If you’ve decided to treat yourself to an espresso machine, there’s no substitute for grinding your beans directly before brewing but how do you go about choosing those beans?
We’re here to help you with that today. As well as highlighting the top 10 espresso beans, we’ll also walk you through choosing the right blend the easy way.
Since coffee degrades so rapidly after it’s been roasted – in as little as 2 weeks it starts to spoil – you should aim to consume your coffee roughly 7 to 14 days after roasting to benefit from maximum flavor.
One of the most vital factors in the flavor profile of coffee is the roast level. Things are dead simple here: the darker the roast, the bolder and more intense the flavor. Think, too, about what you’ll be adding to your drink. If you’ll be ladling on the flavored syrup, sugar and creamer, the darker the roast the better. Medium and medium-dark roasts also respond pretty well to espresso.
The main types of coffee bean you’ll encounter on your buying journey are Arabica and Robusta. While Arabica is widely considered superior quality, Robusta is often blended in with coffee intended for espresso. Robusta can produce a first-class crema, the froth on top of your espresso. You’ll often see a 60/40 blend of Arabica/Robusta. 100% Arabica roasts have lower caffeine content.
Once it’s time to break out your burr grinder, you’ll want to shoot for a fine grind if you’re making espresso.
A final thing to keep your eyes peeled for is the certifications a coffee has in place. Most of the coffees we look at today come Fair Trade Certified and most are also organic and kosher. Other certs you’ll see mentioned include Rainforest Alliance Certified and Shade Grown.
We’ll recap some of these basics and look at them in more detail after we break down the 10 best beans for espresso right now…
I. The 10 Best Espresso Beans
1. Our #1 Pick: Death Wish Whole Bean Coffee
Self-proclaimed as the world’s strongest coffee, Death Wish Coffee nails its colors firmly to the mast.
The unique and invigorating blend of Arabica and Robusta beans slowly roasted and packing double the caffeine content of regular coffee, this organic Fair Trade is perfect for espresso. These beans are also Kosher and USDA Certified Organic.
You’ll get a dark, sultry coffee which is smooth and leaves no trace of bitterness or aftertaste. There’s a subtle but unmistakable undertone of chocolate and just a hint of cherry.
The dark roast leads to a bold flavor as you’d expect from a coffee named Death Wish.
We’ve saved the best for last, too…
It’s always risky trying a new coffee. Will you like it? How about the aftertaste? Will you find it too strong? None of these questions really matters with Death Wish since you’ll be eligible for a refund if you’re not completely happy. What’s not to love?
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2. Runner-Up: Lavazza Super Crema Whole Bean Coffee
You’re probably used to seeing Lavazza in red packaging but these super crema beans come in muted blue.
Where Death Wish is defiantly dark, this mild and creamy espresso roast is a little subtler. You’ll taste honey and almonds vying with fruit in a freshly ground coffee that’s ideal for those morning shots or a slightly longer drink later in the day.
The aroma level is rated 4 out of 5 with a mix of Arabica and Robusta tailor-made for those short, strong shots. The Arabica beans are sourced from India, Colombia and Brazil while the contrasting Robusta beans come from Vietnam and Indonesia. You’ve got a truly multicultural melting pot
These beans are best used in a dedicated espresso machine. You’ll get by far the freshest cup of coffee by grinding your beans directly before brewing. Make sure, too, that you store your beans correctly.
Lavazza has been in the coffee business since the late 1890s and all this expertise comes to bear on this impeccable espresso blend. Enjoy your coffee just the way the Italians like it.
3. Café Don Pablo Classic Italian Espresso Whole Bean Coffee
Café Don Pablo makes use of only Arabica beans for this classic Italian espresso roast so what makes it so good?
The blend of Sumatra Mandheling and Colombian Supremo combine in a depth of flavor that tastes divine in an espresso machine. The flavor is complex without being overpowering, rich without becoming too intense.
The roasting technique pioneered by this roaster removes almost all bitterness from these beans giving you a balanced drink.
There is an aftertaste but it’s not dominating.
As well as responding admirably to espresso machines, feel free to use these beans with a drip machine or your French press. These beans are versatile and work well for more than just straight-up espresso.
All Café Don Pablo coffee is certified organic and the company works closely with growers at the point of origin.
4. Koffee Kult Dark Roast Coffee Beans
Hip black and white packaging and the stylized Koffee Kult branding is a 100% Arabica coming out of central America, Colombia and Guatemala. Why is this one of your best choices for espresso?
The smooth and strong blend is not remotely bitter and acidity is ultra-low. You’ll get subtlety here without ever mistaking you’re drinking an espresso.
The dark roast is specifically recommended as an espresso shot and you’ll get a cinnamon-infused drink with a lingering and sweet finish.
A family-owned and run artisan coffee roaster, all coffee is roasted on the premises for optimum freshness.
This is another brand offering you a no-quibbles refund if you don’t like the taste of this roast. That’s a great deal of confidence to place in a product and we’re pretty confident you won’t be calling in for your money back.
5. Kicking Horse Coffee Cliff Hanger Espresso Whole Bean Coffee
Another powerfully named blend is Cliff Hanger from Kicking Horse Coffee. What makes this stand out from the crowd?
Firstly, you’ll get a great deal of versatility. While these beans work wonderfully in an espresso machine, you can also roll with the cold brew method or the French press. Drip machines are no problem either so you’ve got a great blend whatever your preferred approach.
Organic, Fair Trade and kosher, this ticks all boxes on the eco-front, too.
Roasted near home turf in the Canadian Rocky Mountains, the taste is reflected in notes of berries along with a strong cocoa finish. Blackcurrant and milk mingle with chocolate and brown sugar for a real taste sensation.
A medium roast, beans come from Africa, Indonesia, central and south America.
If you’re looking for a potent espresso that also works well with a range of other brewing methods, check out Kicking Horse Coffee for something with a difference.
6. JO Espresso Medium Dark Roast Whole Bean Coffee
Another medium dark roast up next with JO Espresso.
These beans have a powerful and dark chocolate with a deep, rich crema. The manufacturer describes the finish as elegant and we have to say that’s pretty accurate.
Non-GMO, USDA Certified Organic and Fair Trade, you can buy these beans with a clear conscience and a minimal eco-footprint.
Attention to excellence extends beyond ticking all the right environmental boxes. JO buys only the finest 2% of all Arabica beans ensuring that nothing but the very best coffee ends up in your morning shot.
You can place your trust in JO as they’re a member of the prestigious SCA (Specialty Coffee Association).
7. Coffee Bean Direct Italian Roast Espresso Whole Bean Coffee
Coffee Bean Direct offer a broad spread of blends but we’re interested today in the Italian roast espresso.
These beans come from all over. You’ve got Arabica and Robusta from central and south America, India and Africa. It doesn’t disclose the fact you’ve got both Arabica and Robusta on the packaging. Delving into some online feedback from the manufacturer, they state that they added Robusta into this 6-bean espresso blend for its ability to provide a nice crema.
The Italian roast is at the far end of the spectrum beyond French roast. With medium acidity and a body on the heavier side of balanced, this signature blend is dark and packs a full body.
While you’ll make a mean espresso with these beans, you can also pop them in a drip coffee maker or your French press. They respond well to the pour-over method as well. If you want that flexibility without compromising the quality of your morning espresso, give this 6-bean espresso a try.
8. Peet’s Coffee Espresso Forte Dark Roast Whole Bean Coffee
Peet’s is an industry legend and this dark roast pulls absolutely no punches.
There are several of Peet’s blends that can be used to make great espresso but this is the first expressly designed for that purpose.
Beans from central and south America and the Indo-Pacific region give you a mouthwatering sensation of 100% Arabica.
A sweetness and stout body mean this coffee works well as an all-day drink. You won’t get any bitterness in this coffee either so it’s unlikely to offend and likely to please all the family.
If you’re looking for an espresso blend that gives you a rich, dense crema and a simple but highly effective taste, Peet’s delivers as you would fully expect.
9. Verena Street Espresso Beans
Whether you want some finely ground espresso in your machine or some coarser grinds for your drop coffee maker, Verena Street Shot Tower Espresso blend is a smart move.
Certified kosher by the Orthodox Union and sustainably sourced, you won’t have any nagging guilt when you treat yourself to some of this for your morning eye-opener.
Sweet and creamy, you’ll get a complex coffee with a silky crema. The dark roast
This coffee is craft roasted in Iowa by this family-owned operation. It’s roasted in small batches to keep quality uppermost and the firm maintains a very low inventory all of which means you’ll get the freshest coffee in your cup.
“Blends of different origins and roast levels” is about as specific as the manufacturer gets in terms of provenance.
If you’re looking for a no-nonsense espresso from a brand you can rely, this blend is well worth popping on your shortlist.
10. illy Classico Medium Roast Whole Bean Coffee
illy Classico is a modern classic with 100% Arabica beans.
The Classico is a medium roast with an alternative dark roast Intenso available if that’s not quite strong enough for you.
Bean origin is listed simply as illy blend with the flavor described as rich yet balanced.
Based out of Italy since way back in 1933, illy made the list of the most sustainable companies in the world for the way they run their coffee enterprise so you’ll be buying with a clean conscience.
Whether you prefer a short shot of espresso or a longer drink, illy Classico is an affordable all-day coffee well worth a place on your shortlist.
With our coffee beans reviews all wrapped, how do you go about choosing the best beans for your morning espresso?
II. Choosing The Best Espresso Beans
If you find choosing coffee confusing at the best of times, how about when you’ve got something very specific in mind like espresso?
Well, you’ll have all the usual elements of flavor and aroma to consider but you’ll also need to double down on a few more factors to get the best beans.
First up, focus on the flavor you want. This is obviously key.
If you prefer your espresso subtle, opt for a slightly lighter roast. We’d recommend medium roast or possibly a medium-dark if you don’t want dominating flavor.
Roll with a dark roast if you’re prepared to tolerate a little bitterness in exchange for a taste sensation.
Arabica or Robusta?
The 2 primary types of coffee bean out of over 100 species are:
Roughly 75% of worldwide production is Arabica. The bulk of the remainder is Robusta.
Arabica beans are higher quality and Brazil is the main producer of these beans. Arabica beans have less caffeine than Robusta which leads, in turn, to les bitterness. Unfortunately, these beans are roughly double the price of Robusta.
Robusta beans shouldn’t be written off since they can deliver a great cream to set off your espresso in the morning.
The beans we’ve reviewed today are either 100% Arabica or made with a mix.
If you spot packaging with a roasting date more than 90 days ago, you’re better off giving these beans a swerve.
If you’re going to the trouble of grinding your own beans and you’re placing a premium on freshness – understandably and commendably – it doesn’t make sense to spoil that by buying older beans. Coffee spoils quicker than you might imagine so pay attention to this element.
Linked to the idea of freshness is how you find the beans stored in the store…
If you notice beans for sale from large, open containers, you’re better off avoiding these. Air is one of the elements that degrades coffee beans so this is the last thing you want. While this might sound petty, ignore this advice and you’ll end up with a weaker, tainted espresso rather than the eye-opening shot you were hoping for.
Type of Drink
Ask yourself how you’ll be taking your espresso as this will determine to some extent the most suitable beans.
Will you be diluting your drink with lots of milk or creamer? If so, you can get away with a slightly cheaper and lower quality bean than if you’re likely to be drinking your espresso neat. Don’t confuse this with advice to buy poor beans, it’s simply a chance to shave off a few bucks with no discernible difference in the end result of your drink.
Choice of drinks needs to be considered in another aspect, too…
What else will you be drinking aside from espresso?
If you only plan to nail short shots in the morning, you can focus purely on dedicated espresso blends. They do one job and they do it very well.
If, on the other hand, you’re partial to a latte or cappuccino or you often use a French press or drip coffee machine, this gives you a few more options. Many of the beans we highlight today not only make a mean espresso but also respond especially well to other brewing methods.
If you take these factors into account and spend a few minutes checking out some of the roasts we explore today, buying the best espresso beans is easier than you might first think.
To round out, then, how do you go about grinding your own beans?
III. Grinding Your Beans For Espresso
Self-evidently, you won’t be doing anything without a grinder in place. Come back soon since we’ve got a bumper piece underway on choosing the best grinder. For now, we’ll just stick to some grinder basics…
Not all grinders are created equal and if you’re planning to buy a standalone unit, it’s senseless to cut corners or to look for the cheapest model at the expense of quality. After all, if you’re pursuing excellence and you’re looking for the freshest, liveliest espresso, why waste your effort by investing in shoddy equipment?
There are 2 main types of coffee grinders:
- Blade grinder
- Burr grinder
A blade grinder might be cheaper but the blades slice and smash the beans to the detriment of the end result.
With a burr grinder, a pair of separate oscillating plates – the burrs – come together and crush the beans without kicking up too much heat or impairing the flavor. Adjusting these grinders is super-simple so you can produce far more than a grind for your espresso.
We’re never here to urge you to spend money unnecessarily. In this instance, though, purchasing a burr grinder is undoubtedly the best option even if you will need to dig a little deeper.
OK, with your grinder in place – you might have an onboard grinder on your machine – it’s time to get down to business.
The next issue you need to address is grind size…
For espresso, you should use a fine grind.
If you’ve got even a passing interest in coffee, you’ll know that the consistency of the grind impacts how it performs with various brewing methods. While coarse grinds are ideal in a French press, they’re bad news for espresso.
With the particles of a fine grind closely packed together, water will take longer to pass through. Combined with an increased surface area, this consistency leads to the most effective extraction for espresso.
So, if you’re looking to prepare your coffee using assorted brewing methods, you can benefit from having a grinder at home. Use the same beans to rack up a pour-over or long coffee from your drip machine as you press into action for your early morning espresso.
All that remains with your beans ground up is to fire up the espresso maker and grab that shot glass!
If you’re worked your way through this far, you’re now perfectly placed to get the most fitting beans for your new espresso machine.
We would like to reiterate one final time that you’ll get superior results if you buy fresh beans and grind them directly before you brew up. You should also not forget to pay close attention to the roasting date and also make sure you store your coffee beans correctly.
Bookmark La Mano Coffee as your go-to resource for all things caffeinated. We’re a young enterprise at the moment but we’ll be growing fast. We’re hard at work to bring you everything you need to play barista at home without needing professional training. Follow us on social media, share anything you find useful on our site and come back soon!