What is the difference between coffee beans and espresso beans? If you go to your local grocery store you’ll see both espresso beans and coffee beans and you probably don’t give it much thought – you just buy the right beans for the right method. I know I do. But on every occasion that I’ve bought roasted beans from a coffee shop or roaster, the roaster recommended the appropriate beans for the various brewing methods without referring to “espresso beans” per se. I don’t know why it didn’t occur to me to ask about the difference until now…
After a bit of internet sleuthing, it seemed like a lot of people were in agreement that espresso beans and coffee beans were the exact same thing, but that the brewing methods were different (which obviously, they are, as is the coarseness of the grind). After a bit more digging, though, I found out that while the beans are the same, the roasting method for the two is different, which means there’s more to it than the brewing method. Therefore, even though you could use beans marked “espresso beans” for coffee and vice versa, the result will not be what you’ll desire.
How Stuff Works provided the best explanation:
“Beans designated for espresso are roasted longer than regular coffee beans, so that the oils are brought to the surface of the bean. The selection of the best type of bean is open to debate, although Arabica beans are credited with providing the most balanced compromise between flavor, acidity and bitterness. Robusta beans, although attributed to being a lower quality bean, provide more crema (the reddish-golden creamy foam floating on the top of a perfect espresso), and make an excellent augmentation to Arabica beans.
Without crema, espresso is nothing but thick, strong coffee. The crema also slows the dispersion of the volatile oils into the air after brewing, contributing to the distinctive aroma of espresso.”
So there you have it! Unless you know some details about the beans you’re buying, it’s probably best to stick to using “espresso beans” for espresso and “coffee beans” for coffee.