Battle of the Beans: Espresso and Coffee
One day, you find yourself browsing over an online store or an aisle in your local grocer looking for good coffee beans to brew. Then you see these peculiar categories labeled on the packaging. Some indicate that they are Espresso Beans while others are just simply coffee beans. You then wonder the difference between espresso beans from an ordinary bean.
If your first thought was that there should not be any difference, then you are technically correct. An espresso bean is definitely a coffee bean. Some coffee authorities go so far as to say that you can use any bean to make an espresso. However, other connoisseurs though would tell you there is a specific difference that delineates a true espresso from your run-of-the-mill cup. This gives us the opinion that not all coffee beans are an espresso bean.
Some brands label their roasts “espresso beans” as a marketing label for darker roasts. There is a specific reason why the term is coined, regardless if there really is a clear line separating espresso beans from everything else. For us to understand the nuances distinguishing these beans from each other, we must first tackle what an espresso truly is.
Espresso – a history of convenience and quality
Espresso was first made in Italy using specialized machinery that dated back to the late 1800’s. The word may have come from two separate origins, both of which perfectly describe the nature of the drink. For the Italian word of express, espresso signifies the quickness of how it is prepared. High-pressure hot water is pushed quickly through a funnel with finely ground coffee beans. This takes us to the other origin word: “pressed-out” or just simply pressed. We then get the rich and thick beverage we all know and love today.
It is speculated that espresso machines were created to give café drinkers fresh cups of coffee at the quickest amount of time. This is probably in reaction to brewed or drip coffee, which is slower to prepare and at multiple servings at once. This creates the problem that there might be some left over per serving which will stale as it cools over time. Espresso solves that issue by being made in singular servings, giving it an impression of individuality and economy with better quality.
Because of the nature of its preparation, espresso machines need beans that are finely ground and of high quality to withstand the tremendous pressure from the hot water. Using below-standard quality coffee beans will make the solid material dissolve completely. This makes the final drink thin and weak instead of emulsifying into a syrupy liquid and crema: the creamy, froth like consistency on top.
Dark roasted beans are more favored as espresso beans primarily due to its country of origin: Italy. The first espressos were made using the traditional Italian roasts, which are one of the darkest roasts in the world. This has lent the espresso its character as having strong flavors and thus the trend with labeling darker roasts as “espresso roasts” persist.
What are the other differences between coffee and espresso?
For one, an espresso is thicker and has much more suspended solids in it than the usual cup of joe. That is why an espresso has more nutritional value, with more important vitamins and minerals such as niacin, dietary magnesium, and riboflavin. Therefore an espresso is the ideal drink for the health conscious consumer who want s more nutrients with just one shot.
Another key difference is that espresso is served in smaller servings called shots. This has paved the way for the creation of espresso derivatives. These derived beverages were designed to increase the volume of the espresso serving while still preserving the rich texture and flavor characteristic inherent in its preparation. These beverages are divided into four categories depending what liquid was mixed with the espresso, and where the espresso settles in the beverage. Namely these are:
- Latte Macchiato – mixed with frothy milk and the espresso settles on top of the cup
- Caffè Latte – mixed with cream or milk and the espresso settles on the bottom
- Caffè Lungo – also known as “Long Black”, espresso is pressed on top of hot water and it eventually settles on top.
- Caffè Americano – one of the most popular coffee orders worldwide, hot water is mixed with the espresso as it settles on the bottom of the cup
Finally, the machinery needed for making espresso is highly specialized and different from drip and other percolators. Unlike other machines, espresso makers need to be sturdy enough to withstand both high temperature and pressure. Pressure is derived from steam, piston, motor pump, or more recently, air pumps. A simplified alternative to the espresso machine exists in the Moka Pot. This looks like a typical kettle, which use steam and pressure to create a beverage similar to those made by an espresso machine.
Home Espresso – the epitome of the “espresso idea”
In days past, the espresso has been confined to cafés because of the cost of its production and the machines required for its creation. Espresso was still one of the fastest and most satisfying beverages in the market but people clamored for more conveniences. Drips and percolators for coffee beans were the first devices used for brewing inside homes as they were easier to manufacture and develop.
Today, with modern technology, coffee lovers need not visit cafés to enjoy a cup of freshly made espresso. Gone were the days where espresso machines had complex set of levers to pull shots. Now with just a push of a button, espresso has now lived up to its namesake. With the growing popularity of home roasting your own coffee beans, who’s to say that espresso making should not follow in its stead.
Feel free to try out and experiment with making your espresso using beans you have not tried yet. Maybe try a peculiar roast, make it an “espresso”, and see if it is to your liking. Discover how cafés do it by trying it out yourself. There is a world to explore out there filled with myriad wonders for coffee lovers. Feeling bold or traditional, nothing should stop you from doing all these in the comfort of your own home.