Espresso vs. Coffee Beans: Is There a Difference?

What’s The Difference?

Browsing the coffee aisle, you might notice some bags are marked as espresso or drip blends. That get’s you thinking: “What’s the difference between coffee and espresso beans?” The truth is, there’s no difference between espresso and coffee beans. A coffee bean is a coffee bean. So, why are bags labeled differently? As it turns out, it's the brew method.

Labeling beans as espresso or drip is nothing more than a recommendation from the roaster on how to bring out the flavor of the beans. Of course, there are different roasts and coffee beans—two species actually, Arabica and Robusta, as well as varietals bred from these species—but each is still a coffee bean that can be used in a variety of methods.

We’ll dive into how beans and blends create different flavors and how the recommended brew methods evolved.

Olympia Big Truck organic espresso blend is a sweet, clean bodied roast shines as an espresso. Olympia Big Truck organic espresso blend is a sweet, clean bodied roast shines as an espresso.

Coffee Flavor Profile

Read the label of your favorite bag of beans and you’ll sometimes find food descriptors like oranges or baking ingredients like brown sugar listed on the label. These descriptors are unique flavor notes that the roaster has tasted or smelled in the beans based on their recommended brew process. However, these descriptions do not indicate the quality of brew, but a recommendation based on the background of the beans—such as growing region, process or whether it’s a single origin or blend.

Try brewing based on their recommendation: What do you taste? Perhaps it’s what the roaster detected—subtle sweet and fruit flavors with chocolate undertones or black tea with a tart, citrusy kick—or maybe you’ll find a slightly different flavor.

Espresso vs Coffee

So, how did espresso beans come about? When it was first popularized, coffee farms didn’t have the refinement of cultivating that we see today—and when the lesser quality beans were brewed as espresso it was painfully noticeable. When you put beans under pressure, like you do with espresso, the flavor profile becomes more intense, sort of like the difference between a blueberry tea and a spoonful of blueberry jam. In an effort to create a consistent flavor profile, roasters would use a darker roast to produce smoky, caramelized sugar notes, like we see in an Italian roasts. This roasting method, however, meant that the nuanced flavors were no longer detectable. Nowadays, specialty roasters source high-quality beans to make this method of masking taste not necessary. Roasters can experiment with lighter roasts the enhance the flavor of the coffee and share its complexity.

Brewed coffee, whether it’s from a standard drip brewer or pour over set-up like Chemex, tends to produce less intense flavors than espresso making it more forgiving when used to brew a variety of coffee qualities. You many also find that brewed coffee is a bit easier to control the extraction and therefore the flavor of the cup you produce. Many find that single origins, beans sourced from one location, are easier to brew in this fashion. Single origins typically have more delicate flavors, which makes it easy to under or over extract making them often difficult to brew with for espresso. Think of it like a target, getting a great cup of brewed coffee is like hitting the board and a great cup of espresso like hitting the bullseye. It’s not impossible, but it will take a bit more time and dedication.

We believe the writing on the bag shouldn’t influence how you brew. It’s a recommendation meant to guide you, but it’s ultimately up to you to experiment and find that ideal brew. While it might require some finessing to dial-in a single origin for espresso, we think the reward is well worth the effort—add some steamed milk and you’ll get a decadent, dessert-like treat. We enjoy pulling espresso shots that taste like a rich blueberry cobbler using a delicious natural processed coffee.

Slate Coffee Roasters' Cream and Sugar drip blend brings out notes of dark chocolate and caramel when brewed on a dripper. Slate Coffee Roasters' Cream and Sugar drip blend brings out notes of dark chocolate and caramel when brewed on a dripper.


There is no difference between espresso and coffee beans. When specialty roasters write “espresso blend” or “drip blend,” it’s just the brew method roaster's believe will make the flavor profile really shine. Coffee is a matter of personal taste and preference—you do you and make coffee the way you love.

21 thoughts on “Espresso vs. Coffee Beans: Is There a Difference?”

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  • Nick

    So what's the difference?

    • Kaylie

      Well, not all fingers are thumbs but all thumbs are fingers. :-)

      So, espresso beans can handle the high pressure of the water being exerted on them, and produce a quality shot. They are great for any other immersion brewing prep method as well. However, not all coffee beans are of that higher quality to be able to withstand the water pressure and produce a great shot. So a lower quality bean will be great for any other prep method because they all use immersion in some way and there isn't pressure being put on the grounds.

  • sandra day

    Hi, so coffee originated in Africa and not South America....that's interesting. So how did it migrate to South America? Thanks!

    • Kaylie

      The carrying of a single plant by ship, as the story goes! The plant flourished and produced the seeds/cuttings for future coffee farms in South America.

    • Steve

      Supposedly it was the Dutch who brought coffee to the Caribbean, from which cultivation expanded to Brazil. Who knows for sure. Like sugar, which originated in what is now Lebanon, the Europeans brought anything that could be turned into profit to the Western Hemisphere and grew it and processed it by brutal forced labor and built their fortunes from it back home. ...(Sorry) Now that I've depressed you enough, I should add that some of the best coffee available is grown by farmer coops and other fair trade sources.

  • Dawn Meek

    A friend of mine was told when she was younger that she was allergic to coffee. It caused her severe stomach pains. She can drink espresso with no issues, I realize that there is no differece between the beans but the processing and roasting are the key. From my understanding of this, the dry process yields less acidic beans which this process is used in espresso, but not limited to espresso. My question is, that if she chooses to drink coffe as apposed to espresso, would she choose coffee that has been processed by the dry method?

    • Kaylie

      Coffee can have higher acidity levels, which some people don't respond well to. Perhaps that caused the reaction she is referring to.

      She could take an espresso blend she knows doesn't cause her issues and grind that to a drip grind, then brew it with a drip brewer. Not all espresso blends work well as drip coffee, but some certainly do and could be a safe way for her to try drip.

      In general, espresso beans can be processed or roasted in a variety of ways, though they do tend to be fairly dark and oily. So, with that said, a particular processing method doesn't necessarily mean it will work well with her system.


  • Reid

    I have heard that using a French Press produces less acidic coffee. Is that true? I would also like a recommendation on the characteristics of a bean that would work best using that method.

    • Kaylie

      Really, for any type of immersion method, you can use whatever kind of coffee beans that you like, and that is part of the fun of experimenting: Trying new things, adjusting the brew for grind consistency, dosing, length of time the water interacts with the grounds, etc. French press tends to have about the same amount of acidity as any other brewing method, except for cold brew, which has about 65% less acidity than other brewing methods. If you’re looking for coffee with less acidity, no matter what blend of coffee, then preparing cold brew may be up your alley. From there, just experiment with the kind of coffee that you’re using, and you may find that coffee blends with less citrus notes are what you prefer, and ones with more chocolately or carmel tones are preferred.

  • Glen

    Great info thx! After I pull a shot with lots of crema & transfer the shot into my cup the crema disappears. Is that a tell tale of anything concerning quality etc?

    • Kaylie

      Not at all. Crema dissipates as espresso shots sit and disruptions to the crema, such as pouring from a shot glass to a cup, can speed up this process. The fact that there is crema in your shot glass, prior to transferring to a cup, is a good indicator of the quality!

  • Espresso

    When buying beans, do I ask for espresso beans?

    • Kaylie

      You can use whatever kind of beans you’d like! An espresso bean will be a higher quality bean so it can withstand the pressure of the water being exerted on the beans, but will also work well for other brewing methods. An “espresso roast” tends to be a darker roast, so it will generally have a more generic flavor or bitter notes to it. Typically, going with more of a medium roast will allow you to pick up on more notes to the coffee itself, like more chocolates or nuts or berry notes that will give it a more complex flavor. Experimentation will be key, as you try different blends you’ll discover what you like the best! :-)

  • Patrick

    I'm a drip and moka guy. I'm a fan of the Lavazza blends. I'm a big fan of their Qualitá Oro, but it gets a little expensive. What other blend would be good as either drip or moka? I'm open to other brands. I do grind my beans fresh using my Capresso Infinity. Thanks!

    • Felicia Kloewer
      Felicia Kloewer March 9, 2016 at 6:51 am

      Hi, Patrick!
      Have you tried Velton's Twilight? We think that you might enjoy it! You can check it out on our website:
      Also, this is perfect timing! We just revamped our "Coffee & Tea" page to make finding a new brew easier. You can discover new coffees by flavor profiles or for coffee like Lavazza you can find it under "European Favorites."
      I hope you like Velton's Twilight!

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    Halocel skin care March 31, 2016 at 2:58 am

    Marvelous, what a webpage it is! This blog provides valuable data to us, keep it up.

  • Henning Øyjordet
    Henning Øyjordet January 17, 2020 at 1:47 am

    Was in a store that had a great deal organic dark roasted beans..
    Not espresso beans. Googled and came here. Bought one, rinsed my grinder and made an espresso (or attempt) water gushes through super fast. Sour taste. Tuned grind even finer and packed harder to compensate... Still 10 second for a double shot.. Tasting not even close. Second attempt on two different roasts of "regular non espresso roasts" so think this post is a bit misleading. There options for my 2 pounds bag.. Garbage, buy grinder and pour over gear or give to neighbor...

  • Russell Volz

    Felicia, you certainly have nailed it about espresso. As you say, there is no such thing as an espresso bean. I'm 100% with you, bags marked "Espresso" are 100% marketing. The key to great espresso is starting out with super smooth coffee beans. I suggest searching the internet for "smoothest coffee" and you'll find what you need.

  • Nichole

    Hi I use espresso roast to make cold brew, do you think it has as much caffeine as a shot ?

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