Espresso Beans Vs Coffee Beans (Key Differences Explained)

The beans you use to brew your favorite coffee drinks make a massive difference in the beverage's overall quality. There are so many types and flavors of beans available today, so you should have no trouble finding beans that can deliver an enjoyable coffee-drinking experience.

What many people don’t realize, though, is that there are some big differences between espresso beans and regular coffee beans.  

 Some people use coffee beans in an espresso maker, and others use espresso beans in a traditional drip coffee brewer, and then there are some people who feel that using the wrong type of beans is sacrilegious to the world of coffee.  

To find out which beans you should be using and why, check out this complete comparison guide on espresso beans vs. coffee beans.  

roasted coffee

Documented history suggests that coffee has been around since 850 CE (at least), but the word coffee didn’t appear until the mid-1500s. No matter when and where it all started, coffee has become a fixture in many cultures and regions, especially in Europe, the Americas, and Asia.  

Coffee beans refer to any bean that has been roasted and is ready for brewing. There are four roast categories to choose from, including light, medium, medium-dark, and dark (although many people aren't familiar with the medium-dark roast). The flavor of coffee beans has a lot to do with the region they’re from.  

holding coffee beans

For example, coffee beans from Colombia can taste completely different from Sumatran beans. But for now, let’s focus on the different roast styles. Light roast vs dark roast vs medium roast coffee beans can affect a lot about the beverage you're about to drink, from color and taste to acidity and bitterness.  

Here’s a quick breakdown of the different coffee bean roast categories: 

  • Light Roasted
    As the name suggests, light roasted beans have been roasted lightly. This means they don’t have an oily sheen and have low bitterness with high acidity. They’re ideal for brew styles that don’t utilize pressure, such as pour-over or drip. 
pouring coffee
  • Medium Roasted
    Beans that have been medium roasted have low bitterness, medium to high acidity, and have a full-bodied flavor profile with a strong aftertaste. They’re great for making cold brew or French press coffee. 
  • Dark Roasted
    Dark roasted beans are a lot more bitter than the previous two, and they have a lower acidity. The taste is more smoky and robust, and they’re ideal for brewing methods that utilize pressure, such as Aeropress machines. 

Espresso Beans (Overview + Origins) 

ground coffee vs beans

Espresso originated in Italy, and it has been around since the late 1800s. Since it originated, espresso has become a common fixture in the world of coffee, and it’s loved for its full-bodied, rich flavor.  

Typically, espresso beans fall in the dark roast category, mainly because dark-roasted beans have lower acidity and a richer flavor profile. Plus, dark roast beans have a high natural oil content, which is ideal for creating espresso crema (that thick, creamy layer on top of an espresso shot).  

Another important thing to note about espresso beans is that they’re made to withstand the high-pressure brewing method of espresso machines. Espresso machines utilize pressure - between 9 and 15 bar - to create the perfect espresso brew, and not all beans are capable of holding up to this high-pressure brewing.  


Espresso Beans Vs Coffee Beans (Key Differences Explained) 

Before you assume that all coffee beans are the same, check out these key differences between espresso beans vs. coffee beans:  

Caffeine Content

One of the biggest coffee-related misconceptions has to do with espresso beans vs. coffee beans caffeine content. Many people assume that espresso contains more caffeine than brewed coffee, but this isn't actually the case. While the average shot of espresso has about 60mg of caffeine, a strongly-brewed cup of 12-ounce coffee can contain as much as 180mg caffeine. 

Natural Oil Richness

Ideally, espresso beans have an oily sheen that helps to produce the crema on the top layer of the drink. Ordinary coffee beans, on the other hand, aren’t as high in natural oils, and this is generally because they’re light or medium roasted. 

Size & Density

Because espresso beans are best when dark roasted, they are generally larger in size, but also less dense. This has to do with the evaporation that happens during the roasting process; roasting beans forces them to lose more water, which actually makes them larger in size since the bean fibers become enlarged after the water has been evaporated. 

Taste & Flavor

The flavor profile of espresso is often described as "bold, robust, and strong." Regular coffee beans are generally less intense, and this has a lot to do with the roasting technique. The darker roast of espresso beans creates those rich flavors, and it also creates the smooth consistency that espresso is notorious for. 

Concentration

Regular coffee beans are best when they have a balanced concentration of bitterness. Espresso beans, however, should have a higher concentration of bitterness in order to create a thicker, stronger, richer brew. 

Grinding

The grind quality you choose ultimately depends on the brew style you’re about to enjoy, but it also has to do with personal preference. In general, the ideal grind for espresso beans is ultra-fine to better handle the fast, pressurized brewing method. Other coffee brewing methods might be better suited to a coarser grind, especially for styles like French press. 

coffee maker grinder

Can Regular Coffee Beans Be Used For Espresso?  

Technically, yes, espresso can be made with any type of coffee bean, but certain beans are definitely more suited to making quality espresso than others. Espresso beans are actually just normal coffee beans, but they have been cultivated and roasted specifically to be better for making espresso. 

The main thing to look for in your espresso beans is a dark roast, which is higher in bitterness and lower in acidity. Darker roast beans tend to taste more consistent when used to make espresso, and they also create that bolder, more robust flavor that espresso drinkers love.  


People Also Ask (FAQs)

How many shots of espresso equals a cup of coffee? 

In terms of caffeine content, Consumer Reports says that “a shot of espresso has 75 mg of caffeine and an 8-ounce cup of its Pike Place medium-roast coffee has 155 mg.” That means as long as you stick to 1 shot of espresso, the caffeine content is less in espresso than it is in strong-brewed coffee.  

What kind of espresso beans does Starbucks use? 

The Starbucks espresso roast is a dark roast, 100% Arabica beans.

According to Starbucks,

“this espresso has a rich and caramelly sweetness and is at the heart of our handcrafted latte.” 

What grind is best for espresso? 

Grind has a lot to do with the quality of your espresso. The beans you're using to make espresso should be finely ground to a consistency that's slightly more fine than table salt.  


Conclusion

While there’s no official rule of thumb when it comes to coffee beans, the beans you use do matter. 

The main takeaway from this comparison guide between espresso vs. coffee beans is that there is a difference between espresso beans and coffee beans. Espresso beans are best when dark roasted with a high bitterness, lower acidity, and more robust flavor profile.  

The coffee beans used styles like pour over, drip, French press, Aeropress, and pod-style machines are typically best when light or medium roasted, but dark roasted can also be used if you prefer bold brews. Lightly roasted beans are ideal for no-pressure brewing, like pour over and drip, while medium roasted beans are versatile and can be used for many different brewing types.