What Are The Best Espresso Beans?
There’s something about a great shot of espresso – the aroma, the pungency, the satisfying flavor, the tingle it leaves on your palate. It’s so much more than just a cup of coffee. When it’s done right, it can be the best coffee you’ve ever had.
But there IS a catch. If you don’t get the beans right even the best espresso machine and a world-class barista will pull something weak, sour, or bland. How can you prevent this?
Not to worry. In this article, we share nine of the best espresso beans reviews so you can make espresso you love every day.
9 Best Coffee Beans for Espresso
Sure, our list of the best coffee beans are the cream of the crop but not all of them taste appropriate for espresso. So now, let’s take a look at the best espresso beans with a little more depth below:
Life boost coffee’s mission is to provide healthy, organic and ethically sourced whole beans from Nicaraguan coffee farmers to the coffee world. And indeed, it seems they are successfully executing on this goal, however they have recently released these espresso beans that are well worth a try.
There are a lot of labels to this brand, so bear with me as I list them: 100% certified organic, spring-water washed and sun dried, Mycotoxin free, sustainably-sourced, and hand roasted espresso beans.
What does this all mean? It means you’ll be drinking high quality, healthy coffee beans that are produced without sacrificing the environment, your health, or local coffee farmers. Tastes AND feels good to drink.
- 100% certified Organic, Fair Trade Arabica beans from Nicaragua.
- Dark roasted coffee – ideal for espresso brewing.
- Rich and bold with undertones of caramel and chocolate, with a very subtle fruitness/sweetness. Low acid.
- An intense yet attractive aroma.
Forget about Lavazza Super Crema. Peaberry coffee is what you need! It’s a uniquely high-end product that makes a particularly delicious espresso.
Hell no. It’s one of the best coffee beans for making espresso out there!
Why is that?
Most coffee cherries contain two coffee beans, but a special 5% contain only a single bean. This single bean, the peaberry, gets to hog all the nutrients for itself, which means it has twice the richness of flavor.
Volcanica Coffee’s single-estate microlot Tanzanian Peaberry is a perfect example of the style. This medium roast features the fruit-forward flavors that characterize the region, but amped up to 11. It’s pleasantly sweet, with flavors of plum and nougat, and offers a delicate lemongrass acidity. The body is rich and buttery, perfect for your morning shot of espresso.
When Alfred Peet opened his coffee bar in Berkeley, California in 1966, he sparked a change not only in how coffee was brewed, but how it was perceived. This “second wave” of coffee introduced American coffee lovers to dark-roasted specialty coffees, as well as to European brewing methods and beverages such as espresso, latte, or cappuccino, and more. Want to learn more? Watch a brief video about first, second, and third wave coffee here (1)
While Peet’s sells special, limited-edition offerings that are freshly-roasted in small batches, their Arabian Mocha Sanani, with 100% Arabica beans from Africa and Arabia, is a regular selection and offers a unique experience in espresso. When you hear the word “mocha,” you probably think of the popular drink combining coffee and hot chocolate. But the name comes from Mocha, a port city on the Red Sea, and the characteristics of coffee from this region include unmistakable notes of cocoa and chocolate in the aroma and on the palate. One sip – whether in an espresso or a pour over – of an Arabian Mocha and you’ll understand.
Peet’s coffee is roasted only after you place your order, and shipped within four hours of roasting.
- Freshly-roasted 100% Arabica beans from Africa and Arabia
- Dark roast ideal for espresso, French press, or Moka pot, but equally delicious in a pour over
- Notes of chocolate and dates add to complex, spicy aroma
A great espresso roast should be sweet, bold, and richly caramelized, but that doesn’t mean it has to be a dark roast. A medium roast like this one from Coffee Bros. can make an exceptional espresso, provided the roaster is skilled enough to play up the coffee’s inherent sweetness.
Founded by two brothers inspired by no more than their love of coffee, it’s clear that the head roaster at Coffee Bros. knows his way around an espresso roast. This one is made up of a blend of 100% Arabica beans from Colombia and Ethiopia. It’s every bit as sweet as you would hope, but with more complexity than you’d expect, featuring compelling flavors of sugar cane, strawberry, and vanilla.
Kicking Horse Coffee sources only organic, and sustainable shade-grown Arabica beans for their entire line of coffee. These beans come from all over the world. The Kicking Horse Cliff Hanger Espresso Beans is silky and complex, with wild berry notes over chocolate tones and a bold finish.
This pack of Fair Trade-certified medium roasted beans is also recommended for use – with appropriate grinds, of course – with French press, pour over, and cold brew. They offer a selection of medium-dark roast coffees, all with slightly different compositions and therefore a range of flavors in the cup.
- Medium roast espresso beans
- Blackcurrant, milk chocolate and brown sugary flavors
- Fair trade, organic, kosher
Portland, Oregon’s Stumptown Coffee is one of the leading proponents of the “third wave” of coffee, with a focus on origin, growing and processing methods, and most importantly, attention to the coffee itself. It is also a sustainable coffee brand.
The third wave is, in many ways, a reaction. It is just as much a reply to bad coffee as it is a movement toward good coffee.
Hair Bender – a nod to the beauty parlor that previously occupied the location of Stumptown’s first roaster – was the first blend that founder Duane Sorenson produced. The rich textures and volcanic brightness of Indonesian coffee are layered over the fruity character of Latin American coffee and the earthy depth of beans from Africa. Citrus and dark chocolate elements predominate, for a blend of tart and bitter that strikes a lovely balance.
- Blend of coffees from Indonesia, South America, and Africa to fill the palate
- The house espresso blend brewed in every Stumptown coffee shop
- Roasted dark for a crisp finish
A relative newcomer, Koffee Kult has been roasting in Hollywood, Florida since 2010. They focus on small-batch roasting, specializing in organic and ethically sourced single-origin coffee. Koffee Kult dark roast coffee beans focus on South American coffee, especially Colombia and Brazil.
Notes of green apple, lime, and pineapple are the key flavors in Thunder Bolt, but look also for aromas of cinnamon when used in espresso.
- Single-origin beans come from Colombia delivers bright fruit under the dark-roast smokiness
- Hints of cinnamon on top of French roast and fruit-forward South American coffee bean character
- Fair trade and organic
Known for producing rich coffee with bite, Coffee Bean Direct Italian Roast Espresso makes great coffee for espresso – offering a honeyed, toasted aroma with notes of cocoa and molasses. Some describe this Italian espresso beans’ flavor as milder than other espresso roasts. They also sell in larger packages if you go through coffee quickly; some customers vacuum-pack beans and freeze them for long term storage.
- Italian espresso (roasted) Blend of beans from South America and India
- Rich with a toasted, honeyed aroma
- Notes of molasses, cocoa, and smoke
I know that some of you expect to see Death Wish Coffee on this list. But hear me out when I say this pick replaced it. With every right. In the past, Kona coffee hasn’t been regarded as an espresso bean, as lighter roasts were often used to highlight its complex flavors. But lucky for us, the times are changing. You can find the best espresso beans where you least expect it and even expand your espresso experience!
Renowned producers like Koa are experimenting with dark roasts, and the results are incredible. No surprise when you’re starting with such a high-end coffee!
Don’t believe us? Just ask Honolulu-born Pete Licata, the 2011 U.S. National Barista Champion who’s built a career on Kona coffee espresso.
This Koa Coffee Estate Dark Roast features the classic Hawaiian flavors of milk chocolate and ripe fruit, with a hint of toasted nut thanks to the darker roast. The relatively low acidity and heavy mouthfeel makes it an ideal choice for espresso.
What defines a great espresso bean?
We cannot simply say we like certain beans because we like them. Sure, the subjective feeling is essential but, it’s not the only criterium. There’s actually a coffee science behind great espresso beans.
So, here’s what to look at when choosing the ones for you:
Espresso beans vs Regular coffee beans. Is there a difference?
Most single origin beans would make terrible choices for espresso. Dark roast beans are best for making classic espresso, or at least a darker-medium roast. Something called blonde roasts are also marketed as great beans for espresso.
Scott Rao, author of The Professional Barista’s Handbook and several other books on coffee, explains that the coffee to water ratio in an espresso maker makes for a cooler brewing environment than a pour over, drip, or French press. The reason? Espresso’s water-to-coffee ratio – sometimes 2- or 3-to-1 (compared to 18-to-1 for pour over) – means the brew never gets as hot as in a pour over. The risk? Under-extraction, and a sour, thin flavor (2).
The lower temperatures of espresso extraction tend to make coffee sourer. And to combat sourness, roasters tend to roast darker
In short, the medium and light roasts you love in a pour over, drip coffee maker, or similar types of coffee maker run the risk of going sour in an espresso. To compensate for this, espresso takes a dark roast. But some coffee roasters cut costs by using inexpensive beans because dark or espresso roast can mask the dull flavors of low-quality beans.
One solution is to buy single-origin beans – but don’t overlook a well-made blend. Some nice espresso blend beans from different regions, to strike the perfect balance between sweet and bitter. And just a reminder when buying coffee beans: ALWAYS CHECK THE ROAST DATE.
If you wanna know more about the difference between regular beans and espresso beans: read this: espresso beans vs coffee beans.
Single-origin or espresso blend?
Blending gives a talented coffee roaster an opportunity to balance the flavor of espresso. Fruity, earthy, acid, bitter: in an espresso machine, the short brewing time and lower temperatures reward a coffee company that knows how to combine a variety of coffees for best effect. So while single-origin coffee is a great way to dial in your palate for the flavors you love, when it comes to espresso, blends often have an advantage.
The first question about blends involves the type of coffee tree from which the beans are sourced. Nearly all single-origin espresso is made from Arabica beans. These high-quality beans have a more complex flavor profile than the less-expensive Robusta. Arabica beans are grown all around the world, with every growing region having slightly different characteristics.
Robusta beans have more caffeine and more bitterness – but that can be an advantage for espresso. Some espresso blends do include small amounts, 20 to 25%, of Robusta beans for this reason. Robusta beans are also higher in caffeine, so if you’re looking for a jolt, they have their virtues. Here’s where you can learn more about these types of coffee beans.
Espresso Beans and Coffee Growing Regions
The coffee growing regions of the world all offer characteristic flavors. While every coffee plantation has its own climate and soil (much like a vineyard), each region tends to offer distinct elements of flavor and aroma:
Sumatra is a great choice for DARK ROAST. The wet hulling process used there produces an earthy, mushroomy flavor that carries through even in the darkest French roast. If you like the smoky tang of a Portobello mushroom seared over a charcoal fire, you might love coffee from Sumatra.
South and Central American coffees are popular in MEDIUM ROASTS.
These coffees tend to have brighter acidity, with more fruit and floral notes. With fine grind and attention to heat in your espresso machine, you can brew a great shot of espresso with beans from Colombia or Guatemala. Brazilian coffee tends to have a lighter, sweeter flavor, which is great when blended with stronger beans for espresso.
Africa provides deep minerality, partly from the soil and climate but also from the dry-processing method in which the coffee beans are left to dry in this sun. This concentrates stronger, DARKER FLAVORS in the resulting coffee. Notes of chocolate and fruit (especially in Ethiopian coffee) make a complex, balanced cup of espresso.
Indonesia is known as much for the volcanic tingle its soil adds to the aftertaste as for its rich, bold flavor and well-balanced acidity. Even in a medium-dark roast, Indonesian beans have the body to make great espresso shot.
Tips for Enjoying Espresso Beans
Whatever espresso beans you select, here are a few things to be aware of to get the best out of them. This should be obvious, but you should already have a quality espresso machine. Duh.
Make sure you use a fine grind; good espresso machines require a very fine grind. This is another way to compensate for the lower brewing temperature – finer grinds offer a faster extraction, which helps balance the flavor.
Look at the crema for a clue to your grind.
One key about whether your espresso is ground finely enough: keep an eye on the crema, that golden layer at the top of the cup. (Speaking of cups, here’s where a review of the best espresso cups in the market). If your crema is thin or has too many large bubbles in it, try a finer grind. You should be able to make an adjustment on automatic espresso machines with built-in grinders.
You can, of course, order your espresso pre-ground – it’s not the best choice, but better than too coarse a grind.
Learn to tamp properly.
In addition to getting the grinds fine enough, you need to make sure you’re tamping the filter basket properly. Tamping affects how quickly the water flows through the puck when you pull a shot. You need 30 pounds of pressure to ensure that the grinds are packed closely enough that they will extract properly – too little pressure and the water goes through too quickly.
Be sure to pre-infuse your espresso.
If you’re using a quality super-automatic espresso machine, it should come with a pre-infusion cycle. Pre-infusion performs the same function as the bloom on a pour-over: it wets the coffee grinds and releases the CO2 stored in them from roasting. But in espresso, pre-infusion also helps control the speed of flow through the grinds: because the grinds swell when wet, they slow the flow of water and therefore ensure more complete extraction.
Ok, so the best espresso coffee beans on the market are Lifeboost Coffee’s Espresso beans and Peet’s Coffee Arabian Mocha Sanani. Lifeboost, simply because they are sustainably sourced, organic, and healthy. Peet’s, because it’s elegant, complex, and delicious when prepared in any brewing method.
We’re sure that one (or more!) of these will make the best espresso that you’ll love. Did we succeed? What is the best espresso beans for you? Did you find your perfect match from one we missed? Let us know in the comments!
- What Is Third Wave Coffee and How Did We Get Here? (2016, January 08). Retrieved from https://www.eater.com/2016/1/8/10733218/third-wave-coffee-history
- Rao, S. (2017, February 26). Roasting for Espresso vs. Filter. Retrieved from https://www.scottrao.com/blog/roasting-for-espresso-vs-filter