Can You Use Regular Coffee For Espresso?

By Evelina •  Updated: 10/19/21 •  8 min read

I remember standing in front of the coffee aisle of the local grocery store for ages before deciding which type of coffee to buy for my espresso machine. Let me tell you, it didn’t always go down well!

It took a lot of trial and error and some research before I finally figured out there is a lot of difference between all these different types of coffees and not all of them were suitable for my home espresso machine.

The number one issue most people actually face is accidentally buying regular coffee instead of coffee for espresso. Indeed, these two have many differences and when confusing one for the other the result isn’t not going to be very tasty!

So, today I’ll break down everything I found out about them and explain all their differences so you won’t have to spend another day drinking coffee than doesn’t taste perfect!

What Is Regular Coffee?

Can You Use Regular Coffee For Espresso

The term “regular coffee” might seem very vague to some, since most coffee orders are very specific these days, eg. caramel latte, pour-over etc. However, the term does actually describe the most common form of coffee in the world: a cup of filtered coffee.

If you walk into any diner in the U.S. this is exactly what they will serve you. Filtered coffee has been around for centuries, way before the industrial revolution and the invention of the espresso machine during the early 1900s.

People have used many types of filters to extract the flavour from the magical coffee bean, such as cloths, paper filters and metal filters. All these types of filters made it easy to brew coffee which is why their use is so widespread around the world for centuries.

Today, regular coffee still means a cup of filtered coffee in many countries. So if you let’s say go to the grocery store to buy some coffee and there is no indication on the label as to how you should use it, you can just assume you’re supposed to filter it.

What Is An Espresso?

Espresso is a type of coffee preparation in which water is pressed through very finely ground coffee at high pressure. The process results in a very strong coffee, on which there is a dense, golden-brown foam layer – the crema – which significantly contributes to the aroma.

Espresso is usually served in very small, thick-walled and preheated cups with a capacity of approx. 40 ml. It is the usual way of preparing coffee in Italy and Spain and if you ask them for regular coffee they’ll probably give you an espresso, you’ve been warned!

How Professionals Make An Espresso

Professional baritas need an espresso machine to prepare a very good espresso. During the preparation, 88-94°C of hot water is pressed through very finely ground coffee at an initial pressure of about 9 bars.

The processing time must be around 25 seconds. If the right amount of water runs through the machine faster, not all aromas are released: the espresso tastes bland. If the water runs through the coffee grounds for too long, on the other hand, too many bitter substances dissolve.

Espresso Machines Through Time

It used to be part of the culture of professional espresso preparation that the pressure was generated by pulling down a lever on the espresso machine. Most machines today work with an electric pump.

An alternative to these manual machines are the fully automatic machines that are very popular today, which brew a decent cup of espresso at the push of a button, but it’s usually not as good as the one a barista will brew for you.

Regular Coffee vs Espresso: The Differences

The differences between coffee and espresso lie in several areas:

Can You Use Regular Coffee For Espresso?

And here comes the answer to your question! Based on all the above, I would not suggest you using regular coffee to brew an espresso shot. Chances are the extracted espresso will taste bad, probably very bitter.

All of the differences I have described above play a major role on the outcome, especially the grind degree of the coffee bean. I’ll try explaining this by using apple cultivars as an example.

Golden delicious is an apple cultivar that tastes very sweet and granny smith is an apple cultivar that tastes very sour. They are both apples but they taste completely different from one another.

It’s the same with regular coffee and espresso, they are both types of coffee but completely different so I wouldn’t go about mixing them.

Can You Use Regular Coffee In An Espresso Machine?

Short answer: No!

Long answer, just as an example, let’s assume you buy pre-ground regular coffee from the store and try to use it to brew an espresso.

First and foremost, the grind level will be wrong, because the coffee you bought is ground to be filtered and it’s probably way more coarse than the espresso grind.

Just as the water shoots through the coffee bed to end up in your espresso cup it will find loads of resistance and will not pour during the correct time frame nor will the result taste good. It will probably be over-extracted and bitter as the water has had contact with the coffee for too long.

By doing all this, you are not only risking having a cup of coffee that tastes bad, you are also risking ruining your espresso machine by clogging it with the wrong coffee grounds.

Can You Use Pre-Ground Coffee In An Espresso Machine?

Well, to be clear, in order for you to brew any kind of coffee, the coffee beans need to be ground beforehand. If for example you tried to steep whole coffee beans in hot water you’d probably end up with some extremely diluted coffee-tasting water.

That being said, using pre-ground coffee for an espresso machine is definitely one way to brew espresso at home. Just be mindful to read the labels and only buy coffee that is meant for an espresso machine.

Usually these labels would say something along the lines of “espresso roast” or “espresso”.

However, there is also another way! Instead of buying pre-ground coffee, you can simply buy whole espresso beans and grind them at home just before you brew your coffee.

I, personally, am a big fan of grinding coffee just a few seconds before brewing it because the result in my cup is much more delicious. Pre-ground coffee starts losing its freshness very quickly, almost as soon as you open the bag.

Grinding it fresh just before brewing will ensure your coffee stays fresh for longer, it will prolong its shelf life and your favourite time will taste a hundred times better!

Last Thoughts

So, there you have it! Using regular coffee for brewing espresso is definitely a no-no. These two drinks are completely different from one another and whatever brewing practices may compliment a good cup of espresso might be disastrous for brewing regular coffee.

I would definitely not risk it! And you really don’t have to. There are just so many options out in the market these days, making it super easy to find great quality coffee beans aimed for both espresso and regular coffee.

I am sure that after reading this article, choosing the right coffee beans for your espresso will be so much easier!


Evelina’s passion for coffee could never been hidden. Having worked as a barista, she learned the true value of the coffee bean and its secrets. As she continued to evolve as a barista, so did her knowledge, techniques on making different coffee blends and most importantly how to operate every kind of gear when it comes to coffee. Having a degree in biomedicine and being a barista, allows her to provide our community with in-depth knowledge surrounding the topics of coffee.