Espresso vs. Brewed Coffee

Two types of coffee, two types of delicious

Espresso and brewed coffee represent two very different ways of making coffee which dramatically affects the way that coffee tastes. The following illustration breaks down the basic differences between the two, then we’ll explore what makes each unique and delicious in its own right.

There’s only one way to make true espresso, and that’s with a specialized machine. So it’s generally enjoyed in coffee shops. Espresso machines deliver a concentrated shot of rich coffee with an unmistakably bold taste. Because of its intense flavor, most people take their espresso mixed with water (an Americano), or milk (such as the popular Latte).

All coffee must be brewed before drinking, and espresso is no exception. Espresso is brewed by forcing hot water through finely ground coffee under extremely high pressure. This results in a highly concentrated shot of coffee with a caramelly sweetness and a distinctive crema (layer of foam) on top. While it looks simple, pulling a quality shot requires considerable skill and practice.

Coffee must be finely ground to brew espresso properly. This is because of the short amount of time the coffee grounds are in contact with the water. As a rule of thumb in the coffee world, the shorter the time of contact (brewing), the more finely ground your coffee must be.

Espresso isn’t a type of coffee bean. In fact, any type of coffee can be used to make espresso. While there are special espresso roasts of coffee available, the term “espresso” refers to the highly concentrated shot of coffee made with an espresso machine.

In contrast to making espresso, there are many different ways to brew coffee in stores and at home. In place of the intense flavor of espresso, proper brewing technique allows you to extract more subtle flavor nuances from coffees. But like espresso, getting the most out of your beans takes practice. We’ll cover the most popular methods below.

Where espresso uses pressure to force hot water through finely ground coffee, brewed coffee involves pouring hot water over fresh coffee grounds (a pour-over method), or adding fresh coffee grounds into hot water (immersion brewing). Either way the hot water dissolves much of the coffee grounds, then passes through a paper, cloth or metal filter and into a glass or carafe where it’s ready to enjoy.

Based on the method you’re using to brew coffee, the proper grind is essential to get the best flavor from your beans. With a pour-over method such as a Chemex®, a medium-fine grind is best. Whereas with an immersion method such as a coffee press, you’ll want to use a coarser grind. Your local Starbucks barista can advise you on the best coffee types and proper grind for brewing at home.

All this talk about coffee is really making us crave a cup or two. If you’re feeling the same way, here are a few of our favorite ways to make espresso and brewed coffee, complete with links to “how to” videos and where you can buy them.

You don’t need to spend thousands of dollars on a commercial grade espresso machine to make quality espresso at home. There are a variety of high-quality consumer models out there capable of making rich espresso and delicious micro-foam (foamed milk) on a range of budgets.
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A staple in many households, electric coffeemakers do all the work for you. They heat the water then release it over ground coffee in a filter tray. It then passes through the filter and drips down into the serving carafe, ready to drink. Electric coffee makers come in a wide range of models with prices from under $20 to thousands of dollars.
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It’s hard to beat the simplicity of the cone for preparing a single cup of coffee. You simply place it over your cup, add a filter and coffee, then pour hot water slowly over the grounds as brewed coffee drips down into your cup. Easily portable, pour-over brewers are ideal for traveling and camping, as well as home use.
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Unchanged since 1941, the Chemex® is another example of a manual pour-over method. What distinguishes the Chemex most is its special filters. They’re thicker than ordinary filters, removing more of the coffee oils and solids for exceptionally clean coffee. The Chemex comes in a variety of sizes to make 3 to 10 cups at a time.
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The popular coffee press is an example of full immersion brewing. Unlike pour-over coffee, fresh coffee grounds and hot water are mixed together in a carafe and allowed to steep for four minutes. A mesh filter is then pressed down through the mixture, pushing the spent grounds to the bottom so you can pour the brewed coffee out.
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Invented just a few years ago, the AeroPress® has amassed a devoted following of fans due to its ability to create a single cup of consistently bold, flavorful coffee with ease. Lightweight and made of plastic, it cleans up in seconds and is easily portable, so it’s ideal for traveling as well as home use.
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Brewed coffee has been enjoyed for a very long time. And we’re not talking about your great-grandparents. Monks were reportedly brewing ground coffee in boiling water around 1,000 AD.

AeroPress® is a registered trademark of Aerobie, Inc.

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