Drip coffee and espresso are popular everyday coffee brewing methods. Learn how to choose between them and prepare each type perfectly with this easy and comprehensive guide.
Why Compare Drip Coffee vs. Espresso?
No one brew method is better than another. There are, however, differences between drip coffee versus espresso. First, let's define each precisely.
Definition of Espresso
The word "espresso" may be found on bags of beans, but it's not a type of roast or a particular coffee bean. Instead, it simply refers to a method of coffee preparation.
There are a few differences between making espresso and using a French press or Chemex. For starters, an espresso machine is an entirely different contraption. Because of the extraction method (which involves hot water at high pressure), beans are ground much finer than you would use in a pour-over process. This method makes for a smaller, more intense drink. Because of the pressure and temperature of the water, the extraction method also takes a much shorter time than when you manually brew coffee.
Besides its small size and concentrated flavor, one of the indicators of an espresso is the crema, a layer of foam on top of the espresso shot. Crema volume depends on the roasting level. A lighter roast results in a thinner crema. The darker the roast, the more crema.
When water is under high pressure, it can more easily dissolve carbon dioxide. When the extracted coffee hits the cup, the liquid comes back to normal pressure. The fluid can't retain all of the gas, so it comes to the top in the form of tiny bubbles — which chemicals in the coffee attach to, creating the crema.
To make authentic Italian espresso, you need a machine. Although purists prefer manually-operated versions, typically automatic, super-automatic, and capsule machines are the easiest for beginners to use and give the most consistent results.
The AeroPress, created in 2005 by renowned inventor Alan Adler, is a popular and affordable alternative to an espresso machine. For details, please refer to Tetsu Kasuya's Ultimate AeroPress Coffee Recipe.
Since not everyone has access to an espresso machine, we'll also include the process for AeroPress below. First, let's examine the process for an automatic espresso machine.
Espresso Machine Process
- Grind enough coffee for two espresso shots. Use dark roast coffee beans and a quality grinder. A double shot will require about 20 grams of grounds. Be sure your grounds are powdery and refined, so use the finest setting on your grinder. Use a scale to confirm you measured correctly.
- Place the grounds in your portafilter. Distribute the grounds evenly, place the portafilter on a flat surface, and use the tamper to press the grounds into a disk formation of espresso in the portafilter.
- Run the machine briefly without the portafilter to clear the ground head. After positioning your demitasse glass underneath, lock the portafilter into the machine, and begin your shot.
- The espresso should be ready after 25–30 seconds. Some machines require manual timing, and others offer different settings. Practice will help you achieve the shots you like. You shouldn't have too light or dark espresso. It shouldn't taste too acidic or bitter. There should be a thin caramel-colored crema layer on top.
- If making a latte, you'll need to steam your milk. Otherwise, enjoy your espresso as is.
- Finally, clean and purge all equipment and make sure it dries effectively before putting it away.
We recommend the following equipment for best results:
- Hario V60 Dripper Kasuya Model + 100 Filters
- Cupping Bowl Kasuya Model
- Hario V60 Coffee Drip Scale
- Mini Drip Kettle Kasuya Model — available in 300 ml and 500 ml versions
You may also want to have a grinder handy, but this is optional.
Brewing with the Hario V60 Kasuya Model
- Set the filter, rinse, and preheat
- Measure and add the grounds
- Start the timer and pour the water
- Add water using the 4:6 pouring technique below
- Slow to a drip, remove the filter and spent grounds
- Pour into a warm mug and drink slowly
- Wash and store your equipment
Tetsu Kasuya's 4:6 Method
Below is a summary of the method which helped Tetsu win the 2016 World Brewers Cup. If you would like more details, please see this article.
- Start with a 1:15 ratio of ground coffee beans to water.
- Divide the total amount of hot water into a 4:6 ratio.
- Pour the 40% portion over the coffee grounds, splitting it into two pours.
- Pour the remaining 60% of hot water to adjust the concentration.
Timing Each Pour
- 0:00 Pour 60 g
- 0:45 Pour 60 g
- 1:30 Pour 60 g
- 2:15 Pour 60 g
- 2:45 Pour 60 g
- 3:30 Remove the coffee dripper
Health Benefits of Espresso vs. Drip
Caffeine Content of Espresso vs. Drip
Caffeine is extracted into the brew by water acting as a solvent. Several factors affect the efficacy of this process.
- Temperature: Higher water temperature results in higher caffeine extraction.
- Time: Longer times allow the water to extract more caffeine.
- Surface Area: Finer grinds mean the coffee has more surface area from which the water can extract caffeine.
- Pressure: Higher pressure pushes the water into the coffee faster.
Except for time, all factors are in espresso's favor, meaning that, by concentration (per ml or oz), espresso has more caffeine. However, this isn't the whole story. We have to consider the speed of drinking the coffee and the volume of coffee per serving.
Since most people consume espresso shots much faster than mugs of drip coffee, it may feel like more caffeine because the effect is felt sooner. However, the larger serving size of a cup of drip coffee means it has higher total caffeine content than a single espresso shot.
Calories of Espresso vs. Drip
Espresso contains more calories per volume than drip coffee because it's concentrated. However, a typical cup of espresso is much smaller than that of an average coffee cup. Regardless of the coffee type, drinking it plainly will have lower calories than adding syrup, sugar, sprinkles, or milk.
Nutrition of Espresso vs. Drip
A 2020 study in the journal "Foods" found that brewing methods impact mineral content and antioxidant activity. The researchers found the highest levels of calcium in espresso and the lowest in drip-brew. Espresso was also the better source of zinc. AeroPress coffee had the most polyphenols (higher antioxidant potential).
Drink What You Prefer
In addition to being a matter of personal taste, the type of coffee you prefer also depends on your mood and time constraints. Slowly sipping a mug of brewed coffee is a different experience from quickly drinking a shot of espresso. Many people enjoy an espresso after a meal, but they prefer pour-over coffee in the late morning.
Whatever your favorite way to drink coffee, we have an ever-changing range of high-quality specialty coffees for you to explore and enjoy.