Everyone's heard of it, and everyone has their own concept of what it is. The majority of Espresso you would find in your supermarket is marketed specifically as an "Espresso Bean". This gives the impression that only a certain type of bean could be used to make a cup of espresso.
Believe it or not, making espresso has nothing to do with the bean. It all has to do with the grind! Surprising I know, almost as surprising as lighter roasts having more caffeine than dark roast coffee!
So what is espresso really and how is it made? Lets start with the basics of brewing:
Espresso is brewed by forcing hot water at high pressure through finely ground coffee beans at a very high speed, hence requiring a specialized machine to do it.
Comparatively, pour-over or drip coffee makers generally only require hot water and coffee grounds, without the need for a high pressure espresso machine.
Where does it all start?
Espresso starts off just how any other coffee does. As a cherry from the Coffea Plant. These cherries are picked and the coffee bean is removed and processed, then bagged and shipped to the roaster. The roaster then takes that coffee bean and roasts it.
Now here is where one of our differences come in. While in theory any roast can be used for espresso, a darker roast has more resistance to the high pressures of an espresso machine, and also gives a much richer flavor and low acidity which is generally preferred by those who drink espresso, and also lends to a better pairing with milk, like in a cappuccino.
Lighter roasts tend to work better in pour-over or drip makers as they bring out brighter and fruitier flavor profiles. But there is no rule that says lighter roasts can't be used for espresso, so feel free to try it! Coffee should be enjoyed however you choose, and if you like it, go for it!
Okay, so Espresso Beans and Coffee Beans are one in the same. Now what?
We've already talked about the difference between "regular coffee" and Espresso when it comes to brewing method, as well as where all these beans come from. Now let's talk about how you turn roasted coffee into espresso!
As we talked about before, Espresso is better suited to a darker roasted bean for most Espresso drinkers, so we will base all of this on a dark roast coffee bean. The grind size is the most important and also the has the most significant impact on a good espresso. If your grind is too course, you will get a weak and under-extracted Espresso, and if it is too finely ground, it will be far more bitter and over-concentrated.
This is why if you plan to grind espresso yourself, it is extremely important to use a high quality grinder! On the other hand, you can let the Roaster grind it for you! Your choice!
For a good Espresso grind, you want your grind size to be between that of table salt and flour. Espresso needs to be packed tightly into an Espresso Machine, and this requires quite the fine grind!
Alright, I have my dark roast beans ground fine, how do I brew it?
This is where it all comes together; Making your Espresso.
Espresso must be made in an Espresso Machine. (I know, common sense). An Espresso Machine forces heated water at around 9 bars of pressure, through the finely ground and packed coffee grounds over about 20-30 seconds.
Keep in mind, this is an extremely simplified explanation of how an Espresso Machine works, so keep an eye out for a future blog post that goes further into the inner workings of an Espresso Machine.
There are many different types of Espresso Machines out there, from Automatic to Manual, but they all use the same method of pushing hot water at high pressure through finely ground and packed coffee grinds.
So let's recap.
The difference between Espresso and "Regular Coffee" is all in the Method, Grind, and (depending on preference) Roast level. Any coffee bean can be used to make Espresso as long as those three points are held to. Most Espresso is made with darker roast beans, but you can use anything you want if you enjoy it!
Hopefully this helped explain what Espresso is, how its made, and a little bit about the method of brewing. Thank you for reading!
The Team at Nora Bean