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What is espresso?

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What is espresso?

Your complete guide to espresso

If you aren't sure what an espresso is, you certainly aren't alone.

Complete espresso guide

If you aren't sure what an espresso is, you certainly aren't alone.

Is it a type of drink? Is it a way of making coffee? Is it a type of coffee machine? Many of us enjoy espresso coffee without fully understanding what it is, where it comes from, or the many different forms that it can take.

So, what exactly is an espresso? Where does the name espresso come from? What are the secrets to the perfect espresso? And how do you make an espresso from home? Our complete guide has all the info on this deliciously intense brew.

Where does the name espresso come from?

Complete espresso guide

The beloved espresso was born from a need for speed. In the 1880's coffee was becoming more and more popular across Europe but drinkers were looking for a quicker way to get their hands on their favourite brew. 

An Italian named Angelo Moriondo is generally credited as the founder of espresso or coffee made 'expressly'. In 1884, he submitted a patent for the first machine to brew large quantities of coffee using steam and water. Sadly, Moriondo's machine was never produced commercially and all went quiet on the espresso front for another twenty years.

At the 1906 World Fair in Milan a pair of Italian entrepreneurs, Luigi Bezzeraa and Desiero Pavoni revealed a machine that was capable of brewing single cup coffee or 'caffe espresso'. The rest is history. 

What exactly is espresso?

Contrary to popular belief, espresso (pronounced ess-PRESS-oh) is not a type of coffee bean or roasting technique. In fact, espresso is a specific way of brewing coffee. 

A shot of espresso is created when hot water is forced through roasted coffee grounds at high pressure. This pressure shortens the extraction time (in comparison to plunger coffee). The result: a thicker, richer, fuller flavour complete with a velvety crema.

Espresso shots can be enjoyed on their own or as the basis for many other coffee favourites including cappuccino, long black, latte, mocha and many more. 

Double espresso

What is a double espresso?

A double espresso is exactly what it sounds like: twice as much delicious coffee in one intensely satisfying serve.

What is espresso ristretto?

An espresso ristretto is simply half the size of a regular espresso. It's the perfect drink for those who like their coffee really really short.

What is espresso lungo?

Lungo shots use the same amount of coffee as standard espresso and espresso ristretto but have double the amount of water. This creates a longer, weaker tasting espresso.

What does an espresso coffee taste like?

Coffee tasting is a multi-sensory experience involving aroma, taste, and after taste. Therefore the notes of each espresso will vary based on coffee origin, roasting technique, bean type and more.

The first step in coffee tasting comes before you even take a sip of espresso - the aroma of your coffee is an important element of the overall experience. The aroma should be rich and embody the characteristics of the bean and roast. Look out for smoky, spicy, chocolatey, flowery, fruity or nutty aromatic qualities.

The taste will vary depending on which coffee you have chosen but should still 'feel' balanced. The traits of a good tasting coffee include a multi-dimensional taste profile.

The aftertaste is often what stands out most in the coffee drinking experience. A great coffee should linger in your mouth for some time after you've swallowed.

Shot of espresso

What does a good shot of espresso look like?

Espresso goes through three key colour changes as it pours: a dark red/brown, caramel, and then blonde.

  • The reddish/brown colour is the ristretto which gives your coffee sweetness and body.
  • The caramel component is the core of an espresso shot and it plays a key role in balancing the coffee favours. 
  • Once the blonde colour starts to appear, it's time to finish the shot as this is largely extracted bitter water. 

Once these three components have settled, a well-balanced espresso shot should have a fine golden crema sitting on the top with a rich dark body. 

Our favourite espresso recipes

Vanilla Espresso

Espresso recipe

Enjoy this smooth coffee with classical cool dessert flavours.


  • 2 Nespresso coffees of choice
  • 1 scoop of vanilla ice cream
  • Enough milk to make roughly 2 tablespoons of froth


  • Prepare the milk froth, add the liquid caramel and put aside
  • Prepare two coffees in one large cup and pour them into a cold glass
  • Add a scoop of vanilla ice cream immediately, and cover with the froth milk

Cardamom Espresso

Cardamom recipe

This is an espresso recipe inspired by old Arabica coffee preparation in Africa and the Middle East.


  • 5ml cane sugar syrup
  • 4 cardamom seeds
  • 1 slice of lemon peel
  • 1 Nespresso coffee of choice


  • Add 4 seeds of green cardamom to your espresso cup
  • Add the sugarcane syrup
  • Extract your coffee in (40 ml)
  • Dip a slice of lemon skin in your cup for 10 seconds and then remove

How many mls are there in a shot of espresso?

A standard espresso shot poured by a Nespresso machine is 40 ml

The best coffee for espresso

The most important element of a great espresso is quality coffee. Nespresso coffee is sourced from over 100,000 farmers in some of the best coffee producing regions around the world. 

Our process of encapsulating our coffee keeps it fresh. Explore our range of coffee sourced from some of the best coffee growing regions from across the world. 

Why not indulge in the full and balanced South and Central American flavours of Ispirazione Roma, or perhaps the sweet and creamy taste of Volluto. Or maybe you're all about the intensity of Ispirazione Firenze Arpeggio.

There's a whole menu of coffees from you to choose from, whether you like your coffee intense and rich or light and sweet there's something to suit everyone's tastes.

Want to know more about our blends?

Start exploring

Nespresso's Vertuo System

Nespresso Vertuo Next and VertuoPlus coffee machines have you covered for all of your espresso needs. The Vertuo system offers five delicious and unique espresso coffees. 

Which machine is right for you? 

Use our coffee machine buying guide for more info.

How to make espresso coffee at home

Once you have your Nespresso coffee machine and have selected your preferred coffee, making an espresso is easy:

  • Insert your coffee capsule into your Nespresso coffee machine. 
  • Place your cup on the drip tray
  • Press the espresso button on your Original machine or just press the extraction button on your Vertuo machine
  • It's that easy

What else to say about espresso?

Now that we've given you all the information on espresso origins, how an espresso should taste, how to make an espresso at home and everything in between there's only one thing left for you to do – start making your espresso.

Ready to 'espress' yourself?

Let's get started

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