What Coffee Should I Use for Espresso? (Coffee Making Advice)

My wife and I love those lazy Sunday mornings, reading magazines at the kitchen table while sipping an espresso. So what type of coffee is best to make the optimal espresso?

Espresso is best made with tamped, finely ground dark-roasted Arabica or Robusta coffee beans. The dark roasting process releases more oils from the beans, creating the rich taste that characterizes espresso.

Let’s dive down into the subject of the best espresso coffee beans in more detail, and discover what to use and why – plus learn the techniques for making the perfect espresso at home…

What Coffee Should I Use for Espresso?

What Blend of Coffee is Best for Espresso?

You don’t need a special blend of coffee to make a good espresso; however, a rich, dark-roasted coffee will give you the best results.

If you prefer a lighter roast, that’s fine too, and indeed, you may get more complex coffee flavors from this blend.

Can You Make Espresso With Regular Coffee?

Yes, you can make espresso from regular coffee beans. Some beans are sold as “espresso beans” specifically. They tend to be dark-roasted beans, which are oilier than lighter roasts and help to create that characteristic “crema”.

However, don’t waste your dollars searching out espresso beans, because any regular beans will give you a reasonable brew. The real difference lies in the grind…

What Kind of Grounds Do You Use for Espresso?

For a good espresso, you need to get the right size of coffee grounds. Too coarse and you’ll end up with something undrinkably sour, too fine and the water can’t push through it properly.

When preparing your beans for espresso, err on the side of fine. You want it to be less coarse than sand, but not so fine that it won’t extract. Try using a couple of different settings on your grinder and see what works best for you.

As always, freshly ground beans make the best coffee, so prepare your beans just before you make your brew.

Are Medium or Dark Coffee Beans Better for Espresso?

Generally, dark roasts are better for espresso. The dark roasting process releases more oils from the beans, creating that rich and oily taste that works so well for espresso.

However, a medium bean will also do fine, and it’s simply down to personal taste. The lighter the roast, the more caffeine it contains – so if you’re after a doppio to pick you up, a medium roast might actually be the better option. 

Does the Type of Coffee Really Matter for Espresso?

Purists will always have a favorite bean for their espressos, and we admire them for this.

However, we’re more of the view that it’s important to brew the cup that you want, not the cup that you think you should brew.

With an espresso, the flavors of the coffee are on display, with no added milk, cream, or other flavors to enhance it or detract from it.

Therefore, make sure that you choose a coffee that you enjoy, and it doesn’t matter if it’s dark, medium, single-origin, blended, Arabica, or Robusta. 

What Are the 3 Types of Espresso?

There are lots of different types of espresso, and indeed, a shot of espresso is the starting point for a lot of the coffees on the menu.

However, when it comes to the classic “short” espresso, there are broadly three types:

  • Espresso. The classic short, dark shot
  • Macchiato. An espresso, but with steamed milk
  • Ristretto. The hardcore option: espresso made with half the water

What Blend is Starbucks Espresso?

Starbucks uses 100% Arabica beans for its Espresso Roast. It’s on the dark side, and described as having a “caramel” flavor.

There are also several other espresso roasts available at Starbucks, such as special seasonal blends.

The brand first introduced its surprised American customers to this Italian-style coffee in 1984. Here’s the story of Starbucks and espresso.

What Makes a Perfect Espresso?

Now, forget about the specific beans and roasts: the secret to a perfect espresso lies in how you make it. 

It needs a fine grind, used at just the right dose for the quantity of water. The water needs to be at the right temperature (around 200 degrees fahrenheit, never boiling), and importantly, always tamp the coffee grounds in the portafilter to assist with extraction. 

Of course, having a good-quality machine also helps, as the water pressure will be calibrated correctly, forcing the water through the grounds at the right rate. To see the process in action, take a look at this guide to making your own perfect espresso.

Can I Use Starbucks Coffee for Espresso?

Yes, you can. Starbucks sells special espresso blends; however, any coffee that you fancy will do the job, provided it has a fine grind (if you’re buying ready-ground). 

Can I Use Medium Grind Coffee for Espresso?

Well, it’s possible to use a medium grind to make espresso, but you really won’t end up with a very nice brew.

Always use a fine grind when brewing espresso coffee, or you’ll end up with something weak and flavorless. Here’s why.

When you make an espresso, you’re forcing (“pressing”) water through the coffee grinds. This process is called extraction, and it’s when the flavor is extracted from the coffee by the water, before pouring perfectly into your waiting cup.

The coarser the grounds, the easier it is for the water to pass through them. It’s like pouring water through gravel as opposed to sand. Water simply speeds through coarse or untapped grounds, picking up very little flavor on its fast journey.

A finer grind is harder to get through, so the water will extract more flavor.

The grind for espresso is generally described as “very fine”. However, if you go too fine, you run the risk of the water not being able to pass through the portafilter at all.

Your machine will have recommended settings for grinding espresso beans, and there’s always an element of trial-and-error if you’re using a new grinder or coffee maker.

Does the Type of Coffee Really Matter for Espresso?
Does the Type of Coffee Really Matter for Espresso?

Is Espresso Just Fine Coffee?

Do you hear the sound of a thousand baristas shouting at that question? Espresso is made with finely ground beans, yes, but it’s much more than that.

An espresso is also defined by how it’s made. Water needs to be forced through the coffee grounds at a high pressure, causing the extraction process that gives the coffee its rich flavor. It’s this combination of fine grinds and high pressure that results in this unique beverage.

You can’t simply make a small, strong coffee in a French press and call it an espresso. A true espresso has to be made in a properly calibrated coffee machine, from fine, tamped coffee grounds, ideally of a darker roast for the perfect crema.

Just fine coffee, indeed. 🙂