The Ultimate Guide to Espresso Beans vs Coffee Beans: Expert Analysis and Comparison

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In this post, we’ll explore the differences between espresso and coffee beans. So put on your sweatpants, grab a glass of rose, and join me as we dive into the world of caffeine!

Are espresso beans and coffee beans the same?

Espresso beans and coffee beans start out exactly the same. What differentiates them is the time and temperature at which they’re roasted. Beans used for espresso are roasted much longer and at a higher temperature vs. beans used for coffee.

To make matters more confusing, you can make a shot of espresso using any roast of beans you want. And you can also use espresso beans to make coffee.

For example, along with classic espresso, Starbucks sells Blonde® Espresso. Blonde espresso is made from lighter roasts1 or medium-roasts and is not as intense, flavor-wise, as regular espresso.

Espresso beansCoffee beans
Roast LevelDark roastLight to medium roast
Roast Temp460º to 470º F (238-243º C)356º to 460º F (180º to 243º C)
Roast Time10-15 minutes7-10 minutes
FlavorRich, smokey, thick, intenseNotes of fruit, cocoa, wine
Caffeine30 mg per ounce136 mg in 12oz cup
Grind SizeFine grindCoarser grind
Brew MethodEspresso Machine, Moka PotDrip, Pour-Over, French Press

Espresso Beans vs Coffee Beans

I’m not good at talking about flavor profiles, tasting notes, and things like body, mouth-feel, blah blah. Here are what I consider the most notable differences between espresso beans and ordinary coffee beans. (So this isn’t a complete list.)

Roast Level

One of the main differences between espresso beans and coffee beans is the roast level. Beans for making espresso are roasted at 460º to 470º F (238 to 243º C) for 10 to 15 minutes. This results in a bean with a dark, oily sheen.

Espresso Beans Vs Coffee Beans
Medium Roast Coffee Beans

Beans used to make coffee are typically roasted at 356º to 460º F (180º to 223º C) for 7 to 10 minutes. They usually stay within the light-to-medium roast range since this retains their unique flavor characteristics.

Grind Size

Espresso beans are ground into a fine powder, while coffee beans are ground more coarsely. There are a ton of methods to make coffee, some requiring a unique grind size.

As a rule of thumb, coffee grounds will always be coarser than espresso grounds. If you’re looking to up your grind game, you’ll want to invest in a burr grinder.

These grinders are more expensive than blade grinders, but they produce a consistent espresso grind. Here are a few entry-level coffee grinders that I highly recommend:

Brewing Techniques

There are different brewing techniques for espresso and coffee. Espresso is generally made with an espresso machine, while coffee has several brewing methods such as drip, pour-over, French press, Chemex, etc.

Brewing ProcessEspressoCoffee
Espresso Machine (true espresso)x
Moka potx
French Pressxx
Pour Overx
Coffee Machine (home drip)x

Espresso is made by forcing hot water under high pressure through finely ground, compact coffee beans. To make true espresso shots, you need specialized equipment. A coffee shop-grade machine, like a La Marzocco, can cost upwards of $20,000.

Higher-end at-home options range from $500 to $1,000. I recently invested in a Breville Pro that I bought used on Facebook Marketplace for $500.

In my experience, you get what you pay for with espresso machines. Avoid the cheaper $50-$100 options on Amazon, as those won’t and can’t produce authentic espresso.

Moka Pot Espresso Maker
Moka pot espresso maker

Moka pots are also an excellent option for making espresso-esque coffee. They cost about $20 on Amazon and are great for brewing small, intense portions of coffee, similar in strength and flavor to espresso.


Espresso and coffee also vary quite a bit in their flavor profiles. A shot of espresso has a bold, somewhat bitter flavor, while regular coffee has a lighter, more subtle taste.

Think of it like this – sipping red wine is like having a cup of coffee. It has a smooth, complex flavor. Taking a shot of whiskey is like having a shot of espresso. It’s intense and packs a strong flavor punch in a small serving. You can tell the espresso was made with dark roast beans.

Caffeine Content

A cup of coffee has more caffeine than 2 shots of espresso. A light roast cup of coffee will have more caffeine than a dark roast cup. So, if you need a morning pick-me-up, grab a cup of light or medium roast coffee.

A light roast coffee will have substantially more caffeine than a double shot of espresso. Most caffeine is burned away during the roasting process of dark roast coffees.

Rule of thumb: The darker the roast, the less caffeine it has. Since espresso is super dark, it has little caffeine.

Caffeine30 mg per shot136 mg in a 12-ounce cup

Espresso has Crema (Coffee Doesn’t)

Another real difference between espresso and coffee is the existence of crema. Crema is the thin layer of gold-colored foam that sits on top of freshly brewed espresso. Coffee doesn’t have crema.

Crema On Espresso
Crema on espresso | Photo by Yulia Matvienko on Unsplash

What’s in Crema?

  1. CO2 gas: Released from the coffee grounds during brewing, creating bubbles that form the crema.
  2. Natural oils & lipids: Arise during the extraction process, giving the crema its rich, creamy texture.
  3. Solubles: Sugars and organic acids contribute to the flavor and aroma of the crema.

Coffee Bean Recommendations

And here are some beans I really like for brewing everyday coffee. These are specialty coffee roasters, so their beans cost more than those in your local grocery store.

You can read my full review of Spirit Animal Coffee here.

Frequently Asked Questions

Does espresso have more caffeine than coffee?

No, espresso doesn’t have more caffeine than coffee. In fact, coffee has higher caffeine content than espresso. A 12-ounce cup of light-roast coffee has around 136 mg of caffeine, while a double espresso has about 60 mg of caffeine.

Can I use coffee beans for espresso?

Yes, you can use coffee beans for espresso and vice versa. For example, Starbucks has a Blonde Espresso roast, which is equivalent to a medium roast coffee.

Are espresso beans stronger than coffee beans?

Espresso beans are stronger in flavor vs. regular coffee beans. But coffee beans have more caffeine content than darker roast coffees, aka, espresso beans.

Can you use espresso beans to make regular coffee?

Yes, you can use espresso beans to brew regular coffee. Espresso coffee beans are simply darkly roasted coffee beans. So coffee made with espresso beans will be extremely rich and smoky in flavor.

Final Thoughts

In conclusion, coffee and espresso beans are exactly the same when kids. Coffee beans spend their formative years weaving baskets and cross-breeding exotic fruits in a commune in Oregon. Espresso beans run away from home at 7 and spend their formative years apprenticing as a blacksmith at a traveling circus with headquarters in the Bronx.


Avatar Of Kelsey Todd
Kelsey brings over 20 years of hands-on experience in the coffee industry, having honed his craft as a professional barista in both Seattle and Santa Barbara. He is an accredited member of The Coffee Association of America and holds an active membership in The Baristas Guild. Beyond his practical experience, Kelsey is deeply committed to the academic study of coffee history and its cultural impact. Outside of his professional pursuits, he enjoys quality time with his family and shares his extensive knowledge of coffee through insightful articles on this blog.

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