One of the most enduring myths is that espresso has more caffeine than regular coffee like drip coffee or americano.
To establish whether or not there is any truth to this rumor requires a quick snapshot of espresso so you know what you’re dealing with.
I. Espresso 101
Espresso is a rich and intensely concentrated form of coffee. Espresso refers to the brewing method used to achieve this rather than to a specific type of coffee bean.
Authentic espresso requires hot water being directed through a puck of finely-ground coffee under 9 bars of pressure. The best home espresso machines allow you to enjoy espresso without heading to the coffee shop, and you have the following options:
- Manual and lever-based espresso machines: Maximum control over the brewing process
- Semi-automatic espresso machines: Require mastering the art of shot-pulling
- Super-automatic espresso machines: Bean-to-cup convenience with integrated grinders
- Nespresso espresso machines: Single-serve convenience
- Latte and cappuccino makers: For espresso and more
So, however you choose to brew your espresso – and you could even use a moka pot for the next best thing to espresso – does it really contain more caffeine than regular coffee?
II. Does Espresso Have More Caffeine Than Drip Coffee?
If you have tasted genuinely great espresso, you’ll be familiar with that heavy body and bitter-sweetness that characterizes this crema-rich coffee.
Taking just a small sip of good espresso is enough to feel a powerful jolt.
The thing is, bitterness in a coffee-based drink doesn’t just mean it is more caffeinated.
Coffee beans contain many compounds beyond caffeine, including:
All of these compounds influence the flavor of your coffee, as well as its bitterness.
Roasting grade is also a contributory factor to bitterness in coffee. As a rule, dark roasts will be more bitter than light or medium roasts. Espresso is typically made using dark roasted beans, although increasingly you find espresso made with paler beans. As mentioned above, espresso describes the brewing method rather than the beans.
As you can see, bitterness alone does not always correlate to a high caffeine content.
The jolt espresso delivers is explained by the speed at which you drink it. After all, espresso means “speed” in Italian. Slamming that short shot down in one at the counter like the Italians means you’ll be experiencing all of the caffeine hitting your system immediately, in contrast to a longer coffee you would sit down and savor.
When it comes to caffeine content, espresso does not have more caffeine than drip coffee.
According to the USDA, a standard shot of 1.5oz espresso has from 90mg to 100mg of caffeine. The same source shows a standard cup of 8oz drip coffee has up to 128mg of caffeine.
What those figures do not account for is the fact that espresso has more caffeine than coffee ounce for ounce.
Ask yourself this, though: are you likely to down an 8oz mug of espresso?
Not only is this unlikely, it is also highly inadvisable.
Why is it, then, that so many people perceive espresso to be the most intense of all coffee drinks (setting aside the super-strong Turkish coffee, that is)?
III. Why Does Espresso Seem Like a More Intense Drink?
The intensity of espresso can be explained in part by the speed at which you drink this beverage, and in part by caffeine concentration per ounce.
Speed is of the essence with espresso, and you’re getting a huge caffeine rush in a few sips at most. The caffeine will also impact your CNS (central nervous system) differently when consumed in one quick gulp rather than sipped over a longer period.
When it comes to volume, a single shot of espresso contains roughly 40mg of caffeine per ounce. A cup of drip coffee, on the other hand, contains only 10mg of caffeine per ounce on average.
As you know, you drink espresso in short shot glasses – typically 1.5oz – while consuming coffee in taller mugs, usually 7oz to 8oz. It is this sizing discrepancy that accounts for a tall coffee containing more caffeine than a short shot of espresso.
To summarize, a tall mug of drip coffee has more caffeine overall than a short shot of espresso. Espresso, though, has more caffeine than regular coffee ounce-for-ounce.
Why are some types of coffee more caffeinated than others? We’ll highlight this before rounding out today.
IV. What Causes Different Caffeine Levels in Coffee?
Caffeine is a water-soluble compound extracted with hot water as a solvent.
The following variables influence caffeine levels:
- Temperature: The ideal temperature for both coffee and espresso is off-boiling, between 190F and 196F. Boil the kettle and allow it to sit for 30 seconds before pouring to achieve this. The temperature of the water affects the speed at which caffeine is extracted from the bean. With cold brewing, for instance, it takes hours more. With espresso, extraction time is just 25 to 30 seconds. Drip coffee lies somewhere in between
- Time: Almost all of the caffeine in a coffee bean is released during the first minute of extraction. This means short shots of espresso still get most of the available caffeine from the beans
- Saturation: Coffee grinds need to be fully saturated to benefit from all the available caffeine
- Grind size: Fine grinds like you use for espresso allow you to extract caffeine more rapidly. Water will saturate the grind fully and easily due to the increased contact area. Coarse grinds lead to espresso being underextracted, while if you use a super-fine grind, the espresso will be over-extracted
With all of these factors impacting caffeine content and espresso being prepared with pressurized water, you’ll end up with a highly concentrated form of coffee that is high in caffeine, too.
If you arrived here today at Madiba with no idea about the caffeine content of espresso relative to drip coffee, you should now have a clear understanding of how these drinks differ.
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