What is Espresso | History, Facts & Uses

by AllannBrosCoffee Team | Last Updated: August 25, 2020

Espresso is abundantly present on the menu of just about any coffee house that you’re likely to come across. Most of us have at least a minor understanding of the drink: it’s associated with small cups, Italy, and lots and lots of caffeine. And while these accurate facts do provide a small understanding of this globally popular beverage, they ultimately fail to paint a complete picture.

In this article, we do a much deeper dive into the world of espresso. We won’t just stop at figuring out what it is, but also where it comes from, how it is used, and much more. So, without further ado, let’s get right to it, shall we? Read on for the history of espresso!

What is Espresso

This is going to sound a little anticlimactic, but espresso is just coffee that is made in a very particular way. The beans are actually the exact same, and though some will be specifically labeled as being “espresso beans” they can just as easily be used to make regular coffee.

However, if you put said beans into your standard drip brew system, the drink that will come out is not going to be espresso. For that, you need special equipment, as well as a little bit of knowledge.

So, to be clear,

All espresso is coffee, but not all coffee is espresso.
what is espresso

If the quote makes you confused, watch out the difference between coffee and espresso. It all comes down to the brewing method. The art of making espresso was refined in Italy but has since been globally adopted by people who appreciate the opportunity to ingest their java in highly potent, flavorful shot sized doses.

Characteristics common to just about any espresso include:

With these characteristics, one can more or less easily determine if the beverage in front of them is espresso or regular coffee.

History of Espresso

Espresso isn’t nearly as old as coffee in general. Invented by Luigi Bezzera, the beverage first took off in Italy in the year of 1905. The patent was purchased a short time later, and the beverage took off quite quickly after that.

However, it is worth noting that the drink was considerably different than it is today. Because the process for brewing espresso is quite intricate, the finished product is heavily influenced by what equipment you have available. Consequently, it should be surprising to no one that early-twentieth-century brewing technology was substantially different than it is today.

Modern brewers of espresso have significantly more heat, steam, and pressure at their disposal to truly perfect the beverage.

Is Espresso Bad for You?

It depends on what you mean by “bad”; caffeine’s health risks and benefits are much debated. Still, the general consensus is that a moderate amount is generally safe for the average person, even when used on a daily basis.

However, the espresso’s defining characteristic is that it is super loaded with caffeine, which may have unique health implications. Is espresso bad for you? Not when you drink it responsibly.

Let’s say that you usually have three cups of coffee on a given day (comfortably within the four cup threshold that most health experts recommend). If you were interested in experimenting with espresso, you would want to make sure that you reduced that number.

For reference, there is 512 mg of caffeine in eight ounces of espresso, and 94 mg of caffeine in eight ounces of regular coffee. Indeed, this is why most people drink their espresso in one-ounce shot sized servings. Espresso can certainly be ingested responsibly, but a little bit of knowledge goes a long way towards ensuring that you avoid health catastrophes.

These things said, if you are at all unsure if espresso is right for you, it’s not a bad idea to contact your doctor before ingesting. Patients with a history of poor heart health may be advised to stick with decaf.

Health Benefits of Espresso

Though espresso definitely is not for people with vulnerable health conditions, that’s not to say that it is entirely bad for you. The exact opposite has been shown to be the case in certain situations. 

In fact, there have even been some health benefits linked to caffeine. For example, in moderate doses, caffeine has been shown to increase metabolism, help with weight loss, and even reduce the risk of experiencing a stroke.

Let’s take a more complete look at some of the health benefits currently associated with a regular caffeine intake:

How to Drink Espresso

Espresso Shot:

Most typically, you will find espresso in the form of a “shot.” This one-ounce portion of espresso can be ingested by itself in charming little cups, or mixed into other beverages to create an exciting coffee cocktail.

Types of Espresso Shots:

For the most part, an espresso shot is an espresso shot. They won’t all taste the same due to the variables of different grounds, makers, etc. The underlining principle is more or less universally the same. 

Convenient Terms to Know When Ordering Espresso

How Much Caffeine is in an Espresso Shot?

As mentioned above, there is 54 mg of caffeine in a one-ounce shot of espresso. Of course, this number may vary somewhat based on how you prepared the beverage, but in general, expect this much caffeine to be present in a single serving of espresso.

Espresso Based Drinks:

There are far too many espresso-based drinks. Here is a shortlist of some of the most popular options out there:

Iced Based Espresso Drinks

Chances are pretty good that some or all of the drinks on this list are very familiar to you. The truth of the matter is that many of the most popular coffee beverages in the world involve espresso. The beverage has legions of unknowing fans all across the globe, and that number only increases with the advent of each new and exciting drink.

The beverages we have listed above are only some of the many espresso-based drinks in circulation. And because the list regularly grows as creative people invent new concoctions, aficionados always have something to try for the first time. 

Becoming an Espresso Scholar:

And now, here are some fast facts to cement your reputation as an espresso expert.

Advanced Espresso terms:

Espresso Machine terms:

Espresso Grinder terms:

Espresso grinders are unique from regular coffee bean grinders in that they are specifically designed to facilitate an ultra-fine consistency that is necessary for this very specific brewing process.

Closing Remarks

Has this article made you want espresso? Chances are pretty decent that you’ve actually been consuming the beverage regularly for years, even if you didn’t quite know it. The beverage is so ubiquitous that you can find it in almost any gourmet coffee drink at the menu of your local café.

Espresso is popular for a reason: it’s unique potency and flavor is too much the temptation for caffeine lovers to pass up. So, what are you waiting for? Go get yourself some espresso!


Q1. What does the espresso label really mean?

A. The espresso label can mean a number of different things. In general, you can assume that espresso is a very dark, pungent roast, finely ground and designed to be tightly pressed and prepared with steam.

Of course, as with any product, some brands honor this description better than others, so it is never a bad idea to do some research before making a purchase.

Q2. Can you get true espresso in the United States?

A. Though Espresso is a product of Italy, nothing about the beverage necessitates a trip to the Mediterranean. The beverage has been globalized for so long that you can enjoy an authentic espresso experience almost anywhere in the world.

Q3. How much espresso should I drink in a day?

A. For specific dietary recommendations of any kind, it is always best to direct questions towards medical professionals who are familiar with your health history. However, when it comes to the highly potent espresso, the general rule of thumb is that moderation is key.