What is the difference between regular coffee beans and espresso beans?
It’s a question we as coffee roasters get asked a lot.
Well, it’s the same as the difference between a fiddle and a violin. There is no difference, at least in what they are physically. The distinction between the two is in how you “play” them.
Take a violin, typically played with sheet music, and used for classical and jazz pieces, drop it to the shoulder from being tucked under the chin and play some improvised folk or Bluegrass and now you’ve got a fiddle. It’s all about how you play it.
Take any coffee bean, one you might even use for your morning pot of coffee, put a fine grind on it and run it through an espresso machine, and “Voila!,” you have an espresso!
But, just like there are minute differences between a violin and a fiddle making one more conducive to playing certain style than another, the same is true for regular coffee beans and coffee beans labelled “espresso beans.”
For example, unlike a fiddle, a violin has an arched bridge to help its player pull clean, clear notes from the instrument. It also typically has synthetic strings as imposed to steel strings, probably for similar purposes.
The reason you see certain coffee beans labeled as espresso beans is the roaster, wanting to pull certain notes out of a bean, has roasted it to get those particular flavors. As most coffee beans labelled “espresso beans” are darker roasted, their roasters roasted the beans to pull certain smoky, sweet caramel notes as you see in most Italian-style espressos.
But a skilled roaster can lightly roast a bean, such as an Ethiopian variety, to display its sweet, floral, fruit and nectar-like qualities when pulled through an espresso machine.
So, is there a difference between an espresso bean and a regular coffee bean? No, not really. The difference is only in how you “play” the bean and in how its roaster intended it to be used.