What is Espresso & How to Make it at Home?

Espresso is a highly concentrated, strong coffee served in small amounts called shots. It forms the basis for a number of other types of coffee drinks. It’s made from the same beans as regular coffee, but is higher per ounce in caffeine, and stronger and thicker. However, because it’s served in such small amounts, it’s actually lower in caffeine per cup than regular coffee.

Coffee is one of the most popular drinks the world over. Some coffee drinkers prefer instant coffee, others espresso, and yet others love drip coffee. There are also varieties with milk, such as cappuccino or latte, or coffee drinks with various flavors. But espresso forms the basis of many popular types of coffee. So, you may be wondering: ‘Just what is espresso?

In this article, we’ll focus on the question of what espresso is. It’s not only the main morning drink in countries all over Europe, but enjoyed throughout the world.

Definition of Espresso

Firstly, what is the definition of espresso, or to use another term, crema caffe? Is there is difference between espresso versus coffee? No! Espresso is coffee—just a concentrated form of coffee that’s served in ‘shots’. It has a full-bodied flavor, and is said to be a drink with strong coffee flavor. This is the reason it’s served in smaller glasses.

However, that doesn’t mean that you ingest more caffeine. In fact, because of the smaller amounts, you actually obtain less caffeine from espresso than from regular coffee.

Below is a video on the “Definitive Guide to Espresso” for more insights.

How Are Espresso Beans Processed?

Espresso beans are made in exactly the same way as regular coffee beans in the initial phases. You use the same beans as regular coffee, which are cultivated, dried, roasted and processed. Interestingly, any kind of coffee bean can be used—acidic or bitter, lightly sweet, or toasty—as with other coffees, but the taste is more potent in espresso. Coffee beans from any region can also be used. 

What is different about espresso is how the beans are ground and treated. The beans are ground much finer than normal coffee beans. Once placed in the coffee machine, they are firmly packed so that jets of hot water can be forced through the grounds.

How is Espresso Made?

Dark Roast Beans

To make espresso, you have to use a dark roast bean. Lighter roasts don’t give the same result. The beans are finely ground.

Hot Water Pressurisation

Espresso coffee is made by forcing pressurized hot water through finely-ground beans. This is done in an espresso machine. If you tamp down the beans before putting the water through, it will ensure an even distribution of water through the grounds.

Crema Formation

What comes out is a liquid stronger than normal coffee. A ‘crema’ forms on top, which is dark brown foam, which is created when air bubbles combine with the oils of the coffee grounds. This is done through pressurized water dissolving and releasing the carbon dioxide present in the roasted beans. It not only adds to the flavor, but that’s the secret ingredient that adds to the aftertaste of espresso.

Consistency of Espresso

Espresso is also thicker and creamier than a typical cup of ordinary coffee, due to the suspended and dissolved solids in the liquid. Some even describe it as syrupy.

Concentrated Flavor

The coffee oils in the espresso keep the aromas and flavors that other kinds of coffee allow to escape into the air. This is what gives it a more concentrated taste.

Before we continue with the different types of espresso, let’s mention something about its history, which is important when discussing its genres.

woman drinking coffee reading book

The Story of Espresso

There is a story that a man named Angelo Moriondo from Turin who invented espresso. However, he invented the first coffee steam machine, not the beverage. This was way back in 1884. In the early 1900s, Luigi Besera and Desiderio Pavonne improved the machine, and since then, there have been continuous improvements. They also coined the term espresso.

Espresso then spread throughout the world, becoming especially popular in the 1950s. It was initially regarded as a lower-class drink, but it moved to its position as top of the artisanal coffees in the 2010s.

In the English-speaking world, the addition of milk was seen as a step up, especially with the novelty of frothed milk.

Now that we’ve discussed the history, we can talk about the other coffee genres, as they often popped up with the drink’s move to other countries.

Espresso-based Drinks

There are a number of other espresso-based drinks, some of which are listed below:

  • The Americano is a shot of espresso combined with extra hot water (and possibly milk). It has a 1:4 espresso to water ratio.
  • A Cappuccino is a shot of espresso served with hot milk or cream, which has been frothed and poured into a regular cup. It has a 1:1:1 ratio of espresso to milk to froth.
  • A Red Eye is filtered coffee served with one shot of espresso.
  • A Café Latte is a double shot of espresso, combined with steamed milk. It has a 1:4 espresso to milk ratio.
  • A Macchiato has a 1:1 ratio with milk, with the coffee poured in first, and then the milk.

A flat white is simply smaller in volume than a latte. It has a 1:2 espresso to milk ratio.

serving espresso to customer

How is Espresso Served?

Espresso originates in Italy, so it makes sense to describe how the Italians serve it. By means of a coffee machine, they force nearly-boiling water (with a brewing temperature of 90°C or 190°F) through finely-ground coffee beans into a cup.

The cups are specially designed for espresso. They are called demitasse, due to their small size, and allow either a single shot or a double shot in volume.

Each shot is one ounce, so a double shot (also termed doppio in Italian) is particularly potent (two ounces). In fact, some coffee bars in Italy only serve a doppio to maintain quality.

A doppio certainly packs a punch, and has the reputation of giving a sudden burst of energy.

Espresso shots can be served lungo (long), where extra hot water is added to the espresso, and served in a taller (longer) glass. This reduces its powerful taste, and makes it milder on the palate.

Alternatively, it can be served as a ristretto, which is half a shot.

The difference lies not only in the size of the glass, but also the coarseness of the grounds. The finer grounds are the ristretto, and the coarser ones reserved for a lungo espresso. The water will take the same amount of time moving through the different grounds in order to achieve the best flavor for each size glass.

Espresso in Italy is served in the morning, most often in espresso bars, and is drunk while standing, without lingering for conversation. It’s also commonly served after meals, including dinner, where talking lasts late into the night. The caffeine in the coffee allegedly does no harm to their sleep.

preparing to drink espresso

How to Drink Espresso

You should drink espresso slowly, so that you can savor the taste of this coffee. Most people eschew sugar or sweetener, saying that it takes away from the full body of the coffee. In fact, since it’s often served with something sweet, like a cornetto (croissant) or biscotti, you needn’t put anything sweet in your espresso drink.

Others won’t take espresso without some level of sweetening no matter what accompanies it. It all depends on individual tastes and habits.

What is the Caffeine Content of Espresso?

Espresso certainly contains a higher amount of caffeine per millilitre of liquid,  212 mg of caffeine per 100g. However, because it’s served in small cups, the caffeine content isn’t actually very high. It all depends on how much you drink. Double and triple shot drinks, as well as drinks like the red-eye, mentioned above, will increase caffeine content significantly.

So, if you’re worried about drinking espresso with high caffeine content, you may have to seek alternative, decaf coffees.

How to Brew a Good Espresso Shot at Home

Brewing coffee can be an art. Firstly, you’ll need to select one of the many kinds of espresso machines:

  • Mechanical ones, where you tamp and brew everything yourself, using manual pumps.
  • Semi-automatic, where the machine controls the temperature and pressure.
  • Automatic machines, where the machine does everything for you.
  • Capsule machines, where you put a capsule into the contraption and don’t even have to measure out the coffee. The capsules come in different flavors.

One of the top-selling, high-quality machines to consider is the Breville Barista Machine.

If you don’t have a built-in coffee grinder in your machine, and you’re not working with capsules, you’ll need a good coffee grinder with very fine settings. Make sure to use a high-quality, dark roast coffee, not a medium roast.

Furthermore, you’ll need a milk frother and a kitchen scale for weighing your grounds.

1) Using an Automatic Espresso Machine

There are a number of steps to brewing espresso listed below:

  • Find some dark roasts. Grind them in a grinder just before you create espresso brews. Make sure to grind about 6 to 8 g of espresso for a single shot, and about 15 g for a Use the finest setting on your grinder to ensure the finest of grains. If you want to be perfectly accurate, measure the grounds on a kitchen scale. Espresso is the finest grind apart from Turkish coffee.
  • Tamp down your shot. Place the finely ground coffee beans in the portafilter, and distribute evenly with your finger. Place the portafilter on a flat surface, and use the tamper to tamp down the grounds as compactly as possible.
  • Pull your shot. Run the machine a little before you use the coffee in order to clear the ground head. Then pop the portafilter into the machine, place your demitasse under the spout, and start your shot. It should take 25 – 30 seconds. The results of the brewing process espresso should neither be too light nor too dark, neither overly acidic nor bitter and should have a beautiful, caramel-coloured crema on top.
  • Prepare the milk. If using milk, you need to steam and froth your milk, using a milk frother.

2) Using an Automatic Pod Machine

Using a pod machine almost doesn’t require description, because you only need to pop a pod into the machine, place your cup under the spout, and press a button. However, if not connected to a faucet, you’ll need to make sure you have enough water in the water container to make your cup of coffee.


You could try the Keurig Coffee Pod Machine, which enables you to branch out to coffees and lattes when you add milk to the milk drawer.

Be adventurous and also try other coffee brewing methods, such as using a French press, but the results will not be quite as satisfying.

Wrapping It Up

The espresso has evolved over time to become a highly regarded artisanal brew the world over. It started in Italy, and has become a favorite not only in a restaurant or coffee shop, but also in the home.

It will always bring pleasure because of the oils and gases released through the coffee grounds being placed under high water pressure. This also traps extra flavor within the espresso. Enjoying your espresso slowly is a sure way to enhance the entire experience of brewed coffee.

If you’re going to try making espresso at home, it’s best to start with an automatic machine. Once you’re used to its brewing methods, and what the procedures are, you can graduate to using a manual machine, and having greater control over the end product.

Whilst espresso isn’t essential to survival, it certainly makes life worth living. Whether learning the art of brewing espresso or simply enjoying it, it adds value to our lives through the joyful moments it creates.