Once you graduate to true coffeedom, you’re going to be finicky about which coffee beans and roasts you use, since you’ll get the hang of noticing the subtle flavor notes and begin to enjoy them more and more.
So when you’re picking out beans, it’s no surprise that there are special beans for espresso and special beans for coffee.
Well, it’s not so much the bean as it is the roast, but that’s a little tidbit of knowledge you can utilize once you graduate to the final stage of coffeedom – roasting your own beans at home!
How are coffee beans roasted?
If you’ve ever tried a variety of roasts for your coffee, you’ll know how much of a difference there is between a light roast and a dark roast.
As you’re most certainly aware, coffee beans don’t look the way they do in the bag off of the tree. The classic brown, hard bean we’ve come to know and love is actually the roasted bean.
The process starts with the cherries of the coffee plant, which are the green coffee beans you can sometimes find at the store.
The cherries are roasted with varying intensities and for varying times to get a desired roast.
It’s important to roast the cherries because if you tried to grind the cherries and throw them in boiling water you’d end up with a very strange and weird beverage indeed!
Roasting helps to bring out the oils and flavor in the coffee cherries, which we then capture in water during the brewing process.
During the roasting process, the beans are exposed to high levels of heat, and the amount of time you let them roast determines if your roast will be:
Light roasts have the most caffeine and the most distinguishable flavor.
Medium roasts have a balanced flavor and more intensity, and are medium on the caffeine scale.
Dark roasts have intense, bitter flavor and have the least caffeine as most of it has burned off in the roasting process
How is espresso prepared?
Espresso is typically consumed as a small shot, no more than 1 to 2 ounces, and very intense and full of flavor, with a slightly bitter taste.
Usually, to enjoy straight up espresso, you need to develop the taste, otherwise you may find it too intense and prefer instead to have a shot of espresso with foamed milk(as a latte, macchiato, or cappuccino).
Espresso is brewed very fast, typically in less than 40 seconds. The very strong flavor is achieved by forcing steam at very high pressure through a compressed puck of coffee.
The compression of the grounds is so important that there is a special word and technique for it called tamping.
The grounds must be very fine, too, in order to increase the surface area enough that as much flavor is extracted as possible.
The difference between espresso beans and coffee beans
So all of that introductory know-how brings us to the actual question. What is the difference between espresso beans and coffee beans?
Coffee beans can be any beans, roasted to any degree. You can enjoy drip coffee or french press with a light roast, medium roast, or dark roast, whatever you wish.
Whatever roast you choose will determine the flavor: from distinct notes in light roasts, balanced flavors in medium roasts, and intensity and slight bitterness in dark roasts.
For espressos, darker(not necessarily darkest) roasts are preferred, because the prolonged roasting brings out the oils in the coffee.
This is why dark roasted beans have an oily shine to them.
If you have not had a chance to notice this before, please go ahead and make a note of it next time you see some coffee beans!
Espresso beans are generally roasted to the darker side, as the oils bring out a really rich crema during extraction.
If you use a lighter roast, you won’t get any crema and you’ll actually end up with a really flavorless shot.
Medium roasts will be slightly better, and the darker roasts will produce the best espresso.
I must point out here that while there is such a thing as an authentic espresso, if you feel that the darker roasts are too intense for you, there is nothing wrong with enjoying a lighter or medium roast.
The beauty of coffee is that there are so many variables and so many ways to make it your own, so don’t get too bogged down by what should be.
The last difference between espresso beans and coffee beans is the fineness of the grind. Unlike the roast which I mentioned above, the grinds are something you can’t compromise on. You absolutely MUST use a very fine grind for espresso, otherwise your coffee just won’t brew correctly.
To grind properly, you’ll need a good burr grinder.
The fine grind greatly increases the surface area of the coffee, allowing more water molecules to interact with it. It also helps release more of the flavor and oil from the coffee than a coarser grind would.
There you have it – the difference between coffee beans and espresso beans summed up. It’s safe to say that all beans can make good coffee but only a few kinds of beans can make good espresso.
To really get the most out of espresso, I’d suggest checking out our post on how to enjoy black coffee.
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Last update on 2019-05-24 / Affiliate links / Images from Amazon Product Advertising API