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The Primer on Coffee vs. Espresso You Didn’t Know You Needed

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As U.S. coffee culture continues to evolve, certain fundamentals still have many scratching their heads or searching online surreptitiously for answers.

Take espresso. What’s the difference between espresso and coffee, really? Is espresso coffee, or are the beans or roasts somehow different?

Turns out, these are trick questions. Coffee and espresso are the same thing, prepared in distinct ways.

“Espresso is a type of coffee,” says Vince Nguyen, the founder of Nam Coffee. “More specifically, it’s a method of brewing coffee that uses high water pressure and finely ground beans to make a small, concentrated shot.” 

Here is a guide to the similarities and differences between coffee and espresso, from roasting and brewing to caffeine content and history.

The Origins of Coffee and Espresso

The earliest known coffee plants hail from modern-day Ethiopia, circa 850 A.D. Some trace the first roasting and grinding efforts to 15th-century Sufi monks in Yemen who “prepared an infusion of coffee cherry leaves to stay awake and pray through the night,” writes Giorgio Milos in The Atlantic.

In the early 1500s, the Ottoman Empire brought coffee far and wide. Western Europe was a relatively late adopter, in part because its kings and Pope initially resisted coffee. By the 17th century, however, coffee houses sprouted in Venice (1645), England (1650), France (1672) and beyond.