What is an Espresso? (And How to Make One)
Espresso is often used as a synonym for coffee since the two are so closely related. High quality espresso is arguably the purest form of coffee, the pinnacle of java drinking experience. It is so great I even named this website after it!
But, espresso is not just ‘regular coffee’, as there is a lot that goes into brewing the perfect shot.
So, if you have ever wondered what espresso actually is, where it came from, and how to make it, you’ve come to the right place!
What is an Espresso?
An espresso is a concentrated, strong coffee which is served in small volumes, called shots. Espresso gets its name from the Italian phrase “pressed out”, which refers to the way espresso is made. Very hot water is forced through finely ground coffee beans at around 10 bars of pressure, producing an aromatic, earthy, bitter coffee concentrate.
Why is it Called Espresso?
Espresso comes from the European home of coffee, Italy! According to Two Chimp Coffee’s article “Where does the word espresso come from?”, espresso comes from the past tense version of the latin phrase “exprimere” which translates into English as ‘press out’, or ‘to express’.
Espresso originated in Italy back in the early 1900s, when Luigi Bezzera, from Milan, officially devised and patented the first steam driven espresso machine as we know them today.
However, according to the espresso Wikipedia page several versions of espresso machines that used steam and pressure had come prior, across Britain, France and parts of Italy. However, these were not officially patented or manufactured at scale.
Bezzera’s patent for the original espresso machine was then bought by the La Pavoni company, also based in Milan, and these devices were then produced industrially. The rest, as they say, is history!
Single or Double Shot?
Whilst espresso originated from a single shot of freshly brewed, concentrated coffee, many of the most popular espresso based drinks today use a double shot.
A double shot is stronger, has more caffeine and offers a deeper, darker flavor than a single shot of espresso. This means it stands up to milk better and you get an overall richer coffee drink as a result.
You can ask your barista for a single shot in your coffee if you prefer, but this will harbor a weaker, less caffeinated drink.
How to Make an Espresso (Step by Step)
Espresso forms the basis of many great coffee drinks, and here’s how you can make one!
Finely ground, Medium roasted espresso coffee beans
(Alternatives): Aeropress/Moka Pot/Percolator
Here is a simple step by step method to help you make a marvelous espresso for yourself!
Step 1: Choose Your Coffee Beans
The first step in making a great espresso from the comfort of your own home is to pick the perfect coffee beans.
There is not necessarily one rule of thumb with the coffee beans used to brew espresso, but there are espresso specific beans that are worth using if you can find them.
Espresso coffee beans tend to be more towards a dark roast than a medium, as more of the coffee’s oils are extracted during a longer roasting process.
This gives espresso specific coffee beans a more intense, dark and bitter taste, making your espresso shot more robust. This is perfect when combined with steamed milk, for example in a cappuccino or latte, as using espresso beans means you won’t lose that distinctive coffee flavor.
Therefore, picking a medium roasted coffee bean that is well balanced and has distinctive nutty or chocolaty flavor notes will be ideal for an espresso. If you are looking for a well balanced Italian coffee, something like Illy Classico coffee beans will do just fine.
If you want to take your coffee beans selection to the next level, then going for a blend of both arabica and robusta coffee bean varieties will add even more bite and caffeine to your espresso.
Step 2: Brew Your Espresso
Next, you’ll need to brew your double espresso.
To do this, grind your coffee beans finely if you have a grinder at home. Alternatively, look out for ground coffee that is labelled as espresso grind, as this will be fine enough to use in your espresso machine.
Simply add your ground coffee to your portafilter, distribute evenly, tamp and away you go!
If you don’t have an espresso machine at home, you could also use a moka pot, percolator or aeropress to brew strong espresso
Step 3: Serve and Enjoy!
Espresso is traditionally served in a small espresso cup, so you can enjoy the rich, dark coffee flavor from the first sip to the last!
Your espresso should have a thin lining of light brown crema atop the short shot of espresso.
Espresso Compared to Other Coffee Drinks
Whilst espressos are very popular espresso based coffee drinks in Italy, there are also a number of other coffees that use steamed milk and foam.
A macchiato is pretty much as close to an espresso as you can get, whilst also having a spot of milk for good measure. This addition of a small dot of milk foam takes a slight edge off the bitter espresso, and was originally made by Italian cafe owners to show their waiting staff how to top espressos with milk.
A cortado is a drink made from a double shot of espresso and an equal measurement of steamed milk, topped with a small layer of foam. This combination of strong espresso and rich, velvety milk offers a great blend of silky smooth creaminess, paired with bitter, punchy coffee.
Whilst the classic espresso comes in a short, approx 2 oz serving, there are a few alternative ways to make an espresso. In fact, there are a number of different variations of espresso out there, but these are the most popular.
Iced espresso is a refreshing pick me up that is very simple to make. This is the most simple of the many iced coffee drinks, and is made by simply combining a classic double shot with ice cubes. For the best results, use a single large ice cube to cool your hot espresso down, without diluting the flavor.
A lungo espresso is simply a double shot, brewed with more water. This is done by brewing the espresso shot for a little longer than usual, to create a more mellow flavor. Lungo is the Italian word for long
A ristretto is known as a short shot of espresso. This is because the same mass of espresso is used as a regular shot, but it is ground even finer and actually uses half as much water. This makes a ristretto even stronger and more concentrated than a regular espresso shot. This is perfect if you want the maximum caffeine and flavor hit in the lowest volume of liquid possible.
Overall, espresso is an Italian coffee that is popular across the world. This simple but punchy concentrated coffee. Espresso forms the basis of a number of popular coffee drinks, as it is a strong form of the drink that delivers a lot of flavor in a small volume of liquid.
Espresso is the most pure form of coffee and has somewhat of a cult following. This strong form of coffee is bitter, strong and shows off the natural flavor notes of the beans themselves.
Is Espresso the same as Coffee?
Espresso forms the base of many coffee drinks, like lattes, cappuccinos and flat whites. So espresso is not exactly the same as ‘regular coffee’, since coffee is a very wide term for all brewed drinks that are made from coffee beans. Espresso is specifically made by highly pressurized steam being forced through finely ground coffee beans, usually using a steam powered espresso machine.
Where Does Espresso Come From?
Espresso originated in Milan Italy. It has spread throughout Europe and the world over the past 100 years and is now the basis for the majority of mainstream coffee drinks we consume today.
Is Espresso Stronger than Coffee?
Yes, a shot of espresso, per fluid oz, is stronger than normal drip brew, filter or french press coffee. However, a single shot of espresso contains around half the caffeine found in a 8 oz cup of drip brew coffee, which is why double shots of espresso are typically used in long coffee drinks.
How Much Caffeine is in One Espresso Shot?
A single shot of espresso (around 2 oz/30 ml) has between 50 and 70 mg of caffeine. Of course, this will vary depending on the bean type, size, origin and roast, but espresso has the highest concentration of caffeine of any coffee.