Are Espresso Beans and Coffee Beans the Same Thing?

Picture of a fresh espresso sitting on espresso machine drip tray.

By: Valor Team

Published On: June 18, 2024

Category: Education

“Do you guys sell espresso beans?” This is a daily question we get in our cafes.

Let’s clear up some confusion around the differences between regular coffee beans and those labeled 'espresso blend' or 'espresso beans.' Whether you're a casual drinker or a budding barista, understanding these distinctions will help you choose the right bean for your perfect cup.

Where Do Coffee Beans Come From?

Coffee beans come from the seeds of coffee plants and are roasted to various degrees, impacting their flavor, aroma, and strength. Here's what you need to know:

  • Roast Levels: Coffee beans can be light, medium, or dark roasted.
  • Brewing Methods: They are versatile and can be used in a variety of brewing methods like drip coffee, pour-over, French press, and more.
  • Flavor and Aroma: Coffee beans offer a diverse range of flavors and aromas depending on their origin and roast level.

Espresso Beans

Espresso beans, on the other hand, are NOT a different type of bean but are coffee beans typically roasted and prepared with espresso in mind:

  • Roast Level: Usually darker roasted to enhance the boldness and richness favored in espresso preparation and to better stand out when milk is added.
  • Grind Size: Ground finer than regular coffee beans to accommodate the high-pressure extraction process of espresso machines.
  • Brewing Method: Specifically meant for espresso machines, which require finely ground beans and high-pressure brewing.

Using Espresso Beans for Pour-Over or Drip Coffee

So, what happens if you buy espresso beans and want to use them for your favorite pour-over or drip coffee method?

  • Flavor Profile: Espresso beans, often being dark roasted, will impart a more bold and rich flavor. If you prefer a darker, intense taste in your pour-over or drip coffee, using espresso beans can be a great choice.
  • Grind Size Adjustment: You’ll need to grind the espresso beans coarser than you would for espresso, the same way you would with other dark coffees. A good rule of thumb is that lighter coffees need to be ground finer than darker coffees.
  • Brewing Tips: Since espresso beans are roasted longer, they may produce more oils and have a more pronounced flavor. Make sure to clean your coffee maker or pour-over equipment regularly to prevent any build-up from the oils.

Interested in trying a darker coffee that would be great as drip or espresso? Grab a box of Turbo Diesel, our darkest offering, featuring notes of Cacao and Caramelized Sugar with a Bold mouthfeel.

Using Regular Coffee Beans for Espresso

And what about if you use regular coffee beans in an espresso machine? Here’s what you need to know about the results:

  • Roast Level: Regular coffee beans, especially if light or medium roasted, will produce a different flavor profile. The resulting espresso might be less “bold” and could have more perceived acidity compared to the usual dark-roasted espresso beans.
  • Grind Size Adjustment: The key to using regular beans in an espresso machine is achieving the right grind size. You’ll need to grind the beans very fine, similar to the texture of powdered sugar, to ensure proper extraction.
  • Flavor Experimentation: Using lighter roasts for espresso can highlight different flavor notes and offer a unique taste experience. This can be an exciting way to experiment with the nuances of different coffee beans. Many light roast drinkers tend to pull their espresso shots longer, at ratios all the way up to 1:3 (one part water to three parts water) or more!

This is where we at Valor, along with other modern specialty roasters, might differ from traditional coffee companies. Our staple blend, Freethrow, has been our house espresso since we opened our first cafe, but would be considered by many to be a medium roast some might not expect to be used as espresso. We, on the other hand, think this coffee is fantastic as an all-arounder, offering chocolate notes with very subtle fruit undertones.

Myths Surrounding Coffee Beans and Espresso Beans

Let's debunk some common myths that might be going around concerning the two types of beans:

  • Roast Level: It’s a common belief that espresso beans must be dark-roasted. While darker roasts are common for espresso, any roast can be used based on personal preference.
  • Bean Origin: Some myths suggest specific beans are exclusive to espresso. In reality, any coffee bean can be used for espresso, depending on the desired flavor profile.
  • Caffeine Content: There’s a misconception that espresso beans have more caffeine. Actually, lighter roasts contain slightly more caffeine than darker roasts because caffeine content decreases slightly with longer roasting times, but the difference is negligible. Check out our article about caffeine content in light vs dark roasts to learn more about this common misconception!
  • Grinding Requirements: It’s often thought that espresso requires special beans. However, the grind size is more crucial than the bean itself. As long as any type of beans are ground finely, they can be used for espresso.

Choosing the Right Bean for Your Brew

Selecting the right bean depends on several factors:

  • Brewing Method: Different beans suit different brewing methods according to different palates and preferences. We recommend trying a variety of different beans to find your favorite espresso profile. A great place to start would be one of our year round coffees: Freethrow (medium-light), Workers’ Comp (medium-dark), or Turbo Diesel (dark).
  • Roast Level: Light roasts preserve the beans' original flavors, while dark roasts will deliver roast imparted flavors like bitter notes, more body and texture, and deeper chocolate notes.
  • Origin: Coffee Beans and espresso-style beans from regions like Ethiopia, Colombia, or Brazil exhibit unique flavor profiles according to where they’re from. Explore different origins to find your favorite.
  • Freshness: Freshly roasted beans ensure optimal flavor and aroma. Always check the roast date when buying coffee, and brew coffees for espresso between 7-30 days off roast.
  • Tasting Notes: Consider the tasting notes like fruity, nutty, or chocolatey to match your personal preference.

So how do we respond to the question “Is there a difference between espresso beans and coffee beans?”

Espresso is a brew method, and you can use any coffee you want. You just might prefer a specific type of bean over another.

Hopefully now you’ll know when and why to select the two different types of coffee beans, whether you're brewing a classic cup or pulling a perfect shot of espresso. Try mixing it up one day during your brewing routine to see the flavor results for yourself.

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