Class Cup #2: Espresso or Drip? (Repost from

How many times have you heard someone say “I can’t start my day without my latte,” or maybe you are that kind of person. If that is the case, I am about to share something with you that might change you morning routine forever.
Truth is if it caffeine you are after to jump start your day, than you might be going about it all wrong (and more than likely spending too much in the process). Before anyone freaks on me, let me say that I do like a good espresso every now and again, and working in the coffee world I am always looking for what coffee geeks call the “god shot.”
What baristas and coffee snobs call a “god shot” is a single origin coffee with which you pull a shot of espresso. What makes it so special is because most espressos are blends. This is due to that fact that some people feel that no single origin coffee is good enough to with stand the pressure that coffee goes through to make an espresso shot. But I feel that I am getting ahead of myself…
Let’s first look at what a shot of espresso is. Espresso is approximately two ounces of a thick ‘heavy bodied’ coffee with a topping of what appears to be foam, but what is called crema. Before I forget, please note I said “heavy bodied,” and not over extracted coffee (which I will come back to).
Now this crema is what makes espresso espresso. We all know water and oil don’t mix, we learned that in element school. But what they didn’t teach us (at least me) was that under high pressure water and oil will…wait for it…emulsify (there is your five dollar word of the day). Coffee beans have oil in them naturally, in case you question me, look at some darker roasted coffee. The darker the roast the more the heat causes these oils to push to the surface of the bean. When you place the coffee in the portafilter and begin the process of extraction the pressure forces the oils and the water to bond, making the foam on top of your shot called crema. On a side note if your espresso don’t have crema, they did something wrong!
This is the part you need to start paying attention to…this crema is where gases and oils from the coffee are fused together, now, if coffee gets its flavor from these oils and gases (and sugars, but that is a later topic) and they are all fused with water what you are really getting is concentrated flavor. And if it is a latte or cappuccino, it is concentrated flavor with heated milk!
The last few points I want to make are that espresso is normally ground very fine, almost powder like. This is because (and it makes for a nice segue into my next point) the water that is being pressurized is in contact for such a short time that you need to make sure all the ground coffee is used. Also, as an aside to this, if the coffee is to course the water just runs right through the grounds; if it is to fine nothing comes out at all…and the water backs up into the machine and finds another way out (i.e.…lose hose) and a big mess is made…don’t ask how I know this.
As I said for a shot of espresso the water is only in contact with the ground coffee for a short time, normally in the neighborhood of twenty-five seconds. In the grand scheme of coffee extraction twenty-five seconds is nothing, especially when compared to something like a French press or drip, which can take up to four minutes.
So now we know that when making drip coffee the water is in contact with the grounds for about four minutes. Another difference is the grind. If you are grinding your coffee for drip it drip it needs to be more course than espresso, meaning there is more surface area for the water to cover.
Since you are all fairly clever people I am guessing you just had a Ah-ha moment. But for those that didn’t have that, let me lay it out for you…powder like grind, bonding of oils and water, twenty five second of water to bean contact verses courser grind, and four minutes of water to bean contact.
Which one will take more of the oils and chemicals (a.k.a. caffeine) out of the ground coffee? The drip will. It has far more time to extract the goodness from that ground coffee than a shot of espresso does.
So next time you need a little pick me up try a cup of coffee rather than a latte or cappuccino. However, if you are drinking that espresso shot for that taste…carry on! If you really want to try something cool order up a Red Eye (a cup of coffee with a shot of espresso in it) or a Black Eye (a cup of coffee with two shots of espresso in it).
As an epilogue to this I was talking with a friend of mine who said “ya, but why do different methods of brewing coffee taste so…well…different?” (Please note that I PERSONALLY do not consider pulling a shot of espresso “brewing” coffee) so now we have Class Cup #3: Why don’t mine taste like that?
For questions or comments you can find me on twitter (@BCDodge_me), you can email me, or leave them posted below.