Is Espresso Stronger Than Cold Brew? The Differences Explained

Is Espresso Stronger Than Cold Brew

Everyone has heard the espresso clichés. “Espresso yourself” can be found on T-Shirts and coffee mugs. Espresso is in movies, books, and is usually more well-known than cold brew.

But is it stronger, or better?

Espresso’s reputation for strength may be widespread but it may be usurped by cold brew, which is slowly gaining popularity and respect from coffee lovers.

Though cold brew takes significantly longer to make than espresso does, individuals are learning that quicker isn’t always better when it comes to coffee.

Stronger Isn’t Always Better With Coffee Drinks

When it comes to a strong taste, espresso definitely has it. The strength of the taste of espresso is so strong that it often puts off normal coffee enthusiasts and is reserved for only the most avid coffee drinkers.

The strong yet not too strong taste of cold brew, however, is much quieter in comparison to espresso and even the newest coffee fan can enjoy its honey-like flavor (even while unsweetened).

Even being milder, cold brew packs a more sophisticated and secret punch in the form of caffeine.

Cold Brew vs Espresso: A Caffeine Secret Exposed

While espresso (an emulsion) is normally served as a shot, cold brew is typically served as a glass or cup. By volume, espresso has more caffeine in it. However, both espresso and cold brew have around the same amount of caffeine when compared to serving sizes.

Because of this fact, individuals who do not care as much for the taste of espresso can enjoy an equal amount of caffeine when choosing to drink cold brew.

Strong is a Relative Term

In terms of strength being in boldness of taste and caffeine in volume amount, espresso is technically stronger. Sometimes, though, strength in coffee can be overwhelming and not as desirable. For this reason, cold brew is a more attractive choice to many coffee drinkers who are looking for more adventure in coffee but are not ready for espresso.

Since cold brew is less acidic due to the way in which it is made, the gentleness of cold brew on the stomach and the teeth is also an attribute that it can claim. Espresso can be sour because of the acidity, and is not nearly as sweet when contrasted against cold brew.

Dark, Medium, or Light

For cold brew or espresso, coffee beans are always used. They are roasted prior to being ground and prepared into drinkable coffee. Darker coffee roasts tend to have a stronger flavor and less acid whereas lighter roasts are much milder and fruit forward.

Many coffee drinkers choose to go with the darkest roast available thinking it is going to be the most potent in terms of caffeine. In reality, there is almost no significant difference in amount of caffeine when comparing lighter and darker roasts and in fact darker roasts tend to have slightly less caffeine anyway.

The actual difference in strength has to do with the plant species itself, but even those variances are slight.

And then there is a related point that deserves attention; how does cold brew concentrate fit into this comparison?

Espresso vs. Cold Brew Concentrate

Since both espresso and cold brew concentrate offer a more, well, concentrated brew, it’s reasonable to wonder how the two compare. Here, we’ll cover the basics of both cold brew concentrate and espresso. Then, we’ll take a look at how they two compare in a couple different categories: strength and caffeine content.

The Basics of Cold Brew Concentrate

Despite the common misconception, cold brew is not simply chilled coffee served over ice; that would be iced coffee. Rather, cold brew refers to a brewing process that uses cold water instead of hot water to extract the coffee from the grounds.

The process of making cold brew concentrate is exceptionally simple. Simply steep your coarse ground coffee in cold water for anywhere from 12 to 24 hours. Then, strain the grounds from the brewed coffee using a French press, a fine mesh strainer, or a gadget specifically designed for cold brew.

Once you’re done you have cold brew concentrate, this is a beverage that is sometimes just called cold brew coffee however many people do use it as a concentrate because it is quite strong. Those people dilute the concentrate with cold or hot water to make a more normal tasting cup of coffee.

You can add water (cold or hot), milk, or another liquid to dilute the concentrate. Of course, there’s nothing wrong with drinking the concentrate straight or over a single large ice cube if you want something more robust.

Compared to Espresso

Espresso isn’t nearly as simple, and it requires some special equipment. The basic process involves adding finely ground coffee to a mechanism called a portafilter. Next, you use a tamper to tamp down the coffee, and then attach the portafilter to the espresso machine. Then, depending on what kind of espresso machine you have, you’ll start the extraction process, resulting in a rich, strong shot of coffee.

In most esprersso based drinks the espresso is “diluted” with creamers, milks, water, or other liquids to form espresso based drinks like mochas, lattes, or even Americanos.

Which Is Stronger: Espresso or Cold Brew Concentrate?

There’s no easy answer to this question. You see, there are many variables that will influence the strength of each. These include factors like the coffee beans you use, the coarseness of the coffee grounds, how long you let the cold brew steep, and others.

In other words, the strength of each option comes down to how you brew it and what kind of coffee you started out with.

If you forced me to answer though I’d put my money on espresso every time tasting stronger but the caffeine content of a serving of cold brew concentrate compared to espresso is up for interpretation.

Which Has More Caffeine: Espresso or Cold Brew Concentrate?

Once again, the answer is complicated. While it is true that hot water extracts caffeine more efficiently than cold water, you also have to factor in the brewing time. Cold brew concentrate has a much longer time to extract the caffeine, which makes up for the cold water’s less efficient caffeine extraction.

So, ultimately, there is probably about the same amount of caffeine in espresso and cold brew (per serving).

Lastly let’s look at the acidity and bitterness of the two underlying drinks.

Is Espresso More Acidic Than Cold Brew Coffee?

If there’s a downside to drinking coffee at all, it’s probably that it is incredibly acidic. Many people find that the acidity in coffee can wreak havoc on their stomachs. And those with digestive issues like GERD simply have to avoid coffee altogether because of its high acid levels.

But those who love coffee but don’t love the acid often try to compare different roasts and brewing methods to determine which ones are less acidic. One such example is the comparison of two particularly strong brewing methods: espresso and cold brew.

Let’s get to the bottom of this question to determine which is more acidic and why.

How Acidic Is Espresso?

While many people associate the stronger, bolder flavors and mouthfeel of espresso with higher levels of nearly everything, this is not a good indicator for its level of acidity. While it might seem intuitive to assume that the stronger, more bitter coffee beverage has a higher level of acidity than, say, regular drip coffee, this couldn’t be further from the truth. In fact, since the extraction time for espresso is so much shorter than that of drip coffee, it actually extracts considerably less acidic compounds.

How Acidic Is Cold Brew?

You might also assume the same thing about acidity and brew strength with it comes to cold brew. Since cold brew concentrate is so much stronger than drip coffee, it’s easy to think it might also be more acidic. Again, this is incorrect. Interestingly though, cold brew is less acidic than drip coffee for the exact opposite reason that espresso is less acidic than drip brews. Indeed, the much longer brewing time required for cold brew concentrate mitigates the level of acid in the resulting brew.

So, Which Is More Acidic: Espresso or Cold Brew?

With so many variables that can affect the acidity level in coffee from any brewing method, it’s pretty much impossible to say.

Yet, it seems as though, by and large, espresso is going to be slightly more acidic than cold brew mostly due to the heat used int he brewing process and it’s especially the case for those who dilute their cold brew with things like milk or water later on.

There are Many Different Ways to Define the Strength of Coffee

Both espresso and cold brew can satisfy different needs in individuals who are looking for more variety when it comes to coffee. The amazing thing about coffee has to be that there is an array of choices.

Also, within both subsets (cold brew and espresso) the combinations are vast and limitless and you can get different strengths depending on how you brew and what beans you use.

Between sweeteners, different types of milks (almond, soy, hemp, cow, and coconut) and creamers, coffee is a never ending joy no matter what form it comes in.

So, what’s in your coffee cup?

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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