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Espresso vs Cappuccino: What’s the Difference?

espresso vs cappuccino
You’ve probably heard the terms espresso and cappuccino before. They’re both coffee beverages that appear on coffee shop menus across many countries. Maybe you’ve even tried one. But do you know the difference between the two? If not, we’ve got an explanation prepared for you.

Espresso vs Cappuccino: At a Glance

Espresso
  • Small, concentrated shot of coffee
  • Robust, bitter flavor
  • Topped with crema
Cappuccino
  • Espresso with steamed milk
  • Velvety, smooth flavor
  • Topped with milk foam

What is Espresso?

Espresso is made when a fine grind of coffee is packed together, or tamped down, to create pressure and resistance. Water then runs through it at a fairly quick rate, creating espresso. This process only takes between 20-30 seconds. The average order of espresso is just 2-3 oz. It’s a concentrated coffee that has a rich, in-your-face coffee flavor. This flavor develops as a result of the makeup of the shot and the extraction process it goes through.

Espresso has 3 parts to the shot. The body is the darker bottom, the heart is slightly lighter and in the middle, and the crema is the light espresso head. The crema is where the soluble oils combine with air bubbles. The crema is important to an espresso shot because it gives the espresso its aftertaste and a fuller flavor.

To pull a shot of espresso, you can use an espresso machine, portable espresso maker, or stovetop Moka pot.

Espresso vs Cappuccino
Cappuccino (left) and espresso (right)

What is a Cappuccino?

A cappuccino is a coffee drink made from shots of espresso and steamed milk with a dense layer of foam. It contains about 1-3 ounces of espresso depending on the size cappuccino you order or make. No matter the size though, it should always have 1/3 foam at the top. The signature quality of a cappuccino comes from its dense foam. The best foam will jiggle when the cup is moved back and forth and the foam won’t deflate after only a few minutes.

Making cappuccinos is straight-forward and fast today thanks to the invention of cappuccino and espresso machines.

A cappuccino

The Differences

There are 3 differences between espresso and cappuccino. The addition of milk and foam in a cappuccino is the main difference. The other two are the number of ounces produced and the drink’s overall taste. Below we will examine the differences in more detail.

1. The Addition of Milk and Foam

This is the main difference between the two drinks. Cappuccinos are known for their fluffy foam and creamy texture, while espressos have a reputation for possessing a strong flavor. Espresso is usually served straight, though you can cut the bitterness with a little sugar.

2. The Size

The drink size is very different. As stated above, espresso is typically 2-3 oz per serving. A small cappuccino will be about 8 ounces. This means you have more to enjoy with a cappuccino than with an espresso.

Pulling espresso shots

3. The Taste

Though the base flavor is identical, the addition of milk drastically changes the flavor of these drinks. Espresso has an intense, bold flavor and usually comes without additions. There are variations of espresso (like a ristretto or lungo) that can alter the taste and require changing the extraction time for the shot and the amount of water used.

A cappuccino, on the other hand, will be thick, creamy, and frothy. The espresso flavor is still present but mellowed by the milk. Cappuccinos also have other options to enhance the flavor to your preference. You can order them dry (with more foam than steamed milk) or ask for milk substitutes, like soy or almond.

OTHER COFFEE DRINK GUIDES:

Kate MacDonnell

Kate is a lifelong coffee enthusiast and homebrewer who enjoys writing for coffee websites and sampling every kind of coffee known to man. She’s tried unusual coffees from all over the world and owns an unhealthy amount of coffee gear.

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