Espresso vs. Drip Coffee: How are They Different?

To caffeine newcomers, espresso and drip coffee might appear to be entirely different beverages. In cafes, espresso-based drinks tend to be listed on separate menus from drip coffee—and from the outset, espresso seems more flexible. After all, espresso can be turned into macchiatos, lattes, americanos, and more. Whereas drip coffee is paired with the age-old question: cream or sugar?

While drip coffee and espresso are different in caffeine levels, versatility, and even taste, they’re both made from the same coffee beans. The distinction, then, is their method of brewing.

By analogy, consider the other morning staple: the traditional egg. Eggs can be scrambled, hard-boiled, or made into any number of omelets—yet they’re all made from the same hardy origin. 

The same is true for the coffee bean.

With that in mind, let’s pour over the key differences between the brewing, roasting, and preparation of espresso versus drip coffee, so you can enjoy your next cup with confidence.

A Sip of History for Context

Viewing these hot beverages through the lens of history can illuminate where their division comes from. 

The discovery of the coffee plant dates back to the ancient forests in Ethiopia. Legend has it that an Ethiopian goat herder noticed that his goats seemed more energetic than usual after eating some “berries” (of which the seeds are the infamous coffee beans) from what we now know to be a coffee tree. He reported his experience back to a local monk who decided to test out the berries for himself. He made a drink with them and found that he could stay awake throughout the night.

Little by little, knowledge of these energizing seeds spread, eventually leading to them spreading across the globe, with each culture creating its variation of coffee preparation. 

This is where coffee beans come from, but what about espresso beans? What is espresso?

“Espresso beans” is a colloquial term—there isn’t a separate type of bean or seed required to create espresso. In fact, espresso is simply one of many methods of preparing coffee beans.

The Invention of the Espresso Machine

Espresso was born out of the need for speed in the 19th century. At that time, coffee was a booming business in Europe. Inventors were looking for a machine that would do the following:

● Reduce the amount of time it took to brew coffee

● Improve the quality of brews

● Make more cups a day 

Although many inventors raced around creating prototypes, an Italian man by the name of Angelo Moriondo beat them out and received approval on his patent in 1884 for his espresso machine.

Later on, others improved on Moriondo’s design. Luigi Bezzera invented the single-shot espresso in the early 1900s. He wanted to create a quick method of brewing coffee directly into the cup to cut down on waiting time. We can still see many of his innovations in modern espresso machines. 

Soon after, Desiderio Pavoni came along to help Bezzera expand his business, improve the machine, and market the product. They worked together to present their shiny new machine at the 1906 Milan Fair. Espresso quickly became a popular drink in Milan but was mostly confined to that region.

Over time, the espresso machine increased in reliability and efficiency, producing higher-quality shots and spreading to other countries. It has grown from a drink confined to on-the-go workers in Northern Italy to a beloved staple in any coffee shop.

Differences in Preparation

Once you have your roasted beans, the main difference between drip coffee and espresso lies in how you prepare them. From grind level to preparation, these two caffeinated beverages show little overlap apart from using hot water. 

Grinding Espresso and Coffee Beans 

It’s often recommended to grind the coffee beans just before brewing, whether that be with an automatic or manual grinder. By grinding just before brewing, the aromatic compounds will be preserved and experienced to their fullest. These aromatics are highly volatile and will escape fairly quickly, which may affect the taste of drip coffee or espresso from pre-ground beans.

Espresso requires a fine ground, somewhere between table salt and flour, whereas drip coffee doesn’t require such a powdery consistency. You can achieve medium or coarse grounds with manual grinders, but espresso will need an electric grinder to achieve that fineness.

Espresso Preparation

Once we have the finely ground coffee beans, we arrive at the espresso maker. Espresso requires high pressure and speed to heat the water and pull the shot quickly. Because of this, you’ll need to prepare it with an espresso machine that achieves the 4 keys formula:

● Key 1: The ideal dose – This gives the espresso its rich and complex, full-bodied flavor.

● Key 2: The optimal pressure – The correct pressure of the machine evenly soaks and expands the coffee grounds.

● Key 3: The precise extraction temperature – A temperature-controlled machine will ensure a balanced, consistent flavor with every cup.

● Key 4: The powerful steam – For espresso-based drinks with milk, the perfect steam will give the milk a silky, velvety microfoam.

With the 4 keys formula, you’ll have a delightfully prepared espresso every morning.

Coffee Preparation 

Where the espresso machine uses pressure to push the water through the finely ground coffee beans, drip coffee utilizes Newton’s favorite force—gravity—and medium to coarse ground coffee beans. Drip coffee is brewed by pouring hot water over a filter filled with coffee grounds (hence why drip coffee is also coined “pour over” coffee). The result is a slow drip of delicious coffee through the filter into a mug or pot.

Another common form of coffee brewing is immersion brewing. This is the brewing process for French press coffee. Similar in flavor to drip coffee, the French press method submerges the coffee beans in the hot water for three to five minutes. The filter is then pressed down, pushing the coffee grounds to the bottom and allowing for a smooth, particle-free pour.

Some modern coffee makers have combined the grinding and brewing processes to save time in the mornings and ensure a consistent, flavorful cup to help jumpstart the day. With the grinder attached, you guarantee the aromatic compounds are captured for maximal richness.

Differences in Caffeine Levels

Now, what we all want to know. Espresso versus coffee: Which cup will keep you alert for longer? It depends on how you look at it. It’s a common misconception that espresso contains more caffeine content than drip coffee. 

While gram for gram, this is true—it’s a bit of a misnomer. 

What’s important to consider here is that caffeine will be spread through more volume. So ounce by ounce, espresso might contain more caffeine, however, a cup of drip coffee will typically have more caffeine being that the total volume is higher.

So, which will do a better job of keeping you on your toes? Depends on how much you drink. If you are looking at the standard serving size, drip coffee will pack more of a punch, although adding a shot of espresso to a drink will give you a very similar amount of caffeine.


There is one award that espresso wins hands down—most versatile. Walk into any coffee shop, and the list of espresso-based coffee options seems almost infinite. Whether with honey, sugar, milk alternatives, ice, or style, baristas worldwide have found ways to create variations of the humble espresso.

Some of the most common orders include:

● Cappuccino

● Cortado

● Latte

● Flat White

● Macchiato

● Mocha

● Americano 

The list goes on. While with drip coffee, you’re typically constrained to cream, milk, and sugar for added excitement.

Taste Difference

Regarding taste, what’s the difference between espresso and drip coffee? When it comes to the strength and taste of drip coffee vs espresso, you’re going to find a shot of espresso to be much more intense than drip every time. It has a roasted, full-bodied flavor and owes its concentration to the packed, fine grounds and quick brewing method.

Drip coffee has a simpler flavor profile as it has a much lower concentration than espresso. It’s also not as thick as espresso. Even if you used the same beans in a French Press and an espresso machine, the result would not taste the same.

Prepare Coffee or Espresso with Excellence

When it comes to caffeine content, it all comes down to preference and need. If you’re on the run and need a quick boost, have a tiny espresso shot. Meeting with friends for coffee? A smooth and creamy latte with textured milk will do the trick. Late-night study session? Brew a hefty coffee with cream and sugar that you can sip for hours. 

Long gone are the days when you needed to run to the coffee shop to enjoy a delicious cup. At Breville, we give you the freedom to create specialty coffees at home. 

The true key to brewing good drip coffee or espresso? Choosing the right coffee machine. Shop our espresso collection or our drip coffee machine collection today to enjoy the perfect cup every time from the comfort of your own home.


National Coffee Association. The History of Coffee.

Smithsonian Magazine. The Long History of the Espresso Machine.

Healthline. Is Dark Roast Coffee Stronger? Caffeine Content and More.

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