Espresso Vs Cappuccino: Differences Between These Coffees

Coffee is one of the oldest drinks in human history and has been around in various forms for generations. There's been a lot of diversification in this time, but in the early 1900s, the introduction of coffee machines accelerated the process, allowing different brewing techniques to become mainstream. This has led to the creation of a wide variety of coffees to suit every preference.  

The wide variety of coffees available can make it quite confusing, and it isn't always clear what the differences are. Two of the most popular choices out there are espressos and cappuccinos. This guide will take you through everything you need to know about them both, so you better understand all the similarities and differences.  

Espresso is one of the purest forms of coffee. The word 'espresso' is Italian and literally means to express or press. An espresso is, therefore, a pressed coffee. 

They’re made by pouring hot water through finely packed coffee grounds so that the liquid absorbs the flavor of the coffee. They’re small, usually only 2-3oz, but have an intense and rich flavor that really wakes you up in the morning.  

Espressos have three different parts to them. The bottom is the darkest portion, the middle (or heart) is slightly lighter, and the crema is the light espresso head. The crema is lighter because the oils from the coffee combine with the air. This is important because it gives the espresso a much more robust flavor.  

Typically, espressos are made using a coffee machine which will direct the hot water over the grounds. They’re quick and easy to make and are often used as the base for other styles of coffee like Americanos and lattes.  

Espressos originated in Italy about 100 years ago as the signature strong Italian coffee of Europe. Many people didn’t enjoy their coffee this strong and intense, and that's one of the main reasons we have such a wide variety of different coffee styles today. Espressos are for coffee purists who enjoy the bitter taste and need a strong caffeine kick to start the day right.  

hot espresso with beans

What Is A Cappuccino? (Overview + How They Are Made) 

Cappuccino is actually the Italian word for hood, but despite being an Italian drink, it was German speakers in Vienna who first referred to a coffee as a ‘Kapuziner’ or cappuccino. Cappuccinos comprise of espresso, steamed milk, and milk foam which layer on top of one another to make a luxuriously smooth beverage.  

To make a cappuccino, you first brew espresso and pour it into the cup. Then you layer on the steamed milk, and finally the milk foam goes on top. Cappuccinos can often be confused with lattes, but it's the ratio of steamed milk and milk foam that sets them apart. Cappuccinos have an even split of steamed and foam milk, whereas a latte has much more steamed milk. This makes a cappuccino shorter and gives it a rich, velvety top layer.  

Generally, only one shot of espresso is used in a cappuccino, but some coffee shops put two in. Often chocolate powder is dusted on the top, too, to make it even sweeter.   

Like espressos, cappuccinos also originated in Italy in the early 1900s. Like lattes, they came about as coffee machinery developed that allowed a greater variety of coffees to be created. Cappuccinos are great for those who like luxurious drinks and appreciate the smooth velvet texture the milk foam provides. This is a much gentler way to wake up in the morning than an espresso, and it’s typically enjoyed by people in their 20s and 30s.  


Espresso Vs. Cappuccino: Differences Compared  

Espresso and cappuccinos are quite different, and there are a few key factors that set them apart from one another. Here’s a quick breakdown: 

1. Ingredients  

Espresso has a lot fewer ingredients and is really just comprised of fine coffee grounds and water. This makes them pretty much pitch black with a slight foam on the top where the oils reach the air.   

Cappuccinos have a bit more going on but use espresso for their base. Within a cappuccino, you have an espresso, steamed milk, and milk foam all layered in the drink. The mixture of coffee and milk gives it a much lighter brown appearance.  

Espressos are generally much cheaper because they have fewer ingredients within them.  

2. Preparation 

To prepare an espresso, you typically just use a coffee machine. This will direct hot water through your coffee grounds and pour it out into your cup. This can then be served directly, or you may choose to add sugar. 

A cappuccino takes a bit more preparation. First, you'll brew the espresso as above, but then you'll add the steamed milk on top. This needs to be poured on gently and slowly to give an even layer on top of the espresso. Lastly, you add the milk foam, and, again, you need to do this slowly so there’s an even covering. Finally, you can top off your cappuccino with chocolate powder and sugar if you want it. An experienced barista may also give you some art on top of your coffee. 

skull cappuccinos

Espressos are much quicker to serve, but cappuccinos offer a different kind of relaxing beverage.  

3. Caffeine Content  

Espressos taste much stronger and can really give you a kick, but cappuccinos generally have the same amount of caffeine in them. Some coffee shops sometimes use double espressos in their cappuccinos, so it might even be stronger than the espresso, despite being much less bitter.  

4. Milk And Foam Content  

Espressos are not brewed with milk as standard, and typically you wouldn't really add milk or foam into your drink (you can if you want to, though). Cappuccinos, on the other hand, are 1/3 steamed milk and 1/3 foam milk. You can replace cow's milk with vegan-friendly alternatives like soy or oat milk which foam just as nicely.  

5. Size Per Serving 

An espresso is typically 1-2oz and is very much a short coffee to drink quickly. Cappuccinos are generally 6oz, with a lot of milk filling up the cup.  

6. Calories Content 

Espressos are pretty much just coffee grounds and water, so there are hardly any calories in them at all. This makes them great for caffeine drinkers on a diet.  

Cappuccinos, on the other hand, have a lot more calories because of the milk content. A cappuccino with all the trimmings and chocolate powder can have over 200 calories—a really enjoyable drink, but not one if you're watching your calorie intake.  

7. Taste/Variations  

Espressos are relatively basic, but people generally choose between a single or double espresso. A macchiato is a very popular twist which is an espresso served with a very small amount of foamed milk. Whatever type of espresso you order, you should always drink it hot and drink it quickly.  

Cappuccinos can be served wet or dry. A wet cappuccino has more steamed milk and less foam, so there's more liquid. A dry cappuccino has more foam and less steamed milk, giving a velvety top layer but less liquid underneath. A dry cappuccino tastes stronger because there's less steamed milk to water the espresso down.  


Making Cappuccino & Espresso Coffees At Home: Barista Tips 

Both espressos and cappuccinos can be made at home without too much difficultly, so you don’t have to rely on professional baristas. Here’s a step-by-step guide: 

Espresso 

The best way to make espresso at home is with a machine. You can make similar coffees, but the only true espresso at home is with an espresso machine.  

  • 1
    Grind your beans 
    You’ll want to use dark roast beans for this and grind them up finely. You’ll need about 6-8 grams of beans for a single and 15 grams of beans for a double espresso. Make sure you grind them on the finest setting possible.  
  • 2
    Tamp down 
    Distribute the grounds evenly in the filter and on a flat surface, use a tamper to tamp down, so it's one consistent disc of coffee grounds.  
  • 3
    Pull the shot 
    Run the machine for a second to clean it out and then lock the filter in place with the coffee grounds. Turn the machine on and let it run hot water through your coffee grounds for 25-30 seconds. Your espresso should start to drip down into your cup.  
  • 4
    Check and drink 
    Check that your espresso is not too light or dark and that there's a fine layer of crema on the top. You can add milk or cream at this point or enjoy it straight up like Italians do. Serve while hot and enjoy!  
coffee machine

Here's a complete guide to making a great espresso at home.

Cappuccino 

A cappuccino has a few more ingredients, so it's a bit more complicated, but it's still perfectly doable at home. You'll need an espresso, so ideally, you'd have access to an espresso machine before you start.  

  • 1
    Steam the milk 
    Take 1 cup of milk and heat it in a saucepan until it's gently bubbling but make sure you don't let it boil. Take the saucepan off the heat and leave it to the side.  
  • 2
    Whip the milk  
    Take an electric mixer and use it on the milk. The milk will gradually begin to thicken until it turns into a light milky froth for the top of your cappuccino. Remember, half the milk should be froth, and half should remain as steamed liquid.  
  • 3
    Make the coffee  
    Make an espresso following the steps detailed above.  
  • 4
    Create the cappuccino  
    Pour the espresso into a mug, slowly pour in the steamed milk, and then layer the milk foam onto the top. Add any sugar, chocolate powder, or flavored syrup that you like and drink at your leisure. Remember that cappuccinos can be made with different types of milk. Typically, cow, oat, and soy are used, but coconut milk can also work well in a cappuccino.  

A full guide to creating a cappuccino at home can be found below.


People Also Ask (FAQs)

Is espresso stronger than cappuccino? 

An espresso will taste stronger than a cappuccino because it has no milk to soften the bitter taste. However, both espressos and cappuccinos have the same amount of caffeine. 

Is cappuccino darker than espresso? 

No, an espresso will be close to black with a lighter crema on top. A cappuccino will be brown because of the mix of espresso with the milk. 

What's a double shot of espresso called? 

A double espresso is called a doppio espresso, but you will typically be able to say double espresso in any café.  

What is espresso with heavy cream called? 

An espresso crème is an espresso with an ounce of heavy cream on top. This gives a richer and less bitter taste to the coffee. 


Conclusion

Coffee is amazing, but the massive amount of choice out there can make it challenging to know what to order. Both cappuccinos and espressos are popular choices, but they're made with very different coffee drinkers in mind. Espressos are to be drunk quickly and give you that rich, bitter, intense flavor that wakes you up for the day. Cappuccinos are all about velvet luxury or foamed milk that can be enjoyed at leisure.  

Both drinks can be made in your own home without any professional training, and there’s no right or wrong answer. Hopefully, this guide has given you all the information you need to choose the best coffee for you.