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Home » Espresso vs Cappuccino: What is the Difference Between These Drinks?

What’s the Difference Between Cappuccino and Espresso?

Both espresso and cappuccino are iconic drinks, and one builds up on the other. As you already know, cappuccino uses espresso for the base and tops it with steamed milk and froth to create a creamy texture. On the other hand, espresso is just coffee, no additions or embellishments.

But don’t get things wrong – an espresso features fine layers of flavor and aroma. In fact, some hardcore coffee connoisseurs feel the addition of milk destroys the original coffee taste. Of course, this is a matter of opinion, and this article should help you form your own.

Espresso vs Cappuccino: Similarities and Differences

At first glance, it’s obvious there are almost no similarities between the two drinks. They look, smell, and taste differently. First of all, espresso stands out as pure coffee with distinct dark or light brown color. It’s served in smaller glasses, and the drink itself can be very short.

In a way, cappuccino is a complete opposite. The cup is bigger, there are layers of steamed milk and froth, and the drink itself features a silkier texture. To zero in on other points of departure, it is best to learn about the different types of each drink and some basic preparation rules.

Using a machine, an espresso shot should ideally run for 27 seconds. Going faster or slower could affect the taste, so make sure to get the timing right. If you don’t have a reliable espresso machine, there are other ways to pull a shot.


Besides the regular espresso shot, which is about 1oz, there are three other types. They are doppio, ristretto, and lungo. Doppio and lungo are double the size of a regular espresso, which puts them at about 2oz. Ristretto is smaller and comes at 0.7oz, but it’s also more concentrated because the barista uses half the amount of water.

The preparation technique is important for each type of espresso. You need to pick up the right roast and grind it to perfection. In general, medium dark and dark roasts work great. As for the grind, here is what an expert has to say:

Grind the coffee into your hand, squeeze it, and let go. If the coffee holds together but starts to fall apart with cracks on the side… you know you are in the right area for the grind.


Cappuccino can be wet, dry, or bone-dry. Each name signals the ratio between espresso, steamed milk, and milk froth. The wet or classic cappuccino has equal amounts of each ingredient, which is about 1oz of espresso and steamed milk with some froth on top.

If you opt for dry, it contains much less steamed milk. On the other hand, bone-dry features only milk foam/froth on top and no steamed milk at all. With a bone-dry, the espresso flavors are also much more pronounced.

The trick to getting a good consistency and crema is to tap the ground coffee tight and evenly into the portafilter. Read our detailed article on what a cappuccino is if you want to learn more about this coffee beverage.

Comparison photo of espresso vs cappuccino

Espresso vs Cappuccino: Origins and History

Now, moving on the each drink’s history.


Many people are not aware of the differences between regular brewed coffee vs espresso. The word espresso can refer to two things. It indicates the way flavor is squeezed from the coffee and how fast it’s made. In other words, the coffee is pressed to expressly reach the cup. (1)

The popularity of espresso rose with the development of the espresso machine. The first one was patented in the late 19th century and was more of a bulk brewer than the machine you know today.

Some advancements were made before WWII, but it was only after the war that the machines and espressos started booming. The improved pumps and pressure control allowed for better brews and development of different espresso variations.


The history and origins of cappuccino is shared between Italy and Austria. The name is of Italian descent and comes from a 16th-century friar order whose colored uniforms resembled the color of the drink. However, the recipe for cappuccino first appeared in a late 18th-century German publication (2). At the time, it was called Kapuziner Kaffee and had little to do with the modern-day cappuccino.

The breakthroughs in the development of the espresso machine also gave rise to the cappuccino, and it became a favorite breakfast drink in Italy in the mid-1920s. In fact, a lot of Italians still insist that cappuccino is a morning drink. (3)

Final Thoughts

In the end, you might wonder if there’s really an espresso vs cappuccino competition. You are not wrong if you believe there isn’t. Espresso gives cappuccino a distinct layer of flavor and cappuccino is one of the special ways in which espresso has evolved over the years. In a way, you could say that they are two sides of the same coin.

Now that you know the difference between a cappuccino and an espresso, it’s a good idea to brush up on your knowledge about the various types of coffee you can make or order from your favorite coffee shop. Learn about these coffee drinks here.


Espresso has more caffeine than a cappuccino, but this only applies if your cappuccino features a single shot of espresso. In case there are two shots, a cappuccino will have more caffeine than a straight espresso.

Yes, espresso is stronger than regular coffee. And again, it’s all about the amount of caffeine. In general, drip coffee has about 120mg of caffeine per 12oz, whereas one shot of espresso (1oz) has about 40mg of caffeine.

There is one shot of espresso in a cappuccino, but it can also feature two shots. The espresso base depends on your personal preference. If you’d like two shots, it is best to ask the barista for it.

  1. Expresso. (n.d.). Retrieved July 4, 2019, from https://www.merriam-webster.com/dictionary/expresso
  2. Vocabularist, T. (2015, September 1). The Vocabularist: How did cappuccino get its name? Retrieved July 4, 2019, from https://www.bbc.com/news/blogs-magazine-monitor-34100569
  3. How to Drink Coffee… Like An Italian. (2016, August 23). Retrieved July 4, 2019, from https://www.walksofitaly.com/blog/food-and-wine/drink-coffee-in-italy
Alex Azoury
Alex is an Editor of Home Grounds, who considers himself as a traveling coffee fanatic. He is passionate about brewing amazing coffee while in obscure locations, and teaching others to do the same.

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