When you’re standing in the coffee aisle of your favorite grocery store trying to choose between the bounty of delectable-sounding offerings, you will likely notice some coffee roasts labeled as “coffee” while others are labeled as “espresso.”
But espresso IS just coffee, right? So, what’s the sitch with the weird labeling?
Is there a difference between coffee and espresso beans or isn’t there?
And, if there isn’t, why are companies selling “espresso beans” like they’re their own unique thing?
Spoiler alert: No, there is not a difference between espresso beans and coffee beans.
Coffee Beans vs Espresso Beans
The truth is coffee beans and espresso beans are one and the same.
But coffee beans do require some specific preparation in order to result in a good espresso roast.
Let’s start with the fact that not all coffee beans are created alike.
Coffee beans come in a variety of roasts – light, medium, dark – which change the flavor of the coffee when brewed.
Not all of these roasts make for good espresso.
Coffee Beans vs Espresso Beans Roast
Lightly roasted coffees are cooked the least and retain more of their original properties than darker roasted coffees.
This means they have a more similar flavor profile to the original bean, more caffeine, and a more acidic taste.
While, for some brew lovers, this fidelity to the original taste of the bean is what makes light roasts so appealing (along with that extra jolt of caffeine), light roasts aren’t typically considered the best for espresso.
Since they do hold more flavor (and more acidic) notes than darker roast coffees, light roasts can produce a very piquant, very acidic espresso with almost too much mouth pop for a pleasant drink.
Of course, this isn’t always the case.
Starbucks’ Blonde Roast is a fine example of a light roast coffee specifically crafted to make smooth and tasty espresso.
Still, most espresso served in coffee shops and most roasts sold under the label “espresso,” either in ground or bean form, are medium-dark to dark roasts.
Espresso Beans on Store Shelves
So, if there is no difference between espresso and coffee beans, why do companies sell both?
Most likely, to make it easier for consumers.
By labeling some coffee beans “espresso,” companies are telling buyers which of their roasts they believe will make the best espresso.
If you look more closely at the labels, you will see these “espresso” roasts almost always have the same characteristics.
They are dark, they have deeper flavor profiles like nuts or chocolate, and, if ground, they will be a much finer ground than the roasts the same companies sell as coffee.
So, while there is no real difference between coffee beans and espresso beans, it is generally accepted that some coffee beans make better espresso than others.
And, if you buy your coffee already ground, you can trust roasts sold as “espresso” will be much more finely-ground than roasts sold as “coffee.”
When it comes down to it, though, you can try any coffee you like in your espresso maker as explained in our article “Can You Use Regular Coffee For Espresso?”