Home Articles What Is Espresso? (+ How It’s Different From Coffee)

What Is Espresso? (+ How It’s Different From Coffee)

Espresso is a small but mighty cup of coffee that’s taken the world by storm.

With its bold flavor and concentrated caffeine kick, espresso is a concentrated coffee that packs a punch!

A Glass of Espresso and Coffee Beans on a Wooden Table

Espresso is a staple in many coffee shops and households. But why is it so popular? 

Let’s dive into the taste, brewing process, and unique characteristics of espresso.

Learning more about it will help you fully appreciate this beloved beverage. 

Whether you’re a coffee connoisseur or a curious beginner, let’s get started! 

What Is Espresso?

The first thing you need to know about espresso is how to pronounce it. Many people get it wrong, calling it “express-o” rather than “es-press-o.” 

The correct pronunciation is the second one: es-press-o. 

Now, on to what it is. Espresso is still considered coffee. But it’s incredibly concentrated coffee usually served in small “shot glass” size cups.

Typically, people make it with an espresso machine. This machine forces pressurized hot water through finely-ground coffee beans. 

This creates a small amount of super-powerful coffee. There’s usually a bit of foam on top, as well. 

The taste is like very strong coffee. It’s acidic and bitter, with that roasted coffee flavor that all java lovers enjoy.

Finally, each shot of espresso contains between 29 and 100 milligrams of caffeine. (The average is somewhere closer to 75 milligrams.)

A Cup of Espresso and a Biscuit

How to Drink Espresso 

People often drink espresso by itself, sipping and savoring the strong coffee flavors. Some knock it back in a single gulp, shooting it like they would straight liquor. 

However, this method isn’t the norm, no matter what TV shows would have you believe. Espresso should be savored and enjoyed. 

It’s one of the purest forms of coffee out there. And despite popular belief, it doesn’t have more caffeine than coffee. 

Therefore, the true point of the espresso is its rich, bold coffee flavor. You miss out on that if you knock it back without tasting it. 

Besides drinking it by itself, you can also use it to make different popular drinks. Some of the most common are: 

  • Cappuccino
  • Macchiato
  • Americano
  • Latte
  • Cortado
  • Red-eye
  • Mocha
  • Dirty chai latte

You can make most of these drinks on ice for even more options. And remember, you can always jazz up plain old espresso with sugar and creamer.

A Cup of Black Coffee and Coffee Beans   on a Wooden Table

How Is Espresso Different From Regular Coffee

Some people think the caffeine contents set espresso and regular coffee apart. However, that’s not true. 

As already mentioned, a single shot of espresso doesn’t always have more caffeine than a cup of coffee. After all, an espresso shot is a much smaller amount of liquid than a cup-a-joe. 

The primary difference is how they’re brewed. You make espresso in an espresso machine, not a coffee pot. 

The result is a stronger, more concentrated coffee flavor. Regular coffee doesn’t contain espresso’s signature foam on top. Plus, it’s less syrupy overall. 

Can You Make Espresso with Regular Coffee? 

You can use regular ground coffee in an espresso machine. However, the drink won’t really be espresso. It’ll be weaker and won’t have the same amount of coffee flavor. 

It also won’t create the foam on top. (That’s known as crema, by the way.) 

That’s because coffee grounds are much larger and coarser than espresso grounds. Espresso grounds are extremely fine, and that makes all the difference. 

Don’t use pre-ground coffee beans to make espresso. You can, however, use whole (not pre-ground) coffee beans to make it. 

Just grind them first, and be sure to grind them finely enough to make good espresso. 

You can do this with any kind of whole coffee beans, not just dark roast beans. You can easily make a great espresso from any roast. 

A Cup of Espresso and Barista Tools on a Wooden Table

Best Espresso Recipes 

I already mentioned some of the most popular espresso coffee drinks. But that list is far from comprehensive. 

Espresso can make hundreds of drinks. And I don’t just mean cappuccinos and Americanos. 

It’s also used in cocktails or dessert drinks! You can even add it to various food recipes! The following is a list of eight of my all-time favorite recipes with espresso. 

Try one, two, or all eight. You won’t be disappointed. 

  • Espresso Mudslide. This sweet, strong drink is a classic. Only, in this version, use espresso, vodka, and Irish cream instead of Kahlua
  • Bailey’s Salted Caramel and Espresso Martini. This decadent dessert drink is perfect if you want something even more indulgent. 
  • Dark Chocolate Orange Espresso Martini. Have you ever had a Terry’s chocolate orange? That’s what this drink tastes like, only boozier and a lot more fun. 
  • Flat White. The flat white is a classic coffee drink. And all you need to make it are two shots of milk and one shot of espresso.
  • Affogato. Move over, root beer floats. The affogato is here, and it’s here to stay. This wonderful, bittersweet drink is simply espresso poured over vanilla ice cream. To mix it up a bit, try other flavors of ice cream instead. 
  • Lazy Eye. There are all kinds of “eye” espresso drinks. The red eye (one shot of espresso in a cup of black coffee) is the most popular. The black eye uses two espresso shots, and the dripped eye uses three. The lazy eye changes things up. It still needs two espresso shots, but add them to a cup of decaf coffee instead.
  • Espresso Brownies with Mocha Ganache. These brownies are heavenly. Period. No further description is needed. 
  • Galão. This Italian drink is like a cappuccino. It combines a quarter espresso with three-quarters milk foam. It’s creamy, luscious, and out-of-this-world.

And remember, these are just a few of the many espresso recipes out there. A quick Google search will yield dozens more. Happy espresso’ing! 

What is espresso?

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author avatar
NaTaya Hastings
NaTaya Hastings is a food and recipe writer for Insanely Good Recipes. She’s an educator, boy mom, dog mom, and whatever-stray-enters-the-yard mom. As a result, she's constantly cooking for both humans and animals.

Luckily, she enjoys it!

Though born, raised, and still living in Alabama, her specialty is NOT down-home Southern cooking. Instead, she loves to experiment with Asian, Mexican, Italian, and other ethnic cuisines. She has two mottos when it comes to cooking. “The more spice, the better!” and “There’s no such thing as too much garlic!”

She’s also pretty good with desserts. Especially the easy, no-bake ones.

Her favorite things are cuddling with her four giant dogs, traveling, reading, writing, and hanging out in nature. She’s also pretty excellent at Dominoes.

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