What is Espresso? Everything You Need to Know

What is Espresso? Everything You Need to Know

It’s one of the most popular drinks in the world, but what is espresso? There’s an art and science behind the brew, and we’d love to tell you more. Here at Intelligentsia Coffee, espresso is our pride and joy. Black Cat Espresso was one of our original coffees when we launched in 1995 and is still one of our bestsellers today. We like espresso so much we’re launching a new instant espresso later this month (keep your eyes peeled for that one).

Today we’re answering some of the most popular questions about espresso and hopefully inspiring you to grab a cup after reading. 

What is the difference between espresso and coffee?

Many people think that espresso is a type of coffee but it’s actually a specific way to brew coffee. It’s more concentrated and thicker in texture, and for that reason served in smaller servings than coffee. It’s higher in caffeine but because it’s usually served in smaller cups, you will consume less caffeine overall. Espresso also serves as the base for many popular coffee drinks like cappuccinos, americanos, lattes, and of course, espresso martinis.

Best Coffee for Espresso

Do you need to get espresso beans to make espresso? No, all coffee beans can be used to prepare espresso. In the past, espresso has often been associated with bitterness but with the right beans, espresso can be sweet, floral, subtle, and most of all, pleasing to the palate. Our Black Cat Espresso has syrupy sweet notes and offers supreme balance. 

How to Make Espresso

We have a step-by-step brew guide with photos here but this is how:


Use a clean, dry cloth to thoroughly wipe the portafilter so it is free of any coffee grounds and residual oils.


Weigh the coffee. Adjust your grinder to grind the coffee similar to the above reference.


How much coffee you use is dependent on your portafilter basket size. Most of the time, it is between 14 and 18 grams. Make sure you know what you have, and use a scale to weigh your dose for accuracy.


Make an even bed of coffee. Don’t leave any gaps or mounds.


Grasp the tamper and press firmly down on the coffee in the portafilter. Use enough pressure to compact the coffee grounds into a puck.


Gently insert the portafilter and ensure it is seated tightly in the grouphead. Pull the espresso to the target weight—around 2.5 times the weight of the ground coffee. Start your timer at the same time that you start the espresso.


Once you’ve pulled your espresso, remove the portafilter from the grouphead, and knock out the spent puck from the portafilter basket into the trash or a knockbox.

How to Serve Espresso

The cup in which espresso is served is essential. Imagine it to be similar to the glass wine is served in. The right cup will preserve the aroma and mouthfeel of your espresso. A smaller cup (2-3 oz) is better than a large one and a rounded, tapered bottom is better than a square. Porcelain maintains the temperature best and some people even heat the cups with boiling water to keep their espresso hot longer. Considering you’re holding a hot drink, the handle is also important. A flat handle allows you to easily balance the espresso cup on your finger while you sip. 

How much caffeine is in a shot of espresso?

Many people associate espresso with a big instant jolt of caffeine but in actuality, espresso contains less caffeine than a regular cup of coffee. Typically, an eight-ounce cup of brewed coffee contains 96 milligrams of caffeine. A one-ounce shot of espresso contains 64 milligrams. One reason that espresso is perceived as more energizing is because it’s consumed faster. Many people drink espresso within a few minutes whereas they drink a cup of coffee within an hour. 

Is espresso bad for you?

You can enjoy espresso every day and actually enjoy health benefits from it, just make sure you don’t have too much of it. Some benefits include improved memory, increased concentration, and increased energy, particularly when working out. However, if you drink too much it can make you feel jittery and caffeine can be addictive. We all know a person who turns a little too grouchy when they haven’t had their morning coffee!