What Is Espresso, Actually? Is It….Coffee?

Americans love quoting Garfield by saying, “Don’t talk to me until I’ve had my second cup of coffee.” However, in Italy, they call Garfield “il gato lasagnetto,” and he says, “Don’t talk to me until I’ve had my second tiny cup of espresso.” The French say the same thing, except they call Garfield “le chat orange.” This is all extremely true and you don’t have to look it up. Anyway, this brings us to the topic of today’s lesson: Italian Garfield’s favorite drink, espresso. What’s espresso? Let’s find out. 

What is espresso? Is espresso coffee?

Yes, espresso is a type of coffee—but that’s not to say it’s a specific type of coffee bean. Rather, espresso is a method of coffee preparation. Traditional coffee, whether hot or iced or cold brew, is made by steeping hot or cold water over ground coffee beans. To make an espresso, it’s essentially the same method except with a lot more pressure.

Coffee grounds are packed tightly and then subjected to hot water at a very high pressure. The pressure causes oils in the coffee to be extracted and form the creamy layer on top of the drink. The overall result is a liquid that’s thicker than coffee. 

The espresso machine is designed specifically to achieve this result and is an evolution from early French coffee machines and further Italian modifications, making espresso a beverage that is extremely popular in both countries. In America, espresso on its own isn’t as popular as other drip coffees. However, espresso is a common component in other coffee beverages like cappuccinos, mochas, and any of your seasonally flavored lattes. 

What is blonde espresso?

Blonde refers to a coffee bean’s roast—not its luscious locks. Once beans are harvested, they are dried out and roasted to extract more flavor. The roast levels vary from light (short roasting time), to medium, to dark (long roasting time). Light roast coffees have a slightly higher caffeine content than their counterparts. Espresso can be made with any roast level. Traditional espresso from Italy is made from medium to dark roasted coffee beans. A blonde espresso is made from light roast coffee.

How much caffeine is in a shot of espresso?

First let’s start by answering another question, what is an espresso shot? A shot of espresso is one ounce of straight espresso. Okay, now let’s talk about how much caffeine is in espresso. The caffeine amount can vary depending on the roast of the coffee used, but the average is going to be around 65 milligrams of caffeine per ounce. For comparison, an 8-oz cup of coffee contains about 95 mg of caffeine, a 12-oz Coke contains 34 mg of caffeine, and a Bang Energy drink contains 300 mg of caffeine. 

Is espresso stronger than coffee?

Yes, espresso is quite a bit stronger when you compare similar volumes of each beverage. One ounce of normal coffee has anywhere from 12-16 milligrams of caffeine. An ounce of espresso is nearly five times that amount. 

However, this doesn’t factor in serving sizes. Normally, espresso is only consumed in one ounce increments. The standard serving size of coffee is eight ounces. So, if you’re only drinking a single espresso, you’re probably consuming less caffeine than you would if you were drinking a cup of coffee. But if you opt for a double or a triple espresso, then you’re definitely sucking down something more intense. 

How do you drink espresso?

Here’s how to drink espresso: Lift the cup to your lips, and drink. Technically, you can drink espresso however you want. Drink 20 ounces of it in the morning and go crazy. But there are customs surrounding the drink. 

No matter the country, you’re likely to get just one shot of espresso per serving unless ordered otherwise. In both Italy and France, an espresso is ordered by simply asking for “un cafe.” However, in Italy, you drink it in three sips while standing at a counter, whereas in France you can enjoy it while languidly relaxing at an outdoor cafe. 

Sometimes you might get a piece of lemon rind with your espresso. Some folks like to rub that lemon twist on their lips before taking a sip of espresso. Why? There are a few theories. It could be because people once thought it warded away illness or that it would help make bad coffee taste better. Or maybe it’s because lemon and espresso just taste good together. Or perhaps it’s just because it looks fancy. Essentially, feel free to ignore the lemon or go ahead and rub it on your lips if you want to look like a pro (or weird people out). 

About the Author

Luke Field

Luke Field is a writer and actor originally from Philadelphia. He was the former Head Writer of branded content at CollegeHumor and was also a contributing writer and actor to the CollegeHumor Originals cast. He has extensive improv and sketch stage experience, performing both at The Upright Citizens Brigade Theater and with their Touring Company. In addition to writing, he also works as a Story Producer, most recently on season 4 of Accident, Suicide, or Murder on Oxygen. Keep your eyes peeled for his brief but impactful appearance as Kevin, the screaming security guard, in the upcoming feature The Disruptors, directed by Adam Frucci.

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