Coffee Beans vs Espresso Beans, Explained

espresso cup and beans

by Matt Gibson

There are many differences between a standard cup of coffee and a shot of espresso. But what is the difference between coffee beans and espresso beans? The difference is not just in the way that the beans are roasted, but also how they are ground, and of course, the process in which they are transformed into coffee via brewing. 

The origin of the coffee beans that are used for brewing espresso and the coffee beans that are used to make regular coffee are the same. They are either Robusta or Arabica beans. Coffee beans that are produced specifically for espresso brewing are simply roasted more, ground into a finer grind, and brewed in an espresso machine or aeropress instead of a regular coffee maker. 

What Is Espresso?

Espresso is highly concentrated coffee that is produced through the process of forcing hot water to move through finely ground coffee beans using water pressure. The major differences between espresso coffee and regular coffee is in the roast, the grind, and the brewing process itself. 

Espresso Roasting

Espresso beans are roasted for a longer period, until they become considerably darker than the beans typically used for drip coffee. Coffee beans come in light, medium, and medium-dark roasts that vary widely in flavor. Espresso beans are roasted much longer, usually well past what would be considered a dark roast for coffee, so that the beans begin to develop a toasted flavor that is darker and deeper than regular coffee roasts. Roasting the beans for longer times also removes the majority of the acidity that coffee beans contain, and increases the oiliness. The result is the heavier, more full-bodied drink that we call espresso.

Espresso Grinds 

The espresso grind is generally much finer than the grind used for most coffees. As the brewing process requires hot water being pushed through the ground coffee beans, the grounds themselves must be tightly packed, and must have a sand-like consistency, as they will have less time reacting to the water, as it rushes through the grinds and into your espresso cup. So, if you are purchasing ground espresso coffee, the product you are getting is coffee beans that have been roasted to the espresso specifications, and then ground into a very fine consistency. 

Espresso Brewing 

For regular coffee brewing, you might turn to a French press, a drip machine, a pour over device, a percolator, or other brewing techniques that make standard coffee. Espresso can’t be made in a regular coffee machine however, and requires either an espresso machine or an aeropress in order to make the concentrated brew espresso drinkers know and love. An espresso machine or an aeropress can be used to make espresso shots using hot water, pressure, and a quick extraction process. 

However, even with the right beans, ground to the right consistency, and the right machine at your fingertips for personal brewing, making espresso is not as simple as making coffee. Though anyone can learn how to do it, the process takes skill and the right amount of pressure to compact the fine grinds into the press of whatever machine you are using. Skilled baristas typically use either muscle memory, or a scale to make sure they are applying the proper pressure when pressing the grind before making their shot. 

Espresso Flavor

Due to its different roasting, grind size, and brewing technique, espresso comes with a completely different flavor than regular coffee. Espresso drinkers enjoy a bolder, less acidic brew with a complex flavor that is typically richer and stronger than regular coffee, and a full-bodied finish. Due to the increased amount of oils that are drawn out during the extraction process, espresso is usually heavier than standard coffee as well. 

If you are looking into expanding your coffee palette beyond standard coffee types, espresso is a great way to start. Espresso is the foundation that drinks like cappuccino and lattes are based on. A good shot of espresso can be the first step towards a lot of popular coffee drinks. Once you’ve acquired a taste for espresso, there’s a whole world of coffee for you to explore. 

Learn More About Espresso and Coffee Beans

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