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When you need an afternoon pick-me-up, you might turn to coffee or its more flavorful and stronger compatriot, espresso, for the lift. But wait, is espresso really stronger than coffee?
Espresso has more caffeine per ounce than coffee, but espresso also has a smaller serving size. A single 8-ounce cup of coffee has about 95 mg of caffeine, while a 1-ounce shot of espresso only has 63 mg.
In this article, we’ll dig deeper into the strength of coffee and espresso, including why espresso is so strong and how strong your favorite espresso drinks (like lattes and cappuccinos) are compared to coffee.
Caffeine in Espresso vs Coffee
When you hit the coffee shop for a pick-me-up, you might wonder whether you should order a latte, a black coffee, or an espresso. You probably know which coffee drinks you like, but do you know which ones have the strongest kick?
The typical eight-ounce cup of coffee consists of 70 to 140 mg of caffeine, depending on the coffee. The average caffeine content for coffee is 95 mg per cup. And some strong coffee brands boast 400 mg or more of caffeine per serving.
Conversely, a single shot of espresso contains about 63 mg of caffeine. That might seem odd since everyone knows that espresso is stronger coffee in both taste and caffeine. It hearkens back to the serving size.
A single shot of espresso is just 1 ounce. So, one ounce of espresso contains 63 mg of caffeine. A serving of brewed or instant coffee has eight ounces. Even if you make your coffee extra strong, a regular drip brew would only have 17.5 mg of caffeine per ounce.
The usefulness of espresso is that you drink it like a shot. A cup of brewed or instant coffee takes longer to drink. Espresso provides a quick method of obtaining lots of caffeine.
Why Is Espresso So Strong?
When you purchase espresso, you aren’t buying a specific bean. You can purchase any single-origin beans or coffee bean blend and use it to make espresso. The strength of espresso comes from the high water pressure and fine grind size used when making espresso.
You need an espresso machine to brew espresso. An espresso machine forces hot water through a shot-glass-sized basket filled with tightly packed, finely-ground coffee.
The machine quickly runs the water through the coffee at very high pressure. The resulting shot of coffee tastes quite strong and provides a foamy crema.
Caffeine Content of Espresso Drinks
Lattes and cappuccinos usually only have a couple of shots of espresso in them. Even a Starbucks venti latte only has two shots of espresso. That’s why the strongest Starbucks drinks usually aren’t their espresso beverages.
These drinks mellow the strong taste of the espresso (and dilute the caffeine) with loads of milk and sugary syrups. They may still give you a buzz, but they often have less caffeine than a venti drip coffee.
Caffeine Content of Instant Espresso
You can find the best of both worlds — the simplicity of regular coffee and the strong taste of espresso — in instant espresso.
You make this strong coffee just as you would typical instant coffee. The difference is that instant espresso is made from espresso instead of drip coffee.
Some instant espressos can pack quite the punch. Nescafe Gold espresso contains more than 140 mg per serving, beating out even the caffeine-heavy Starbucks Via instant brewed coffee (135 mg per serving). Another popular pick is Medaglia D’Oro Instant Espresso Coffee at just under 130 mg per serving.
The downside, as with most instant coffees, is that instant espresso lacks the strong flavor of freshly brewed espresso. They’re great for a caffeine boost, but they make a watery coffee that will probably disappoint most espresso fans.
Is All That Caffeine Good for You?
You don’t have to worry about adverse health effects unless you drink an inordinate amount of espresso or coffee every day. Coffee provides antioxidants that help your body function better.
Consuming up to 400 mg of caffeine per day is fine for most people. That means you could drink up to four cups of coffee each day and maintain your health. In regards to espresso, you’d be able to drink six shots of espresso a day before reaching that 400 mg level.
If you weigh less than the average person (135 pounds), you should reduce the mg intake by roughly 6 mg per pound. Remember, too, that some people are more sensitive to caffeine than others, so even a smaller amount of caffeine might be too much if you find yourself getting the coffee jitters after a single cup.
Consuming more than 400 mg of caffeine per day can result in sleep disruptions, anxiety, heart palpitations, and restlessness. And the more caffeine you consume, the longer it will take for your caffeine high to wear off.
You can make your own shots of espresso or lattes at home with a budget espresso machine or even a Nespresso pod coffee maker. The highest-caffeine Nespresso pods can brew shots with as much as 120 mg of caffeine, and Nespresso Vertuo machines can make coffee with up to 200 mg of caffeine per cup.
Whichever coffee brewing method you pick, remember that the coffee beans you use matter just as much as the way you brew them. On average, espresso is stronger ounce-for-ounce and drip coffee is stronger per serving, but you can make stronger coffee with any brewing method.
Now go and get caffeinated.