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Coffee Basics

Is There Actually a Difference Between Espresso Beans and Coffee Beans?

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Portafilter filled with roasted coffee beans covered by a faint haze of smoke

If you’ve ever spent time strolling down the coffee aisle of your local grocery store or shopped for coffee beans online, you’ve probably noticed that some beans have been given the label “espresso.”

While this label suggests a fundamental distinction, the difference between espresso beans and coffee beans isn’t what you might expect.

What Is Espresso?

Espresso shot being pulled with a naked portafilter
GCapture/Adobe Stock

Before digging into the difference between espresso beans and coffee beans, it’s important first to understand what espresso is and how it differs from other brewing methods.

Espresso is a concentrated form of coffee that’s best known for its intense flavor and aroma, as well as its characteristic thick, golden-brown layer of crema.

To make espresso, finely ground coffee beans are packed into a device called a portafilter, and then water is forced through the grounds at high pressure (roughly 9 bars). The entire brewing process takes approximately 25-30 seconds but can vary slightly depending on the recipe or personal preference.

In contrast, other methods like drip, pour-over, and French press rely on longer brewing times and either gravity or immersion to extract the coffee’s flavor and unique characteristics. 

While a shot of espresso can be enjoyed black, it’s more commonly used as a base for drinks like lattes, cappuccinos, and Americanos.

Is There a Difference Between Espresso Beans and Coffee Beans?

Espresso beans and coffee beans
 Joshua Chew Visuals/Wirestock Creators/Adobe Stock

The short answer is both yes and no.

Contrary to popular belief, when it comes to the bean itself, there isn’t actually a difference between espresso beans and coffee beans. The beans used to brew your favorite cup of coffee, whether it be espresso, drip, or cold brew, are almost exclusively a variety of either Arabica or Robusta.

However, where the difference between espresso beans and coffee beans does exist is in how they’re prepared. More specifically, in how they’re roasted.

Espresso beans are typically roasted longer and at a higher temperature than most light, medium, and dark roast coffee beans. This is what gives them their deep, dark color and leads to their distinct rich, intense flavor and aroma. 

In contrast, “regular” coffee beans are often roasted for a shorter period of time and at a lower temperature. This produces a much lighter color and preserves more of the bean’s original flavors and characteristics, leading to a more nuanced cup of coffee.

A bean’s roast level will also impact the amount of oil on its surface. The darker the roast, the oilier the bean. These oils are a key characteristic of espresso beans and what help create their full body and thick crema.

Can You Use Regular Coffee Beans to Make Espresso?

Shot of espresso sitting on a wooden cutting board with coffee beans scattered around it
Looker_Studio/Adobe Stock

Absolutely! In fact, doing so is more common than you might think.

For example, dark roasts are often used instead of espresso beans. This is because their bold, rich flavor and low acidity are ideal for producing the characteristic flavor and thick crema that espresso is known for. 

On the opposite end of the spectrum, light roasts have the potential to produce an extremely unique espresso with brighter, more complex flavors. However, they can be finicky and may require more trial and error to dial in the various brewing variables so as to avoid a shot that’s too intense or jarring. 

It’s important to remember that espresso is defined more by the brewing process than the specific type of bean used to brew it. The same can be said for all other brewing methods as well.

When it comes down to it, you should use the type of bean and brewing method that tickles your palate. This means that if you enjoy a dark roast for a pour-over or prefer a lighter roast when making espresso, then those are the beans you should use. Ultimately, what’s most important is finding enjoyment in your cup of coffee.

Final Thoughts

Although there is a difference between espresso beans and coffee beans, the “espresso” label is nothing more than a suggestion. While espresso beans have been roasted and blended to highlight the characteristics of espresso, you shouldn’t be afraid to experiment with different types of beans.

If you’d like to continue furthering your coffee knowledge or are looking for ways to improve your home barista skills, be sure to check out the brewing guides and coffee basics sections of our website. 

Frequently Asked Questions

The reason grind size is so crucial when making espresso is because it directly affects the extraction rate, thus the overall flavor of your final brew. If your grind is too coarse, it won’t create the necessary resistance for the pressurized water and can lead to a weak, under-extracted shot. Conversely, if your grind is too fine, your espresso may become over-extracted and bitter. Dialing in the right grind size is key to pulling a perfect shot.

You can absolutely use decaf coffee beans to make espresso. The process is going to be the same regardless of whether the beans are caffeinated or decaffeinated. However, to get the best result, the key is to ensure the decaf beans are of good quality and ground appropriately for the espresso brewing method.

There’s a common misconception that espresso has a higher caffeine content than a regular cup of coffee. In reality, it’s the exact opposite. A typical 8-ounce cup of brewed coffee averages 95 mg of caffeine, whereas a one-ounce shot of espresso averages 63 mg. So, while espresso is more concentrated, you generally consume less caffeine in a single serving of espresso compared to a regular cup of coffee.

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Hey there! I'm Michael, founder and editor-in-chief of Filtered Grounds. In addition to being an entrepreneur, I'm also a bit of an endurance sports junkie. Whether it's working toward my business goals or training for my next Half Ironman triathlon, a good cold brew or cup of French press plays a role in fueling my performance.