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Are Espresso Beans Different From Coffee Beans

One extremely common question people have when buying coffee beans is if they can use espresso beans for their drip coffee machine in the home. They also wonder what beans are appropriate for making espresso.

The following questions are extremely common:

  • What is the Difference Between Espresso and Coffee?
  • Does Espresso Have More Caffeine Than Regular Coffee?
  • Can You Put Espresso in a Coffee Maker?

The short answer to any version of these questions is that the beans are exactly the same in every way. Espresso roasts are no different than other roasts either – it’s just a really dark roast (darker than a french roast) which is fine for use with any coffee brewing method you can think of.

Espresso roasts tend to be the darkest you’ll find on store shelves and are usually the roast used in fancy coffee shops when you order an espresso or an espresso based drink like a cappuccino or mocha. The difference between coffee and cappuccino by the way is a regular coffee bean is prepared in an espresso machine and mixed with steamed milk topped with milk froth or foam. The beans used are the same it’s the preparation that changes the final product.

Espresso Beans vs Coffee Beans: A Side-by-Side Comparison

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The main difference between coffee and espresso beans is the roasting process. Espresso beans are roasted longer and darker and thus they take on a deeper and smoother character. Espresso is frequently brewed with a bean that is dark roasted and drip coffee is usually quite balanced. It’s frequently a blend meaning some beans in the roast are better light while others may be better darker roasted. To balance it all out a medium roast is quite common.

Many espresso blends are simple blends or even single origin coffees. Because brewing espresso is such an art form a lot of precision goes into selecting the right beans for the job at hand. Beans destined for the espresso can be used for any particular brewing technique but the roaster, channeling all his experience, has found these particular beans to be particularly good for espresso machines.

This is not to say this is what they are only good for but it is what they were selected for.

Can You Put Espresso in a Coffee Maker?

Can You Put Espresso in a Coffee Maker
If you are in a store and looking at the selection of whole bean coffee on the shelf and see an espresso blend you should know that it should be a great option for espresso machines but that it will also work just fine for other brewing techniques such as drip or french press methods. You can usually assume the espresso beans will be a bit darker than other coffees and if the beans are preground they the grind itself may be a little finer than you are used to.

Of course you may want to buy the best beans for the brewing technique of your choosing. For instant the best coffee beans for espresso may be a super dark roasted espresso blend ground to super fine powder. Conversely the best coffee beans for french press may be opposite, a light roasted single origin blend coarsely ground for perfect extraction.

In a regular drip coffee maker that uses paper filters you can use any type or style of beans roasted to any level of darkness. The most important thing to pay attention to with drip coffee is not the roast but the grind size. If you use a coarse grind like you would use for a french press your coffee will be really weak – if you use a fine grind like you would use for espresso then your coffee will be especially rich and maybe to bitter due to over-extraction of the grind during the brewing process.

For espresso machines you need a fine grind to make a good shot of espresso and most pre-ground coffee is set to medium before packaging. Medium is best for drip coffee makers and since they are the most commonly used coffee makers in America this grind size is the most common options on store shelves.

Good coffee bean suppliers or roasters will grind beans to whatever size you need them at but in a store setting you should assume coffee beans will be roasted medium (unless otherwise stated) and espresso beans only may be ground to a finer particle size. Your mileage may vary of course.

The following video covers all you need to know about coffee versus espresso. The best quote from the video is when he says the word espresso is not a type of coffee but a brewing method. Any kind of coffee used in an espresso machine will make espresso and vice-versa.

Caffeine in Coffee vs Espresso: Is it Different?

In a related set of questions many people ask me versions of the following questions:

  • Is espresso stronger than coffee?
  • Is there more caffeine in espresso than coffee?

The answers to these question may actually surprise you though. Although espresso beans are roasted to be super dark their flavor tends to be a bit more smooth than light roasts. Light roasts are frequently referred to as bright or fruity because you can taste more of the cherry in them when prepared well.

Light roasts also tend to retain more of their caffeine than dark roasts and because espresso roasts are the darkest of them all a lot more of the natural caffeine is lost during the roasting process.

Espresso however is more concentrated and ends up tasting thicker, richer, and stronger. There’s a reason why so many people cut it half and half with milk and sugar. That’s also the reason it is served in such small portion sizes.

Rule of thumb states that a 1.5 oz shot of espresso is one serving compared to 6 oz of coffee. Comparing a single serving of one to the other you will usually find a bit more caffeine in a serving of coffee than a serving of espresso but you can usually drink the espresso faster so many people feel it has higher caffeine content which doesn’t tend to be the case.

Strength of coffee in flavor and caffeine content is also affected by the time to brew – the longer the brew process the stringer the coffee. Espresso shots usually take between 25 and 30 seconds to produce. Compare that to an 8-minute drip coffee maker and you can see how the caffeine extraction is limited in espresso.

According to Caffeine Informer on average you can assume there will be around 122 mg of caffeine in 6-oz of drip coffee compared to 81 mg in 6 oz of french press coffee and 77 mg in a 1.5 oz serving of espresso.

Espresso Grind vs Regular Ground Coffee

Espresso Grind vs Regular Ground Coffee
Generally speaking espresso grind is different from espresso roast. When you buy whole bean espresso roast coffee you are free then to grind those beans however you feel best. We’ve even got a big list of alternative ways to grind your coffee if you are feeling adventurous but espresso grind is typically ground really fine, much smaller particles than drip coffee – almost dust size.

The reason for this is to extract as much from the beans as possible in the short pressurized brewing time. In drip coffee the brew time is much longer so the fine grind would overextract and would leave you with bitter coffee. That’s different from strong coffee in my book. If you plan on using a drip coffee maker or french press to brew your espresso roast then make sure to grind to a medium or coarse grind.

Thankfully most grocery stores will grind your whole coffee beans for you for free but here at Gamble Bay Coffee we highly recommend you own your own to grind beans as you need them instead. Here is a good list of top of the line coffee grinders that we recommend.


James Lambert

Owner and proprietor of the Gamble Bay Coffee Company