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


Choosing the right beans is one of the most important aspects of the daily coffee-making ritual. The beans determine the flavour, texture, and experience of the brew. Amidst a wide variety of coffee on the market, you may have come across espresso and coffee beans and wondered, "What is the difference between coffee beans vs. espresso beans?"

Image of espresso grounds next to drip coffee grounds.

Are they truly different, or is the difference in terminology just for fun? In this guide, we dive into the nuances of espresso beans vs. coffee beans. We describe the distinct qualities of both beans, explain the differences, describe what can happen when coffee beans are used to make espresso and discuss how to choose the right beans for your brew. 

Pile of coffee beans.

What are Coffee Beans?

Coffee beans are the coffee cherry's processed, washed, dried, and roasted seeds. Coffee beans vary widely based on their place of origin, cultivation methods, processing methods, and roast level. Flavours can range from fruity to nutty, floral, chocolaty, and beyond. The roasting levels span from light to extra dark, bringing out specific flavour profiles. Coffee beans can be ground and used for many different brewing methods, such as drip coffee, cold brew, pour-over, and more. 

What are Espresso Beans?

Espresso beans are the seeds of the coffee cherry that have been roasted for a significant amount of time at a high temperature to extract oils and create a rich, concentrated flavour. Espresso beans are selected, processed, and roasted to create a deep and consistent espresso flavour, shot after shot. 


Key Differences Between Espresso Beans vs. Coffee Beans

While coffee beans and espresso beans both start as the same green coffee bean inside a coffee cherry, they are not entirely interchangeable. All espresso beans are processed seeds of the coffee cherry, but not all processed seeds of the coffee cherry are espresso beans. Here is what you need to know: 

Roast Level
Coffee beans are roasted to many different levels, ranging from light to extra dark. As mentioned above, espresso beans are typically roasted to a dark or extra-dark level. The intense roast gives espresso its complex and bold flavour and full-bodied texture, which can include smoke, caramel, berry, and spice, depending on the variety and growing location.

Brewing Method
Coffee beans can be ground into many different sizes and used with various brewing methods, including drip coffee, French press, cold brew, pour-over, and more. As the name indicates, Espresso beans are prepared and ground specifically for the espresso preparation method. The grind is medium fine for stovetop espresso or fine or machine espresso so that the water forced through the grounds can make maximum contact. 

There are many different flavours of coffee beans, ranging from delicate and refined to rich and bold and everything in between. Espresso beans, on the other hand, are specifically prepared to yield a consistent, bold flavour. 

Can You Use Coffee Beans for Espresso?

It is entirely possible to grind whole coffee beans into a medium-fine or fine texture to make an espresso-style drink. However, doing so will likely yield a different flavour profile than making espresso with espresso beans. Depending on the coffee beans, the flavour may be less intense and bold. Additionally, regular coffee beans may not hold up to the high brewing pressure, as well as espresso beans. While you will achieve the most traditional results using espresso beans, feel free to experiment to find something you enjoy! 

Choosing Between Coffee Beans vs. Espresso Beans

The choice between coffee beans and espresso beans ultimately boils down to your preferences. Here are some guidelines to aid in your decision:

Choose coffee beans if: 
• You want to brew drip, pour-over, cold brew, French press, or other types of coffee other than espresso.
• You want a coffee cup with a light, medium, dark, or extra-dark flavour.
• You want to experiment with nontraditional espresso flavours. 

    Choose espresso beans if: 
    • You love bold, full-bodied espresso shots.
    • You have an espresso machine and want consistent espresso shots.
    • You want to make espresso-based beverages like lattes and cappuccinos. 

    We suggest our Colombian Supremo for making espresso. 

    To discover more delicious espresso and coffee beans, shop San Francisco Bay Coffee today!