Do you ever find yourself standing in line at your favorite coffee shop, staring at the menu board, overwhelmed by the sheer number of coffee bean options available? Now imagine that multiplied by every coffee roaster that you can buy bags of coffee from online.
With so many choices, it can be difficult to know which beans will give you that perfect shot of espresso you’ve been craving.
That’s why we’ve done the research for you and compiled a list of the best coffee beans for espresso.
Whether you’re a seasoned barista or just looking to up your home espresso game, this article will guide you through the world of coffee beans and help you choose the best beans for the job.
So sit back, grab a mug, and get ready to discover the perfect coffee beans for your espresso needs.
- Choosing the right coffee beans is essential for making a great espresso.
- Arabica beans are the most commonly used for espresso due to their smooth, balanced flavor.
- Look for beans with a medium to dark roast for a richer, bolder flavor.
- Single-origin beans can provide unique and complex flavors, while blends can offer consistency and balance.
- Dark roast espresso blends with notes of chocolate and nuts will pair better with milk than coffee beans with fruity or floral notes.
- Stick to whole bean coffee bags and only grind them right before you make espresso.
Why Should You Use Espresso Beans?
You might be wondering what makes an “espresso” bean different from a regular coffee bean. In reality, there isn’t necessarily a difference. Coffee is coffee. The same beans you typically use in a pour-over can also be put in an espresso machine, once they are ground of course. We explained more about the difference between Espresso beans and coffee beans in another guide.
That being said, most roasters label their coffee as “espresso beans” when they have been roasted specifically for espresso. Usually – not always – these beans are darker and have a more robust flavor than regular beans.
Their dark roast and rich flavor are perfect for creating the intense, full-bodied taste that espresso is known for. Additionally, using espresso beans can help you achieve a better crema, which is the creamy, golden layer that sits on top of a well-made espresso shot.
While it is possible to use regular coffee beans to make espresso, they may not produce the same quality of flavor and crema as espresso beans. So, if you’re looking to make the perfect shot of espresso, using espresso coffee beans is definitely worth considering.
How to Choose the Best Espresso Beans
When I buy coffee beans for espresso, these are the criteria that I consider before purchasing a bag. I also think about these questions from a client’s perspective as I choose which coffee beans to roast for a blend being used to make espresso.
Are Espresso Coffee Beans Dark Roasted?
While it’s becoming more common for specialty coffee shops to use lighter-roasted single origins for their espresso, most coffee beans roasted specifically for espresso are medium or dark roasts.
The longer time spent roasting brings out the beans’ natural oils and increases the solubility during extraction. Simply put, this means that there will be a richer crema and heavier body, both perfect for the mouthfeel of an espresso.
Darker roasts can also bring out more sweetness due to the extended Maillard phase of the roasting process.
Light-roasted coffee beans can also be used in espresso, but it will require a skilled barista to properly regulate the machine to get a delicious result. Once adjusted properly, light-roasted espresso may pleasantly surprise you with its nuanced flavor and bright acidity, even if there is less crema than a dark-roasted bean.
Should You Use Espresso Blend or Single-Origin Coffee?
Whether to create an espresso bean coffee blend or use single-origin coffee comes down to personal preference. Espresso blends are specifically formulated to provide a consistent flavor profile, which can be desirable for some espresso drinkers. They typically focus on providing an espresso with a heavier body, rich sweetness, and nice crema.
Single-origins, on the other hand, have unique flavor profiles that can be appreciated on their own. Instead of focusing exclusively on body and sweetness, single-origin coffees tend to present nuanced acidities and more citrus/floral notes not usually present in a blend.
Ultimately, the decision between a blend and single-origin depends on your individual taste preferences. For most, a blend is great for an “everyday espresso”, while a single-origin coffee is nice to experiment every now and then.
If you want to know more about single origin coffee and coffee blends, check the following guides:
Arabica vs Robusta For Espresso, Which is Better?
Depending on where in the world you are, the answers to this debate change. In Italy, where the espresso machine was created, they tend to use a blend of Arabica and Robusta. Most other parts of the world, especially in the specialty coffee industry, stick to 100% Arabica coffee beans.
Arabica is regarded for its more complex flavor profile, better sweetness, and generally overall better quality. Robusta tends to be more bitter and caffeinated, but that is also how a lot of people want their espresso shots served.
Nowadays, Robusta is usually only added to an espresso bean coffee blend for additional crema and a thicker body.
Like most coffee questions asking what’s best, it really depends on what flavors you are after.
Pre-Ground or Whole Beans for Espresso?
While most things in coffee are subjective, I can objectively say that using whole bean coffee for espresso is 100% better than using pre-ground coffee in your machine. Like most other foods, coffee gets stale when in contact with oxygen. (1)
If you buy pre-ground coffee, you are guaranteeing that your coffee won’t taste as fresh as it could. The flavor will begin to develop a cardboard/grassy taste.
Ideally, you want to buy whole-bean coffee to use for pulling espresso shots. Grind them immediately before extracting, preferably with a burr grinder to make sure all the particles are the same size.
For espresso, you want to grind your coffee very finely.
If you don’t have a way to grind your own coffee, pressurized portafilter baskets are generally more forgiving with grind size and can work well with pre-ground coffee. Non-pressurized baskets, on the other hand, require a more precise grind size and can benefit from freshly ground beans.
Do You Enjoy Pure Espresso or Milk-Based Drinks?
Another factor to think about when choosing espresso beans is if you normally drink your espresso straight or make milk-based drinks like lattes or cappuccinos.
If you like to enjoy your espresso “pure”, as some like to call it, you have a bit more freedom with what type of roast and bean you can choose. Anything from a light-roasted single-origin coffee to a dark-roasted blend of Arabica and Robusta can work. It totally depends on what you like.
If you like to enjoy your espresso in the form of a milk-based drink, the potentially fruity flavors and brighter acidity of a lighter single-origin might not pair well with milk. I normally like to use blends with a heavy body and notes of milk chocolate and nuts when I make a flat white or cappuccino. They simply pair better with the flavor of the milk.
Which Coffee Origin Should You Choose?
If you like to drink your espresso pure, you have a lot of options. Countries like Kenya, Ethiopia, and Guatemala generally provide coffees known for their fruity and floral notes with a balanced sweetness and acidity. If you usually like something more nuanced like this, single-origin coffee beans from these countries may be perfect for you.
If you prefer something simpler with a more chocolatey sweetness without too much acidity, countries like Colombia and Brazil produce a lot of these types of coffees. There’s a reason a lot of blends for espresso come with coffee from Colombia, Brazil, and Mexico. Notes of chocolate, nuts, and a light fruit sweetness dominate the coffees produced in these areas.
Plus, these single-origins pair amazingly well with milk. Try a Brazilian coffee in your next flat white!
8 Best Coffee Beans for Espresso
Without further ado, here are the 8 best coffee beans for espresso that can be found online. Full disclosure: I have not tried all of these personally, but I will give you some insight as a roaster on what you can expect from each blend. Whichever you choose, always get bags of whole bean coffee, if possible.
1. Coffee Bros Espresso Blend
- Roast: Medium Roast
- Type: Blend
- Origin: Ethiopia and Colombia
- Varietal: Ethiopian Heirloom, Castillo, Caturra
- Process: Natural/Washed
- Tasting Notes: Strawberry, sugar cane, vanilla
In this espresso blend, Coffee Bros has worked with smallholder farmers in both Ethiopia and Colombia to provide a super sweet coffee. As a medium roast, this coffee sounds delicious as both an espresso and a V60.
The Colombian coffee is what provides this Coffee Bros blend with its rich body and sweetness, while the Ethiopian brings out some fruitier notes to add to the sweetness without getting too acidic. If you like to drink your espresso pure, this sounds like a fantastic everyday espresso blend.
If you’ve never tried Coffee Bros, they’re one of the most popular roasters to buy from online.
2. Fabula Coffee Espresso
- Roast: Medium-Dark Roast
- Type: Single-Origin
- Origin: Colombia
- Varietal: Caturra, Variedad Colombia, Castillo
- Process: Fully washed
- Tasting Notes: Raisin, Brown Sugar, Caramel, Dark Fruits
If you like a darker espresso but still want to appreciate the unique flavors from a single-origin, this espresso roast from Fabula is for you. It’s 100% organic and non-GMO with a focus on sweetness and body over acidity.
The fully washed process commonly used in Colombia produces a cleaner-tasting coffee, making it easier to taste various flavor notes. This coffee comes with a flavor profile of caramel, prune, dark berries, and mild citrus notes.
Due to its darker roast, it will still have a low acidity and pair extra well with milk.
3. Intelligentsia Black Cat
Intelligentsia is one of the “Big Three” of the third-wave coffee movement. Their roasters have been roasting for a long time and know their stuff.
The Black Cat provides a blend of coffees from Brazil, all processed with the honey method. This method enhances sweetness and body, while generally keeping acidity low. It boasts the typical dark chocolate flavor from Brazil, with a rich syrupy sweetness, great for espresso.
This blend will pair excellently with all types of milk, whether you prefer dairy or plant-based options.
4. Kicking Horse Cliff Hanger
- Roast: Medium Roast
- Type: Blend
- Origin: Indonesia, Central America, South America
- Varietal: Multiple
- Process: (not listed)
- Tasting Notes: Cocoa, Wild Berries, Brown Sugar
If you prefer a coffee that will function well as an espresso and in other methods, Kicking Horse has you covered. This USDA organic blend uses coffee beans from all over the world to create a smooth, chocolatey, and fruity coffee.
If you are a fan of simpler, more traditional espressos, this blend is for you. While the varieties and processing methods aren’t disclosed, this is a crowd favorite for people just starting to get into espresso with sweeter, bolder coffee beans that aren’t too bitter.
5. Stumptown Hair Bender
Another member of the “Big Three” of the third-wave coffee movement, Stumptown is the company that most of my friends who brew their coffee at home use each day.
This medium roast blend combines a lot of citrus flavors and even some floral notes with the familiarity of dark chocolate for the perfect everyday shot of espresso.
If you want to get into more citrus and fruit flavors, but don’t want to be too overwhelmed by an explosion of fruitiness, the Hair Bender would be a great blend to try.
6. Volcanica Espresso Roast
This is the choice for people who want to transition from Arabica and Robusta espresso blends to 100% Arabica beans. These dark roast beans come from all around the world to create a sweet, somewhat bitter, full-bodied espresso.
The dark roast will create a lot of crema and should provide a great result on your espresso machine, even if you are still in the process of learning how to master your coffee maker.
7. Death Wish Espresso Roast
If you like your coffee dark and oily Italian roasts don’t make you turn your nose in disgust, Death Wish’s espresso coffee blend is what you want. They roast organic coffee beans that are Fair Trade Certified, and they also mix in some Robusta for extra crema and body. This is the most caffeinated blend on the list, since Robusta has almost twice the amount of caffeine as Arabica. (2)
This blend has almost no acidity and is entirely focused on body and sweetness.
8. Trade Coffee Subscription – Espresso Collection
Not sure which one to try? Trade offers a subscription service, and their espresso collection will send you 2-4 bags to try per month, depending on what level of subscription you purchase.
The collection is massive, as they partner with roasters from all over the United States.
If you got this far down the list and still don’t know which bag to buy, I recommend you let Trade take the decision-making out of it, so you can try a couple of different espresso blends each month.
How Do I Choose the Best Coffee for Espresso?
As a specialty coffee roaster, I take a lot of factors into consideration before choosing a coffee to roast for espresso or to make an espresso blend with.
Some of the characteristics I consider are:
- Roast level: Will this coffee work well as a medium or medium-dark roast? My goal is to increase the body, develop more sweetness, and lessen the acidity by roasting for a longer amount of time. That being said, I don’t want to roast too long and introduce unnecessary bitterness.
- Inherent flavor notes: While I personally enjoy espressos with very bright acidity and notes of blueberries and lavender, most people are overwhelmed by these flavors in their espresso. Coffees that have notes of milk chocolate, nuts, and brown sugar work great for espresso.
- Pairing with milk: Since I don’t know how the customer is going to prepare their espresso, I have to choose a coffee that will taste great as a pure espresso or mixed into a latte. I usually pick a coffee with high sweetness, low acidity, and a medium-to-heavy body to satisfy both types of coffee drinkers. This will pair great with milk-based drinks, in addition to providing a great experience for pure espresso lovers focused on sweetness and rich crema.
Choosing the right coffee beans for your espresso can make all the difference in the world.
Whether you’re an experienced barista or a novice home brewer, understanding the qualities of espresso bean coffee can help you achieve that perfect shot with the rich flavor, crema, and body that you desire.
As with all things coffee-related, the decision ultimately comes down to your individual preferences. Take the time to experiment with different beans, roasts, and blends until you find the perfect match for your taste buds.
Frequently Asked Questions
While any coffee can technically be used to make espresso, not all coffees are well-suited to the process. To make a good espresso, it’s important to use a coffee that is specifically roasted and blended for espresso machines. This usually means a dark roast for better sweetness, increased crema, and a heavier body.
While other brew methods can produce strong coffee, they cannot replicate the unique flavor and crema of espresso. Espresso requires high pressure of around 9 bars and a short brewing time, which is not possible with other brewing methods. However, you can use an AeroPress or Moka pot to create something similar to espresso.
Espresso beans can be oily because of the roasting process. As the beans are roasted for longer, their natural oils are released to the surface of the bean, especially after the second crack. These oils help to create the crema and rich flavor that is characteristic of espresso. We explained why coffee beans are oily in a detailed guide.
Resting espresso beans for a few days after roasting can allow the flavors to develop and mellow, resulting in a smoother and more balanced espresso shot. Generally, you should let the coffee rest for 5-11 days before using an espresso machine, as the off-gassing carbon dioxide can interfere with the pressure from the machine. However, it’s important not to wait too long, as the beans can begin to lose their freshness and flavor over time. Check our guide to learn more about resting coffee.
- Why Does Coffee Get Stale? – https://www.foodrepublic.com/2011/08/05/why-does-coffee-get-stale/#:~:text=First%2C%20never%20buy%20pre%2Dground,were%20left%20whole%20upon%20purchase
- The Differences Between Arabica And Robusta Coffee – https://www.javapresse.com/blogs/buying-coffee/arabica-vs-robusta-coffee#:~:text=Robusta%20beans%20can%20have%20as,beans%20extra%20bitter%20and%20unpleasant