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The Difference Between Coffee And Espresso Beans (Yes, There’s a Difference)

You know you’re a true blue coffee fan when you’re picky with your beans and roasts, and when you realize you’re a know-it-all when it comes to different beans.

So you must’ve noticed that you can choose between buying coffee beans or espresso beans. What if I told you they are not the same thing? Espresso beans vs coffee beans – there’s a difference? Oh yes.

Many are unaware of what sets them apart, and when one must be chosen over the other. Time to clear up the fog.

Espresso Beans vs Coffee Beans: Which One?

For all types of coffee beans, the roasting process is the alfa and the omega. This is where the difference in tasting, flavor and the choice of brewing method comes. A general rule says that light roasts works best with a slower extraction method, such as a filter coffee. Differently, darker roasts go with a quick method such as espresso.

Espresso vs coffee beans infographic
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But, what is the difference between espresso coffee beans, and regular ol’ coffee beans?

Coffee beans

Coffee beans refer to any bean roasted and readied for brewing. You can choose a light roast if you want the full distinct flavor of your bean, which can vary depending on which country it came from.

  • Light-roasted beans do not have an oily sheen, and are best for white coffee, and non-pressure brew styles, like pour over coffee or cold brew coffee. Check out our list of best light roast coffee beans.
  • Medium-roasted beans result in a different flavour profile, and based on the bean origin, can be used for many styles of brewing.
  • Dark-roasted beans on the other hand stand out for their dark brown color and shiny, oily surface. Most of the time, they are used for espresso brewing. We’ve also compiled a list of best dark roast coffees.
weighing an espresso shot
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Espresso Beans

Espresso coffee beans usually belong to the dark roast category, as this is the stage in which the beans offer the least acidity with a fuller body. You will still be able to get slight hints of the bean flavor too. Here are the best espresso beans.

The dark roast of espresso beans are richest in coffee’s natural oils, evident in the oily sheen you can see on the beans. Emulsification of these oils, along with other compounds in coffee, prove helpful in producing the so-called espresso crema. However, you must be careful not to use beans that have been roasted too dark as the excess oil can clog up grinders, especially in super-automatic machines.

Using regular beans to make espresso may not produce the kind of brew you expect in a ‘perfect shot’, no matter how good they are. Some varieties are too light, others may be too charred or dark.

Here’s our awesome video to help you brew that great cup of espresso:

In essence:

Making a good cup of espresso is not rocket science, but it’s not exactly just about throwing ground coffee and hot water into the espresso machine. Here’s a quick rundown of why you must use the right beans for good espresso:”

  • Espresso coffee beans will give you the consistency, body, and flavor you want in your shot.
  • They help in achieving a rich crema, which enhances the whole drink.
  • Regular coffee beans are great for a variety of brewing methods, but espresso coffee beans hold up best with high-pressure methods.

So if you don’t know, now you know, baristaaaa! (Sorry, I know that was totally geeky. It’s a Biggie Smalls pun.) Next time someone asks you “espresso beans vs coffee beans – is there a difference” you’ll be sure to put them in their place – after all, you’re fast becoming an espresso aficionado.

A PRO tip: Espresso Crema

Crema is often mentioned with reverence in relation to espresso. It refers to the light-colored layer that forms on the surface of brewed coffee during the extraction stage.

While brewing espresso, carbon dioxide coming off the compacted fresh grounds meeting with hot, pressurized water cause the trademark ‘bubbles’ to form.

But within Crema you have different colors. These slight differences show either the kind of roast used, how long the espresso shot was, or a possible problem with the consistency of your coffee grounds.

Too light means the bubbles are larger than usual: you may have under-extracted your espresso. Too dark on the other hand can either be a result of over-extraction, or the use of a darker roast (which also usually produces less crema). Over-extracted coffee can result in a bitter cup.

Another one of our videos to inform you on espresso coffee culture:

Frequently Asked Questions

Yes, technically you can use regular coffee beans in an espresso machine but the drink you’ll make may taste sour, funky, and tart. We recommend that you use dark roasts to make better tasting  espresso with rich crema.

The best beans for making espresso are medium-dark to dark roasts as they more soluble and extract more quickly. They are rich in oils, which help produce a richer crema. They also give your espresso that great consistency, body, and flavor you want in your shot.

The extraction process for pour-over coffee is longer than an espresso.  For this reason, we highly recommend that you use light to medium roasts. You may choose between Hawaiian beans and Guatemalan beans. Just make sure that the grind is not too coarse yet not too fine to make sure that your coffee has gentle and flavorful undertones, and tastes neither bitter nor sour.


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My world consists of coffee, travel, water sports and dogs...sometimes all at the same time! I spent years traveling and working in various coffee establishments, and it was on my travels that my love affair with coffee began. I've been involved in every part of the coffee production process from farm to cup and love nothing more than sharing my knowledge of my favorite morning brew with the world.

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