Espresso VS Pour Over Coffee: Which is Better & What’s Different?

espresso vs pour over

Coffee lovers have their own quirks, preferences, and ways they like their coffee. Of course you have your own favorite. Today we are going to talk about the differences between espresso and pour over coffee.

At a glance, there is the obvious difference that espresso comes from a pressurized machine while a pour over relies strictly on gravity and time to extract the coffee through a filter. But we will also talk about the differences in flavors, nuances and subtleties each brewing process brings out and the various ways you can make each type.

Let’s begin with espresso…


Probably the most widely recognized form of coffee, espresso is brewed by packing finely ground coffee into a perforated metal basket or portafilter and forcing hot water, nearly boiling, at high pressure through the coffee grounds.

The resulting extraction uses the coffee grounds as the filter and produces a small amount of rich, strong coffee extract. Espresso is “express” coffee, made fast and meant to be consumed fast, bringing with it a jolt of caffeine for the drinker.

Crema is produced as a result. This is the fine golden brown foam made up of proteins, oils and sugar and amino acids in the coffee that rises to the top of the espresso shot when finished and is often used as a mark of excellence.

It is denser, thicker, and more concentrated than regular brewed coffee and can be drunk from a demitasse cup but is usually cut with steamed milk or cream to make the rest of the coffee drinks we know and love: Lattes, cappuccinos, americanos, mochas, you get the idea.

Espresso can bring out some flavors of origin but should have a lot of body to it as well.

Pour Over Coffee

Emerging and ever-growing in popularity, the pour over is taking coffee shops by storm. Instead of pressure, a pour over uses hot water(196F-205F), a filter, gravity, and time (about 2 minutes) to produce a gentle extract.

You can’t rush a good pour over.

A pour over takes more coffee and more water than espresso and brings out a lot more acidity and flavors that are lost in the quick brew process of espresso.

A pour over is an excellent way to enjoy single origin coffees, because the flavors of origin can be tasted and savored.

Brewing equipment varies based on what filter cone or pour over brewer you are using. But the most basic set-up is a filter cone or dripper, a filter, a scale(if you are a nerd like me), and a hot water kettle. Pour over equipment is much smaller than some espresso machines and the scale and hot water kettle can be used for other purposes in your kitchen.

Now that you understand a bit more of the differences, let’s talk equipment:

Espresso Equipment

Home espresso machines vary in price but you can pick up a moderately good one for between $150 and $500.

The DeLonghi EC702 is an economical machine and the Breville Infuser BE840XL is a bit more reliable.

A coffee grinder capable of grinding espresso is also essential when brewing espresso at home.

For those of you who want a more affordable option for espresso, the Italians have been making espresso at home with a manual stovetop espresso maker like the Bialetti for years.

I was given one by our Italian exchange student and I was delightfully surprised at the result. The Bialetti uses the pressure formed by boiling water to force the water from the reservoir below through the coffee in the basket and bubbles up into the pourable reservoir above.

It doesn’t froth milk but you can buy an additional milk frother for a small amount more to make your lattes.

Pour Over Equipment

Hario V60 Pour Over Coffee MakerThe New Clever Coffee Dripper

There are many options for making pour overs and fortunately the manual equipment is much more affordable than an espresso machine. The most iconic pour over is the Chemex, but the Hario v60, Kalita Wave, Bonavita Immersion Dripper, and the Clever Coffee Dripper all perform just as well.

The Chemex, Hario v60 and the Kalita Wave filter immediately through the filter and dripper into your mug while the Bonavita and Clever Coffee Dripper have a valve that allows you to steep your coffee within the filter for a set amount of time before dispensing into your mug.

All you need for making pour over coffee at home is a kettle for water, a coffee dripper like the above examples, filters for your dripper, and of course coffee. You can use a scale (I do) but you can also use a scoop if you know how much coffee to add.

If you don’t want to manually brew your coffee, there are several automatic coffee makers that produce pour over coffee. Check out our review of them here. They are a great option for those of you who love great tasting pour over coffee but don’t want the finicky process of manual pour overs. Speaking of process, let’s talk about the actual process:

How To Make Manual Pour Over Coffee

Step 1: Boil your water and setup your filter with coffee

  • Measure the amount of water you need
  • Boil your water in your kettle
  • Setup your filter in your cone
  • Weigh out the appropriate amount of coffee for your dripper and size of brew.
  • Once your water is boiled, let it sit for a few minutes until it has come down in temperature. Optimal temperature is between 195F and 205F.

Step 2: Begin pouring your water over your coffee.

There are detailed instructions for accurate pouring with each dripper so check the manufacturer’s website for individual dripper instructions. In general, for the drippers WITHOUT valves, you will need to pour in a little water to off-gas the coffee for 20-30 seconds. This is called a pre-immersion, it allows the coffee to release carbon dioxide and readies the coffee for immersion.

After the pre-immersion, begin to pour slowly in a circular motion until all of your pre-measured water is dispensed, . Then enjoy!

For the models WITH a valve, pour a little in for the pre-immersion and then dispense the rest of the water in and set your timer for 2 minutes (or as long as your dripper’s instructions say). Stir the coffee grounds after 1 minute and once your timer goes off, release the valve and let your coffee drip into your mug.

As you can see, it isn’t difficult to make pour over coffee, just a little time consuming, but extremely rewarding.

Two Different Coffees But Both Enjoyable

Espresso and Pour Over coffee are two VERY different coffee brewing techniques but both have their place in coffee culture. Everyone has their preferences but we hope that we helped you understand the difference between these two as well as how to make them at home.

Coffee was made to be enjoyed, and each culture has put its own customs on it. It is no surprise that it continues to draw people together with conversation and the sharing of life.

Brian Mounts

Head blogger, editor, and owner of "Top Off My Coffee", a website that has been educating readers about coffee brewing techniques and equipment since 2012.

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