In your quest to fine-tune your taste for the perfect cup of joe, you’ve probably asked yourself whether the type of beans you use makes much of a difference to your coffee.

There’s a widespread belief that there are two basic types of beans: espresso and coffee. This is not true, and in this article, I will tell you why this is.

Both espresso and coffee beans come from the same trees, Arabica and Robusta coffee trees. Arabica beans are generally considered superior as they have a balanced flavor, lower acidity, and less caffeine than Robusta beans. Espresso beans usually feature a dark roast, while coffee beans come in all roasts, but this is not always the case.

You can use all coffee beans to make an espresso, just like you can use all coffee roasts to make regular coffee.

This article will look at the main differences between espresso and coffee beans to help you choose the best beans for your coffee.

Differences between espresso beans and coffee beans

As mentioned, a specific espresso bean or espresso roast does not exist. However, it is widely available in most grocery stores, and they will sell you a dark roasted coffee bean in different packaging.

To make great espresso at home, you can use all kinds of coffee roasts from various regions, and you do not need a dark roast for this as both types come from the same trees and are the same coffee beans.

However, there are a few differences between espresso beans and coffee beans that you will notice if you buy a bag of each and compare them, and it can affect the taste of your brew:

Comparison: Espresso beans: Coffee beans:
Roast level Dark roast Ranges from light to dark roast
Cup quality Richer taste, easy to over-extract Lighter taste, easier to work with
Caffeine content 68 mg 170-220 mg
Brewing temperature 92-96 °C 91-98 °C
Grind size Ultra-fine grind Coarser grind for better flavor
Natural oils High in natural oils (best crema) Less oily
Aroma Intense, nutty, chocolatey Milder aroma, grassy, earthy tones

Now that you know about the key differences let’s look at these differences in closer detail.

Roast process

The first major difference is the roast process between normal coffee beans and espresso beans.

Espresso beans are roasted for shorter periods under higher pressures than coffee beans, resulting in a darker color and more intense flavor.

This also means that a cup of joe made from dark-roast beans will be stronger than that made with light-roast beans.

So, if you like your coffee strong and sweet, espresso beans are the better choice for you. These roasts typically contain less caffeine than light roast coffees, so you get a more mellow buzz when drinking espresso-based drinks.

Espresso beans on the left. Coffee beans on the right

However, this doesn’t mean that dark roast beans are only good for making espresso. You can still get a great cup of coffee from dark roast beans, but the taste won’t be as nuanced.

One thing to remember is that the darker the roast, the less acid a cup of coffee will have. Green coffee beans have a lot of acid, and the more they roast, the less acidic it becomes.

Cup quality

The same holds true for other factors related to your brew, including quality and body. Dark roast coffee tends to have stronger flavors compared to light-roast coffees, which are more subtle in taste.

Cup quality is determined by factors like flavor, body, aftertaste, and aroma. Therefore, if you’re looking for a richer taste with bold aromas and an intense finish, espresso beans offer the best cup of coffee.

However, there can be too much of a good thing, so make sure to use fewer beans to make your regular cup of coffee (more on this later on).

The high caffeine content in dark roast beans means that it’s very easy to get an over-extracted brew that will be bitter and acidic, resulting in a sour taste.

Caffeine content

One of the biggest misconceptions among avid coffee consumers is that espresso has a higher caffeine content than a cup of coffee. This isn’t the case, as espresso coffees have a lower caffeine content than your usual cup of joe.

Espresso contains about 68 mg of caffeine per shot (1 oz or 0.03 l), whereas a regular cup of coffee contains roughly 170-220 mg per serving (1 cup or 0.24 l), depending on the brewing technique.

Brewing espresso shots.

If you’re sensitive to caffeine or simply want a less intense buzz, ordering an espresso is the way to go.

Brewing technique

Espresso beans (dark roasted coffee beans) are very sensitive to high-pressure water, so grinding them coarsely isn’t recommended as this will damage or crack the seeds.

As a result, espresso beans are best made with an espresso machine that produces 60 lbs (27.22 kg) of pressure per square inch at around 198℉ (92°C) or higher.

This method allows you to extract caffeine and flavor quickly, with dark roasted beans being the most suitable for this technique.

Regular coffee beans don’t do well under such high pressures because this can lead to over-extraction resulting in a bitter taste.

Instead, coffee beans are best made with the drip method, which involves pouring boiling water through the ground coffee at around 195℉ (91 °C).

"Adding all water to the Chemex coffee brewer."

This way of brewing allows you to extract flavor, caffeine, and oils slowly for a flavorful cup of joe that isn’t too harsh or bitter.

Richness in natural oils

One of the hallmarks of a proper espresso is the crema it leaves on the top of your cup. This is caused by natural oils in espressos that aren’t present in regular brews.

Espresso beans are rich in natural oils, which is evident by their oily sheen. However, all coffee beans contain oil regardless of the roast level.

Your regular cup of joe doesn’t contain crema since it’s not brewed under pressure.

While these oils don’t affect your cup’s taste, they contribute to a rich and creamy texture, which helps create the beautiful crema on top of your espresso.

Freshly brewed espresso.

As such, if your coffee beans are not creating a crema, the chances are they aren’t fresh.

Keep in mind that you don’t need dark and oily coffee beans to make espresso coffee at home.

Any coffee roast will work for this and will provide you with an amazing flavor that will change depending on the roast level you buy.

Grind

Espresso beans tend to be ultra-finely ground, which is why they’re very sensitive to heat.

As a result, grind ASAP before you start making your espresso shot and only use a burr grinder. If your beans have been ground coarsely or if the particles are too large, you won’t get the full flavor from your shots.

A fine coffee grind size that is used to brew espresso coffee.
Grind size used for espresso brewing

On the other hand, you shouldn’t grind your regular coffee beans too finely.

If the particles are too small, they’ll become over-extracted and end up in your cup as an unpleasant residue.

It’s best to use a medium grind for regular brews so that the water can pass through it easily during the brewing process.

Aroma

Expert baristas will tell you that the best way to judge your espresso beans is by their aroma.

Coffee lovers who work with dark roasted coffee beans claim that the smell of freshly ground espresso beans has an intense, almost nutty or chocolatey scent that is incomparable to any other type of bean.

On the other hand, coffee beans that are roasted for a shorter period will have a milder aroma that’s described as grassy or earthy.

This makes sense since dark roasted beans are typically more flavorful and stronger than lighter roasted varieties.

Dark roasted coffee beans.

Can you use espresso beans to make regular coffee?

Since we’ve established that the main difference between espresso beans and coffee beans is in the preparation process, can you use espresso beans to make a typical cup of joe?

You can use espresso beans to make regular coffee. In fact, many people use the espresso’s dark roasted beans for their morning cup of joe. Grind your espresso beans the same way you would for a regular brew and add boiled water to them, or make an Americano by mixing hot water with espresso shots.

Americano coffee.

In some cases, you may need to adjust the number of coffee grounds depending on their size. You can do so by adding more beans to your cup if they turn out too weak or by adjusting the coarseness of your grind.

Furthermore, experiment with the amount of water you are using to ensure that you aren’t compromising on taste.

Be warned, however, that some espresso beans are made only for espressos and will end up yielding a bitter brew if they’re used in regular coffee.

This is because they are roasted so darkly that there aren’t any nuanced flavors left, which is why it’s marketed as “espresso beans”.

Differences between Arabica and Robusta beans

The terms Arabica and Robusta are often thrown around in conversations about coffee beans, but what exactly does it mean?

Arabica is considered to be one of the superior varieties of coffee. It has an earthy flavor that can be described as delicate or sweet yet potent.

Robusta is cheaper than Arabica because they tend to be hardier plants.

However, they’re typically described as tasting more bitter than Arabica due to their harsher growing conditions.

They can also create an excess amount of caffeine which is why it’s often mixed with Arabica when making coffee by machines or for commercial purposes.

You can find Arabica beans in most high-quality blends, but instant coffee manufacturers favor Robusta beans. As such, if you’re all about quality, I recommend going for a brand that’s known for its compilations of Arabica beans.

Robusta has more caffeine than Arabica. Only a few Robusta beans match the taste quality of Arabica, Robusta grows at lower altitudes, and the lowest quality Robusta beans have the reputation of tasting and smelling somewhat like burnt rubber when brewed. They do produce more crema.

Source: Randy G.

Final thoughts

Contrary to popular belief, an espresso roast or espresso beans do not exist and are just a marking tool to sell dark roasted coffee beans to you.

You can use all coffee beans to brew your espresso and your regular cup of coffee. The espresso beans that are being sold will give you a more robust flavor that can be described as rich or bold (because of their longer roasting time).

On the other hand, coffee beans are usually ground more coarsely and allow for easier water flow during the brewing process.

You can use espresso beans to make regular coffee, but some brands work exclusively with Arabica and yield a bitter taste when used in traditional coffee.

Ultimately, it all depends on your taste preferences. I hope you enjoyed this article and that it helped you become more knowledgeable about coffee beans in general.

Picture of Jeffrey, Author at Your Dream Coffee
Author

On my coffee blog you will find everything you need in order to start brewing coffee at home. Ranging from the basics; to the newest coffee recipes everybody talks about! You can learn more about me here.

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