Espresso Beans vs. Coffee Beans – What’s the Difference?

When it comes to the old espresso beans vs. coffee beans debate, the thought process usually starts with this question: “which one is going to give me a better taste?”

Whether you’re a true coffee aficionado or you’re simply looking to explore the different variants of caffeine-filled beans, you’ve likely wondered at some point what the true distinction is between the humble coffee bean and the bold espresso bean.
While we do enjoy a great cup of coffee for the caffeine it gives us, we drink coffee primarily to enjoy the experience. There’s little better than that smooth sip with just the right amount of bitterness to it. If you’re even considering the difference between coffee and espresso really, it’s likely that you’ve already spurned the overly sugared coffee drinks found in many popular stores.

Our Suggestion: 
Hawaiian Espresso

Hawaiian Espresso

Hawaiian coffee is considered by some to be the best coffee there is, and the skillful masters at Koa Coffee Company made an excellent espresso blend for you to indulge in this goodness.

And while you're there, be sure to check out some of the other excellent coffee beans from Koa Coffee as well.

You’re a purist. And that’s a good thing. Exploring the differences will hopefully help you make a better decision on which bean is best suited to your taste.

Does the Bean Matter?

Even if you already know the answer, you have likely asked that question yourself at least once. There are other relevant and typical questions that surround the espresso bean as well: What is an espresso? How does it differ from a regular coffee? Why is there so much cultural intrigue surrounding it? Why does it need to be prepared so differently?

For starter, do know this: espresso beans ARE coffee beans. There is no difference in the beans at all. That’s right, the difference between coffee and espresso is much simpler than you may have imagined. Now that you mind is effectively blown, let’s move on to the details.

When your average coffee bean is plucked from the fruit of the tree, it goes through a rather time-honored preparation process. There are many different types of coffee beans, and these beans exist all over the world. However, their main difference is in the oils and the acidity that exists within each variety’s beans. This is where the flavors of each bean come from. Once the bean is harvested, it immediately undergoes a multi-step process that takes it from the fruit of the tree to your hot, steaming cup of coffee.

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Step 1: Processing the Cherry

The “cherry” as the coffee bean fruit is called, looks just like its namesake. The bright red fruit, however, is not the star of the show. The true focus is on the bean that is inside of it. The fruit is either sun-dried through the traditional method and in areas where water is more scarce, or with a water method that immerses the cherry in water, helping to remove the pulp and outer layers. Both methods focus on ensuring that the quality of the bean inside of the fruit is left intact and that the essential oils within the bean are kept from spoiling. Beans that have undergone the wet method have an extra drying step.

Step 2: Going to the Mill

Beans that have been initially processed will still have a husk around the bean. The milling process removes this husk, producing what looks like your more typical coffee bean, However, after this step, you may not recognize them. That is because a coffee bean is not always brown or black. It starts as a green seed. Although dried, it is fresh from the plant, and not ready for grinding and made into coffee or espresso. After the beans are graded, sorted and shipped to their various locations around the globe, the true process begins: the roasting.

Step 3: Preparing to Roast

The roasting process is where we separate the typical coffee bean from the espresso bean. It is in this phase that the espresso bean finally takes shape. Earlier, we stated that espresso beans are coffee beans were the same thing. That is true. The key difference between the two is the roast. A typical coffee bean will be roasted anywhere from a light to a dark roast. The reason for this roasting rests in what it does to the bean.As coffee is roasted, the chemical makeup of the beans change. The longer and darker the beans are roasted, the more they changes.

This roasting process heavily influences all aspects of the beans’ flavor profile. In general, there are six different roasts for a coffee bean: light, medium light, medium, medium dark, dark and very dark. Most coffee beans start with high levels of acidity. The primary acid, chlorogenic acid, is actually a fairly healthy compound with high antioxidant properties. As the beans roast, this acid begins to break down, splitting into several different materials.

Other changes that occur to the beans as the roasting continues include those to the coffee’s body (or “mouth feel” of the brew), varietal character, sweetness and aroma. Typically, the longer and darker the roast is on a coffee bean, the more each of these characteristics will go down. However, the medium to medium-dark roast tends to be the sweet spot for almost all coffee bean characteristics, save for a few different bean varieties.

What is an Espresso?

Now that you know what a typical coffee bean is and where it comes from, you’re likely still wondering, “where do we get espresso?” or even more simply, “what is an espresso?” As far as the argument on espresso vs. coffee beans goes, generally speaking, espresso is not a bean, but a process. It is how the coffee beans are prepared to get a certain type of liquid out of them. We’re sure you’ve gone into your local coffee shop, asked for an espresso, and heard them churning away at a machine with loud, frothy noises. This is because of the way that espresso is created.

The only key, important factor with espresso is that it utilizes finely ground coffee beans. This is extremely important to the preparation process. This finely ground coffee is brewed with intensely hot water under very high pressure. As a result, the liquid that exudes from the mixture becomes what is known as a colloidal liquid. A colloid is a substance in which one insoluble liquid is suspended inside of another. The high heat and pressure that occurs during the creation of an espresso forces the oils to emulsify inside the water, creating a thicker, syrupy, highly concentrated substance. Once this is poured into a waiting cup, an espresso is born!

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Difference Between Espresso and Coffee

Beyond the creation process and the consistency, there is a real difference between espresso and coffee is all in the chemical composition of what’s sitting in your cup. For starters, let’s do away with the common myth: espresso does not contain more caffeine. In fact, per ounce, espresso contains less caffeine than coffee. The espresso vs. coffee beans argument tends to emphasize this caffeine disparity. The only reason why it is perceived to be more caffeinated is due to the much higher concentration. Have you ever seen straight, untampered with espresso served in a typically-sized coffee mug? Unlikely. And you never will. It would be the equivalent of drinking a glass of chocolate syrup as opposed to a glass of chocolate milk. Yes, many individuals drink espresso by itself (in a smaller espresso glass), but the concentration is often more bitter than what suits the tastes of your average coffee drinker. Espresso primarily serves as a base compound for other drinks, such as lattes, cappuccinos, and macchiatos.

Coffee is typically brewed with a much coarser grind. The water will drip through the coffee grounds much in the same way water goes through a charcoal filter for purification. However, the filter is not meant to catch impurities, but to keep whatever the water picks up. As the hot water drips through the ground coffee, it picks up the caffeol (the coffee oils) from the ground beans, and eventually lands directly into your cup. Because the water is not too hot and not under pressure, the oils do not emulsify as they do in an espresso machine. This means that the oils are mixed with the water, allowing for a smooth and even taste. The darker the roast of the beans, the more oil those beans produce. Indeed, darker roast coffees have less caffeine than their lighter roasted counterparts, as the roasting process actually breaks down the caffeine in the process.

Espresso Beans vs. Coffee Beans

If you hear the argument raging over espresso beans vs. coffee beans, you’re now in a great place to enter in full of knowledge. Make sure to tell everyone you know the truth: there is no such thing as an “espresso bean”. It’s all in the preparation! If you’re looking for a great cup of espresso, grab a bag of your favorite espresso beans, buy a great espresso grinder and purchase an excellent espresso machine. You’ll be enjoying a highly concentrated cup of espresso before you know it! You can even mix that espresso into flavorful lattes, cappuccinos, and macchiatos, all from the comfort of your own home. Indeed, brewing your own espresso at home will help you solve the problems you may have encountered when ordered an espresso from your local coffee shops.

Because most coffee shops tend to only use dark or very dark roast coffees, their espressos tend to be more bitter and less flavorful. If you’re not a fan of the darker roasts, it’s because with a darker roast coffee beans lost the distinctive flavors of the coffee bean variety, taking on more of the flavor of the roasting process instead. For a cup of coffee you’re more likely to enjoy, a great grinder and fresh roasted coffee is the always the way to go. Meanwhile, it’s best to ignore the espresso bean vs. coffee bean argument. Instead, just enjoy a delicious cup of fresh home brew!

Our Suggestion: 
Hawaiian Espresso

Hawaiian Espresso