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Coffee vs Espresso Beans: The Real Difference Explained

black coffee in glass cup with coffee beans on wooden table

There is a world of difference between a robust shot of espresso and a smooth cup of brewed coffee. But you may be surprised to learn that they can be made with the same coffee beans. There’s a common misconception that espresso comes from a specific type of bean. Espresso is different because of the grind size and brewing method, not the bean.

Both espresso and coffee can be made with any type of coffee bean, though some varieties and roast levels work better for each. Keep reading to learn all about the best beans for making espresso and brewing coffee.

The Short Answer
You can make espresso and coffee out of the same beans — there isn’t a real difference between espresso and coffee beans. But you may want to stick with dark roast beans for a classic espresso flavor.

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What are the best beans for espresso?

To make espresso, you’re going to need finely ground coffee beans, hot water, and pressure. The fine grind is necessary because the water comes through very quickly and at high pressure. If you used a coarser grind, you’d end up with under-extracted, weak coffee.

RELATED READ: The Ultimate Coffee Grind Size Chart

Blends work especially well for espresso because of their added complexity. Though any roast level will work, most coffee shops use dark roast beans to make espresso. This is because these beans produce the robust, slightly bitter flavor you expect. But if you’re making espresso at home, feel free to experiment with your favorite beans!

a cup of coffee and coffee beans
Image Credit; Andrija Petrovic, Shutterstock

What about coffee?

As you might expect, you can brew coffee with any type of coffee beans. Of course, different brewing methods and bean varieties will produce different flavors.

There are two major types of coffee beans: Arabica and Robusta. Arabica beans are considered to be of the highest quality, offering sweeter, less bitter flavors. Robusta beans are somewhat bitter but also easier to grow, less expensive, and have a higher caffeine content. You’ll get the best flavor out of 100% Arabica beans, but blends that include Robusta can be economical and still tasty.

If you’re looking to experiment, buy single-origin beans. These beans come from a single country, region, or even farm, and will produce distinctive, interesting flavors. They’re also typically more expensive and may be less balanced.

If you’d prefer a traditional, rounded coffee or are on a strict budget, look for a high-quality blend. The best coffee blends combine full-bodied and slightly sweet beans from Brazil, Mexico, or Peru with bright, lightly acidic beans from Guatemala, Costa Rica, or Colombia. Roasters might also add complexity and brightness with Ethiopian, Kenyan, or Sumatran beans.

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Espresso vs Coffee Beans: The Bottom Line

You don’t need a specific bean, roast, or blend to make espresso or coffee – it’s all in the grind. However, some beans will produce a better result than others. For espresso, a complex blend of dark roast Arabica beans will produce a bold, balanced shot. For coffee, the most inexpensive blends may include Robusta beans, but the best flavor comes from high-quality Arabica beans. Experiment with a single-origin coffee, savor a balanced blend, and don’t forget to try different brewing methods!

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Featured Image Credit: limpido, Shutterstock


Kate MacDonnell

Kate is a lifelong coffee enthusiast and homebrewer who enjoys writing for coffee websites and sampling every kind of coffee known to man. She’s tried unusual coffees from all over the world and owns an unhealthy amount of coffee gear.

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