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 coffee beans for espresso? This could be any country, region, grower, or brand.
Here, we’ve collected the top picks of 14 baristas and coffee 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 that they love and champion. Overall the main takeaways are: Darker roast is better for espresso. And buy ethically sourced beans.
So let’s dive right into the great producers and brands of coffee beans that work best for espresso. Plus a few top tips of what to look for:
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The holidays are coming. Which means stressing over the perfect gift is here too.
But stress no more. We’ve put together a list of all the best coffee gifts to please even the most discerning of coffee lovers in your life.
Check out our guide if they’re on your ‘nice’ list. Or maybe be ‘naughty’ and buy something for yourself!
Sumatra Queen Ketiara – Equator Coffees
We love everything about this coffee:
The unique taste of Sumatra and the wet-hulling process.
The deep flavors and citrusy orange bursts give way to leafy, woodsy notes that are incredible with every sip of your espresso shot.
And then there’s the story. The beans are bought exclusively from the women members of the Ketiara co-op, hence the name “Queen”.
Dark or Medium Roast?
Espresso is one of the most popular styles of coffee in the world. And this popularity means their a particular “espresso flavor” that we’ve all come to expect. A flavor that can’t be achieved with just any coffee beans.
As a general rule, espresso beans are darker roasted than beans for other brewing methods. The darker the roast, the more oils that are released. This results in 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.
If you see French, Italian, or Vienna roast written on the bag, these are just names given to dark roasts.
Whilst you can use light to medium roasted beans, they require 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
Robusta or Arabica?
The third wave specialty coffee movement favors 100% Arabica coffee as they’re considered higher quality (but also harder to grow). However, this does a slight disservice to Robusta beans which, when chosen well, are very capable of making excellent espresso.
My personal preference is also for Arabica – they generally have a sweeter, more nuanced flavor profile that’s indicative of their growing region and processing method. But I have to give special credit to Nguyen for their phenomenal Robusta beans that make incredibly rich and chocolatey espresso.
On their own, Robusta isn’t for everyone and they’re frequently used in blends for their big, bold flavors. So if you’re just getting started at home espresso making, I recommend you start with Arabica. You’ll get a more complex flavored coffee – it’s why most baristas use them.
What to Expect from Nguyen’s Hanoi Blend:
Aroma: Rich chocolate, nuts
Tasting notes: An Earthy nuttiness with notes of chocolate, tobacco, prunes, and graham cracker
Important notes: Founded by a first generation Vietnamese woman to champion the Robusta bean and highlight the special coffees grown in Vietnam. Purchased via direct trade, the beans are roasted in Brooklyn, New York
Best for: Something truly different, the bold flavor profile works well on its own or mixed with milk (including condensed milk) or sugar
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Best Location for Producing Espresso Beans?
The flavor of any coffee beans (including those for espresso) will be heavily dependent on where they come from. Just like we see in the wine industry, 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 typically mild and well-balanced. The prominent flavors are caramel and some nuttiness.
Due to the size of Brazil, the flavor profile of their coffees 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 as they’re too mellow. Instead, it pairs wonderfully with other, more powerful, beans for an espresso blend.
Indonesian coffees, in particular Sumatran and Javan coffee, are famed for their rich, bold flavors thanks to the volcanic soil they grow in. They also frequently use a unique processing method known as wet-hulling which lowers the acidity and makes the beans taste earthier and spicier. These flavors 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, making this style the better choice for making espresso.
Most Kenyan coffee is grown in direct sunlight, without shade. This creates savory and sweet characteristics. The most noticeable flavors are blackcurrant tartness or tomato-like acidity.
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, Spirit Animal coffees). Or it could be an espresso blend that is so well crafted it can compete with any single-origin coffee out there (like Stumptown’s Holler Mountain).
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. One amazing example of this that never lets me down is the Sumatra Queen Ketiara from Equator Coffees:
What to Expect from Sumatra Queen Ketiara:
Source: Sumatra, Indonesia
Aroma: Fresh herbs, chocolate, and orange
Tasting notes: Milk chocolate, vanilla, tobacco, and orange
Important notes: From a single producer, Equator pay extra for the “Queen” designation to support programs that benefit women coffee growers in Sumatra. It is wet-hulled (a process unique to Indonesia) which gives a unique, robust flavor profile that really shines in espresso
Best for: Anyone looking for a bold kick of flavor
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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.
For the next best thing, we love The Waverly from Joe Coffee which blends beans from the same region in Brazil with those from Cajamarca, Peru. The result is a great balance of the robust sweetness from Brazil with clean acidity from Peru that works great on its own or with milk:
What to Expect from The Waverly:
Source: Blend from Minar Gerais, Brazil and Cajamarca, Peru
Aroma: Deeply aromatic with fruity pops
Tasting notes: Milk chocolate and berry fruits
Important notes: The Brazilian component has been family-grown on the Velosos’ estate for decades. They are commited to protecting and maintaining the precious rainforest.
Best for: Milky espresso drinks like latte or cappuccino
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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 (two brothers) really know what they are doing. And, in my opinion, Ethiopia is one of the best coffee countries to source delicious beans from.
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.
What to Expect from Espresso Roast, CoffeeBros:
Source: Blend from Colombia & Ethiopia
Aroma: Vibrant, round body
Tasting notes: Strawberry, sugar cane, vanilla
Important notes: Established in 2019 by brothers, Nick and Dan Hunnewell, Coffee Bros no only offer superb customer service, they are also committed to sustainable coffee growing practices that support the people and the ecosystems where their beans are grown
Best for: Enjoying the nuanced flavors of Ethiopian coffee, either alone or as a latte
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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 for making espresso. Especially if they’re Brazilian Arabica beans. French or Italian roasts are big and bold, famed for their heavy notes and smoky flavor profile. One of my favorites is from Volcanica as this choice offers consistently great results with a smooth chocolate aftertaste and a nice red berry/ caramel flavor.
I also like to buy my coffee beans as soon after roasting as I can get my hands on them. One school of thought says they are only viable if brewed within 30 days of being roasted. After this time, you lose a lot of the aromas and oils. However, advancements in storage and transportation mean there shouldn’t be any issues as long as your bag of beans is vacuum-sealed.
It’s also important to dig into the company you’re buying from and only use a reputable coffee supplier. Otherwise, you risk buying from one of the many companies that exploit coffee growers. Looking for the Fair Trade seal is a good benchmark to go on, though it’s by no means the only mark of ethically sourced coffee.
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 in rich volcanic soil at elevations above 3,000ft creating an incredible rich flavor
Best for: Big smoky flavor
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I really love Death Wish coffee and think 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. It’s what makes it so great for espresso – it would be way too much for a light pour over, for example.
What to Expect from Death Wish Coffee:
Picking a favorite from the Kicking Horse line-up is a tough job:
Their whole coffee bean selection uses organic, sustainably shade-grown, Fair Trade Arabica beans.
But when it comes to making espresso, I highly rate their Cliff Hanger Espresso blend. It delivers a silky yet complex cup of java with berry and chocolate flavors and a bold finish.
Whilst being a medium roast, you will still get a great quality espresso. However, it’s also pretty versatile if you want a workhorse that can suit different brewing methods too. By changing up the grind, I’ve gotten good results with these beans to make French press or for cold brew.
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
Best for: A versatile choice of coffee beans
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 it brews an almost picture-perfect espresso. The lush layer of crema and the full-bodied brew underneath make it quite a sight.
Its aroma is something I’m conflicted about, however:
I find that there’s a disconnect between the taste and drinking in every element of these beans with my other senses. Don’t get me wrong – the aroma isn’t bad. It just isn’t as good as the other characteristics of this Italian Roast Espresso.
What to Expect from Coffee Bean Direct Italian Roast Espresso:
I am a bit of a snob when it comes to espresso (all coffee, in fact), 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 coffees. The mildness makes them perfect for espresso as they can be dark roasted without turning bitter.
What to Expect from Colombia Organic, Java Planet:
Our favorite brand for espresso coffee beans is Lavazza Super Crema. What they lack in personal story, they make up for in flavor.
In our experience, the Lavazza Super Crema provides a consistent, rich crema and an aromatic taste profile. I love the full body of these beans with the notes of roasted hazelnut and brown sugar. Every sip transports us to Italy, standing on a piazza and drinking espresso. Even if we’re actually sitting in the office whilst the phone rings!
What to Expect from Lavazza Super Crema:
Source: Brazil, India, Columbia and Indonesia
Aroma: Rich, full body
Tasting notes: Hazelnuts, brown sugar
Important notes: Roasted in Italy with no compromise on flavor. Nitrogen sealed bags for longer shelf-life.
Best for: Best espresso beans for crema
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Jaguar Espresso by Equator Coffees is a great choice to use with your espresso machine and currently is one of my top picks.
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. It’s this combination of dark and fruity flavors that I love so much.
I also love that not only does the espresso taste great, but Equator Coffees 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.
What to Expect from Jaguar Espresso, Equator Coffees:
Source: Guatemala, Sumatra, Ethiopia
Aroma: Rich, nutty
Tasting notes: Chocolatey, nutty, apricots, and hints of berries
Important notes: Equator Coffees focus on quality, sustainability, and social responsibility
Best for: A different take on traditional espresso flavors. These beans work well on their own but have enough intensity to stand out in a milky drink too
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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, I might add), 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 gets 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.
Best for: Incredible smell and bold flavor
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 I 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 all the flavor is 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
Best for: Great environmental and social practices
Our choice of the best espresso beans is the Espresso Blend from Spirit Animal. Honduran coffee is better known for fruity, light flavors that are well-suited to pour over than the more robust notes usually found in espresso, but this blend strikes a perfect balance.
You get all the nuanced flavors of citrus, honey, sweet fruit, floral, and peach but they’re more mellow than some of the other options we’ve reviewed here. It’s why I love drinking this blend as a straight espresso or an Americano.
But if you prefer to add milk, creamer, sugar, or syrup to your coffee, you lose some of the nuanced flavors making it a bit of a waste.
For us, the biggest selling point of all Spirit Animal coffee is that all their beans are handpicked, washed, and roasted in Honduras.
Roasting at source is not common and some coffee snobs will say it’s not ideal for flavor. But exporting the finished product is worth a lot more than unroasted beans. So it 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 fair compensation directly into the hands of the farmers.
Plus, the beans are sealed in airtight bags so they’re realistically not going stale on their way to you. Which (when you shop direct) is pretty darn fast – they roast on Fridays and ship on Wednesdays via UPS Air which takes 2-5 days for US delivery.
What to Expect from Spirit Animal’s Espresso Blend:
Aroma: Floral with citrus notes
Tasting notes: Gentle citrus, sweet fruit (especially peaches) and honey
Important notes: Roasted at source in Honduras, offering maximum support to the farmers and their communities
Best for: A nuanced, mellow and low-acidity espresso or Americano
In short, yes you can any regular whole bean coffee to make espresso:
Espresso is a type of drink, 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’s better to look for beans created with this brewing method in mind. As coffee beans can be selected and roasted to create different flavor profiles, some are better suited to espresso drinks than others.
The best coffee beans for espresso (well, any cup of coffee) will always be whole beans that you grind yourself. This is because ground coffee quickly degrades in contact with oxygen. So it’s best not to leave ground coffee for more than 15 minutes before using it. So using the pre-ground stuff is just throwing away freshness and flavor.
Psst.. Need help finding the right coffee grinder so you can up your espresso game at home? Check out our guide to the different types of grinder to discover which one best suits your needs:
Life would be boring if we all liked the same thing, and that is certainly true of espresso
For us, the top choice is Sumatra Queen Ketiara from Equator Coffees. Not only are they sustainably sourced, but the deep, woodsy flavors taste incredible with every sip.
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 Spirit Animal’s Espresso Blend more for exactly this reason.
Just remember, that to turn the best espresso beans into the best espresso shot, you should look to buy them whole and grind them yourself.
It really doesn’t matter whether you prefer an intense caffeine hit or a more complex flavor profile. All that matters is that taste in your cup. And we are sure you will find an espresso bean to suit your needs and tastes on this list.
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