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Expresso beans vs. drip coffee beans

b
BDD888 Mar 25, 2012 08:52 PM

i've been a drip coffee drinker for years. Never got around to trying expresso or latte. What's the difference between "expresso beans' and the roasted (or unroasted) beans we use for drip coffee? Do you have to use "expresso beans" ONLY to make good expresso?

  1. z
    zin1953 Mar 31, 2012 11:31 AM

    As you have no doubt come to realize by now -- see http://www.coffeegeek.com/forums/coff... -- among other posts . . .

    "Espresso" is a method of making coffee. In order to make espresso, one needs to use a lot of coffee to produce a little bit of liquid (i.e.: a high brew ratio), and to brew under pressure of approximately 9 bars (nine times atmospheric pressure, or roughly 130 psi).

    As for the coffee bean itself, while it is true that some coffee roasters may label a particular blend of beans they sell as "Espresso Roast," and while it is true that a roast so labeled will often be dark(er) than -- say -- the standard roast level found in commercialized coffees such as Maxwell House or Folger's (i.e.: Full City roast), blame that on Starbucks*. One can use any coffee beans -- be they from a single origin or a blend -- to make espresso, and those beans may be roasted to any level.

    The lighter the roast, the more the beans will taste of their geographic origin and processing; the darker the roast, the more the beans will taste of the roast itself, and less of the beans origins will come through.

    Cheers,
    Jason

    * Starbucks is, of course, the 900 lb. gorilla in the room, in that they popularized dark roasted coffee in the U.S. In Italy, however, the "average" roast level of beans varies with where one is within the country. Starting in the north of the country, the beans are typically a Full City roast, but the farther south one travels, the darker the roast gets, until one reached Sicily and its very dark roasts -- what Americans have (wrongly) come to consider "espresso roast" (as in "the ONLY type of beans used to make espresso").

    1. s
      Scrofula Mar 30, 2012 10:31 PM

      Espresso is a brewing method where you force water at high pressure through finely ground coffee; this releases different flavors from a drip machine. 'Espresso beans' are just normal coffee beans of several varieties, blended together and roasted to work well with this brewing method.

      If you want to try good espresso, your best bet is to find a good coffee shop (not Starbucks). It's hard to make good espresso at home without a lot of fancy equipment.

      If you want to spread out from drip coffee at home, other brewing methods you can experiment with cheaply at home are French press, moka pot (the predecessor to modern espresso), pourover, Aeropress and Turkish coffee. Done correctly, these will all give you better coffee than your drip machine.

      1. mbfant Mar 26, 2012 06:41 AM

        The difference is both the roast and the grind. The coffee is, as other have pointed out, espresso, not expresso. (And don't ask for a "latte" in Italy unless you want a glass of milk.)

        You do have to use dark Italian roast and a find grind to make espresso or stove-top Italian coffee. Drip coffee, the kind with a paper filter, can be any roast. Normally a slightly coarse grind is called for, which is pretty much what you would use in a percolator (if anybody still uses them), but since I can more easily obtain espresso-style coffee, I use it in my Melitta drip coffee maker and it's fine.

        4 Replies
        1. re: mbfant
          ecustard Mar 27, 2012 12:32 PM

          It is a common mis-perception that one has to use darkly-roasted beans to make espresso.

          1. re: ecustard
            SWISSAIRE Mar 30, 2012 02:30 PM

            In Brazil, where much of the coffee beans originate, it is actually spelled Expresso. This is not to confuse Cafe Nacional, the traditional coffee of Brazil, which is a thicker, more sugary beverage. That is a different method of brewing.

            The Expresso pronunciation is the same, as the "x" is pronounced as an "s."

            Agree with the comment regarding dark roast, which can yield a burnt, oily grind. In my opinion, ruinous to a good cup of coffee. Better to go with a medium roast of good select beans. Santa Clara is an excellent Brazilian espresso brand: Try it if you can find it.

            1. re: SWISSAIRE
              NervousPanda Mar 30, 2012 09:07 PM

              Color me enlightened! Thanks!

              1. re: NervousPanda
                e
                eethan Apr 1, 2012 02:19 PM

                It's spelled with an 'x' in Spanish as well (but only one 's').

                (That said, I think we were all speaking English here—espresso with three esses, then!)

        2. m
          mpalmer6c Mar 25, 2012 11:09 PM

          since the flavors of the original bean are obliterated
          by dark roasting, any ole bean does fine for
          espresso.

          23 Replies
          1. re: mpalmer6c
            scubadoo97 Mar 26, 2012 08:35 AM

            True that the origin flavors are lost if roasted dark. Today a lot of espresso is made with beans that are not roasted to what was called "espresso roast". Most tend to roast lighter so the flavors are appreciated. For as we know espresso is a coffee prep technique and not a roast.

            1. re: scubadoo97
              b
              BDD888 Mar 29, 2012 08:35 PM

              It's not about the bean? Ooook. I ask because some suppliers label beans as "espresso beans" (e.g. http://www.idrinkcoffee.com/Espresso_...). Which was why I asked in the first place.

              And we don't necessarily need to use a "dark roast"? Some here say "Yes". :)

              Do we all agree it's in the "prep style"? Some of you say we don't need a purpose built espresso machine. Yet there are so many like the Rocket Giotto EVolusione, Rancilio Silva...etc. Would it be best to use one given the choice?

              1. re: BDD888
                scubadoo97 Mar 30, 2012 08:09 AM

                "It's not about the bean? "

                Yes and no. Espresso is a method of brewing coffee. Some single origin beans don't work as well as others for espresso due to their over all flavor profile. A lot of blends are used for espresso. As an example a proprietary blend called Malabar Gold uses a blend to produce a low acid smooth sweet espresso shot with lots of crema. A lower altitude bean called robusta is used in the blend which boosts the crema in the shot.

                "And we don't necessarily need to use a "dark roast"? Some here say "Yes". :) "

                Dark roasts have been traditionally used for espresso. Hence the use of the term espresso roast in roasting levels. Today more people are using much lighter roasts for espresso so that the varietal flavors can be appreciated. These flavors are lost at the darker roast level. I'll just say that the level of roast for espresso is a personal choice.

                "Do we all agree it's in the "prep style"? Some of you say we don't need a purpose built espresso machine. "

                Yes it is a brewing method. Many things are called espresso that don't meet the true definition. Coffee from a moka stove top coffee maker is often termed espresso but by definition it is not. To brew espresso you need a real espresso machine. And some of the low end machines that are labeled as espresso machines do not make espresso by definition. An example is a Mr. Coffee espresso machine that has a small pot under the portafilter. These machines do not produce the proper brewing pressure to make a true espresso.

                1. re: BDD888
                  g
                  GH1618 Mar 30, 2012 08:27 PM

                  "Do we all agree it's in the "prep style"?"

                  No, although espresso requires a proper espresso machine. Espresso beans are blends of various coffees chosen and roasted to produce a desired result when brewed as espresso.

                  http://www.coffeeresearch.org/espress...

                  In my opinion, now that everybody is drinking espresso, it's impossible to get espresso with the "bite" it used to have. The product has been dumbed down for the masses.

                  1. re: GH1618
                    scubadoo97 Mar 31, 2012 06:02 AM

                    Sorry there really is no espresso bean. Beans are blended for espresso but single origin espresso is not uncommon today. The espresso beans is a marketing term

                    1. re: scubadoo97
                      g
                      GH1618 Mar 31, 2012 12:21 PM

                      By "espresso beans" I mean coffee beans selected, blended, and roasted intending to be used for making espresso, and sold as such. I thought this was obvious, but apparently not to all.

                      1. re: GH1618
                        z
                        zin1953 Mar 31, 2012 12:45 PM

                        Je repete . . .

                        As for the coffee bean itself, while it is true that some coffee roasters may label a particular blend of beans they sell as "Espresso Roast," and while it is true that a roast so labeled will often be dark(er) than -- say -- the standard roast level found in commercialized coffees such as Maxwell House or Folger's (i.e.: Full City roast), blame that on Starbucks*. One can use any coffee beans -- be they from a single origin or a blend -- to make espresso, and those beans may be roasted to any level.
                        The lighter the roast, the more the beans will taste of their geographic origin and processing; the darker the roast, the more the beans will taste of the roast itself, and less of the beans origins will come through.

                        Cheers,
                        Jason

                        * Starbucks is, of course, the 900 lb. gorilla in the room, in that they popularized dark roasted coffee in the U.S. In Italy, however, the "average" roast level of beans varies with where one is within the country. Starting in the north of the country, the beans are typically a Full City roast, but the farther south one travels, the darker the roast gets, until one reached Sicily and its very dark roasts -- what Americans have (wrongly) come to consider "espresso roast" (as in "the ONLY type of beans used to make espresso").

                        1. re: zin1953
                          g
                          GH1618 Mar 31, 2012 01:27 PM

                          I don't know why you are lecturing me about roasts. I haven't said anything about espresso needing a particular roast or even a particular bean or blend, only that a good coffe roaster will select the beans and the roast with the end product in mind.

                          1. re: GH1618
                            SWISSAIRE Mar 31, 2012 03:07 PM

                            Vieni, vieni, signorie e signori:

                            This is an educative forum, about an older European coffee process. No one is lecturing anyone in particular that I can read, just informing. And some good information has been posted.

                            From my humble perspective, Starbucks may have been inspired by the cafe espresso culture in Italy, but has evolved into something unique and quite different. Like it or not, is has has spread the use of accessible coffee enjoyment world wide, but in it's own form.

                            The comment made about Starbucks dark roasts is very accurate. Many in North America and Asia believe that the Starbucks coffee example is the true Italian example. The minute they travel to Europe, ( or an Italan-operated trattoria), that impression ends. No one here drinks 44 or 64 ounces of foamed cream with a little coffee, or for that matter consumes same while driving. Cup holders in autos in North America came first: Here they are a new auto accessory item.

                            But before I digress, and returning to the original post, yes, it is quite different from drip coffee as a process, isn't traditionally done from freshly arabica ground beans, and yes, one can do better at home.

                          2. re: zin1953
                            g
                            GH1618 Mar 31, 2012 01:31 PM

                            Also, I don't know where you get "as in "the ONLY type of beans used to make espresso"", except out of thin air. "Espresso roast" means only "this coffee has been prepared for use as espresso," nothing more.

                          3. re: GH1618
                            scubadoo97 Mar 31, 2012 04:32 PM

                            Sorry to misunderstand but from your answer No to the question "Do we all agree it's in the "prep style"?" it wasn't apparent

                            1. re: scubadoo97
                              z
                              zin1953 Apr 1, 2012 08:33 AM

                              1) >>> Sorry to misunderstand but from your answer No to the question "Do we all agree it's in the 'prep style'?" it wasn't apparent. <<<

                              Agreed.

                              2) >>> "Espresso roast" means only "this coffee has been prepared for use as espresso," nothing more. <<<

                              While I certainly was NOT meaning to lecture you, in response to this comment, I would simply ask you: What does being "prepared for use as espresso" mean? How is a coffee bean that -- in your words -- "has been prepared for use as espresso" DIFFERENT from any other coffee bean you can buy?

                              Now, I grant you that the GRIND will be different, but I am under the assumption that we are talking about beans here, and not the grind itself. So, how is it different?

                              1. re: zin1953
                                g
                                GH1618 Apr 1, 2012 11:11 AM

                                Please read the document to which I linked. Beans from different origins have different character, and the degree of roasting develops that character to varying degrees. Selecting the source of the beans, the roasting of each, and the proportions in a blend, then brewing by a particular method, produces a brewed coffee of a particular character. The experience of drinking espresso is a product of all of these factors

                                1. re: GH1618
                                  z
                                  zin1953 Apr 1, 2012 12:57 PM

                                  Keep in mind that Tom Owen, while knowing a GREAT DEAL about coffee, is not writing facts, but opinion. For example, he writes:

                                  >>> Do you want more body and sweetness: use a clean Indonesian like a Sulawesi or a premium Sumatra. You will be losing some sharpness. You can go up to 50% with one of these ...heck, they are nice at 100%! <<<

                                  OK, so if I understand correctly, according to Tom one can use a blend of beans that contains ZERO percent Sulawesi (Celebes), or up to 50 PERCENT Sulawesi, or . . . heck, 100 PERCENT Sulawesi. Since 100 percent of a single sourced bean is a "Single Origin" (S.O.) espresso, I guess you can use a blend or an S.O. to make espresso . . .

                                  The "Four M's" of Espresso -- see http://www.coffeeresearch.org/espress... though this but one source for this -- states:

                                  >>> Espresso coffee brewing is defined by four "M's": the Macinazione is the correct grinding of a coffee blend, Miscela is the coffee blend, Macchina is the espresso machine, and Mano is the skilled hand of the barista. When each factor of the four M's is precisely controlled, the espresso beverage that is produced is the ultimate coffee experience. <<<

                                  The point is that espresso can (and is) produced from ANY coffee bean, whether it is specifically labeled "Espresso" or not. It can be produced from a blend of beans from across the world, or from a single origin; it can be be produced from a Full City roast, Full City+, or darker. One can visit any number of micro-roasters focused on "specialty coffee" (as defined by the SCAA), and you will find any number of blends AND single-origin beans recommended for espresso -- whether it is labeled "Espresso" or not.

                                  1. re: zin1953
                                    g
                                    GH1618 Apr 1, 2012 01:09 PM

                                    "... Espresso can (be) produced from ANY coffee bean ..."

                                    Well, of course. If it is brewed in a proper (high-pressure) espresso machine, it is "espresso." But if you make it with whatever coffee you happen to have on hand for making drip coffee, you won't be getting the best espresso. More important, when coffee is prepared for those who like espresso with a distinctive character, it will not likely be successful when sold to customers who are usong it in common drip coffee makers.

                                    I don't know why some people make such a fuss about this. As far as I am concerned, you can put anything in your espresso machine and call it "espresso."

                                    1. re: GH1618
                                      SWISSAIRE Apr 1, 2012 01:47 PM

                                      Conversely, one can take ground espresso out of a can or bag ( lLavazza, etc.) put it in a drip coffee machine and make espresso.

                                      It isn't brewed using a Mokka pot, steam coffee brewer, or Superautomacchina, but it isn't normal coffee either. It tastes like espresso.

                                      I would suggest that if you then try regular drip ground coffee, and espresso ground coffee, in the same coffee maker, you will notice the difference. ( You also may not get to sleep to quickly if you try this at night )

                                      Therefore, M as in MIX of the coffee, as one important component.

                                      1. re: SWISSAIRE
                                        g
                                        GH1618 Apr 1, 2012 01:54 PM

                                        I wouldn't say that making drip coffee from grounds intended for espresso is "espresso," because the one essential ingredient is brewing quickly under pressure. That is why it is called "espresso," isn't it? It isn't merely a matter of taste, but of increasing the ester to alkaloid ratio.

                                        1. re: SWISSAIRE
                                          z
                                          zin1953 Apr 1, 2012 02:27 PM

                                          Well, a) I don't think it would taste AT ALL like espresso; and b) it wouldn't even taste very good given the fact it will be very stale . . .

                                          1. re: zin1953
                                            SWISSAIRE Apr 1, 2012 03:48 PM

                                            You are right. It isn't what I would suggest as a daily exercise.

                                            My point was it is a MIXED blend of ground coffee.

                                            The stale factor is another issue. Most espresso in Italy, Austria, and here in the Ticino is made from packaged ground blended coffee. Fresh ground coffee if blended, needs to sit a few days before it is used.

                                            But personally I do like freshly roasted coffee beans (medium roasted) that is then ground and made into an espresso. Not everyone's cup, though.

                                        2. re: GH1618
                                          z
                                          zin1953 Apr 1, 2012 02:23 PM

                                          >>> But if you make it with whatever coffee you happen to have on hand for making drip coffee, you won't be getting the best espresso. More important, when coffee is prepared for those who like espresso with a distinctive character, it will not likely be successful when sold to customers who are usong it in common drip coffee makers. <<<

                                          Gary? OK, color me dense, but I do not understand what you are talking about -- it sounds contradictory to me, and using Tom Owen to illustrate your point seemed (to me) to confirm mine . . . I'm not trying to argue; I'm trying to understand.

                                          How about if we take a local roaster, Blue Bottle -- http://store.bluebottlecoffee.net/Categories.bok?category=Coffee -- as an example. Their website lists several coffees, both single origin and blends. The roastmaster of Blue Bottle lists various preparation methods as suggestions: Espresso, French Press, Moka Pot, Pour Over, and Siphon. Many list ALL five methods as recommendations; some list four methods, others three, and only a few list "Espresso" by itself.

                                          Redbird Coffee Roasting Co. ( http://redbirdcoffee.com/ ) -- which, personally, I prefer over Blue Bottle -- offers several different coffees as well. For their flagship "Red Bird Espresso," toastmaster Jeff Pentel writes (in part):

                                          >>> Roast Level: Northern Italian (Full City+) Recommended Brew: for espresso . . . Also works well as a non-espresso brew. <<<

                                          For their Ethiopian Yirgacheffe, Jeff writes (again, in part):

                                          >>> Recommended brew: French Press, pour-over, vac-pot, auto drip, Aeropress. Also works as a snappy, single-origin espresso. <<<

                                          Now, I don't know what you call "the best espresso" as that is a HIGHLY subjective term. But I will tell you that I love Jeff's Ethiopian as an SO espresso -- more so than as a pour-over. OTOH, I enjoy the Red Bird Espresso as both espresso AND pour-over.

                                          Cheers,
                                          Jason

                                          1. re: zin1953
                                            g
                                            GH1618 Apr 1, 2012 03:00 PM

                                            The first sentence from the Tom Owens piece begins thusly:

                                            "In general, the goal of espresso blending differs from the goal of filter coffee blends ..."

                                            It can't be stated any more simply than that.

                                            No question that the "best espresso" is subjective. My first espresso came from a Greenwich Village coffeehouse in 1965, brewed in a hand-pumped machine. It had a taste and a "bite" unlike any ordinary coffee I had had previously, and, for that matter, since. Also unlike any espresso I have had since leaving GV that year (that's a lot of espresso). Espresso everywhere today is mild by comparison, which I attribute to everybody drinking espresso nowadays. I do get reasonably good espresso in North Beach, but rarely elsewhere. My subjective opinion is that that espresso is "best" which best approximates that original experience.

                                            1. re: GH1618
                                              z
                                              zin1953 Apr 1, 2012 04:02 PM

                                              Hmmm . . . I rarely get good espresso in North Beach (at least from the traditional "Italian" cafés, bars or restaurants) -- certainly none that I'd recommend. On the other hand I *do* enjoy the espresso I get at Ritual and Sightglass, for example.

                                              Indeed, I rarely get espresso that equals what I make at home, but it's certainly not impossible . . . I don't claim to make the best espresso in the world -- far from it! -- but it's a damned sight better than virtually anywhere I can go.

                                              /\/\/\/\/\/\/\/\/\/\

                                              Tangental information:

                                              FWIW, if you know espresso equipment, I started making espresso at home in 1978 with a La Pavoni Europicola. Today, at home I have an Elektra "Sixties" T1, paired with Mahlkönig K30 Vario and a Baratza Vario grinders; in my office, I have an Ala di Vittoria La Valentina with a second Baratza Vario grinder. I also own an Olympia Express Cafferex and Arrarex Caravel. Cannot recall when i had my first espresso, but you probably beat me by about three years.

                                              /\/\/\/\/\/\/\/\/\/\

                                              As far as the quotation from Tom Owen is concerned,

                                              >>> "In general, the goal of espresso blending differs from the goal of filter coffee blends ..." <<<

                                              While it is true that the goal of a roaster in designing/crafting/making a blend for espresso is/can be different from blends created for other types of preparation, this does not automatically translate to a blend labeled "Espresso Blend" (note, I am avoiding the term "roast" here) will be better than another blend or single origin.

                                              One other thought here. Gary, you wrote above:

                                              >>> In my opinion, now that everybody is drinking espresso, it's impossible to get espresso with the "bite" it used to have. The product has been dumbed down for the masses. <<<

                                              I would strongly disagree with this. I think that there is certainly a difference between the Robusta-laden blends of Italy and the 100% arabica blends of US roasters, but interns of crema, caffeine content, AND "bite." But IMHO -- and remember that's all it is, opinion -- the coffees of today are far more flavorful, far more complex,and of higher quality than they were only a few decades ago.

                                              C'est la vie . . .

                                              Cheers,
                                              Jason

                                            2. re: zin1953
                                              Becca Porter Sep 9, 2012 09:27 AM

                                              I am in love with Redbird coffees. The Redbird espresso is a little stronger than the milder Blue Jaguar. I love them!

                      2. e
                        escondido123 Mar 25, 2012 09:07 PM

                        I use dark roasted beans that would be considered "espresso" in my drip coffee maker===I like me coffee strong and dark.

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