Updated: July 19, 2022 by Owen Richardson
So, you’ve run out of espresso beans, but now you are wondering if you can use regular coffee beans for espresso.
The options are overwhelming and you don’t want to mess it up. We are going to get to the bottom of it today.
Let’s dig into espresso beans, and what makes them great for making espresso, and what other beans you can use instead.
The Inside Scoop on Espresso
If you have been buying your espresso from a local coffee shop, you might have seen your barista make your shot. Espresso is made slightly differently from a typical cup of drip coffee. Espresso is made in approximately 30 seconds and is created by extremely hot water being pushed through the coffee grounds with high pressured steam. This pressure creates a foam on the top of the espresso called “crema.” This is due to air bubbles combining with the oils that are pulled from the grounds.
Espresso is also served differently compared to regular drip coffee or specialty coffees. Espresso is served in shots, so if you are drinking espresso alone it will be served in a very small cup. You can mix espresso with milk, water, and creamer to tone down the strength of the drink and add other flavors and textures, though, and this will make it a larger beverage.
How Espresso Is Made
Espresso is made very differently from drip coffee and does require some precision. The proper amount of coffee needs to be measured for the size of espresso you are making and the size of the machine. This will ensure that the coffee-to-water ratio is correct and will give you a better-tasting espresso.
Once you have measured the coffee grounds and placed them in the portafilter, they will need to be tamped down to ensure everything is evenly packed. The machine will then use high pressure to push the water through the grounds and produce the espresso. This whole process happens much quicker than a standard drip coffee because the water is pushed through the coffee grounds at a high speed versus slowly dripping through the coffee grounds.
Can You Use Regular Coffee Beans for Espresso?
When you are looking for coffee beans to make your espresso, you may notice certain beans are labeled espresso beans at the store and others are not; however, let me let you in on a secret. Espresso beans are technically coffee beans. Espresso is a way of extracting from coffee grounds, not a type of bean.
Certain coffee beans are better used for espresso, though, so it is important to know that you probably do not want to use just any coffee bean for espresso if you want to get your shot right.
Best Roast for Espresso
Espresso is best made with a dark roast coffee bean. If you want to create an espresso that rivals a coffee shop, the darker roast coffee beans will give you that same rich flavor.
Dark roast beans are roasted for much longer than the light or medium roasts that are typically used for drip coffee. They are also roasted at a higher temperature, and typically have different flavors that come through when you drink a coffee made from dark roast beans as a result. Instead of lighter flavors such as citrus, you will get deeper flavors such as cocoa.
Difference Between Coffee Roasts
Light roast coffee beans are roasted for the least amount of time. They are roasted until the first crack is heard and then they are removed. They are typically lighter brown and have lighter flavor profiles such as citrus notes. As coffee roasts it loses its caffeine content, so contrary to popular belief, light roast coffee has the most caffeine.
Medium roast coffee beans are the most popular and have a little bit more body than a light roast coffee bean. They take on more flavor from the roasting process and have a very balanced flavor, which is preferred by a lot of people.
Dark roast coffee beans will be a very dark brown color and can appear almost black. The flavors from the original bean are roasted out due to the length of time that dark roast coffee beans are roasted, so dark roast beans will take on a very roasted and smoky flavor. They have a fuller body with the least amount of acidity.
The Grind Size Is Critical
The size of the grind is crucial when it comes to making an espresso that you will be proud of. Espresso requires a fine grind to prevent over- or under-extraction of the coffee grounds.
The reason the grind is so important is that in making espresso, water comes in contact with the coffee grounds for such a short time. If the coffee beans are ground too coarsely then you will not get the proper extraction and you will most likely end up with under-extracted coffee that could taste sour or weak.
If you are not familiar with the term extraction, it means pulling the solubles out of the coffee using water. Over-extraction is pulling too many solubles out of the coffee whereas under-extraction means that you are not pulling enough solubles out of the coffee.
Grinding Your Beans at Home
One of the best ways to ensure that you get the perfect grind for your espresso is to grind your coffee beans at home. There are typically two types of coffee grinders, which are blade grinders and burr grinders.
If you are grinding coffee beans for espresso, use a great burr grinder. You will be able to get a consistently fine grind to make an incredible-tasting espresso. Burr grinders have burrs that will crush the coffee beans to a uniform size so that the end result is very consistent.
If you are going to invest in a burr grinder, get one with a wide range of grind settings like this one from Boly. This lets you not only grind coffee beans for your espresso, but any other coffees you choose to make at home.
If you have a blade grinder at home already, it will do the job (kind of), but blade grinders are not as consistent in their grind size which can potentially affect the quality and taste of your coffee beverage.
Does espresso have more caffeine?
Many people believe that espresso has more caffeine than a regular cup of drip coffee; however, the opposite is true. A cup of drip coffee is much larger than a shot or two of espresso and therefore has more caffeine. If you were to drink multiple shots of espresso, that would equal the same number of ounces of coffee, though, you would have more caffeine because it is more concentrated. The difference is in the amount that you drink.
Can you make espresso without an espresso machine?
The only way to make a true espresso is with an espresso machine because the high-pressure steam is required to create an espresso with crema; however, if you have a coffee machine that has the shot feature, or even one without, you can create the smallest brew possible with a very dark roast coffee and get a drink similar to espresso.
Can you use light roast coffee for espresso?
Espresso is usually made with dark roast coffee. If you order an espresso at any coffee shop, it will most likely be made with a very dark roast coffee to give you the bold and rich flavor that is expected out of espresso; however, you are more than welcome to use any roast that you want in your espresso. Some people do not like the taste of dark roast coffee and make their espresso with light or medium roast coffee beans at home.
What pre-ground coffee is best for espresso?
If you are purchasing pre-ground coffee from the store to make espresso, it is important to know to buy finely-ground coffee so you do not waste time and money or potentially ruin your coffee. If you are overwhelmed with options at the store be sure to find something that is labeled espresso. This will ensure that the pre-ground coffee you buy is ground fine enough for an espresso machine. Espresso requires a specific grind size, so you want to be sure it is not too coarse or even too fine or you will end up with a poor-tasting shot.
Use Those Coffee Beans!
Now that you know you can use regular coffee beans for espresso, there is no reason to stress over making your delicious espresso at home. Choose a great coffee bean that you will enjoy and make that morning espresso instead of stopping at the coffee shop.
Dark roast coffee beans are going to be the best option to make your espresso taste amazing, but if you do not like dark roast coffee, you can always use another roast that you love! Enjoy your espresso!