What’s the real difference between espresso and regular coffee?

If you know your coffee, you might think that’s a easy question to answer – after all, espresso is stronger, yes? Well, yes – but only by default and that certainly isn’t all there is to it. Order an espresso, and you’ll get 60ml of strong, full-caffeine black coffee. Order regular, and you’ll get a much larger cup of something less full-on. The main difference, though, is in the preparation.

‘Espresso’ is so called because hot water is pushed through the ground coffee at speed. With filtered coffee, the water drips through the coffee at a much slower speed. The two drinks may well start out using the same beans, but the different preparation methods will produce very different results. Most of us can produce a decent cup of regular coffee at home using the brewing method of our choice, but to make a decent espresso you really need a proper espresso machine.

As espresso contains a stronger coffee-to-water proportion, it has a more concentrated and richer flavour. It also contains more caffeine to the millilitre, which is why it’s traditionally served in such small cups. Due to its flavour, espresso is often used as a base for other drinks – for example, a latte is a shot of espresso topped up with hot milk. The stronger flavour means that the coffee taste is preserved, even when there’s not that much coffee in your glass.

Espresso beans are traditionally a darker roast than those used for standard coffee, but that doesn’t have to be the case. They are generally a finer grind, though, to extract the maximum amount of flavour in a short brewing time.
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