After unboxing your shiny new espresso machine, the next challenge is making the most delicious shot of espresso.
You know that great coffee beans will make all the difference. And suddenly you’re faced with the enormity of what seems a very simple question: what are the best espresso beans?
To help answer this question, we went out into the world of coffee experts to ask them what their thoughts were on this important decision.
We asked a simple question:
What are your favorite beans for espresso? This could be any country, region, grower, or brand.
Here, we’ve collected the answers from 12 coffee bloggers and experts to give you some inspiration.
It’s a complex question that, for some, leads to complex answers. For others, there is a firm favorite bean that they love and champion.
Overall the main takeaways are: Darker roast is better for espresso. And buy ethically sourced beans.
But there are some great individual producers and brands recommended below. As well as narrowing down the globe to a few regions to focus on.
Start your espresso bean exploration with some of these picks from people who really know their coffee.
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Quick Summary: Best Espresso Beans
- Lifeboost Organic Coffee Espresso Beans – Best Overall
- Espresso Roast by CoffeeBros – Family Run Business
- Volcanica French Roast – Best French Roasted Espresso Beans
- Death Wish Coffee – Strongest Caffeine Hit
- Kicking Horse Cliff Hanger Espresso – Best Medium Roast
- Coffee Bean Direct Italian Roast Coffee – Best for Buying in Bulk
- Colombia Organic, Java Planet – Best Single-Origin Colombian Coffee
- Lavazza Super Crema – Top Crema
- Jaguar Espresso, Equator Coffees – Great with Milk (Cappuccino, Latte)
- Koffee Kult Dark Roast – Rainforest Friendly
- Café Cubano Roast, Mayorga Organics – Focus on Environmental Sustainability
- Imisozi Rwandan Mountain Coffee – Best for Supporting Farmers
In short, yes any regular whole bean coffee can be used to make espresso:
Espresso is a type of coffee beverage, not a bean type. So, espresso beans are simply coffee beans that are used to brew espresso. But that doesn’t mean you can’t use them for a pour over, for example. And vice versa.
However, to get the best-tasting espresso possible, it is better to look for beans created with this in mind. As coffee beans can be selected and roasted to create different flavor profiles, some are better suited to certain types of coffee drinks.
The best coffee beans for espresso (well, any cup of coffee) will always be whole bean coffee. This is because ground coffee degrades thanks to oxygen. You really don’t want to leave ground coffee beans for more than 15 minutes before using them. So using pre-ground coffee is just throwing away freshness and flavor.
Psst.. Need help finding the right coffee grinder for you? Check out our guide to the different types of coffee grinder to discover which one best suits your needs:
Best Espresso Beans: Dark or Medium Roast?
Although it seems simple, there are actually quite a few challenges when shopping for the best espresso coffee beans. It is not as straightforward as it seems it should be.
It has always been traditional for espresso beans to be roasted darker than other types of coffee.
Espresso continuously grows in popularity thanks to cafes, coffee shops, and home espresso machines. Plus, it is an incredibly versatile drink option. As a result, espresso lovers today expect a certain espresso “flavor” that cannot be achieved with regular coffee beans.
Therefore, beans used to brew espresso should be at least a shade darker than the regular beans used for other coffee brewers. Darker roasted beans release more oils and give a richer, fuller-bodied espresso that most people are looking for.
Generally, you’ll find medium to dark roast coffee beans are used for espresso. This is because the flavor compounds are more soluble in the darker roasts. So they are better suited to faster extraction methods like espresso.
You can use light to medium roasted beans for espresso. But they require a much higher pressure to extract the delicate flavors. This means that only the most expensive espresso machines can get the best out of them.
Read Next: Ultimate Guide to Coffee Bean Roasts
Espresso Bean Species: Robusta or Arabica?
Most coffee shops will boast about having 100% Arabica espresso whole bean coffee. This is slightly unfair to Robusta beans, which are very capable of making excellent espresso.
Having tried both of these, my personal preference is Arabica. This is because Arabica beans have a sweeter flavor than Robusta, although they do tend to be more acidic.
However, if you prefer more caffeine and like lots of crema with your espresso, you probably would want to consider using Robusta.
If you are somewhat new to the home espresso making world, it is recommended that you start with Arabica. Get accustomed to using that species of bean prior to branching out and using others.
The general wisdom is that Arabica beans make a more complex espresso and most baristas will use them for this reason. It is very possible to make a complex and interesting espresso from Robusta beans. But they are more frequently used as part of blends for their big, bold flavors.
Want a better understanding of all the different types of coffee beans out there and how they affect your cup of joe? Check out our complete guide here:
Best Location for Producing Espresso Beans?
The flavor of your espresso coffee beans will be heavily dependent on where they come from. Just like we see with vineyards, coffee can be influenced by rainfall, shade, soil chemistry, and altitude. And, just like wine, ‘best’ comes down to personal preference.
Most coffee in the world comes from what is referred to as the “Bean Belt”. This area spans the globe, hugging the equator, from around 25° north to 30° south of it. Within this, there are over 50 coffee-producing nations. But some are more popular globally.
A giant in the coffee business, Colombia supplies a total of 15% of the world’s coffee. The conditions are perfect for growing Arabica beans, for which the nation is famous.
Colombian coffee producers have acquired a great reputation for top-quality whole coffee beans. This is because they hand-pick their beans rather than machine harvesting them.
Coffee from Colombia is mild and well-balanced. The prominent flavors are caramel and some nuttiness.
Due to the size of Brazil, the flavor profile of their whole bean coffee varies across the country.
Generally speaking, Brazilian coffee is best when medium roasted. It has a sweeter, lighter body with either nutty or slightly spicy notes. It doesn’t produce the best espresso beans when used alone. Instead, it pairs wonderfully with other, more powerful, beans for an espresso blend.
Indonesian coffees are also referred to as Sumatran and Javan after the islands on which they are grown. The coffees from this area are famous for their rich, bold flavors thanks to the volcanic soil they grow in. And they work best for darker roasts, perfect for espresso.
Depending on whether the coffee is natural or washed, you will experience different flavor profiles. Washed Ethiopian coffee will be floral with a tea-like delicacy. Whereas the natural coffees will be heavier with a strong sweet berry flavor.
Most Kenyan coffee is grown without shade, in direct sunlight. This creates savory and sweet characteristics. The most noticeable flavors are blackcurrant tartness or tomato-like acidity.
Fazendas Klem is grown in the Atlantic forest region in Minas Gerais state, Brazil.
You can expect a dense bean with great body, high sweetness, organic certification, and consistent quality over time. What’s not to love?
Currently, it is only possible to purchase these incredible espresso beans within Brazil. So, if you are visiting Brazil, you need to add this coffee to your shopping list. And, until then, we keep everything crossed for international delivery.
Choosing the best quality from all the espresso coffee beans I have tasted is a near-impossible task for lots of reasons:
A coffee can appeal to me because the farmers are treated especially well (for example, Wakuli and Ikigai coffee). Or it could be an espresso blend that is so well crafted it can compete with any single-origin coffee out there (Rufous Blend, Taipei).
Alternatively, it could simply be the scenery in which I’m drinking that coffee. Or the barista pulling that god-shot in the cafe.
In other words, I don’t have a go-to bean for espresso since each origin has its uniqueness. Each roaster has their own personal touch that can make or break a coffee.
Whenever I buy my espresso roast beans, I try to choose coffee that is ethically sourced. So, they could be organic coffee beans, grown by women-oriented cooperatives, direct trade where farmers benefit fully, or coffee that has a percentage of the price donated to charity.
What to Expect from Lifeboost Coffee Espresso Beans:
Aroma: Intense, slightly sweet
Tasting notes: Chocolate, caramel, slight fruitiness
Important notes: Lifeboost sources some of the finest coffee beans from Nicaragua. All are low acid making them stomach-friendly, as well as high-elevation shade grown, non-GMO, and Fair Trade
Read next: Lifeboost Coffee Reviews
For espresso, I use Espresso Roast by CoffeeBros, which is a dark whole bean coffee blend of Colombian and Ethiopian beans. Although, I like their entire selection, including their Kenyan single-origin coffee beans. So, it’s tough to choose.
Why is CoffeeBros’ Espresso Roast coffee perfect for espresso? The answer is simple:
This roast is completely perfect. The guys really know what they are doing. And, in my opinion, Ethiopia is one of the best coffee countries.
CoffeeBros sources and roasts all their coffee to achieve specific taste notes. The Espresso Roast highlights all the natural sugars and sweetness of the Arabica beans used. This makes it perfect either alone or used for lattes.
Espresso is very subjective, there are generally two types of people:
One who drinks it for a hit of caffeine and those who sip it for the flavor and taste profile it offers.
I fit into the latter group – espresso is one of the best ways to hone your extraction skills and make perfect coffees.
Personally, I prefer very dark Italian or French roast coffees, with Brazilian Arabica beans. This choice offers consistent coffee beans with a smooth chocolate aftertaste and a nice red berry/ caramel flavor.
The key to the perfect espresso coffee shot is in the extraction – and less is definitely more. I have seen many espressos ruined by being over-extracted.
In many areas, it is customary to fill an espresso cup. Whereas the perfect shot is less than 20% of the cup’s capacity! 1.5oz from around 8g of coffee.
The roast is the second most important thing – darker roasts give a stronger taste.
Coffee beans are only viable if brewed within 30 days of being roasted. After this time you lose much of the aroma and oils, depending on how well it is stored.
There are too many companies that exploit coffee growers. So we feel it is important that you source a reputable coffee supplier and Fair Trade is a good benchmark to go on.
What to Expect from Volcanica French Roast:
Source: Colombia, Guatemala, Sumatra
Roast: Dark (French Roast)
Aroma: Spicy, caramel
Tasting notes: Smoky, cherry, lemon, chocolate
Important notes: Fair Trade and Rainforest Alliance certified. All Volcanica coffee beans are grown at elevations above 3,000ft creating an incredible rich flavor
I really love Death Wish coffee, they’re the best coffee brand ever!
It is one of the strongest coffees in the world, but the flavor is still smooth. Drinking this literally wakes me up thanks to the impressive caffeine hit – it has double the amount of caffeine compared to a regular cup of coffee.
Death Wish coffee is also USDA Certified Organic and Fair Trade. So, not only do they make a great-tasting espresso coffee, but they also have a great, sustainable impact.
Whilst you definitely get an intense hit, there is a surprising lack of bitterness. Instead, the natural flavors of cherry and chocolate from the espresso beans shine through, indicative of their Peruvian origin.
If you’re not used to dark roasts, this may be a step too far though. It’s definitely one for those who already know and enjoy the intensity of flavor.
Picking a favorite Kicking Horse whole bean coffee is a tough job:
Their whole coffee bean selection uses organic, sustainably shade-grown, Fair Trade Arabica beans.
For top espresso beans, we highly rate their Cliff Hanger Espresso. You can enjoy a silky, complex morning cup of java with berry and chocolate flavors and a bold finish.
The 454 Horse Power packs a full flavor punch of cacao nibs, nutmeg, and sweet tobacco. On the gentler side, Kick Ass Dark offers a sweeter, smokier flavor profile.
You really can’t go wrong with a cup of Kicking Horse coffee!
What to Expect from Cliff Hanger Espresso, Kicking Horse:
Source: Africa, Indonesia, Central & South America
Aroma: Blackcurrant, milk chocolate, brown sugar
Tasting notes: Wild berry syrup, smooth cocoa finish
Important notes: Organic Fair Trade coffee, and Kosher. Top-selling coffee in Canada, year-on-year
My current go-to for espresso is the Italian Roast Espresso whole bean coffee from the Coffee Bean Direct company.
My reasoning is simple – I love the taste!
The well-executed Italian roast has a robust taste and feel that is conventionally associated with “strong” coffee.
The crema comes out almost like a textbook example and its full body adds to the overall feel. As appearances go, I think this is almost a picture-perfect espresso. The lush layer of crema and the full-bodied brew underneath make quite a sight.
Its aroma is something I’m conflicted about:
It doesn’t quite live up to the picture-perfect espresso shot, nor its strong and satisfying taste. Don’t get me wrong here – the aroma isn’t bad. It just isn’t as good as the other characteristics of the Italian Roast Espresso. The deep connection between the olfactory and taste sensors says the aroma should be doing something right!
I am a bit of a snob when it comes to coffee, so my favorite beans are Colombian.
Colombian coffees have a very rich and earthy flavor that is brought out really nicely in espresso. For me, they are some of the finest espresso coffee beans out there.
Colombia is one of the biggest and most famous coffee-producing nations in the world. This is thanks to the mild, well-balanced flavors of their coffee beans. The mildness makes them perfect for espresso as they can be dark roasted without turning bitter.
Our favorite brand for espresso coffee beans is Lavazza Super Crema.
In our experience, the Lavazza whole coffee beans provide a consistent, rich crema and an aromatic taste profile.
The super crema blend offers a full body with notes of roasted hazelnut and brown sugar. It always transports us to Italy, sipping espresso, whilst actually sat in the office.
Jaguar Espresso by Equator Coffees is a great choice to use with your espresso machine and one of my top picks right now.
The dark roast is perfect for brewing espresso and is a blend of beans from Central America, Asia, and Africa. It has the flavors you would expect to see in a dark roast like chocolate and nuttiness, but it also has some nice fruity aromas of apricot and berries too.
I love that not only does the espresso taste great, but Equator Coffees also sources beans that are certified organic and Fair Trade too.
The Jaguar Espresso works well with milk. So, it is the perfect choice for your daily latte or cappuccino as well, if that is your coffee preference.
My current go-to for the best espresso beans is Koffee Kult’s Dark Roast.
The highlight here, in my opinion, is how masterfully the roast is executed. Even though the beans are dark roasted to perfection, there is no oil. That means a lot less work (and worry) for me in cleaning the grinder.
The beans used are high-quality too. Koffee Kult get beans for the blend from Colombia, Sumatra, and Guatemala.
More importantly, it’s the taste and body that make their mark:
The heavy body and strong taste make the espresso experience enjoyable here. I feel it lacks a bit in crema but the taste and aroma more than make up for it.
What to Expect from Koffee Kult Dark Roast:
Source: Colombia, Guatemala, Sumatra
Aroma: Smoky, cinnamon
Tasting notes: Fruity, earthy, molasses, tobacco
Important notes: Resealable packaging to preserve flavor and freshness. Small-batch roasting, focus on organic and ethically sourced rainforest friendly coffee beans.
For me, the most special coffee beans for espresso are Mayorga Coffee Beans.
Besides the flavor and taste (which ultimately is an individual preference), what we like is that they are USDA organic and Non-GMO certified. All coffee beans used by Mayorga are sourced from sustainable farms, so they get a big tick for environmental sustainability.
The coffee beans are roasted in small batches which ensures an even bake and that the full flavor profiles are drawn to the surface. The end result is a rich flavor profile with no chemical undertones thanks to no pesticides being used.
What to Expect from Café Cubano Roast, Mayorga:
Source: Peru, Honduras, Nicaragua
Aroma: Bold, smooth, sweet
Tasting notes: Sweet vanilla, smoky notes
Important notes: All Moyorga coffees are organic, farmer direct, specialty-grade, high grown, 100% Arabica beans
Our choice of the best espresso beans is Imisozi dark roast single origin coffee beans from Rwanda. It’s a little bit off-piste for a couple of important reasons.
Imisozi is the Kinyarwandan word for “mountains”. This is a celebration of the mountainous coffee farms in Rwanda where these bourbon Arabica beans are grown. Rwanda is called “the land of 1000 hills” so they are not short of mountains.
This coffee is handpicked, washed, and roasted in Rwanda.
Some experts will say this is not ideal for flavor. But it means that they are exporting the finished product which is worth a lot more than unroasted beans. This keeps as much money as possible within the country of origin.
Operating this way is crucial for the development and growth of the nation. And for getting money directly into the hands of the farmers.
Secondly, we have recently visited Rwanda and it is one of our favorite places on Earth. So we have a bit of a soft spot:
It is insanely beautiful with rolling hills of red soil and lush green vegetation under azure skies. Plus, the government is focused on helping it’s people and improving sustainability across the nation. To do so, they invest in local enterprises including sustainable coffee farms.
In order to improve the lives of those who work hardest to deliver our daily caffeine hit, buying coffee that is “roasted at source” is a great solution.
So there you have it, the coffee experts have spoken and have rounded up their picks of the best espresso coffee beans.
Life would be boring if we all liked the same thing, and that is certainly true of espresso coffee.
For us, the best whole bean coffee for espresso is Lifeboost Coffee Espresso Beans. Not only are they sustainably sourced, but thanks to the low acidity, they are a great choice for healthy coffee beans.
Or, to fully support the hard workers at the beginning of the coffee chain – the farmers – you should opt for roasted at source coffee. And we could not love Imisozi Rwandan Dark Roast more for exactly this reason.
Stumptown Hair Bender just missed out on our list. It ticks a lot of boxes including incredible flavor, lack of oiliness (making it great for super automatic espresso machines), and utilizes Direct Trade. But the other choices for best espresso beans pipped it to the post this time.
Just remember, that to really get the best out of your espresso coffee beans, you should look to buy them whole and grind them yourself. There are plenty of great coffee grinders out there to help you maximize the quality of your brew.
It really doesn’t matter whether you prefer an intense caffeine hit or a more complex flavor profile. All that matters is that sip of the best espresso coffee. And we are sure you will find an espresso bean to suit your needs and tastes on this list.
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