Espresso, Cold Brew, Drip Coffee: What’s The Difference?

Find out which brew method is highest in caffeine and antioxidants — the answer might surprise you!

By: Lexy Parsons

No matter if you’re new to the world of coffee or a java aficionado, there’s a lot to know about the art of coffee. For starters, the different coffee brewing methods are vast — espresso, cold brew, drip coffee — what’s the difference? Plus, there’s taste, caffeine content, and brewing methods to consider. If you’re sensitive to caffeine or looking to maximize the health benefits, this is great information to know! Not to mention, based on the brew, there are so many different ways to enjoy your cup of joe. So, consider this your coffee 101 guide, as we’re breaking down all you need to know. Prepare to be a coffee shop menu expert!

RELATED: How to Make The Perfect Iced Coffee (Plus 8 Refreshing Recipes)

What is Espresso?

Stronger than traditional black coffee, espresso is a concentrated coffee beverage brewed through a pressurized process that forces hot water through finely-ground beans. The texture is thicker, with a strong bitter flavor and fragrant aroma. It has a higher caffeine concentration per ounce compared to other fast brewing methods (such as pour-over, drip coffee, and French press), but less caffeine than cold brew.

Espresso Highlights:

  • Taste & Texture: Bitter, bold, and thick
  • Caffeine Content: 60-70 mg per 1 fluid ounce
  • Standard serving size: Small one-ounce shot
  • Brew time: 20-30 seconds
  • Acidity: Medium acidity
  • Grind size: Finely ground

How to Enjoy:

  • Make a non-dairy latte with 1-2 espresso shots and steamed nut or seed milk of choice
  • Brew a cappuccino combining equal parts espresso, steamed milk, and milk foam
  • Enjoy a single shot plain
  • Make an espresso tonic combining an espresso shot with seltzer water of choice
  • Add a shot to your dessert recipes like brownie batter or chocolate cake  

What is Cold Brew? 

A more intricate brew, cold brew is the strongest coffee beverage (even stronger than espresso!) due to its long steep time. Unlike other coffee methods that can be made in minutes, cold brew requires 12-24 hours of brew time. While more time-consuming, many prefer this method as it is found to be less acidic than hot brew coffee methods. However, it is lower in antioxidants. 

Cold Brew Highlights:

  • Taste & Texture: Smoother and subtly sweet with a less bitter taste
  • Caffeine Content: 250mg per 8 fluid ounces
  • Standard serving size: 1:6 ratio of coffee to water (or based on preference)
  • Brew time: 12 to 24 hours
  • Acidity: Low acidity 
  • Grind size: Coarsely ground

How to Enjoy:

  • Enjoy it over ice with a splash of almond milk or non-dairy creamer
  • Stir 1-2 tbsp of concentrate into your chia pudding or overnight oats
  • Mix diluted cold brew with coconut cream or non-dairy milk and freeze into popsicles
  • Use a diluted cup of cold brew as the liquid base for your smoothie

While there are many store-bought options on the market, making your own is easy! 

Here’s how to make it:

Step #1: First, you’ll want to decide on your ideal ratio of coffee to water (most opt for 1 part coffee to 6 parts water).

Step #2: Then, using coarse ground beans, add your water and coffee to a French press and steep overnight at room temp or in the fridge. 

Step #3: Once brewed, use the French press to filter the coffee liquid from the beans. Alternatively, you can pour the mixture through a filter or fine mesh strainer. Strain into a sealable jar, and store in the fridge until ready to use!

Note: because the brew is much stronger than traditional coffee, be sure to dilute the mixture with water (about a 1:1 ratio of cold brew concentrate to water) before serving.

What is Drip Coffee? 

Hot coffee, also known as drip coffee or filtered coffee, is the most popular brewing method among American coffee drinkers. It’s made by pouring hot water over medium-ground beans, which then drips into a coffee pot or carafe. This brew offers a fragrant coffee aroma and is the highest in antioxidants out of the various preparation methods. It’s milder in taste and less caffeinated compared to espresso and cold brew, and can be enjoyed both hot or over ice. 

Drip Coffee Highlights:

  • Taste & Texture: Balanced flavor profile of sweet and bitter
  • Caffeine Content: 94.8 mg per cup of plain black coffee
  • Standard serving size: 8 ounces
  • Brew time: 5 to 7 minutes
  • Acidity: Acidic
  • Grind size: Medium

How to Enjoy:

  • Serve over ice with a splash of homemade creamer or non-dairy milk
  • Enjoy hot, serving black or with creamer
  • Make coffee ice cubes by freezing (cooled) brewed coffee into ice cube trays
  • Blend together a coffee protein shake with protein powder, banana, almond butter, ice, and brewed coffee
  • Add a splash of hot coffee to your oatmeal bowl

RELATED: How to Make Homemade Coffee Creamer + 5 Delicious Flavor Variations

Comparing Espresso, Cold Brew, and Drip Coffee 

Caffeine Content

Between espresso, cold brew, and drip coffee, cold brew contains the highest concentration of caffeine, followed by espresso. So if you’re sensitive to caffeine, traditional drip coffee is your best bet! With the least amount of caffeine and the highest amount of antioxidants, drip coffee is a great option for those wanting to optimize the benefits of coffee without the jitters. However, serving size will differ from person to person.

Taste Profiles

For a bold, rich coffee taste, espresso is the winner. Due to its highly concentrated nature, it’s thick and robust. Cold brew falls in the middle, offering a more mellow, smooth, and slightly sweet taste, while drip coffee is the most balanced of the three, with a mild and smooth profile.

Brewing Methods

Taking just 30 seconds to brew, espresso is the fastest brewing method. This is followed by drip coffee, which takes 5-7 minutes to brew on average. Cold brew, on the other hand, requires time and patience, taking 18-24 hours to steep, once prepped.

So, how do you choose your cup of joe?

RELATED: 8 Ways to Boost Your Coffee (Including Superfoods For All Your Needs)

Choosing Your Perfect Brew 

Wondering what brew is perfect for you? Here are some factors to consider:

#1 Time

Short on time? Brewing an espresso beverage or drip coffee will only cost you a few minutes. However, if you prep your cold brew in advance, you could have a ready-to-drink jar on hand! And if you have time to spare and making coffee is your love language, you can elongate the brewing process with drip coffee by grinding your own coffee beans and making your own dairy-free milk or creamer.

#2 Taste

If you love a bold coffee flavor, consider making an espresso-based beverage such as a cappuccino or latte. For something more mild, cold brew or drip coffee is more suitable! You’ll also want to consider the preparation method — are you enjoying it black? Over ice? Blended into a smoothie? All of these factors will impact the taste!

#3 Caffeine

If you struggle with caffeine-induced anxiety (or anxiety in general), opting for a strong coffee brew like cold brew can be a disaster waiting to happen. However, if you’re less sensitive to caffeine and need a mid-day pick-me-up, cold brew coffee could be the perfect solution. For those who are more sensitive, opt for a drip coffee. You can modify as needed, diluting a serving size with water or dairy-free milk to reduce the caffeine content even further.

All You Need to Know to Become a Coffee Connoisseur 

By understanding the nuances of each method, you can feel empowered to curate your coffee experience based on your taste preferences and nutritional needs. Plus, by brewing your coffee at home, you’ll save time and money while also avoiding sneaky ingredients (like added sugar and inflammatory oils found in many store-bought coffee beverages and barista-style creamers). With so many different brews and blends, experiment in the kitchen to find your perfect cup! You can even boost your coffee beverage with added superfoods or make a DIY creamer. The options are endless!