Coffee lovers and professional baristas hate the words “espresso beans.” Do you know why?
Because technically, there is no such thing as espresso beans. Espresso is simply a way of brewing coffee.
Do you need special beans for espresso brewing?
The Coffee Bean: What You Need to Know
Making an espresso is one of the most complicated and technical methods of brewing coffee, and the whole process starts with the coffee bean. Coffee beans are the pits of the coffee cherry, which is basically the fruit of the coffee plant. When the coffee cherries become ripe, they are harvested, and the pits are separated using one of two methods.
Wet method – the pits are extracted and soaked in water for at least two days. The soaking process removes the pulp around the beans and helps prepare the beans for roasting.
Dry method – the whole cherries are placed in the sun and allowed to dry naturally for 2-3 weeks.
Between the two, the wet method is considered to be more effective, and it is used for higher-quality and more expensive coffee varieties. However, it is also more expensive and technical because the beans must be monitored to prevent oversoaking.
Most coffee beans are of the Arabica variety. They have a mellow and varied flavor profile, depending on where the beans are grown. Arabica beans grow best in high climates with low temperatures, resulting in hardier beans that stand up better to the roasting process. Arabica beans make up around 70% of the coffee market.
Robusta beans contain twice the amount of caffeine as Arabica beans, giving them a harsher and stronger flavor profile. Due to the strong taste, Robusta beans are less popular with consumers, making up only about 25% of the world’s coffee market. Most blends have less Robusta beans compared to Arabica beans, except for Italian espresso blends, which use 100% Robusta beans.
There is a third variety called Liberica, but it is a variety that’s only found in two provinces in the Philippines and in Malaysia. These beans have a strong, bitter, and earthy taste.
Flavor Profile of Beans Based on Origin
Aside from the variety of the bean, the origin country of the bean also plays a huge part in affecting the flavor profile of the bean. The country’s climate, soil conditions, humidity, and common growing practices all work together to produce subtle flavor notes in the beans. This is why even beans from the same continent, but different countries could have vastly different flavors.
Here are some of the biggest coffee-producing countries around the world, and what kind of flavor profile you can expect from their coffee beans:
- Mexico – Nutty, light-bodied, and mildly acidic with floral notes.
- El Salvador – Balanced sweetness and body, with notes of red fruits.
- Costa Rica – Rich, deep, and sweet, with notes of chocolate.
- Colombia – Bold, sweet, and strong, with notes of berries and grape.
- Brazil – Creamy, full-bodied, and mellow, with notes of cream and chocolate.
- Peru – Full-bodied and nutty, medium acidity with a savory mouthfeel.
- Kenya – Bold, bright, and sweet, with notes of wine and grapefruit.
- Ethiopia – Exotic and fruity flavor, highly acidic, full-bodied.
- Rwanda – Balanced but with a strong flavor, with notes of chocolate and stone fruit.
- India – Spicy with hints of cinnamon, clove, and pepper, full-bodied.
- The Philippines – Strong, bold, and somewhat bitter, with notes of dark chocolate.
- Indonesia – Intense and bright, with spicy notes.
If you want to taste the subtle flavors of your beans, the best way is to get them medium roasted. However, dark roast beans are recommended for making espresso because the dark roasting process brings out the oils for the crema.
The best beans to use for dark roast are beans with strong flavors such as beans from Colombia, Rwanda, or the Philippines. The flavors of the beans will not be overpowered by the roasting process. They will even be enhanced due to the smoky flavor brought about by roasting.
How Does the Grind Size Affect Espresso?
Yes, the grind size of the beans does affect espresso. To make a good quality cup of espresso, you need to use a fine ground. The size of the ground allows optimum extraction during the brewing process.
How Do I Choose Good-Quality Beans?
To choose beans for espresso, look for beans that have a dark brown color and an oily sheen. The beans must be aromatic, and the surface must be visibly oily; if the beans are dry or do not have any noticeable smell, it’s a sign that they are old beans. However, you must make sure that the grinder you will use can handle oily beans. Otherwise, you’re going to have a tough time cleaning out your grinder!
Some General Rules for Buying Beans
Here are some tips when you’re buying beans for espresso:
- Always check the manufacturing date and expiration date if you’re buying pre-ground beans.
- If you’re buying whole beans, buy them in small batches to prevent them from going stale before you can use them.
- Only grind your beans right before you plan to brew them, otherwise the beans will oxide and lose flavor and aroma.
- Purchase from small sellers, if possible, so that you can inspect the beans first-hand before you buy them.
- Experiment with your blend if you can. An 80% Arabica-20% Robusta blend is a great place to start and you can change the ratios depending on your taste.
Some Final Thoughts From the Earl
So, let’s go back to the original question: do you need special beans for espresso? The answer is, no. You can use any coffee beans that you want. However, do you need a particular roast and grind size to get an authentic shot? Yes. It would be best if you used dark roast beans that are ground finely to get the taste, aroma, and crema of a genuine espresso shot. Find out more about Nespresso.