Is there such a thing as espresso coffee beans, or will any bean do?
A lot of people getting into the espresso world for the first time wonder if there is a special kind of “espresso” coffee bean they should use, or if coffee is just coffee?
The quick answer is that coffee is coffee and you can use anything.
The long answer given below is more complicated, and has to do with which kind of coffee beans are best suited to which extraction method.
What does it mean when beans are labeled as “espresso”
Beans labeled as “espresso” are not actually a different kind of coffee bean. The “espresso” on the label does not refer to the bean, but to the kind of machine which should be used to brew the bean.
Which beans are best suited to which kind of coffee maker has to do with the flavor of the bean and the extraction method that is best suited to bring that flavor out.
Espresso machines use a high pressure extraction method, so beans that best fit with this extraction method tend to be bolder or more intense for a stronger, richer, espresso coffee. Some beans, although very flavourful, do not give up their flavor so easily and may end up tasting bland if used with a drip machine.
This is why they are marked as “espresso” beans, i.e., because they tend to need a high pressure extraction in order to draw out their full flavor.
Beans that have less intense flavors, say a fruitier coffee, tend to be better suited to drip machines, whereas bolder flavors like chocolate need the extra pressure to really draw them out well. So in the end it is a matter of which flavors work better for drip or high pressure extraction, and the word “espresso” on the package just means that these beans are better suited for the high pressure extraction of espresso machines.
When a roaster labels certain beans as “espresso”, it is simply their way of helping their customers out who don’t have an understanding of the kinds of coffee beans and of the extraction methods which best bring out certain flavors. It is also to some extent a way of protecting their product’s reputation, since if someone uses the wrong kind of beans in their drip machine which fails to bring out all the inner flavors, they may end up thinking that what is actually great, super flavorful coffee is bland and bad tasting.
Finally, for those who are more savvy about bean flavors and extraction methods, the recommendations of the roasters do not have to be followed religiously. Feel free to experiment with different extraction methods for different beans in order to come up with the best coffee possible. When first starting out however (especially if you are serving your coffee to customers), it is always better to stick to the recommendations of the roasters.
And for Automatic Coffee Machines (also known as Superauto Coffee Machines)?
Is there any difference with respect to superauto machines?
Not a whole lot. Keep in mind that dark roasts tend to be oilier and will clog up your grinder more quickly. Also keep in mind that superauto machines are not as precise as manual or semi-auto espresso machines, and accordingly any beans that have delicate hints or edges might not taste as flavorful.
In general, however, superautos work very well with any kind of bean that is normally suited for espresso machines, and no coffee bean will end up tasting terrible in a superauto. All that may happen is that you might miss out on any subtle or delicate sub-flavors that you might detect if the same coffee were used in a less automated espresso machine.
Hopefully this article has explained what “espresso” beans are and provided a better understanding of coffee beans and how to best bring out their flavors.