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What Are The Best Espresso Beans?

There’s something about a great shot of espresso – the aroma, the pungency, the satisfying flavour, 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.

TOP PICK

Balance Coffee Rotate Espresso

Balance Coffee also get the Home Grounds seal of approval for their commitment to sustainability and well being. All Balance coffee is grown and harvested on sustainable, fair-trade cooperatives, and tested regularly for mould, mycotoxins, and pesticides.

9 Best Coffee Beans for Espresso

image product details
Best Overall Best Overall Balance Coffee Rotate Espresso Balance Coffee Rotate Espresso
  • Medium-dark roast
  • Whole or ground
  • Dark chocolate, cranberry
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Best Fair Trade Best Fair Trade Clumsy Goat Italian Espresso Clumsy Goat Italian Espresso
  • Dark roast
  • Whole beans
  • Cocoa, almonds
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Best Dark Roast Best Dark Roast Pact Coffee Bourbon Cream Espresso Pact Coffee Bourbon Cream Espresso
  • Dark roast
  • Whole or ground
  • Chocolate, cream, biscuits
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Best Medium Roast Best Medium Roast Coffee World Organic Sumatra Coffee World Organic Sumatra
  • Medium roast
  • Whole beans
  • Chocolate, apple
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Best Blend Best Blend Balance Level Up Blend Balance Level Up Blend
  • Medium roast
  • Whole or ground
  • Berries, caramel, nuts
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Best Value For Money Best Value For Money Colco Coffee Don Jose Dark Roast Colco Coffee Don Jose Dark Roast
  • Dark roast
  • Whole beans
  • Fruit, toffee
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Best Single Origin Best Single Origin Coffee Friend Nicaragua Limoncello Ethiosar Coffee Friend Nicaragua Limoncello Ethiosar
  • Medium roast
  • Whole beans
  • Pear, cherry, red wine
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Best Light Roast Best Light Roast Pact Coffee El Paraiso Espresso Pact Coffee El Paraiso Espresso
  • Light roast
  • Whole or ground
  • Orange, chocolate
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Budget Pick Budget Pick Durham Cofee Castle Blend Durham Cofee Castle Blend
  • Omniroast
  • Whole beans
  • Chocolate
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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:

1. Balance Coffee Rotate Espresso – Best Overall

Specifications

  • Roast level: Medium-dark

  • Whole or ground: Either
  • Tasting notes: Dark chocolate, cranberry
  • Region(s): Chiapas, Mexico

Think about the best beans for espresso and you’re probably imagining sipping that perfect morning shot. But espresso is so much more than that, forming the base for all your favourite cafe drinks. That’s why the Home Grounds pick for best espresso beans has to be versatile enough to suit espresso in all its forms.

Some Chiapas coffee can be light and floral, but others like this tend towards an earthiness and nuttiness that makes them ideal for a darker roast. Rotate Espresso delivers these deeper flavours with notes of dark chocolate, but the taste of cranberry means it’s still a fruit-forward cup. It’s excellent when brewed strong, and holds up well for the addition of milk for lattes or flat whites.

Balance Coffee also get the Home Grounds seal of approval for their commitment to sustainability and well being. All Balance coffee is grown and harvested on sustainable, fair-trade cooperatives, and tested regularly for mould, mycotoxins, and pesticides.

2. Clumsy Goat Italian Espresso – Best Fair Trade

Specifications

  • Roast level: Dark

  • Whole or ground: Whole beans
  • Tasting notes: Cocoa, almonds
  • Region(s): Brazil, Colombia, Ethiopia, Sumatra

Traceability is particularly important when buying a blend. Without the reassurance of a single origin label, you need to know that every part of the mix is up to scratch. With Clumsy Goat, you can buy with confidence because all of the coffees they offer are certified Fair Trade. It’s part of a commitment to ensure that farmers (and their goats) are supported in the industry.

For this classic espresso blend, Clumsy Goat combines Arabica coffee from four different origins. Beans from Brazil and Colombia add the South American bold flavours that give an espresso its kick. To lighten the palate, there’s a hint of citrus from Ethiopian Sidamo. The finish is well-rounded and smooth, with lingering notes of cocoa from the addition of Sumatra beans.

Clumsy Goat coffee is roasted in small batches, then shipped the same day so that there’s minimal time between roasting and your first sip.

3. Pact Coffee Bourbon Cream Espresso – Best Dark Roast

Specifications

  • Roast level: Dark

  • Whole or ground: Either
  • Tasting notes: Chocolate, cream, biscuits
  • Region(s): Brazil, Honduras

The dark roast is the most popular option for espresso for bringing out the coffee’s bold, rich tastes, but that doesn’t mean a dark roast can’t have an intricate flavour profile. And with a blend in particular, coffee experts can highlight these flavours, or even create tastes to measure.

This unique blend was created to mirror the flavours of the Bourbon Cream biscuit. Pact Coffee was inspired by their Bermondsey location, which was once home to the creators of the famous biscuit, as well as other treats like the Garibaldi and the chocolate digestive.

The beans chosen to replicate the tastes of biscuits field with chocolate cream come from Brazil and Honduras. The Brazilian coffee is grown in the Illicinea region, and is naturally processed for creamy chocolate flavours. The Honduras coffee is grown by the Asociación de Mujeres and provides a complementary darker chocolate taste. With a dark roast, it develops a biscuity finish to round out the flavour profile.

4. Coffee World Organic Sumatra – Best Medium Roast

Specifications

  • Roast level: Medium

  • Whole or ground: Whole beans
  • Tasting notes: Chocolate, apple
  • Region(s): Sumatra, Indonesia

All coffee-growing regions around the world impart their own characteristics to the beans, but Sumatra, in particular, stands out as being even more unique. The traditional wet-hulled processing used in the area brings out an earthy quality that’s a perfect match with the bold taste of espresso.

This certified organic coffee has been sourced from the Gayo Highlands, a mountainous region near Aceh in the north of Sumatra. While they offer the chocolatey, earthy notes typical of Sumatra, there’s also a fruity crispness here, with flavours of apple. The finish is sweet, like sugar cane, creating a well-balanced cup. 

Coffee World was the first coffee roaster in Cambridge, established in 1984. Alongside sourcing and roasting coffee, the brand also sells and services commercial espresso machines. So they’re well equipped to know what coffee is going to pull a good shot. 

5. Balance Level Up Blend – Best Blend

Specifications

  • Roast level: Medium

  • Whole or ground: Either
  • Tasting notes: Berries, caramel, nuts
  • Region(s): Colombia, Tanzania

The key to a good blend is choosing coffees that each bring something different to the mix, but at the same time work harmoniously together. Sometimes you need a lot of different coffees to include all the characteristics you want, but it can also be as simple as the right mix of two coffees.

Balance Coffee’s Level Up Blend combines 100% Arabica beans from Colombia and Tanzania. The Colombian offering (40%) comes from La Joyeria farm in the Antioquia region. It’s grown high in the Andes at altitudes up to 1700 metres, and has a crisp fruity profile. The other 60% is from the GDM farm Songwe region in Tanzania, where the coffee is more earthy and chocolatey, with sweetness from caramel.

Together you get a cup that’s full of fruit flavours like red berries, but with enough nutty and caramel notes to give it the punch you want in a rich espresso. It’s a bold and exciting brew, mellowing out with the addition of milk – but still keeping those fruit notes.

6. Colco Coffee Don Jose Dark Roast – Best Value for Money

Specifications

  • Roast level: Dark

  • Whole or ground: Whole beans
  • Tasting notes: Fruit, toffee
  • Region(s): Salazar, Colombia

Colco Coffee roasters are proudly based in London, but the brand has its origins on a family farm in Santander, Colombia. It’s where Colco founder Angela grew up, watching her father Don Jose tend to his plantations of Colombia Supremo Arabica. She now shares this amazing coffee with the UK, as well as other carefully sourced single origins and blends from around the world.

The Don Jose Dark Roast represents the best of what the brand has to offer. It’s been roasted to the third crack to develop delightful toffee flavours and a rich aroma. There’s a hint of fruit and s syrupy body, followed by a long finish with malt notes.

The team at Colco recommends keeping things simple when drinking this dark roast. It’s best enjoyed black, or perhaps as a macchiato if you want to lighten up the flavour a little.

7. Coffee Friend Nicaragua Limoncello Ethiosar – Best Single Origin

Specifications

  • Roast level: Medium

  • Whole or ground: Whole beans
  • Tasting notes: Pear, cherry, red wine
  • Region(s): Nicaragua

Single-origin coffees aren’t always the best choice, but in this case, you’re looking at a pretty unique bean. The Ethisoar variety is a type of Arabica hybrid. It started as an Ethiopian heirloom plant but was crossbred with a Sarchimor to make it suitable for the growing conditions in Nicaragua. It’s attractive to farmers for its high yielding plants and disease resistance, but it’s also a hit with coffee lovers for its sweet, jammy qualities.

This particular coffee from the Limoncello farm in the Matagalpa of Nicaragua is also unique for the way it’s been processed. It’s the result of anaerobic processing, which is a method of fermentation done without oxygen (ref-vine). It can produce an incredible variety of flavours, in this case, a palate full of fruit, including pear and cherry, with a pleasant aftertaste of red wine.

It might not be your typical shot, but if you’re looking to push the boundaries of espresso, this is the coffee for you. Best served black.

8. Pact Coffee El Paraiso Espresso – Best Light Roast

Specifications

  • Roast level: Light

  • Whole or ground: Either
  • Tasting notes: Orange, chocolate
  • Region(s): Huila, Colombia

Dark and medium roasts are the unchallenged standard for espresso beans, but that doesn’t mean a light roast can’t work – when it’s done right. Pact Coffee has sourced a couple of options for espresso that buck the trend, including these beans from Huila, Colombia.

Colombian coffees vary considerably from region to region. Huila, in the country’s south, has been recognized as an exceptional coffee-growing region, achieving denomination of origin status in 2013 (ref-cafede). Here the coffees are known for their full body, good aroma, and sweetness. In Pact’s El Paraiso, this has developed as flavours of dark chocolate, lifted by zesty orange. There is some acidity here, but it’s bright and citrussy, without the sourness that can ruin an espresso. There’s a round mouthfeel and lingering sweetness that makes for an excellent standalone espresso, or a base for a traditional Italian cappuccino.

9. Durham Cofee Castle Blend – Budget Pick

Specifications

  • Roast level: Omniroast

  • Whole or ground: Whole beans
  • Tasting notes: Chocolate
  • Region(s): Brazil, India, Rwanda

It should be clear by now that espresso beans do not have to be speciality beans. And this means it’s absolutely possible to get a great everyday coffee at an affordable price. 

The Castle Blend from Durham Coffee brings together beans from Brazil, India and Rwanda for a well-balanced cup. It’s smooth and easy drinking, with a creamy finish and a sweet but earthy chocolate flavour. It was created for espresso but would also make a bold pour over if you’re feeling adventurous. 

Durham Coffee is a small coffee roaster run by a father-daughter team, committed to bringing ethically sourced coffee to the North East. They’re the first in the UK to use Air-Motion Roasters, machines that suspend the beans on a vortex of hot air for incredible even roasting.

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 flavour (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 flavours of low-quality beans.

coffeebeans

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 flavour 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 flavours 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 flavour 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.On another note, if you wish to try having a weak espresso, here’s where you can learn more about decaf espresso.

roasted coffee beans

Espresso Beans and Coffee Growing Regions

The coffee growing regions of the world all offer characteristic flavours. While every coffee plantation has its own climate and soil (much like a vineyard), each region tends to offer distinct elements of flavour and aroma:

Sumatra is a great choice for DARK ROAST. The wet hulling process used there produces an earthy, mushroomy flavour 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 flavour, 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 FLAVOURS 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 flavour 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 flavour.

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. On another note, having pre-ground espresso beans makes for an instant espresso powder.

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.

The Verdict

Ok, so the best espresso coffee beans on the market are Balance Coffee’s Rotate Espresso. Why? Because these crowd-pleasing beans are versatile enough to work with any drink you want to make with your espresso machine, from a ristretto to Americano, or even a flat white.

We’re sure that one (or more!) of these will make the best espresso that you’ll love. Did we succeed? What are the best espresso beans for you? Did you find your perfect match from one we missed? Let us know in the comments!

Balance Coffee Rotate Espresso

  1. Cappiello, E. (2020, December 20). Bean Buzz: Is Anaerobic Coffee the Next Big Trend in Coffee? VinePair. https://vinepair.com/articles/anaerobic-coffee-trend/
  2. Denominación De Origen Regional. (2021, April 15). Café de Colombia. https://www.cafedecolombia.com/particulares/denominacion-de-origen-regional/
Julia Bobak
I love trail running, rock climbing, coffee, food, and my tiny dog — and writing about all of them. I start every morning with a fresh Americano from my home espresso machine, or I don’t start it at all.

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