To understand whether or not it is wise to put coffee in an espresso machine, we first have to differentiate between coffee and espresso. The two types of highly caffeinated beverages have distinct differences, not only in the way they are made, prepared, and served, but in the way they taste and the ingredients used to create them.
TL:DR: Yes, but you want to choose a Dark Roast and do a Fine Grind.
The Beans: Origin and Difference
Fresh coffee beans have the potential to become one or the other when it comes to coffee vs. espresso. There is not a separate espresso plant, so the origin of the two separate types of coffee can originate from the same plant.
The roast and the method of brewing is the key difference between beans that are labeled espresso and beans that are labeled for drip or regular coffee.
Brewing differences and why they are important
In an espresso machine, the beans are pressurized and the flavors in the roast are smashed together and brought out to become rich and strong. Often roasts with chocolate and richer flavors will be offered as espresso brews because they generally make for a stronger espresso and that is what makes espresso what it is.
In normal or drip coffee, very hot water is used to bring the flavor out of the beans, diluting it and making for a duller and less saturated coffee drinking experience. Often more fruity or nutty undertones will be offered as coffee brews because they aren’t as strong and they fit well with the duller flavor.
Ultimately, these differences do not stop you from putting beans created for coffee into an espresso machine, as the two types of coffee are originally the same thing and the main difference is flavor, meaning it won’t break your machine or anything. The question is, is it practical and what will be the result of doing so? What will the flavors be like? Will it even be worth it?
Brewing espresso with “regular” coffee
Now in order to find out what happens when we brew espresso with regular coffee, we have to first figure out how to do it. In my research, I found a method that seems to work on leaf.tv (coffee) so we will be following their tutorial in this section.
You’ll want to grind your beans as finely as you possibly can and if you have grounds you’ll need to regrind them to make them finer. Espresso machines need extremely fine grinds, so fine it’s basically dust, in order to run properly. According to leaf.tv (coffee) you can grind them yourself or have a barista do it for you.
Starbucks will grind an unopened bag and local coffee shops will usually grind any coffee for you. This is the cheapest way to get the coffee ground if you don’t already have a coffee grinder that grinds finely enough for espresso.
Clean and set up your espresso machine. Italian (or stovetop) espresso pots may also be used to create a great cup of espresso, they just tend to make weaker espresso than a machine, which uses a different type of pressure to brew the coffee.
Put the coffee grinds in the machine (or pot). If you’re using a machine you will want to pack the grounds in really tightly to create pressure and if you’re using a pot you will want to do the opposite and leave it loose so the steam can fully get through the entire pot.
Next, put the water in. Machines will have instructions and pots will usually have a fill line. If the pot does not have instructions or a fill line, the recommended amount of water on leaf.tv is ¼ cup).
Now if you have a machine all you have to do is turn it on. The brew can take between 17 and 25 seconds depending on the type of roast the machine is working with. If you have a pot you still have more steps.
Put the pot on a burner and turn it on high. You have to wait for the water to boil and once you see steam your espresso should be done in 30-50 seconds. Make sure all of the liquid is finished steaming before you remove the pot from the burner.
If you have the crema, or rich brown foam on top once you pour the shots into the final espresso cups, you know you’ve done it correctly.
Is it really espresso?
According to leaf.tv, this method should create a drink that tastes similar to espresso, although it might still be a little less rich and flavorful. Ultimately it won’t hurt you to use regular or drip coffee roasts in an espresso machine and, if ground properly, it won’t hurt your machine.
If you really want to use drip coffee in your espresso machine, I have not found an instance where someone was not capable of making it work. There are strong opinions on the internet about it from people who know what they’re doing and this is a very controversial subject, but if it’s what you enjoy then go for it.