Is Espresso Stronger Than Coffee?

coffee and espresso

QUESTION: Is expresso stronger than coffee? My friend says that coffee is actually stronger, but I thought espresso was. — Jerry S

ANSWER: Turns out your friend is correct. A cup of coffee has more caffeine than a shot of espresso. But there’s a lot more to answering this question. Whether you are a student who is staying up all night to cram for an important test, or new parents trying desperately to stay up later than your baby so you can have a little time to yourself, getting the right amount of caffeine is not something you want to leave up to guess work. You need a good burst of energy from caffeine and you need it quickly. We are here to help. 

What is Espresso? 

Espresso is coffee, just brewed a little bit differently than the way coffee is brewed. A coffee maker works by putting a certain amount of ground coffee beans into the strainer, filling the machine with water and turning the machine on. The machine heats up the water and pours it over the ground coffee beans, and what comes out is droplets of hot, freshly brewed coffee. In just a few short minutes, you will have a cup of coffee ready to drink. 

This simple brewing process is how most coffee is made. The difference between making coffee and making espresso, is in the way that the hot water is added to the ground coffee beans. When making espresso, the machine forces the water onto the ground coffee beans using a pressurized method, which makes for small servings of especially strong coffee, or espresso.

When making coffee, you typically use eight to twelve ounces of water for each cup that you brew. For espresso, which is usually served in small shots, you only use about one shot glass full of water, and the end result is a much more concentrated brew. 

What Causes The Difference In Caffeine Levels Between Espresso and Drip Coffee?

There are several factors that affect the strength of the brew you make. These include saturation, temperature, time, and grind. 


Every grind of coffee needs to be saturated in order to extract all of the caffeine that is in the grinds themselves. If all the grinds are saturated, all the caffeine can be extracted. 


The hot water that is used to make coffee and espresso acts as a solvent, to withdraw caffeine and the natural flavors of the bean from the grounds into the water. Having the right temperature of water is essential to making coffee or espresso. The ideal temperature is close to the boiling point, but not quite boiling, between 200 and 220 degrees Fahrenheit. The right temperature is essential to how quickly caffeine and flavor can be withdrawn from the ground coffee beans. For example, cold brewing can take several hours longer than standard coffee making at higher temperatures. 


Cold brew aside, most coffee making processes extract all of the available caffeine from the grounds within the first minute of extraction. Espresso shots take roughly 20-30 seconds to brew, whereas a cup of coffee can take around one minute. 


The grind can greatly influence how quickly caffeine can be extracted into water. Finer grinds can be extracted much faster, as water will reach the surface area and saturate the grinds very quickly, as there is more contact area. Coarsely-ground coffee can take longer to extract from and can lead to under-extraction. Under-extraction can occur when coffee or espresso is too coarsely ground, and over-extraction can occur when the coffee or espresso is too finely ground. The perfect balance must be reached to make a great cup of coffee or a shot of espresso. 

Is Espresso Stronger Than Coffee? 

Most people probably think that espresso has more caffeine than regular coffee. Now, this may be true if you are measuring the two drop for drop, but if you are going by serving size, you might be surprised to learn that coffee actually wins, coming in around 128 milligrams of caffeine per cup compared to the 90-100 milligrams of caffeine that you would get from a shot of espresso. 

Now, if you are measuring drop for drop, of course espresso wins, but there are not a lot of people that are drinking entire eight ounce servings of espresso in a single sitting. Espresso has more caffeine per ounce than regular coffee but less caffeine per serving. 

Learn More About Espresso and Coffee Comparisons

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