What’s the Difference Between Coffee and Espresso?

(Last Updated On: November 20, 2022)

We’re not going to ask about the difference between espresso and “expresso,” because one of them is wrong. Next time someone goes for “expresso” by the way, point them to eXpresso. It’s a defunct shared version of Microsoft Excel. But what about espresso and coffee–what’s the difference between coffee and espresso? Is there one at all?

The Grounds

There’s a pretty good chance you’re drinking drip coffee if you have one of those coffee machines. If it’s one of those machines with the pods, it’s also spitting out drip coffee. Drip coffee is pretty simply made, just with boiling water over coffee grounds. You filter the water through the grounds and then bam, there you go. You have drip coffee. Since it’s made so easily, it’s pretty safe to say drip coffee is probably the most common way to drink the stuff. 

You’re probably just wondering which one has more caffeine in it, which we will get to. We do have to lay some groundwork though, chiefly we have to go through the differences in how espresso is made. 

There are two big differences between espresso and drip. The first difference is brewing time; it is much shorter for espresso. Espresso is also made with a lot more pressure. An espresso machine puts coffee grounds at pressures up to 15 ATM. That 15 times the atmospheric pressure around you, which is like being 500 feet underwater. The grounds used in espresso are also much finer, more so than table salt. Drip coffee, on the other hand, is more like sand. 

It doesn’t stop there, since espresso beans are also generally roasted very dark. It should also have a kind of creamlike foam on the top–if it doesn’t it probably means your cup was too big or the beans weren’t ground very well.

What ends up coming out is thicker than just the water flowing through your coffee filters. 

Alright, but which one has more caffeine?

It sort of depends on how you’re asking the question. If you’re looking at the average cup, you know the average serving size for espresso is only around like… an ounce and anywhere between 47-64 milligrams of caffeine per ounce. Eight ounces of drip is about 95-165 milligrams of caffeine–or around 17 milligrams per ounce. Most Americans prefer their drip at around 16 ounces. So, broadly, a single cup of not-espresso will likely put more caffeine in your system than a single serving of espresso. But if you were to have the same amount of both, you’d be getting more out of the espresso than the drip.

Also, let’s just take a stab at Starbucks since we were all thinking about it. The caffeine content in their blend isn’t exactly consistent either. The Journal of Analytical Toxicology took a look at their breakfast blend. One day, a 16 ounce cup had 259 milligrams of caffeine, while the next a 16 ounce cup of the same blend had 564 milligrams in it

See if you know who prefers coffee or tea here.

About the Author:

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Kyler is a content writer at Sporcle living in Seattle, and is currently studying at the University of Washington School of Law. He's been writing for Sporcle since 2019; sometimes the blog is an excellent platform to answer random personal questions he has about the world. Most of his free time is spent drinking black coffee like water.