Setting out to purchase good coffee beans is not going to be as simple as any other retail therapy. There are some amazing roasters and brands out there, but you have a lot to consider even within those brands. What roast do you want? Do you need it ground or will you grind it for yourself? How will you grind it? Are you getting espresso beans or coffee beans? That is the question we will focus on today.
The biggest differences between espresso beans and coffee beans may be different than what you expected, because they really are not extremely drastic. It only takes a few small changes to make them what we recognize them to be.
How the Beans are Roasted
These beans are typically roasted longer, much like dark roasts are. This is visible when you look at a bag of espresso beans, but that does not mean that it is against the natural laws of coffee to use a medium or light roast for espresso. Being that espresso can easily become more sour or bitter during extraction, the best espresso beans will have notes to counteract those harsher flavors. A robusta bean is commonly used for espresso beans because it creates a better crema, but that is not essential.
From light to dark, there is not much to limit what roasts it takes to be considered coffee rather than espresso. We recommend grabbing a medium roast when making a cold brew, and a dark roast can taste great with a french press.
Here’s a surprise for you: Much like how people are surprised that light roast coffee has a higher caffeine content than dark roast, espresso is deceiving in its caffeine content. Espresso is going to have 120 – 170 milligrams of caffeine, while a small cup of coffee has 150 – 200 milligrams of caffeine. That means drip coffee has more caffeine than espresso!
The grind size is crucial to the flavor of the coffee because the grind is what helps properly extract the coffee—which is a big part of the flavor! This can be anywhere from fine to coarse.
Ground up beans intended for espresso are going to look similar to granulated sugar or table salt, which means they are definitely on the finer side. This is going to allow for more flavor to be extracted from the coffee within the short brew time.
Similar to the roast, coffee is not limited by how it is ground. The right grind setting correlates with what brewing technique you are using, which we will go more in to later.
How the Beans are Prepared
By prepared, we mean brewed. You should have gathered by this point that beans can be espresso or coffee beans if you really want them to be. Quite possibly the most important difference between espresso beans and coffee beans, what really makes them one or the other, is how they are prepared.
It takes 9 bars of pressure to make an espresso, which is a lot more than it takes for regular coffee. That pressure plays a huge part in bringing out the flavor from the finely ground beans. The following is a common way to prepare a shot of espresso:
- Tear out the portafilter for your espresso machine, then weigh out 20 grams of ground coffee in the portafilter. This dose varies by preference.
- Tamp the espresso in the portafilter. This creates an even layer in order to have an even extraction.
- Bring out your espresso machine, then place the portafilter in its proper spot. Have a scale underneath the espresso cup that should be set under where the portafilter lets out the shot.
- Now pressurized, almost-boiling water goes through the coffee as the espresso shot begins to come out of the other side of the port filter in to the small cup.
- Ideally, the weight will be over 27 grams and it should take between 25 and 35 seconds. Each barista should do a test shot to see how the shot is pulling on that day, because a number of characteristics will change how the shot comes out.
One should also look for visual characteristics for a shot, such as a nice crema with the perfect tiger stripes. Read more about the road to a perfect espresso here.
Coffee is easier to make than espresso, depending on who you talk to. Brewing it all comes down to what machinery you are using:
Each of those techniques has a suggestion for a roast type, but overall is not going to require a very particular bean. Other than those options, a drip coffee machine is going to provide you with a great cup of coffee.