Is there really any difference between espresso and coffee beans?
Many people who are new to the world of espresso wonder if they can use any old coffee bean.
A good answer to that question will be a little more complicated than a simple “yes” or “no”, so the following article will take you through the differences between types of beans and which are appropriate for which kinds of machine.
What is espresso coffee?
When you find beans that are labeled for espresso, this does not mean that there is a separate type of coffee bean meant just for espresso.
The differences between coffees is much more so about the brew method, or the method of extracting the flavor from the bean, than it is about the bean that is used.
The beans that are labeled as being meant for espresso machines then, are those that tend to complement the extraction method of espresso coffee makers.
Espresso machines tend to produce richer and more intense flavors than drip machines, so the kinds of beans that are ideal for espresso machines are those that are best suited to bringing out superior flavors for high quality espressos.
The beans that tend to work better with drip machines are those that have less intense flavors. Fruity roasts, for example, tend to go better with drip machines than more intense flavors like chocolate, which are much better suited to espresso machines.
So the reason why some coffees are marketed as “espresso beans” are not actually a special type of coffee bean, they are just have beans that have a flavor profile better suited to the high-pressure extraction method of espresso makers.
Why label as a special bean then?
Roasters simply want to help customers who don’t have a good understanding of beans and how to extract their flavors to match the right beans to the right machine.
For example, if the beans labeled as “espresso” were just called “dark roast”, people might use the for a drip machine which would not have enough pressure to get all the rich flavors out of them.
In this case the roaster’s very rich and tasty beans end up tasting bland in a drip machine and customers just don’t like the beans or even the roaster.
This does not mean that, for those who do have some more know-how about beans and flavor extraction, that there isn’t still room for some experimentation.
By all means if you are a more serious coffee person ignore the recommendations of the roaster and experiment with different extraction methods on your own. However for those who don’t really know much about coffee beans it is better to simply follow the roaster’s recommendations.
And how about automatic coffee machines?
So how do automatic coffee machines (otherwise known as superautos) fit into this picture? Likely the most important thing to think about is the amount of oil on the surface of the bean, because oily beans tend to clog grinders up more quickly.
To avoid oily beans, stay away from darker roasts. In general however superautos work very well with any coffee that is best suited for espresso machines, along with many other blends too!
What superauto machines do not do well is bring out any delicate or light hints a brew might normally have when brewed with a semi-auto or manual machine, since superautos are simply not as precise.
Accordingly roasts with more straightforward or direct flavors may be better suited to automatic coffee machines.
However, it is unlikely that any bean is going to turn into a total disaster with a superauto machine; your coffee will taste just fine, though it may lack some of the finer edges you might detect if brewed in a manual espresso maker.
We hope that this will answer many of the questions that people generally have about drip vs espresso machines.
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