Have you ever noticed that some bags of coffee in stores have espresso written on them? I’ve noticed this for years now, wondered what the difference was, and just never looked into what made an espresso bean an espresso bean. Let’s find out!
Simply put; espresso beans are roasted darker and ground much finer than regular coffee beans. Espresso is not just in the brewing process. Making the best espresso to rival a barista, also depends on the bean blend, the roast, and the grind.
The Difference Between Espresso Beans and Regular Coffee Beans
So what really makes an espresso bean and a regular coffee bean different? They’re both coffee after all!
Coffee bean sellers will take beans from different growers, and even different species of beans themselves (Arabica beans or robusta beans), and mix them together in different proportions rather than using a single origin bean. They aim to get a really consistent flavor of blend. So that customers know what to expect from their product.
Having so many different blends of coffee to choose from really opens up a new dimension to coffee flavors.
Both espresso beans and regular coffee beans will be blended in a particular way by the seller.
The Espresso Roast
Espresso beans are roasted for a much longer time, at higher temperatures, than regular coffee beans. So they become a much darker roast. The flavor is much stronger and rich in caramel, chocolate, and woody notes due to a longer, hotter roasting process.
As well as being a dark roast, these beans are much more oily. They have much stronger, single-note flavors and are lower in acidity compared to a light roast or medium roast. Pretty much just as you would expect from an espresso.
I always thought that espresso coffee would have higher caffeine content but when you compare espresso beans vs coffee beans, higher temperatures and a longer time at the roasters also break down the caffeine in the beans.
So as strange as it might sound; espresso beans actually have slightly lower caffeine content. That said, it probably won’t be significantly less. We all know espresso is one of the best coffee types to really make you get up and go!
The Espresso Grind
Espresso beans are ground into a much finer powder. A burr grinder is always used to achieve a fine grind and an even consistency.
To make an espresso, the ground beans need to be compacted tight into a portafilter before water is pushed through it at high pressure. To make them hold together when compacted, a finer grind is key.
With a drip, immersion coffee, or cold brew the steeping process takes much longer. People usually opt for a coarser grind. A bag of regular pre-ground coffee beans will definitely be coarser than a bag of espresso coffee.
So, in a metaphorical sense. The difference between the two coffee grinds is a bit like the difference between sand and gravel.
The difference between Espresso and Regular Coffee
Now we know what makes an espresso coffee bean and a regular coffee bean, the next step in the coffee process is the different brewing methods.
Drip, Pour Over, and Immersion Brews
These are essentially any method for brewing coffee that doesn’t involve pressure to make your coffee drinks.
Whether it is letting the beans stew in water like with a french press, or letting it trickle through the ground beans to give a cup of drip coffee, these methods make a slow and milder flavored coffee. They are also usually made in much larger volumes than espresso drinks.
Espresso brewing is all about speed, an essential factor in busy coffee shops. Express-o. How can you speed up brewing a coffee? That’s right, ram the water through those ground beans with as much pressure as you can! About 9 Bars of pressure to be exact.
An espresso machine is the only brewing method that can achieve these high pressures and this is what helps speed up the extraction process.
A shot of espresso is always made quickly and in small quantities. Surely that can’t be all that makes an espresso an espresso though! You’re right!
Crema is possibly the most essential aspect of an espresso. It is the light-colored frothy layer on top of an espresso that looks like, well, cream.
What is Crema?
The crema is made when the hot pressurized water hits the compacted coffee grounds. The hot water causes a load of CO2 to be released from the ground beans. The combination of heat and CO2 causes oils in the grounds to emulsify.
Simply put, crema really is very similar to cream. It’s essentially whipped fats.
Don’t be worrying about calories though. An espresso still only has about 1 calorie.
Without crema, espresso would just be a small shot of drip coffee.
Can I Use Espresso Beans to make Regular Coffee and Vice Versa?
You can absolutely use espresso beans to make any kind of regular coffee. Likewise, no one is stopping you from using regular coffee beans to make an espresso.
These different beans are just made to be slightly better at making the different types of coffees. The coffee you would get if you, for example, used espresso beans in a french press would be more likely to be particularly strong and maybe a bit over-brewed.
Because the espresso beans are finer, the coffee flavors are going to brew out of them much quicker. If you’re using a french press the coffee will end up tasting quite bitter. Also, Because the grounds are finer, they will be more likely to leak out through the mesh filter and end up in your mug. Chewy.
So, What Have We Learned?
So, in conclusion, we have learned that there is actually quite a significant difference between espresso and regular coffee beans.
Espresso beans are usually a different blend, they are roasted longer and ground finer. Espresso coffee produces a drink that tastes much more intense and powerful despite the smaller volume. The ideal espresso is brewed quickly and at high pressure and the presence of crema is a good indicator we have a perfectly brewed beverage.
The rich flavors of the dark coffee roasts stand up really well when combined with milk to give drinks like lattes and cappuccino.
There are (thankfully) no laws when it comes to coffee brewing so you can choose whether or not you are happy to mix and match beans or just stick to the recommended blends. Ultimately, as long as you are pleased with the final product, then that’s all that matters. It’s your cup of coffee after all!