What's In Your Cup?

Let’s start with the fundamentals…

You know you like it, but what is it? Coffee is an important part of our morning; it’s easy, doesn’t require much thought, and frankly, it’s hard to live without. Today, let's think about what’s in your cup, often there is a lot of fun coffee history hidden in there. We’ll start with the basics; brewed coffee, and espresso.

A little or a lot?

What is espresso, and how is it different than your 12oz dark roast? When we brew coffee it's pretty easy to see what is going on. Hot water is pulled through the ground coffee, extracting flavor and creating what we ultimately refer to as “coffee”. Because we rely on gravity to move the brewing process along, the time it takes for the coffee to brew is longer, usually between 3 and 4.5 minutes. To accommodate this longer brew time, we use a coarser grind for brewed coffee than we would for espresso.  

    “Espresso” itself is a drink of its own, but it is also the cornerstone of much of a cafe’s menu. To extract a shot (around 1.5oz) of espresso we use an espresso machine. Espresso machines use very high pressure to force extremely hot water through a small quantity of finely ground coffee. The extraction is happening in a fraction of the time that brewed coffee takes, only 30-40 seconds, due to the high pressure of the machine. Because of this drastic decrease in brew time, the coffee is ground very finely, somewhere between flour and table salt, and compressed (or tamped).

    Brew ratios are another important part of coffee brewing. The final result in flavor can be drastically changed by adjusting the amount of water we expose to the ground coffee. Much like grind size, the coffee to water ratio is dependent on how long we plan to brew. With a longer extraction time like that used in brewed coffee, we use a higher ratio of water to coffee to create the optimal strength of flavor in the final product. For filter brewed coffee at High Grounds, we use a 16:1 ratio, meaning there are 16 milliliters for every 1 gram of ground coffee. With the high pressure of espresso extraction, we use much less water per gram of coffee, usually around 2:1, 2 milliliters of water for every 1 gram of ground coffee.


“Add Shot”

    Let’s talk caffeine. While it is true that espresso is highly caffeinated, it is a common misconception that it has more caffeine than a standard cup of coffee. For instance, an 8oz cup of black coffee can have anywhere from 70mg-140mg of caffeine; while a 1.5oz serving of espresso clocks in between 60mg and 80mg. To more accurately compare the two we need to think in terms of concentration, or milligrams of caffeine per ounce of coffee. In one ounce of brewed coffee, we expect 9mg-18mg of caffeine, while the same 1oz of espresso will contain about 45mg. They do say good things come in small packages!

Love it a Latte

    Now that we have a better understanding of the foundations, let’s talk drinks. Often coffee shop menus can seem pretty complex, but once you break it down you're really just looking at variations of the same basic products.


The Americano

    This is the “peacemaker” in the brewed coffee vs. espresso debate. The americano is popularly believed to have originated in Italy during World War II after American soldiers diluted the Italian espresso with hot water to get something closer to what they were used to back home. While this theory is unconfirmed, it does make for a very good story that is widely accepted. If your morning cup of coffee leaves you aching for something a bit more robust, try out an Americano on your next coffee run.

The Latte

    Whether it’s regular, skinny, with whip, or add vanilla it’s still a latte. The latte is the most common espresso beverage because of its subtle sweetness that comes from perfectly steamed milk poured into espresso. If done properly, a latte will be lightly sweet with a small amount of silky foam on top. Many popular drinks are created by adding different flavorings to a latte. Lattes are a great choice for you if you want to add a bit more richness to your morning cup.

The Cappuccino

    Originating in Italy, the cappuccino started out as a small, strong mixture of espresso and foamed milk. The drink was named after the Capuchin Friars because its dark brown color resembled the color of their habits. The modern cappuccino has evolved to be much like a latte, but with substantially more foam, often as much as half of the cup. Cappuccinos are a great way to let the espresso be the star of the show while still retaining the low acidity and slight sweetness of a latte.

The Cortado

    Coming from Spain, and the Spanish word “cortar” or “cut”, the cortado is the perfect drink for someone who wants to enjoy the strength of flavor that espresso provides, but with little acidity. Equal parts espresso and warm milk are mixed to create a drink with a strong flavor, but that is far easier to approach than straight espresso. A cortado is a small drink, but it packs a great punch!


    With all of this great new knowledge, it’s time to put it to use. Next time you grab coffee, whether you get “the usual” or decide to shake it up, you’ll know exactly what’s going on under that lid.