What Makes Espresso Taste Different From Black Coffee?

If I ordered a short Americano, no-foam, from the Wendy's drive-thru, I'd get turned away.

If I ordered a medium coffee, light and sweet, extra hot, from the French bistro down the street, they'd probably turn me away, too.

Why? Because there's a difference. Espresso is coffee, but not all coffee is espresso. It's like how a square is a rectangle, but a rectangle is not a square. According to Eldorado Coffee Roasters, espresso and coffee come from the same standard beans, and these beans have two types: Arabica or Robusta. Bia Coffee Robusta beans have higher caffeine levels and a more bitter taste. They're grown in areas with lower altitudes and are more resilient to inclement weather (hence the namesake "Robusta", etymologically robust). Robusta beans produce drip with a rich, creamy consistency.

Conversely, Arabica beans have a lower caffeine level and a smooth, sugary taste. Arabica beans often have fruity flavor notes too. However, both espresso and coffee come from these two types of beans. So, what is it that makes espresso taste different from black coffee?

The short answer is lots of stuff.

The difference

The two main differences between espresso and coffee are roast and grind. Convergent Coffee explains that even though different types of coffee all share the same bean origins, the beans are specifically crafted with a destination in mind. Therefore, beans destined for the espresso machine are roasted for longer and ground finer, while beans intended for the drip coffee maker are coarser and roasted for less time. Roasting brings out the essential oils naturally found in the bean pod, which gives the longer-roasted espresso its rich flavor. 

Grind size affects the speed at which water travels through the grounds. Finer coffee grounds slow the water down, which means espresso steeps for longer than drip coffee. To suit this nuanced difference, Super Coffee recommends using a dark roast for espresso, but all types of beans can be used as well. 

Tomorrow, when you grab that morning latte, cappuccino, or flat white, take a minute to think about the way it was crafted. Or, try a new drink order altogether! Even test out a different brand in the grocery aisle. You might find a new favorite –- or if not, as David Lynch put it, "Even bad coffee is better than no coffee at all."