What is Espresso?

By Megan Dority — / Coffee Talk

What is Espresso and How is it Made?

Espresso (ess-PRESS-oh) is coffee brewed by forcing or pressurizing a small amount of hot water through the coffee grounds using an espresso machine. Due to its unique brewing process, espresso coffee is generally a thicker consistency than your standard drip coffee. This form of coffee has a higher concentration of suspended and dissolved solids, and results in a coffee topped with crema, a brown foam that forms from the air bubbles mixing with the coffee oils from the finely ground coffee. 

A serving tray holding a shot of espresso and a glass of water.[Photo Credit: Nathan Dumlao via Unsplash]

What's the Difference Between Espresso and Coffee?

Espresso is made using the exact same plant as coffee and is roasted the same way. You can use a darkly roasted coffee or the roast shade of your choice to make espresso. The main difference between coffee and espresso is in the grind size of the coffee beans. For espresso, you typically grind the beans to a finer consistency and firmly pack the grounds before hot water is forced through using an espresso machine.

As a result of the pressurized brewing process, the flavors and chemicals in a typical shot of espresso are very concentrated. While it has all the same flavors as your typical cup of brewed coffee, espresso is topped with a brown foam, known as crema. The crema forms from a properly pulled shot of espresso and leaves a rich, lingering espresso flavor in your mouth. 

How Do You Drink Espresso? 

Espresso is served in the form of “shots” since this type of coffee has higher caffeine content than brewed coffee. These shots are not to be mistaken for the shots you take at a bar. Instead, espresso is meant to be sipped slowly so you can fully indulge in the rich flavor.

If a shot of espresso isn’t for you, you can find it used as the base for several popular drinks at local coffee shops. Here are a few popular espresso-based drinks you can make at home or order at your local café.

  • Cappuccino: A single shot of espresso topped with steamed and frothed milk.
  • Latte: A double shot of espresso topped with steamed milk.
  • Americano: A shot of espresso combined with hot water.
  • Red Eye: Filtered coffee combined with one shot of espresso.
  • Espresso Martini: A shot of espresso, vodka, coffee liqueur and simple syrup.
  • Flat White: A shot of espresso and two shots of steamed milk.
  • AffogatoA shot of espresso poured over two scoops of vanilla ice cream. 

How Much Caffeine is in a Shot of Espresso?

While espresso often has the reputation of being high in caffeine—it really comes down to how much you drink. Espresso has more caffeine per unit volume than most coffee beverages, but the typical serving size is much smaller, making the total caffeine content less. Of course, the actual caffeine content of any coffee drink varies by size, bean origin, roast method and other factors.

A bag of the whole bean medium roast next to a bronze coffee canister.

How to Choose the Right Coffee for Espresso?

Since espresso really pulls the flavor out of the beans, it’s important you choose a premium coffee brand that has no artificial ingredients and is sustainably sourced. Fortunately, Death Wish Coffee checks all those boxes and can be easily ground to a proper espresso grind size and used in an espresso machine. Using our Dark Roast Coffee for espresso brings out many wonderful dark cherry, mocha and almond flavors that you may not taste when brewing with a standard coffee maker. 

How to Properly Store Your Coffee?

Besides picking the right coffee bean, knowing how to properly store those premium coffee beans is a key factor in making that perfect cup or espresso shot. Air, moisture and heat strongly impact the freshness of your coffee—and ultimately, the taste.

To preserve the freshness of your beans for as long as possible, you’ll have to ward off those demons by storing them in an opaque, air-tight canister at room temperature…kind of like a coffin. For the best cup of coffee or shot of espresso, make sure those coffee beans remain in a cool, dark and dry environment.

RELATED: How to Best Store Your Coffee   

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