What’s the Difference Between Coffee Beans and Espresso Beans?

Last Updated on May 15, 2023 by Barry Gray

If you thought all coffee beans were the same, then you are wrong. I know I was guilty of making that mistake years ago as a kid. After all, it seems to produce the same type of drink, so surely it’s all from the same source? Well, that’s not entirely true, and it’s something I will focus on over the next few minutes. In particular, is there a difference between coffee beans and espresso beans?

Espresso beans are coffee beans roasted and explicitly prepared for producing espresso. They are only used to produce an espresso, whereas coffee beans can be used for any coffee-brewing process. 

But I admit that’s just a basic explanation of what’s going on with espresso beans and coffee beans. So, I need to delve deeper into the two different beans, the roasting process, and also how to then correctly use the coffee beans to get the best coffee out there.

What are Coffee Beans?

coffee beans

I think the best approach is to describe what we mean when talking about both coffee beans and espresso beans. So, I will start with your general coffee bean.

I admit that the term “coffee bean” is a sort of catch-all term for any bean from the coffee plant that is then roasted in order to produce a coffee drink. I know that then becomes even more confusing when talking about espresso because surely it involves using coffee beans as well?

Also, a coffee bean covers all the different types of coffee beans, from Arabica to Robusta, Excelsa, and Liberica. It also covers the different roasts available from light through medium to dark.

So, I think I can safely state that “coffee beans” is an all-encompassing term covering every eventuality you can imagine. However, that’s not the same when talking about espresso beans.

What are Espresso Beans?

I need to start by stating how espresso beans are clearly coffee beans. Still, the term is far more specific rather than the coffee bean term that covers every type of coffee you can think about. 

This time, the term focuses on coffee beans that have been prepared solely for the purpose of producing espresso. You may not even be aware that this involves the use of a specific roast to get the desired taste and flavor you associate with espresso, so not every type of coffee bean will prove suitable.

But I know espresso is more of a specialized coffee to produce, and it’s thanks to the way espresso is delivered.

Can Any Coffee Bean Become an Espresso Bean?

costa coffee espresso

This is a good question, and it also helps highlight the way espresso is such a refined art.

Technically, any bean that is dark-roasted could be used to produce espresso. Still, many espresso lovers feel that the Robusta bean is the best variety for a high-quality espresso.

I think this is because the Robusta bean does come with a higher caffeine content than other beans. That means your espresso comes with a bit more of a punch than most would expect.

But here’s another important point. 

Robusta beans have the ability to produce a significantly better crema with your espresso. For those that don’t know what the crema is, it’s the sort of frothy layer that appears on top of your espresso. It has a tendency to add some extra bitterness to the coffee, so if that’s missing from your espresso, then I do feel you miss out. 

How to Produce Espresso

The only way you can manage to produce a quality espresso is by ensuring you use high temperatures and a lot of pressure. This method forces the maximum flavor and aroma out of the beans leading to an espresso that is packed full of everything you want.

I also need to point out that the term “espresso” actually refers to a type of brewing rather than anything else. But the brewing process is so precise that coffee lovers experiment to discover the perfect coffee beans to then produce some fantastic coffee.

These espresso beans must come in a finer grind than you get with other drinks. Again, this helps your espresso machine to brew up stunning coffee as the flavor and oil are easier to extract thanks to the fine grind.

Plus, an espresso machine is different from a regular coffee machine. It needs to have the capability of producing a lot of pressure, at least 9 bars of pressure, and higher temperatures than you need with a regular coffee. If you fail to use the correct pressure or temperature, then don’t be surprised if your espresso is lacking in flavor and generally weak.

The Main Difference Between Coffee Beans and Espresso Beans

coffee machine for espresso

What is evident to me is that the main difference between coffee beans and espresso beans is focused on the way in which they are both prepared.

To get quality espresso, the beans should be dark roasted, while that’s not always the case with regular coffee beans. This is because different types of drinks require other things from the coffee bean to get the desired taste. 

The Key to a Good Espresso

To get a good espresso, the beans must be dark roasted. Nothing else will even be capable of getting close to offering you a quality espresso. 

But here’s a key point. The idea of using dark roasted beans is all to do with the flavor you then get with your coffee. Dark roasted beans have more oil, and that leads to a smoother taste and texture when drinking your espresso.

I’ve no doubt this adds to the flavor and overall taste experience. Also, it has to come from a dark roast because the roasting process helps break down the bean’s outer structure. This, in turn, allows for the oil deep inside the coffee bean to come out, resulting in that smoother taste.

But that’s not all.

Why Dark Roast is Better for Espresso

The degree to which a coffee bean is roasted will have an impact on the type of brewing method that should be used to then make coffee. 

Take a light roast. Lightly roasted coffee beans are then best for brewing with low pressure and over an extended period. That is the complete opposite of what you need to do when wishing to produce espresso.

Of course, that does mean the opposite is true with a dark roast. Instead, dark roast works better for coffee brewed under high pressure, higher temperatures, and over a shorter period. 

That’s the ideal solution for espresso, where it’s all about the temperature and pressure fired through the grind to get that full burst of flavor and aroma. 

Also, the longer roasting time means the beans become far more porous, allowing you to get the maximum flavor from the beans in the shortest period possible. You just would not get the same result if you used a lighter roast coffee bean that has not been specially created for an espresso. 

What Happens if You Use Light Roasted Coffee Beans in an Espresso?

Let’s say you want an espresso and yet only have light roasted coffee beans at home; what do you do? Well, the obvious answer is to go ahead and buy some dark roasted espresso coffee beans rather than trying to struggle along with lightly roasted ones. That would be the sensible approach.

But what if that’s not the case? What would the outcome be if you used lightly roasted coffee beans?

You would clearly still get some coffee at the end, but it’s a stretch of the imagination to refer to it as an espresso. 

The most significant difference would be in both the flavor and texture. Actually, I’ve tried making espresso with light roasted coffee beans, and it was not the best experience I’ve ever had in my life.

To me, the flavor is lacking compared to a regular espresso. There’s not the same intensity you come to expect from an espresso, and those are two key areas that should be automatically associated with espresso.

This is not something I would suggest you ever do. Also, the crema will likely be missing, and that’s a key component of any espresso. Without the crema, you almost have just a regular black coffee.

Can You Use Espresso Beans for Other Coffee?

empty coffee cup

Most people will only ever use espresso beans in order to produce espresso, and I understand why that’s the case. However, you can technically use espresso beans to make other coffee, but that comes with a caveat.

The problem is your coffee will always come across as being more bitter to the taste, and that’s not something that everybody wants in their coffee. Also, your coffee will hardly be subtle in its taste either. Instead, the flavor may be overwhelming, so you must consider that to determine if it fits in with how you love to experience your coffee. 

Really, while it would work, I would never recommend doing this as it’s too easy for you to screw up your coffee. 

My Recap Comparing Coffee Beans and Espresso Beans

I worry that people may have just realized that coffee beans are way more complex than they were aware of, so let me clear a few things up.

  • Coffee beans can be of any roast and any type of bean
  • Espresso beans refer to dark roast, and often Robusta beans
  • You could use any coffee bean to make espresso, but not the other way around
  • Espresso beans are designed for high-pressure and high-temperature brewing
  • Espresso beans contain more oil and bitterness
  • The intensity of flavor with espresso beans stands out
  • Making regular coffee with espresso beans leads to a bitter coffee
  • Coffee beans will not produce the crema with espresso

I see this as a sign of the importance of using the correct ingredients to get the proper coffee at the end of it all. If you love your espresso, then I would suggest focusing on those specific beans to ensure you are happy with the final result. 

To Conclude

You can use coffee beans to produce espresso. Still, you should never really use espresso beans to make anything other than espresso. I know it sounds like a subtle difference, but it’s an important one to keep in mind.