How Espresso is Different From Regular Coffee

How is Espresso Different From Regular Coffee

You want to learn more about the world of coffee and the different ways coffee is produced?

Well, regular coffee, often called filtered coffee, and espresso are two of the most popular forms of coffee production.

To better understand the differences between filtered coffee and espresso we must understand the differences between:

  1. Espresso beans and filtered beans
  2. Espresso machine and filtered coffee makers
  3. Espresso flavor and filtered coffee flavor
  4. Espresso drinks and filtered coffee drinks

Espresso Beans VS. Filtered Beans

To start off, coffee beans are just coffee beans and this lack of distinction is important to keep in mind.

At the end of the day, espresso beans and beans meant for filtered coffee are only distinguishable under immense scrutiny.

That being said, what are those differences?

Overall, espresso beans are often produced at a higher quality and can be a little more expensive. This quality will be important later on when we discuss the differences between the espresso brewing process and the filtered coffee brewing process, as we see the thickness of the espresso beans play a role in the espresso’s production.

Espresso beans are also different from regular coffee beans simply because they are recommended for use in an espresso machine. Often, a coffee producer will label certain beans as “espresso” beans or “regular” beans because they have first hand tasted the beans through this method of production.

Espresso Machine VS. Filtered Coffee Options

You may have a pour over dripper, vacuum, or common drip coffee maker at home. These are all filtered coffee makers. Unlike filtered coffee, espresso is normally only brewed using an espresso machine and all oils make it through the extraction process to your cup.

An espresso machine, brews coffee very quickly, at a slightly hotter temperature. This brewing process also forces the espresso beans under highly pressurized water, which quickly strips the bean of its flavor and nutrients.

Espresso is also produced at a more condensed rate.  Meaning, one shot of espresso uses the same amount of coffee grounds that a 10oz cup of filtered coffee would.

Also noteworthy is the fact that no form of filtered coffee can create the crema that is unique to that of espresso. You need the pressure to form crema after all.

Espresso Flavor VS. Filtered Coffee Flavor

Generally speaking, espresso contains a larger body, which is really just coffee code for a concentrated flavor profile. For this reason, some people use espresso beans in their regular coffee makers because they are looking to remove some acidity from their Joe and gain some body.

Filtered coffee’s flavor profile varies a little more, as there are different types of regular coffee beans (blonde, medium, dark). However, filtered coffee’s overall flavor profile is a little less intense and easier to approach.

Espresso Drinks Vs. Filtered Coffee Drinks

Given its intense flavor profile, espresso is often paired with ingredients such as milk, whipped cream, and other flavorings to make different espresso based drinks. Cappuccinos and lattes are the most common, but others are also out there.

Filtered coffee is most commonly consumed as it is with maybe a little cream and sugar. Filtered coffee’s balanced flavor profile allows it to please a wider range of people all by itself.

However, filtered coffee can also brewed using cold brew methods, which uses water and long periods of time to release the coffee’s flavor instead of heat.

So, What’s The Difference?

The difference between espresso and filtered coffee ultimately comes down to the differences of the beans, the flavor, and the machines used to brew it.

Coffee drinkers’ creativity also separates the two as they used each to invent new specialty beverages.

With espresso the barista gets to be very creative in making different styles of shots and using it to create different kinds of drinks. Because it is so much stronger than coffee it can be diluted in a myriad of different ways to make different drinks that are all coffee based but have very different flavors.

You can’t do that as much with drip coffee but there are alternatives that do mimic the versatility of espresso. Let’s look at some now.

What Can You Substitute for Espresso?

If you’re looking for a substitute for espresso, you might be seeking one of two things.

  1. First, you could simply be looking for a type of coffee beverage that is, say, less acidic or contains less caffeine than espresso.
  2. On the other hand, you might be after a kind of coffee bean that can be substituted for espresso coffee—in which case, you’ll soon find is not quite the problem you think it is.

In this section we’ll suggest an excellent substitute for espresso for those who want a strong coffee beverage without some of espresso’s downsides. We’ll also cover some misconceptions about what “espresso” actually is and why you don’t need the substitute you might think you do.

Cold Brew Concentrate: Espresso’s Chilly Cousin

If you want the bold, robust flavor of espresso, but you don’t want the slightly higher acidity or level of caffeine (or you don’t have an espresso machine!), cold brew concentrate could be the solution to your problems. While you’ll have to wait overnight to get your cold brew, it can be an excellent, lower-acid, lower-caffeine option to replace your espresso.

And don’t be fooled by the name: you can absolutely heat up your cold brew concentrate if you want a more espresso-like hot coffee.

Moka Pot Coffee: For Those Who Love Espresso but Don’t Have an Espresso Machine

If you’re in the market for an espresso substitute simply because you don’t have an espresso machine, there’s an excellent solution: the Moka pot. A Moka pot is a small stovetop coffee maker that mimics the pressurized brewing method of espresso. Even better, they cost about one tenth of the asking price for high-quality, entry-level espresso machines!

I Have an Espresso Machine, But I Don’t Have Any Espresso Coffee

A common misconception about espresso is that many people incorrectly believe that “espresso” is a type of coffee. That is, they assume that you must buy a certain kind of “espresso” coffee bean or grounds in order to make proper espresso. This couldn’t be further from the reality.

In fact, espresso simply refers to the brewing method that involves extracting the brew from pressurized coffee grounds. The bottom line? Literally any kind of coffee is “espresso” coffee, as long as you use a fine grind and brew it using the espresso extraction method.

This leads us however to another related topic all together:

What Are the Best Substitutes for Coffee That Contain Caffeine?

In some cases you are just looking for a burst of caffeine and you may or may not even want a coffee. On the other hand maybe you just want to experiment but don’t want to miss out on your daily caffeine buzz. In either case let’s explore this topic.

As far as we’re concerned, there really are no perfect substitutes for coffee. If there were such a thing, surely we’d all have switched over by now.

That said, if you simply don’t like coffee (strange as that is) or have health concerns preventing you from drinking it or just want to try something different every now and then but still need a caffeine kick, we’ve found the best caffeinated substitutes available.

If You Need a Little Caffeine

For those looking for a caffeinated substitute for coffee or espresso with considerably less caffeine, give one of these alternatives a try.


Most kombucha, a fermented tea beverage, contains some caffeine. On average, kombucha’s caffeine content hovers around 10-25 mg per serving. It’s definitely an acquired taste for many, but it’s a healthy option with plenty of health benefits and will give you that little caffeine kick you’re after.

Chai Tea

While chai tea only contains about half the caffeine (about 45 mg) of a standard cup of hot brewed coffee, it’s a delicious alternative to bean juice. It’s comprised of black and green teas that have been fermented. If you’re looking for a coffee substitute with a distinct and nuanced flavor, you should definitely give chai a try!

If You Need Lots of Caffeine…

But if you want a replacement that comes a bit closer to the caffeine content of a cup of coffee (about 95 mg per serving), these will suit you better.

Matcha Tea

Matcha tea is essentially just steamed, dried, and ground green tea leaves; however, the resulting beverage is quite different, especially when it comes to its caffeine content. While brewed green tea has some caffeine, much of it is lost when you throw out the tea leaves. Matcha tea powder, on the other hand, allows you to consume the whole leaf, and this concentrate is what gives matcha its higher caffeine content. In fact, the caffeine content in matcha can be anywhere from 30 to a whopping 250 mg per cup (source)!

Yerba Mate

Perhaps not the caffeinated powerhouse that matcha tea is, Yerba mate is still a great coffee alternative with its average of 78 mg of caffeine per serving (source)—not far off the caffeine content of your average cup of joe. While it’s flavor is a far cry from that of coffee, its considerable bitterness might be appealing to you if you’re a big fan of bold, dark-roasted coffees.

What’s in Your Coffee Cup?

As you can see there are some significant differences in espresso and regular filtered (or unfiltered) coffee made from the likes of drip machines to french presses to percolators.

Espresso is extremely strong but it’s made from the same beans, just from a different grind size.

You can get something closely resembling espresso by brewing your coffee in a moka on the stovetop but without the extreme pressure generated by an espresso machine it will lack some of the crema and body associated with espresso.

And then we see that there are a lot of alternative drinks that can be made that are caffeinated that make great substitutes for both coffee and espresso… and we didn’t even cover the bazillion hot black teas on the market.

Long story short, coffee isn’t the only option for your morning fix by a long shot. Try a few different options and find out what you like best and what you like to put into the mix if even only in a blue moon.

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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