What Is Espresso?

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Espresso, which originated in Milan, Italy circa 1900, is a very dark, bitter Italian coffee often mispronounced expresso. The term espresso comes from the Italian meaning "pressed out," referring to the process of pushing the freshly fine-ground bean essence through a special machine using steam and water. This process creates a highly concentrated brew with a thin layer of creamy, dark beige froth on the coffee's surface. Since it is highly concentrated, espresso contains more caffeine by volume than regular coffee. People looking for a boost of energy often refer to using a "shot" of it for a pick me up.

The Difference Between Coffee and Espresso

The difference between espresso and coffee is the fineness of the grind and the time it takes to brew the drink. Espresso is made from ground coffee beans, so it's thicker and can be made much quicker than coffee, also called drip coffee. It takes up to 30 seconds to make espresso depending on the machine being used, but drip coffee can take anywhere from three to five minutes to brew.

Espresso is highly concentrated, so it is usually said that it has more caffeine than a cup of coffee, but that is not true. Espresso has more caffeine per volume, so there's more caffeine in an espresso shot (usually an ounce) than there is in an ounce of coffee.

People don't drink an ounce of coffee. They drink a cup of coffee, usually anywhere from 8 ounces up to 24 ounces. When you consider the serving size of drip coffee, it contains much more caffeine than a single serving of espresso, which is usually just an ounce. Even a small cup of coffee has more caffeine than a shot of espresso.

Drinks with Espresso

A number of coffee-based drinks include espresso, such as:

  • Caffè latte: literally milk coffee. This is a shot of espresso with steamed milk, served hot
  • Cappuccino: two shots of espresso with steamed milk foam on top, served hot and usually topped with cinnamon
  • Caffè macchiato: espresso top with steamed milk foam on top, served hot
  • Caffè mocha: a variant of a caffe latte, which adds chocolate flavoring with the espresso and steamed milk, sometimes ice is added or it can be blended
  • Flat white: a shot of espresso topped with milk-based microfoam, a variant of macchiato
  • Caffè Americano: a shot of espresso with added hot water, it maintains the taste of espresso, but the water makes it less thick than espresso

Foods with Espresso

There are sweet and savory foods that call for espresso, including:

  • Affogato: vanilla gelato or ice cream topped with a shot of hot espresso
  • Tiramisu: a traditional dessert made with ladyfingers (finger-shaped sponge biscuits) that are soaked in espresso and layered with a filling of mascarpone cheese, egg yolks, and cream
  • Black bean and espresso chili: add espresso or instant espresso powder to your favorite black bean chili for a thicker chili and a deeper, richer flavor
  • Raw vegan espresso brownies: as little as one shot of espresso or 2 tablespoons of instant espresso powder can bring out the chocolate flavor in these brownies
  • Vegan espresso fudgesicles: add coconut milk, strained espresso powder with bittersweet chocolate, sugar, and vanilla for a grown-up fudgesicle with a kick
  • Espresso pannacotta: a cold Italian custard, often served with fruit sauce or caramel syrup