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Is there a difference between beans labeled espresso beans and coffee beans? Or are they just the same thing.
Espresso beans are generally roasted a little longer which makes them darker and easier to extract. However, there is no hard rule or definition of what makes an espresso bean. All coffee beans start as green coffee beans and before roasting there is no difference.
Below we’ll go a little deeper into the differences and the uses of the different beans.
Are Espresso Beans The Same As Coffee Beans?
Is there any difference between espresso beans (Like these one Amazon) and ‘normal’ coffee beans? Let’s go back to the beginning of the chain to understand the difference if any.
Coffee cherries get picked from the tree. The cherry gets washed off and the coffee is dried. At this point you have green coffee. There are hundreds of types of green coffee. There are different locations, grades, wash qualities, sizes, etc. All those differences have nothing to do if beans are for espresso or not.
There are also a few different types of coffee plants: Arabica, Robusta, Catimor, Geisha and a few rare ones. However, that also has largely no effect on if it’s for espresso or not.
The difference between espresso beans and coffee beans is in the roasting process. Beans for espresso are generally roasted a bit longer and thus darker than for ‘normal’ coffee.
This makes espresso beans easier to extract since a darker roast makes beans more porous. This helps espresso machines pack all the coffee taste and aromas in a tiny bit of liquid. Darker roasts also have more bitterness and darker, more intense flavors than lighter roasts which many people like in espresso.
All the other differences in size, type, quality don’t make something an espresso bean or not. It’s the roasting process that makes the difference.
In the end, it’s more of a marketing decision to label a bean as ‘espresso bean’ or not. Usually the producer will label the beans as one or the other if they feel it’s better suited to be used for espresso or not. There isn’t a hard rule that makes something an espresso bean.
Pre-ground Espresso Powder
Pre ground bags of espresso powder are called that for another reason. Beans have to be ground much finer for espresso than for drip coffee. So pre-ground coffee labeled ‘espresso’ (Like this Illy coffee on Amazon) will be ground much finer than other coffee.
Can You Use Espresso Beans To Make Normal Coffee?
That raises the question: If they’re pretty much the same beans, can you use espresso beans to make normal coffee?
It is perfectly possible to use espresso beans for other types of coffee as long as they’re ground to the correct size for the brew method. You’ll likely also have to accept more bitterness in your coffee.
In case you buy pre-ground espresso powder, you shouldn’t use this for most other types of coffee except maybe a moka pot. Espresso powders is much finer than drip coffee grounds. You’ll get very bitter coffee if you brew this as drip coffee. And in a French press you’ll get a lot of residue in your cup.
When using whole beans, you can choose to grind espresso beans for a French press or pour over without problems. You’ll likely get a darker, more bitter cup than with ‘regular’ filter coffee but it’ll be drinkable and some people like it that way. But if you like a cup with more acidity and balanced flavors, lighter roasted non-espresso beans will work better for you.
Not sure how to make tasty coffee in a drip coffee maker? Here’s my step-by-step guide.
Can You Use Normal Coffee Beans For Espresso?
What about the other way around? Are beans which aren’t explicitly labeled for espresso usable in an espresso machine?
Any coffee bean can be used to make espresso although with lighter roasts it’s more difficult to get a good result. Lighter roasts are more difficult to extract and require better technique and grinders to get a balanced espresso shot. Pre-ground coffee that’s made for drip coffee will not give good results in an espresso machine.
Most people like their espresso dark and bitter but a lot of third wave coffeeshops are making espresso with much lighter grinder and thus different flavor profiles. This is something you do have to get used to but can be amazing if you get it right.
Because lighter roasted beans are less porous, its harder to extract all the flavor from them. That means you need a high quality coffee grinder to grind it exactly as fine as necessary and you need a good brew technique to make sure all the grounds are extracted equally. In my experience it’s much easier to get a really nasty, sour espresso with lighter roasts. This is another reason why darker roasts are more common for espresso. People like that taste but it’s also more user friendly.