Espresso vs. Coffee: Similarities, Differences & Which One Is Healthier
Coffee is the most commonly consumed beverage (and the main source of caffeine) worldwide. In the U.S. alone, we collectively drink 400 million cups1 per day. This includes espresso, a concentrated form of coffee that's served in smaller shots—or as the main ingredient in your favorite latte.
Here, we'll take a closer look at espresso vs. coffee, highlighting the similarities and differences and diving into the health benefits (and potential drawbacks) of each.
What is espresso?
Espresso is an Italian-based coffee that's made by using hot water and high pressure. The result is a concentrated shot that has a heavy body2, strong aroma, and an intentionally bitter taste with a lingering aftertaste.
There's a common misconception that espresso is made from different types of beans, but all coffee is made from roasted coffee beans that come from the coffee plant—there is no espresso plant.
The difference is in the roasting process: The beans used to make espresso are roasted at a higher temperature and pressure for longer periods, resulting in a very dark roast.
- Serving size: 1 ounce
- Caffeine: 63 mg
- Carbs: 0.5 g
- Fat: 0 g
- Protein: 0 g
- Calories: 10.7
- Sugar: 0 g
- Micronutrients present: calcium, magnesium, phosphorus, potassium, sodium, niacin, folate, and choline
What is coffee?
Coffee can be made a number of ways—with an automatic drip machine, a percolator, and/or a French press—but the basic concept is the same: Hot water is poured over ground coffee beans and then allowed to brew or steep.
Unlike espresso, which uses high-pressure, brewed coffee is made with low pressure and a lot more water. And drip coffee is typically made with a medium to coarse grind, while espresso is made with a fine grind.
Because a cup of coffee is less concentrated than a shot of espresso, it has a less intense flavor with fewer acids and less bitterness. A "cup" of coffee is measured at 8 ounces, but the cups you get at your local coffee shop can be much larger, often 16 or 20 ounces each.
- Serving size: 1 cup (8 ounces)
- Caffeine: 92 mg
- Carbs: 0.4 g
- Fat: 0 g
- Protein: 0.7 g
- Calories: 5
- Sugar: 0 g
- Micronutrients present: calcium, magnesium, phosphorus, potassium, sodium, and niacin
Which one has more caffeine?
The biggest difference between espresso and coffee is how each one is brewed—and this affects their caffeine content. "Espresso is just a coffee beverage made with a smaller volume of water...producing a more concentrated brew," says William W. Li, M.D., author of the New York Times bestseller Eat To Beat Disease: The New Science of How Your Body Can Heal Itself.
That being said, if you order a large coffee versus a single or even a double shot of espresso, you're getting a bigger jolt. (Most large coffees are about 20 ounces, which gives you about 230 milligrams of caffeine. A double latte, which contains two shots of espresso, has 126 milligrams.)
Which one is healthier?
Both coffee and espresso can be good sources of bioactive plant compounds that contribute to your health when you drink them responsibly.
"All coffees contain natural bioactive substances, one of which is chlorogenic acid, which has important health benefits," says Li. "These include protection of the circulatory system, activation of metabolism, and reduction of inflammation6."
Because of these beneficial compounds, coffee consumption has been associated with a lower risk of heart disease7 and improved cognitive functioning8. Plus, the high antioxidant count in coffee makes it a beverage of choice among longevity experts.
One study published in the European Journal of Nutrition9 looked at coffee's effect on metabolic syndrome, a group of conditions that can increase the risk of diabetes, heart disease, and other chronic health conditions. (FYI: One in three adults currently has metabolic syndrome.) In the study, researchers found that participants who drank more than three cups of coffee per day had lower BMI, waist circumference, blood pressure, and triglycerides, as well as higher HDL cholesterol than study volunteers who drank less than 1 cup per day.
The amount of beneficial chlorogenic acid in your brew is affected by its roasting process. The more a coffee bean is roasted, the lower its chlorogenic acid content falls10. This means that lightly roasted and medium roasted coffees will have a higher concentration of these healthy plant compounds than dark roasted coffees—a category that espresso typically falls into.
How much to drink a day.
The next question naturally becomes, "How much coffee or espresso should I drink to reap these benefits?" Researchers looked at data from 201 different reports and found that drinking three to four cups of coffee a day11 had the largest health benefit when compared with drinking none. It's important to note that the benefits of coffee are included as part of an otherwise healthy lifestyle.
How to make each.
The exact brewing method for coffee depends on what type of coffee machine you're using. Most people use a drip coffee maker, which involves filling a water reservoir with the desired volume (amount of cups you want), scooping ground coffee into a filter, and then letting the machine do its thing.
To make French press coffee, you mix the water with the ground beans, let it sit for four minutes, and then push down the tamper, which includes a filter.
Making espresso is a little more complicated—or at least requires a more complicated machine. To make espresso, you add ground coffee to a portafilter, a specialized device that has a filtered basket, and then use a tamper to create a puck. In layman's terms: You push down on the loose grounds to tightly compress them.
From here, you add the prepared portafilter to your espresso machine, choose your brew, and let the machine work. Typically, an espresso shot is pulled in about 20 to 30 seconds. You can make espresso with any type of coffee beans, but you'll get the best flavor with dark-roasted coffee.
Healthy ways to enjoy both.
Now that we've established that both coffee and espresso can fit into a healthy lifestyle, there are some necessary caveats we have to share. First: Steer clear of added sugar—that includes refined sugar and artificial sweeteners, according to Li. "Added sugars stress your metabolism, while artificial sweeteners can damage your healthy gut bacteria," he says.
Another pro tip: Don't overdo it, and give yourself a cutoff point. Consume no more than 400 milligrams of caffeine per day, and try to stop drinking caffeine around noon—or even earlier if you're sensitive. "Since good-quality sleep is important for overall health, including immunity and metabolism, you might want to keep your coffee drinking to daytime hours," says Li.
At the end of the day, Li recommends titrating the amount you drink to your own tolerance levels since everyone responds to coffee and caffeine differently. And if you turn to coffee or espresso for the concentration and energy benefits, check out our roundup of supplements that can help you stay sharp and focused.
If you need help getting started with a healthy coffee recipe, check out our:
Frequently Asked Questions
Is it OK to drink espresso on an empty stomach?
Coffee and espresso have a bitter taste that has been shown to trigger the production of stomach acid, but studies haven’t connected this to any negative effects. However, when your stomach is empty, you may absorb the caffeine more quickly, which can trigger jitters and anxiety, especially in those with lower tolerance. “Everyone has a different tolerance to coffee. For those who are sensitive to coffee, try sipping it with some food,” says Li.
Does espresso wake you up?
An ounce of espresso contains just under 63 milligrams of caffeine, and since caffeine is a stimulant, espresso can definitely wake you up. Though it has a long half-life, caffeine peaks in your bloodstream very quickly—about 15 minutes after consumption. If you want to take advantage of the wake-me-up perk of espresso, time your drink accordingly.
Can espresso make you gain weight?
Espresso alone is unlikely to cause weight gain, but your preferred mix-ins may be a culprit. "The chlorogenic acid in coffee actually fights body fat and helps you burn extra calories," says Li. "If, however, you drink coffee with added sugar and milk and cream containing saturated fats, it could cause weight gain."
Many people think espresso and coffee are two distinct beverages, but they're actually just different brewing methods. Both types of drinks have similar benefits, although light- to medium-roasted coffee has a slight edge over espresso for supporting heart health, cognitive health, metabolic health, and more.
To reap the benefits of coffee without the potential drawbacks, time your intake so it doesn't disrupt your sleep quality, and make sure you're not adding sugar or other unhealthy ingredients to your brew.
Lindsay Boyers is a holistic nutritionist specializing in gut health, mood disorders, and functional nutrition. Lindsay earned a degree in food & nutrition from Framingham State University, and she holds a Certificate in Holistic Nutrition Consulting from the American College of Healthcare Sciences.
She has written twelve books and has had more than 2,000 articles published across various websites. Lindsay currently works full time as a freelance health writer. She truly believes that you can transform your life through food, proper mindset and shared experiences. That's why it's her goal to educate others, while also being open and vulnerable to create real connections with her clients and readers.