What is Espresso? – All Questions Answered

Espresso (es-Press-so) is both a type of coffee and a brewing method. It is made by forcing a small amount of near-boiling water through finely ground coffee beans under extremely high pressure. But the depth and maturity of espresso is far more than that. Countless are captivated by it, even I. As a long-standing coffee enthusiast, I’ve been obsessed with espresso, and through the years, I’ve picked up some valuable knowledge that I’d like to share with all of you. So, here’s all you need to know about espresso. 

What is espresso?
Origin of espresso
How to make espresso at home
Making espresso with an espresso machine
Making espresso with a French press
How to Drink Espresso
What is the difference between espresso and regular coffee?

What is espresso?

Espresso is a highly concentrated shot of coffee. It is made by placing the fine-grind coffee in a portafilter and tamping it into a puck, condensed cake. Then, pushing approximately 200°F hot water through around 9 bars of pressure to percolate the coffee. 

Percolation extracts soluble compounds like sugars, acids, and caffeine from the ground beans to create that exquisite taste. Soluble gasses form the aroma, while insoluble elements contribute to body, flavor, and smell.

In 25-35 seconds, this percolating process yields a 30-60 ml shot, more robust and thicker than regular coffee. On top of that, it is crowned with a layer of crema – a foam formed by air bubbles mixing with the oils in coffee. 

It’s one of the most complex and loved expressions around the world.

Origin of Espresso

Espresso was invented in Italy about a century ago, credited to Luigi Bezzera of Milan. He introduced steam-pressure coffee brewing, resulting in a more concentrated cup served at incredible speed. 

“Caffé espresso” translates to “pressed-out coffee,” reflecting high-pressure water extraction through finely ground beans. By the 1940s, espresso-making had been refined, leading to the widely known and enjoyed espresso today.

How to make espresso at home

Typically, espresso is made with a machine at commercial establishments and in the comfort of your home. But, if you are still deciding whether to invest in an espresso machine, you can also use a French Press as an alternative.

Making espresso with an espresso machine

To make espresso at home, you will need the following: 

  • 8-18 grams of espresso-roasted or medium to dark roasted beans 
  • Water
  • Espresso machine 
  1. Weigh your coffee beans. Measure about 9 grams of beans for a single shot of espresso and about 18 grams for a double shot.  
  2. Finely grind the beans. The ground coffee beans should be as fine as flour. Generally, you can set the grind size to 4 or 5, depending on your grinder.
  3. Pack and tamp the ground coffee. Add the grounds to the portafilter and tightly press them until they are flat and compact. 
  4. Place the portafilter in the machine and pull the shot. A well-pulled espresso typically needs 25-35 seconds to get that deep flavor and creamy finish. 

If you are ready to have an espresso machine of your own, I recommend getting one of excellent quality, as it will also affect your espresso’s taste. Check out our guides for the best espresso machines under 200 and the best Italian espresso machines

Making espresso with a French press

Among other coffee gears, the French press is my number one choice as an alternative to an espresso machine. Although the taste would be similar, you wouldn’t have the crema finish, and your drink would have some sediments. 

  1. Finely grind  ½ cup of beans for a double shot espresso and ¼ cup for a single shot. 
  2. Heat ¾ cup plus two tablespoons or 205 grams of water to 200 and 205 degrees Fahrenheit. 
  3. Add the hot water and ground coffee to your French press and steep for 4 minutes. 
  4. Slowly press the plunger down and pour to serve. 

You can also use other coffee gear, such as an Aeropress or a Moka Pot, to make an espresso, but it wouldn’t be the preferred choice. 


A single shot of espresso is served with specially made espresso cups called demitasse cups. However, it’s more common to have a double shot of espresso, otherwise known as a doppio. 

You can also serve the espresso as lungo or “long” by using the same amount of coffee but twice the amount of water. Espresso is often taken in the morning or after meals.

People also use espresso to make popular coffee drinks:

Espresso-Based DrinksDescription
AmericanA shot of espresso combined with hot water.
LatteA shot of espresso, steamed milk, and topped with a thin layer of milk foam  
CappuccinoLike a Latte but has equal parts espresso, steamed milk, and milk foam
MacchiatoA shot of espresso with a dollop of warm milk mixed in.
AffogatoA shot of espresso served with a scoop of gelato 
MartiniA shot of espresso with the same amount of vodka.
Red-eyeA shot of espresso combined with filtered coffee.

How to Drink Espresso

Unlike the usual practice with alcoholic “shots,” you don’t just gulp down a shot of espresso. Instead, you savor them slowly, appreciating and relishing their rich flavor. Also, you can enjoy it with a sweet biscuit, like biscotti.

I prefer to enjoy espresso black, but if it’s too strong, add some milk or sweetener, like sugar or syrup. 

What is the difference between espresso and regular coffee?

The difference between an espresso and regular coffee exists in the bean grind, the brewing method, and the caffeine content. The flavors, the buying process, and proper storing methods would also vary. 

Bean Type and Brewing Method

Espresso uses finely ground beans to extract more flavor and is prepared under high pressure, usually with an espresso machine. In contrast, regular coffee employs medium ground beans and relies on a slow drip of hot water over the coffee grounds without the use of pressure.

Caffeine Content

Moreover, espresso has gained the reputation of being high in caffeine per oz., around 40 to 80 mg in a single shot.  A double shot would contain twice the caffeine, an average of about 120 mg. In comparison, drip coffee contains 65 to 120 mg of caffeine, depending on the bean variety and the brewing method.


Espresso is also famous for its robust, bitter flavor and dense, crema-topped liquid. Its acidity varies based on roasting; darker roasts hide acidity, making it less acidic than regular brewed coffee. I recommend blonde espresso for a lighter, less bitter taste using light-roasted beans.

Buying and Storing

Choose fresh-roasted, whole, high-quality coffee beans for the best results. Since espresso pulls the flavor out of the beans, we recommend purchasing beans from your favorite local coffee shop or specialty grocer and avoiding cheap brands. 

When you order an espresso at a coffee shop, choose one with well-trained baristas and fresh, top-notch coffee beans.

Store the coffee beans in a sealed container kept in a dark spot. Keep beans in their original packaging if it is resealable, thick, and valved. Avoid the fridge freezer since repeated freezing and unfreezing harms the flavor.

Once opened, use the beans within a week and grind before brewing for the freshest taste.

To learn more about expresso, read “30+ Types of Espresso Drinks.”



  1. https://fdc.nal.usda.gov/fdc-app.html#/food-details/171891/nutrients 
Photo of author


Mesphird Yang

I have been brewing and drinking coffee for almost 6 years now. At first, I was just dazzled by how baristas look and that's why I started learning. In the long run, I became obsessed with its charm. I have tried many coffee brewing methods, with different kinds of beans in various roast levels. If I could have more than 4 cups of coffee a day, I definitely would!

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