Can You Use Regular Ground Coffee In An Espresso Machine?

can you use regular coffee for espresso

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A question that often pops up is whether pre-ground coffee can be used in an espresso machine without sacrificing quality or taste. 

As you know, regular pre-ground coffee is widely available and offers the convenience of a quicker preparation time, eliminating the need for a separate coffee grinder. However, the espresso-making process relies on a few factors, such as the freshness of the coffee grounds, water temperature, and pressure – to name a few. 

So taking that into account, it’s important to determine if store-bought coffee can meet these requirements and still produce the desired flavor profiles and mouthfeel of a properly brewed shot of espresso.

In this article, we will dig a little deeper to see if you can use ground coffee for espresso and how it may affect the quality and taste; the answer might surprise you.

✔ Quick Answer

Using regular ground coffee in an espresso machine is possible, but it might not yield the best results, as espresso requires a finer grind and more pressure to extract correctly. Regular coffee grounds are often too coarse, leading to a weak, under-extracted shot lacking the characteristic crema and intensity of a traditional espresso.

Understanding Pre-Ground Coffee

Before we dive in, it’s probably a good idea to take a closer look at what pre-ground actually is and the different types of grinds found on supermarket shelves.

What Is Pre-Ground Coffee?

Your regular pre-ground coffee is coffee that has already been ground before being packaged and sold. This type of coffee is convenient for many consumers because it eliminates the need to take the extra step to grind whole beans themselves. 

While pre-ground coffee offers the benefit of convenience, it often will sacrifice some freshness and flavor when compared to freshly ground beans. This is because coffee beans begin to oxidize and lose their aroma and taste qualities as soon as they are ground.

Different Grinds Of Pre-Ground Coffee

There are a handful of different grinds of pre-ground coffee that cater to various popular brewing methods. Some common ones include:

  • Coarse grind: This grind has a chunky, gravel-like texture suitable for French Press, percolator, and cold brew methods.
  • Medium grind: With a texture resembling sea salt, this grind works well for drip coffee makers and some pour-over methods.
  • Fine grind: A smoother, sand-like texture characterizes this grind, which is appropriate for espresso machines and AeroPress (with a longer steep time).
  • Extra-fine grind: This powdery grind is suitable for Turkish coffee and some specialized espresso machines.

Check out our complete coffee grind size guide article with real photos for more guidance.

It is essential to select the appropriate grind of pre-ground coffee for the specific brewing method to ensure optimal extraction and flavor. 

Almost all espresso machines require a fine grind due to their high-pressure extraction process. Using a grind that is too coarse can result in under-extracted coffee, while a grind that is too fine may cause over-extraction, both of which negatively impact flavor and quality.

The problem is that most coffee sold in supermarkets is typically a medium grind for filter coffee as this is the most common grind used in automatic drip coffee maker machines which are a popular option with most households. 

So when shopping at your local store, you may struggle to find a fine grind for your espresso machine.

If you do have a hard time, we recommend finding a local coffee roaster or specialty coffee shop and asking them to grind a bag of their coffee to an espresso grind for you – it will definitely taste better and be fresher than supermarket coffee!

Using Pre-Ground Coffee in an Espresso Machine

Pros and Cons

Using pre-ground coffee in an espresso machine has its advantages and disadvantages. The pros include convenience, cost-effectiveness, and a wider variety of coffee flavors to choose from. 

On the other hand, the cons include a potential loss of freshness, less control over grind size, and possible inconsistencies in extraction.

Here’s a summary.

Pros:

  • Convenience: Pre-ground regular coffee beans are readily available and easy to use.
  • Cost-effective: It’s generally less expensive than purchasing whole beans and grinding them at home.
  • Variety: There is a wide selection of pre-ground coffee flavors and blends to choose from.

Cons:

  • Freshness: Pre-ground regular coffee may lose its freshness faster than whole beans due to increased exposure to air and moisture.
  • Grind size: It’s difficult to control grind size, which directly affects the extraction process.
  • Inconsistency: Pre-ground coffee can yield inconsistent results in espresso extraction compared to freshly ground beans.

Step-by-Step Process When Using Regular Coffee

Here’s a step-by-step guide to using pre-ground regular coffee in an espresso machine:

  1. Select high-quality ground coffee: Choose a fine espresso grind size for optimal extraction. Look for freshly produced coffee with a “best before” date well in the future. Or better still, choose a bag of coffee that has a roast date rather than a best-before date. This way, you will know exactly when the coffee was roasted and just how fresh it actually is. 
  2. Measure the coffee: Use a coffee scale to measure the appropriate amount of coffee for the desired number of shots (usually 18-20 grams for a double shot).
  3. Prepare the portafilter: Ensure the portafilter basket is clean and dry. Distribute the coffee evenly and lightly tamp it down using a good tamper. Be careful not to over-tamp, as this may result in poor extraction.
  4. Brew the espresso: Insert the portafilter into the espresso machine, place a cup under the spout, and start the extraction process (with or without pre-infusion). The ideal extraction time should be between 25-30 seconds for a double shot.
  5. Serve and enjoy: Once the extraction is complete, enjoy your espresso immediately to savor the best flavor and aroma.

Remember to clean your espresso machine regularly to maintain optimal functionality and taste. 

When using regular coffee, the right grind size, proper tamping, and timely brewing are essential for achieving a great shot of espresso.

Best Ground Coffee For Espresso Machine

During our testing for this article, we tried quite a few different brands of store-bought ground coffee. But there was one particular brand that we all agreed tasted the best. Lifeboost Single Origin Embolden Dark Roast Coffee: If you really have to use coffee for your espresso machine that has been pre ground you won’t go far wrong with this. 

Lifeboost Embolden Dark Roast Coffee

Lifeboost Embolden Dark Roast Coffee

BUY AT OFFICIAL STORE

Espresso Quality When Using Pre-Ground Coffee

Taste Comparison

Using pre-ground coffee for espresso can result in a slightly different taste compared to freshly ground beans. Espresso beans that have just been ground release more aroma and volatile flavors which contribute to a richer and more balanced espresso. 

Pre-ground coffee might lose some of these flavors due to extended exposure to air. Additionally, pre-prepared coffee is often sold in a finer grind size, which can result in over-extraction, which in turn creates a bitter taste.

pre ground coffee brews a very watery espresso shot
Pre-ground coffee brews a very watery espresso shot.

In contrast, freshly ground beans provide flexibility for the user to adjust the grind size according to their machine and taste preferences, resulting in a more customized and enjoyable espresso experience.

Impact On The Espresso Machine’s Functionality

While pre-ground coffee can be used in espresso machines, its impact on the machine’s functionality might vary. 

Using a finer grind size than recommended for the specific machine can cause issues like clogging of the filter basket or higher pressure during extraction, leading to faster wear and tear on the machine’s components.

If possible try to purchase pre-ground coffee specifically made for your espresso machines to ensure compatibility with their machine. Many big brand machines do sell their own range of espresso coffee.

Conclusion

So can you use regular coffee for espresso? If you’ve got this far you already know the answer. Using pre-ground coffee in an espresso machine can work, but it might not yield the most ideal results compared to a good quality single-origin espresso bean. 

The main issue with pre-ground coffee is that it loses freshness quickly, leading to a less flavorful espresso. To enjoy a high-quality espresso, we highly recommend grinding your freshly roasted dark-roast coffee beans just before brewing.

However, if you do decide to use regular coffee grounds, it is important to ensure that the grind size is suitable for an espresso maker. 

Remember, coffee that has been finely ground should be used to achieve a rich and robust espresso. And keep in mind that using the wrong grind size can cause issues with the machine, such as over-extraction, clogging, or perpetual wear and tear of internal components.

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