference between drip coffee and espresso and you might be surprised at the similarities! 

More often than not, espresso is misdefined as a type of coffee bean rather than a type of beverage. The defining factor between the two is not the coffee itself but rather the process through which the coffee is brewed. This misconception is widely spread and is largely based on a simple misunderstanding due to marketing efforts from coffee roasters and wholesalers. 

Before diving into the specifics of espresso in comparison with drip coffee, let’s define both espresso and drip coffee.

 

Drip Coffee

Drip coffee, or filter coffee, is coffee as we know it best. A simple brew that gets us through the day. Drip coffee encompasses all automatic brewing methods whether that be your six cup coffee pot at home or the two gallon batch brewer at your local cafe. Drip coffee is by far the best known coffee beverage and is essentially the bread and butter of the coffee industry.

Other methods of brewing coffee in similar styles include pour overs, immersion methods and more. Pour overs include brewers such as the Chemex, Kalita Wave, Hario V60 and so on. Immersion methods include the Aeropress, French Press and the Clever Dripper. These are all manual brew methods but produce coffee similar to drip coffee - the main difference being the action of brewing it manually with different stylizations rather than allowing an appliance to brew the coffee for you.

 

Espresso

In contrast, espresso is a beverage that can only truly be prepared in one way: with an espresso machine. This special equipment meets a variety of specifications but the most stringent requirements is the pressure with which the coffee is brewed. 

Espresso is defined as a small, concentrated shot of coffee that is brewed at a 1:2 ratio of coffee to water for approximately 20 - 40 seconds under 9 - 10 bars of pressures. This is certainly a technical approach to the definition and we can shorten the definition to the simpler “espresso is a small, concentrated shot of coffee”. However, the specifics of that definition are what set espresso apart from drip coffee.

 

Another defining feature of espresso is the crema. The crema is the creamy, lighter colored layer of foamy coffee on top of the shot of espresso. The crema is the final part of the espresso that is pushed out from the brewing coffee and is made up of emulsified gases and oils from the coffee. This part of the drink is often bitter and is best when combined with the rest of the shot using a small demitasse spoon. Often, a shot of espresso is served with a small lemon peel to provide acidity to cut the bitterness of the crema.

 

A Comparison

Drip Coffee

Espresso

1:16 ratio of coffee to water

1:2 ratio of coffee to water

195 - 205 degrees Fahrenheit water

195 - 205 degrees Fahrenheit water

Medium - Coarse Grind

Ultra Fine Grind

3 - 6 minutes

20 - 40 seconds

Brewed with only gravity to pull the water through

Brewed under pressure of 9 - 10 bars (or atmospheres) of pressure

Homogenous brew throughout

Has multiple “parts”, including the crema

Any coffee bean can be drip coffee!

Any coffee bean can be espresso!

 

 

Yes! You heard that last part correctly: any coffee bean can be espresso! A coffee does not need to be labeled as “espresso beans” or an “espresso roast” in order to be considered espresso. Likewise, a coffee labeled “espresso roast” can be made as drip coffee. 

Again, what makes coffee espresso is not the coffee’s origin, processing or roasting method but rather the method of brewing itself. That method must involve high pressures of 9-10 bars or atmospheres of pressure.

 

What About the Caffeine?

A huge difference between drip coffee and espresso is the caffeine content. This difference stems from the different recipes used to brew drip coffee and espresso. As mentioned above, drip coffee is brewed, on average, at a ratio of 1:16, coffee to water. That means if you are to brew 20 grams of coffee then you will use 320 grams of water (20*16=320). 

In contrast, espresso is brewed not only under pressure but at a much higher concentration. The ratio rests around 1:2, coffee to water, meaning that if you are to brew 20 grams of coffee for espresso, you would use 40 grams of water. This is much less water used than for drip coffee which creates a much higher concentration of coffee in espresso over drip. 

This higher concentration of coffee in your cup also means a higher concentration of caffeine. The same amount of coffee is used for those two beverages but is delivered in different quantities. When it comes to caffeine, one 3 oz espresso is essentially equivalent to one 10 oz drip coffee. 

Caffeine is not the only element that is more concentrated in espresso. Flavor is also more concentrated! Again, we are getting the same amount of coffee simply delivered in a smaller vehicle. This means that all of the flavor of a 10 oz cup of coffee is packed into a small 3 oz serving of espresso. All of the flavor particles spread out throughout the former 10 oz are now buzzing around the latter 3 oz beverage.

 

So… Drip or Espresso?

With all of these comparisons out of the way, our final question remains… drip coffee or espresso? 

If you have an answer to whichever you prefer - good for you! We simply can’t decide at Aveek coffee because we love them both equally. Both drip coffee and espresso have a special place in our hearts and both consumed with equal passion and excitement. 

We encourage you to try out a variety of coffee drinks and keep your options open - or take a page out of our book and order both next time you’re at your neighborhood café!