Espresso vs. Coffee Beans: Is There a Difference?

When it comes to coffee, many may wonder, ‘What’s the difference between coffee and espresso beans?’ Some people think they are a specific strain of bean, while others think that it’s a particular roast. Ultimately, it’s a blend (or a single origin bean) that stands up well under the high pressure preparation that is the hallmark of espresso extraction.

According to the aficionados at, ‘Espresso is almost always a blend of beans…The most basic rule of espresso blending is that espresso must have subdued acidity, be heavy bodied, and be sweet enough to balance the bitter and acidic flavors in the blend.’

To better illustrate how different beans might have different flavors (after all, coffee beans are coffee beans, right?), we’ll discuss some general information on basic coffee plants, tastes by region, post-harvest processing and, finally, roasting.

There are two varieties of plants, Arabica and Robusta. Arabica originated in Ethiopia, is typically grown in higher altitudes and accounts for 75-80% of the world’s production. Robusta, on the other hand, is a lowland coffee species that originated in West Africa. It features greater pest resistance and a generally heartier plant, which results in higher overall yields — but its high caffeine content gives it a intensely bitter and inferior taste. Some very carefully grown and processed Robustas can be found in premium espresso blends, however, as they can improve the crema and body. Additionally, human-initiated cross-breeding of Arabica and Robusta, which attempt to blend the low caffeine content and smoother taste of C. arabica with the heartiness and disease resistance of C. canephora, have resulted in new varietals which are highly adaptable, hearty and commonly used in commercial coffee plantations.

Depending on where they originate, the weather, temperature, altitude and soil contribute to different flavors; you can get a general idea of different tastes by region here.

Another element is how the coffee is processed post-harvest. Processes include natural or dry process, wet process and pulped natural.

Dry processing usually takes place in areas with limited rainfall and lots of sun light. This process allows the coffee cherry to air dry on patios before their skin and the fruit itself is removed from the coffee bean. The bean outcome is usually heavy-bodied, sweet and smooth with subdued acidity. It also can develop more crema during espresso extraction.

The wet process requires the cherries to be sorted in high pressure water tanks which then removes the skin but the fruit stays on the bean while it dries. These beans usually taste cleaner, brighter and fruitier.

Pulped natural uses a combination of the wet and dry processes. Beans grown in areas with low humidity allow them to dry faster without fermentation. The end result is a full bodied bean like those of the dry process, but with the acidity of a bean that has been wet processed. The bean usually is sweeter.

Once the coffee is grown, picked and processed, it’s time for the roast! Roasters create different blends with a specific flavor profile in mind. And, since coffee is an agricultural product that changes every season, they play a little mad science by swapping out different beans in the blend in order to maintain a consistent flavor over time.

Roasting occurs in a Four Stage Process: endothermic, first crack, pyrolysis and second crack. For more information on how different roasts inform the end coffee flavor, check out this handy chart, sourced from Kenneth Davids.

Hopefully, this primer provided you with some insight as you’re selecting a blend for espresso preparation. Got questions? Leave them in the comments and we’ll answer away!

Cooking with Kaylie: Chocolate Espresso Cupcakes

Chocolate Espresso CupcakesIt’s week two in my quest to incorporate coffee into as many foods as possible!

After last week’s recipe, where I semi-deliberately didn’t follow instructions and ended up with slightly less than perfect Espresso Meringues, I decided that I needed to take a step back and make something super easy.

The result? Chocolate Espresso Cupcakes, courtesy of a boxed cake mix. Like I said, super easy!


Chocolate Espresso Cupcakes Ingredients


  • Preheat oven to 325 degrees F
  • Beat cake mix, espresso, water, oil and eggs on low speed with mixer for 30 seconds
  • Kick the mixer up to medium for about 2 minutes, scraping sides of bowl occasionally
  • Spoon mix into cupcake wrappers, filling about 2/3 full
  • Bake in oven 20-25 minutes or until a toothpick inserted comes out clean
  • Let cool on a wire rack before frosting


Chocolate Espresso Cupcakes with Hazelnut Cream Cheese FrostingKeep in mind that the ingredients and directions will vary based on the boxed cake mix you use. To adapt the recipe to your cake mix, simply replace 50% or more of the water with brewed espresso.

This time, I used 60% espresso and, while it was definitely noticeable in the batter, it seemed to lose a lot of its taste after baking. Next time I make it, I’ll use only espresso (‘Look ma, no water!’) and see what happens. I’m thinking deliciousness!

The cupcakes turned out yummy and, if I do say so myself, quite pretty! To top it off, they were frosted with Hazelnut Cream Cheese Frosting. I know you want the recipe, so check in on Thursday to see Brandi whip some up!

Compare: Double Boiler Espresso Shots – Izzo, La Spaziale & Breville

For folks that dig precision, a dual boiler espresso machine with PID temperature control of the brew boiler is hard to beat. While we tend to shoot from the hip in general around here, that doesn’t mean we can’t appreciate a shot pulled from one of these beauties!

We asked Gail to pull shots from the Izzo Alex Duetto II, La Spaziale Mini Vivaldi and Breville Dual Boiler so that we could see how they compare. No science at work here, friends (hey, old habits die hard!), but we did use the same grinder for each machine (the Nuova Simonelli MCI), coffee (Lavazza Super Crema) and brew temp (199F) to try to nail down a few of the variables.

Watch as we taste and discuss the shots from each of these machines, then rank them in terms of our favorites, flavor-wise.

SCG Crew Views: What is your favorite non-espresso prep?

While we have over 100 different espresso machines at our jittery little fingertips each day, our crew sometimes opts to brew a batch o’ java using a different method. We asked Gail, Bunny, Allie, Brandi and Rade to share which non-espresso coffee preparations they dig the most, then filmed how they do it.

We shot this series over a few weeks and didn’t realize until the slice-n-dice that one very common theme throughout is that all of us lack the precision some folks adore, but we’re pretty sure you know that about us by now!

Watch as each of our trusty compatriots talk about why they like the prep they’ve chosen and make us a cup so we can taste their handiwork. This video is a true homage to shooting from the hip if there ever was one.

Brewin’ with Brandi: Iced Latte a la Nespresso

We kept her on pins and needles long enough, so when we had the opportunity to pair up a non-sweetened coffee drink with a batch of Kaylie’s Espresso Meringue cookies, we let Brandi break out the Nespresso! She chose to produce an iced latte, featuring the Aeroccino‘s cold frothing functionality.

While the recipe isn’t rocket science (a couple shots of espresso and a batch of cold-frothed milk), it’s always fun to watch Brandi whip something up, isn’t it?

SCG Tech Tips: Espresso Machine Maintenance & Care

So you’ve finally pulled together the courage to add up how much you’ve been spending on all those lattes, macchiatos and cappuccinos you’ve consumed at your local cafe everyday. After looking at the grand total you think, ‘Wow, I could’ve set up my own espresso shop!’

When considering their purchase, folks often think about the kind of coffee they want to make and how easy it will be to use — generally, how much work they’re willing to do to craft their favorite drink every day. They also consider the initial monetary investment when purchasing the machine, but we rarely have folks thinking about the overall care and feeding of their new gear: How much work will it take to maintain and keep these machines running well? What kind of life expectancy might a specific machine have? Are there any known issues they should be aware of and prepare for?

To answer these questions, we’ve delved into the tech nitty gritty: From entry-level single boilers to high end ‘prosumer’ semi-automatics to mini caffeine robots (also known as superautomatics), we’ve got the 411 on the general longevity, maintenance and care of different machines. We couldn’t hit all of them, of course, but hopefully there’s enough info here to help you while considering which machine is right for you.

Cooking with Kaylie: Espresso Infused Meringue Cookies

I recently decided that my mission in life is going to be finding ways to incorporate coffee and espresso into everyday foods. After all, who wants to limit their caffeine intake to mornings?!Espresso Meringues

So, the first recipe I wanted to tackle was Espresso Infused Meringue Cookies from the Happy Good Times Blog. I think now would be the appropriate time to point out that these meringues didn’t turn out how I think they were supposed to. They were still good (seriously!), but I think I lack the necessary skills to create this lovechild of baked goods and candy. Also, I may or may not follow directions well…


  • 3 large egg whites at room temperature Espresso Meringue Ingredients
  • 1/4 teaspoon cream of tartar
  • Pinch of salt
  • 3/4 cup white granulated sugar
  • 1 and 1/2 teaspoon finely ground espresso or coffee beans (we used Velton’s Twilight Blend)
  • 1/4 teaspoon vanilla (I used powdered, but I don’t think that’s necessary)


  • Allow whites to come to room temperature (about 20 minutes)
  • Clean and dry your mixing bowl
  • Line baking sheet with parchment paper
  • Pre-heat oven to 275 degrees F
  • Stir together sugar, espresso grounds and vanilla – set aside
  • Using a mixer, beat whites on low speed until foamy
  • Sprinkle cream of tartar and salt over foamy whites
  • Increase mixer speed to medium, and beat until medium peaks form
  • Increase mixer speed to high, and add sugar mixture one tablespoon at a time
  • When stiff, glossy peak form, spoon meringue onto your prepared baking sheet
  • Bake for 60-70 minutes in the top third of your oven
  • Allow to cool completely on the baking sheet
  • Store in an air-tight container for about 3 days.

After reading through that, and seeing my pictures, you may have a couple of questions. Questions like: ‘Kaylie, did you use bottled egg whites instead of fresh ones?’ or ‘That sounds like a lot of meringue mixture; did you double the recipe?’ The answer to both of those questions is yes, that is exactly what I did! Remember what I said about not following directions? Well, it’s not that I don’t follow them so much as I try to take shortcuts. Shortcuts which may or may not ruin the finished product.

How so? Well, the meringues were very delicate on the outside and soft onBroken Espresso Meringues the inside. Not fluffy soft, more like ‘too heavy to rise so it sunk to the bottom’ soft. The result? Something like hollow egg shells that were nearly impossible to keep intact while removing them from the baking sheet.

The crew here at Seattle Coffee Gear still ate them, cutting the sweetness with an iced latte (courtesy of Brandi). I just wish they had turned out pretty and delicious. If there are any readers with mad meringue-making skills, please let me know what I did wrong! I’d love to try these again and have them turn out. In the meantime, I will just need to redeem myself with next week’s recipe … Wish me luck.

Blind Taste Test: Technivorm vs. Bonavita Coffee Makers

Things were getting a little bit docile around these parts, so it was clearly time for another grudge match! We asked Gail to brew a pot of coffee in the Technivorm Moccamaster KB741 and in the Bonavita Coffee Maker, then line ‘em up and see which our trusty crew members preferred.

Watch as Rade, Allison, Bunny and our newest ingenue, Kaylie, sip and select their favorite.

Brewin’ with Brandi: Golden Sunset

Who doesn’t love a woman who shows up at work with a gigantic bottle of vodka in the morning?! Brandi is wooing us yet again with one of her dangerously delicious boozin’ concoctions.

Watch her craft this lovely drink — which we’re fairly certain is perfect for breakfast. There’s gotta be some vitamins in there, right?




Fill glass with ice; add vodka and syrup, stir well to combine. Top with lemon lime soda and garnish with an orange slice.

Three Cups a Day Keeps the Doctor Away

Who would’ve thought that the fountain of youth could be found right in your very own kitchen — and right under your nose? Your morning cup of coffee provides more than just a kick in the pants to get going in the morning, it also has positive affects on your noodle!

Studies have shown that drinking at least three to five cups of coffee a day in midlife can cut Alzheimer’s risk 65 percent in late life.

A July 2011 study by researchers at the University of Florida found that ‘coffee seems to have an unidentified ingredient that combines with caffeine to reduce brain levels of beta-amyloid — the abnormal protein that is thought to cause the disease,’ published the Journal of Alzheimer’s Disease.

In early studies, USF researchers believed that caffeine was probably the ingredient that provides protection because it decreases brain production of beta-amyloid. However, the same study also claims that it may not be the caffeine itself but a combination of the caffeine and coffee’s compounds that, when combined, increases blood levels of a growth factor called GCSF (granulocyte colony stimulating factor). Alzheimer patients are known to have low levels of GCSF.

In their studies, long term treatment with coffee enhanced levels of GCSF and memory in mice with Alzheimer’s. Three key benefits researchers found were:

  1. GCSF recruits stem cells from bone marrow to enter the brain and remove the harmful beta-amyloid protein that initiates the disease
  2. GSCF creates new connections between brain cells
  3. GCSF increases the birth of new neurons in the brain

While this has only been tested and verified on mice, it does demonstrate that coffee can have a strong impact on the progression of Alzheimer’s, to the extent that it’s worth more study. Dr. Chuanhai Cao, one of the study’s lead authors, said, ‘Together these actions appear to give coffee an amazing potential to protect against Alzheimer’s — but only if you drink moderate amounts of caffeinated coffee.’

But who’s to say adding those extra cups of coffee won’t give you a memory like an elephant when you’re in your 90s? Better safe than sorry.