Can You Use Ground Coffee in Your Espresso Machine?

Compared to brewing methods such as drip coffee or pour-over coffee, which a lot of people are familiar with, espresso has always had a bit of a mystery to it. 

As you know, espresso is slightly different than filter coffee, both in terms of the end product and the brewing process. Because of these differences, there is a certain level of confusion surrounding espresso, prompting a wide variety of questions to be asked.

One of the most asked questions regarding espresso is whether you can use ground coffee in your espresso machine or not. For the most part, this question gets asked by those who are regular filter coffee drinkers who recently bought an espresso machine who would like to ensure that they are getting the best espresso experience possible.

While you can indeed use your ground coffee in your espresso machine, it may not provide the best possible experience depending on its roast level and grind size.

As the optimal way of brewing espresso calls for dark roast and fine ground coffee, it’s a good idea to buy a new batch of coffee if the coffee you already have doesn’t check these boxes.

Using Pre-Ground Coffee in Your Espresso Machine

While using pre-ground coffee won’t cause any problems for you or your espresso machine, there is a good chance that your espresso won’t taste as good as you expected.

Considering that you bought your ground coffee for your drip coffee or your pour-over coffee maker, the roast level of your coffee will most likely be somewhere in the light to medium range, and the grind size will be medium to medium-coarse.

Using coffee grounds that fit this description will produce a shot of espresso that is weaker with a sour flavor profile as opposed to the rich and bitter taste we associate with espresso, with both roast level and grind size playing a role.

Effects of Using Coarse Grind Coffee Grounds on Espresso

Since espresso is brewed by pushing pressurized water through coffee grounds for a very short time, using a grind size that is too coarse causes coffee grounds to be under-extracted due to two reasons.

The first reason is surface area. As the surface area of coarsely ground coffee is smaller than finely ground coffee, water won’t be able to reach all of the grounds in such a short time, causing an uneven extraction of the grounds.

The second reason is the fact that coarsely ground coffee leaves more gaps between the grounds, allowing the water to move through the filter without facing a decent amount of resistance from the grounds. Because of this, water doesn’t stay in contact with the grounds for the required amount of time, causing under-extraction.

Effects of Using Medium/Light Roast Level Coffee on Espresso

Using light or medium roasted coffee beans for your espresso doesn’t directly affect it negatively like using a coarse grind size does. That being said, the flavors of light or medium roasted coffee beans are not the flavors we expect from a shot of espresso.

Even though the brewing method itself plays the biggest role in giving a shot of espresso the bold flavor we all love, using a roast level that is too light makes it harder to achieve this flavor.

That being said, the third wave of coffee brought some changes to the realm of espresso as well, with plenty of coffee shops choosing to brew espresso with light or medium roast coffee beans. 

As the general trend for specialty coffee is to brew with coffee beans that are lightly roasted due to the original flavor of the coffee being more present, we may eventually see a shift from dark to light roast in the case of espresso as well.

What Type of Coffee to Use for Espresso Machine?

Now, it’s time to talk about the characteristics you should be looking for in the coffee grounds you will be using in your espresso machine.

Grind Size

For brewing espresso, you should always use fine ground coffee grounds. Whether you buy coffee beans and grind them or buy pre-ground coffee, this is something that you should never overlook.

Using a fine grind size allows water to be distributed evenly throughout the rather short brew time of espresso and also causes the grounds to be tightly packed in the portafilter to ensure that water stays in contact with the grounds for a long enough time to extract them optimally.

Roast Level

For the classic espresso experience, you should be looking to buy dark roast coffee.

Since there are different levels of dark roast, it’s possible to find dark roast coffee beans with labels such as Italian roast, French roast, or just dark roast, with Italian roast (also known as espresso roast) being the darkest and dark roast being the lightest roast level between the three.

That being said, the rules when it comes to roast level aren’t as clear-cut as grind size.

While dark roast coffee will allow you to create a shot of espresso that is most similar to the ones you are used to having at most coffee shops, it wouldn’t be wrong to say that there is a degree of personal preference involved in the roast level selection.

Is Espresso Just Finely Ground Coffee?

Contrary to popular belief, espresso has nothing to do with the coffee grounds themselves, both in terms of grind size and in terms of roast level.

Beans that are marketed as espresso beans or espresso roast beans are simply referring to a dark roast level that is also known as Italian roast.

While it is true that brewing espresso requires finely ground coffee, espresso and finely ground coffee aren’t synonymous.

Conclusion

At the end of the day, you can feel free to use your ground coffee in your espresso machine without any issues.

That being said, you should be looking to buy coffee that checks the boxes in terms of grind size and roast level if you are looking to recreate the coffee shop espresso experience at home.

Have a great day, and enjoy your coffee!