Let's get this out of the way quickly: There’s technically no such thing as “espresso beans.” Nope, not even an “espresso blend” or "espresso roast". Yet, it isn't uncommon to find grocery store coffee brands or coffee chains labeling their coffee as such. The catch? Is all about semantics.
Now the reason we want to bust this myth of espresso beans is to expand your knowledge about coffee and broaden your coffee options when brewing whatever method you prefer.
What is the myth about espresso beans?
The myth about espresso beans is that there isn't such a thing as them. Coffee brands use this term to indicate coffee that has been roasted to a certain profile that works well with the brewing method of espresso.
Some people think that it only refers to a type of bean, but there isn't such thing as an "espresso roast" or "espresso blend." There's no difference between the two terms at all. It just means that they're both dark roasts perfect for making espresso shots. Some people also believe that darker roasted coffees taste better in general, which has been proven false time after time again by professional tastings revealing lighter-roasted coffees winning out over their darker counterparts several times.
What is an espresso
An espresso is a brewing method that yields a concentrated, rich flavor that can be enjoyed short as a ristretto, as a single or double shot, or diluted with hot water to create an Americano if you prefer something weaker.
Espresso can be made by many different methods, but it’s most commonly brewed with a machine that forces water at high pressure through finely ground coffee. The advantage of this method is that it allows for quicker adjustments to the flavors and aromas as shots can be pulled generally under 30 seconds.
The concept of espresso beans and espresso roasts
So now we know that there's not such thing as espresso beans, but a brewer method then why we still see these terms or espresso roast in coffee bags? Historically, they have been crafted in order to highlight certain characteristics or qualities in a pressure-brewed, concentrated coffee. That creamy layer that develops on top of an espresso shot, for example? Freshly roasted coffee will naturally produce the crema, a head of foam on top of the liquid as a result of pressurizing, however some coffees (such as Robusta) generate more.
Nowadays, most specialty coffees are Arabica. However, not all Arabica is a specialty coffee. Arabica is cultivated more around the world than Robusta, because of its better flavor. Robusta is more productive and less susceptible to plant diseases, such as leaf rust. However, Robustas taste is one-dimensional and bitter.
That gives us a hint of why some coffee shops brand specific coffee as espresso roast or espresso beans. Generally, these were sourced and roasted in a way to highlight notes when brewed as an espresso that might otherwise not be as apparent to other brewing methods such as automatic drip machine, filter, or French press.
While less common, whenever you find French press coffee, Pour over coffee, or Aeropress coffee know that these are simply recommendations made by the best coffee roasters, and not hard rules.
Espresso blendsAnother misconception is that espresso blends are a type of coffee. You might find it at your local grocery or supermarket, but keep in mind that this term does not refer to the blend as much as the roasting style and bean origin.
Espresso blends are usually composed of different beans from around the world to create balance between acidity and richness/body, or one country's coffees could be roasted individually for each specific variety: lighter-roasted Arabicas for brightness and clarity; medium-roasted Latin American coffees for sweetness and fruitiness; dark-roasted African beans for deep chocolate nuance with heavy body.
The Equilibrio Blend coffee is a perfect example! It is a blend of Brazilian coffee for rich chocolate and creamy body and Nicaraguan coffee for a floral acidity. Roasted at a medium level, this coffee is excellent for espresso and filter brewing, but versatile to taste great in all brewing methods.
With a grasp of the basics about coffee extraction, coffee to water ratio, and brew time, you should be able to make excellent coffee at home without professional training or expensive equipment.
And the best part is, you are now armed with this knowledge about espresso beans to help guide your next visit to the coffee store and purchase of a bag of specialty coffee!