In order to make great tasting espresso coffee at home you need three things: a good espresso machine, an even better grinder and the best espresso beans.
But what factors determine the best coffee beans for espresso? In this article we explain the features of high quality espresso beans and share some of the best espresso coffee beans available.
So whether you are looking for the best coffee beans for automatic espresso machines, the best espresso beans for lattes or the top espresso brands, you are sure to find a new favorite from our list of the best beans for espresso.
Best Espresso Beans – Comparison Table
For easy comparison in the handy table below we list the top rated espresso beans grouped by roast.
Note we have listed the whole bean coffee options. Some companies do offer ground coffee but we recommend buying whole beans to make the best espresso coffee.
Read on for our best espresso beans reviews.
|Kicking Horse Cliff Hanger Espresso||Medium||5.0||Check|
|Lavazza Super Crema||Medium||4||Check|
|Fresh Roasted Coffee Bali Blue Moon||Medium||4.5||Check|
|Intelligentsia Black Cat Classic Espresso||Medium-Dark||4.5||Check|
|AmazonFresh Go for the Bold||Dark||3.8||Check|
|Two Volcanoes Guatemalan Espresso||Dark||4||Check|
|Koffee Kult Dark Roast||Dark||4.5||Check|
|Verena Street Shot Tower Espresso||Dark||4.5||Check|
|Death Wish Organic||Dark||4.5||Check|
|Equator Coffees Jaguar Espresso Beans||Dark||5.0||Check|
So What Is Espresso?
Espresso is a style of coffee brewed by forcing water through finely ground coffee beans to produce a concentrated shot of liquid gold goodness.
If we are to be technical the definition of espresso is coffee produced with:
- A minimum of 9 bars of pressure
- Water forced through ground coffee beans at 195-205 degrees fahrenheit
- Extraction time between 25-30 seconds
- Producing around 0.85 oz of espresso in your cup.
There is no getting around the point that in order to prepare the best espresso coffee you will need an espresso machine.
However, regardless of whether you own a budget espresso machine, a semi-automatic or an automatic coffee machine, the quality of the beans and the choice of roast will have a big impact on the quality of your espresso.
Coffee Beans Vs Espresso Beans
Before we get into a comparison of the best espresso coffee beans we need to explain what we mean exactly as there is often some confusion about espresso vs coffee beans.
See the thing is, espresso beans are the same as coffee beans. Espresso beans are not a type of coffee bean, they are not a type of plant. They are one and the same thing.
It gets a little confusing as some coffee roasters market their beans as ‘espresso beans’. This is simply a way for the roaster to indicate the best brewing method for certain coffee roasts.
What we actually mean when talking about espresso beans is the best coffee beans to brew an espresso coffee.
A good shot of espresso requires high quality espresso beans. And that is what we are here to help you with.
Related: If you have a sensitive stomach, take a look at our Guide to Low Acid Coffee Beans.
Best Beans for Espresso
So after running your eye over this comparison chart you might be wondering if any style of whole beans can be used to make espresso in your home machine. And you would be correct.
There are many great espresso beans brands and it definitely worth trying different coffee roasts for your shot of espresso.
But, there are a couple of factors that will make some espresso coffee beans better than others and we list these below.
1. Fresh Espresso Beans
We mention this point a lot around here, but we will say it again. Buying fresh whole beans and grinding them at home is one of the best ways to make a great espresso at home.
2. 100% Arabica Beans
There are two types of coffee beans grown around the world. Arabica and Robusta.
- Arabica beans tend to be grown at high elevations, have more acidity and complexity of flavor but are also more expensive.
- Robusta coffee beans are higher in caffeine, have a more robust flavor, are grown at lower elevations but are considered poorer in quality.
Arabica beans are the best quality coffee beans. If you are after the best espresso coffee, we think 100% Arabica coffee beans are a good place to start.
3. Medium to Dark Roast Beans
Traditionally most coffee beans recommended for espresso are dark roast beans. Dark roasts are bold, smoky and often have a bitterness not found in other roast styles due to the longer roasting time.
While this may not be great for people who drink their coffee black, they are a great choice for people who add milk to their coffee.
The robust flavor of a dark roast is able to cut through the milk much more effectively than a medium roast coffee. This is the reason why a number of the espresso beans on our list are dark roasts.
But there are many reasons why medium and medium dark roasts are a great choice too, especially if you drink black coffee.
Medium roast coffee beans tend to have a more complex flavor than lightly roasted or dark roasted beans.
What about light roast coffee beans? Light roast beans have higher acidity, are higher in caffeine and often have delicate fruity overtones. Which is great in a pour over coffee maker, but they tend to fall flat when used for espresso.
They lack the body and richness of flavor of medium and dark roasts. So unless you have a personal love of light roast coffee beans, we think you are best to avoid them for espresso coffee.
Image: Jessica Lewis
4. Do You Take Milk?
The best espresso beans will also depend on whether you like your espresso straight up or with milk.
Let’s face it, the majority of coffee drinkers add milk to their coffee. The problem is that milk fundamentally changes the flavor of the espresso.
Milk softens the acidity of your coffee and also makes your espresso taste sweeter. But sometimes it also cloaks the intricate flavors in the coffee.
If you are a milk coffee drinker we think a medium dark or dark roast is a good choice as the more robust flavor can cut through the milk.
If you drink your espresso black, then you have a wider range of roasts to experiment with.
5. Single Origin Beans
For a unique espresso experience, experiment with different single origin coffee beans.
Traditionally coffee beans for espresso are blends. The primary reason for this is that many single origin blends have more delicate flavors and are better combined with others.
But as more high quality single origin coffee beans come on the market, there are gems waiting to be discovered.
Africa is known for fruity and complex flavors. Asia is popular with those who love earthy and rich texture. Central and South America delivers well balanced, sweet brews.
If you are unsure, read the descriptions of the beans. The best espresso brands will highlight which of their roasts are the best single origin coffee for espresso.
Best Coffee Beans For Espresso Reviews
In each of our espresso bean reviews we outline the flavor notes and origin. We also highlight which are the best organic espresso beans.
Described as silky and complex with a bold happy ending, there is a lot to love about this medium roast espresso blend. Kicking Horse continue to kick goals with their coffee blends roasted to perfection and this is for sure one of the best medium roast coffee beans for espresso.
The Cliff Hanger blend is not as bold as the 454 or the KickAss, but for those preferring a lighter blend or if you have a superautomatic espresso machine, this is a great choice.
The only downside (if you don’t drink a lot of coffee) is that this Kicking Horse coffee only comes in a 2.2 pound bag.
Flavor Notes: Bright and fruity with aromas of blackcurrant and milk chocolate
Origin: Africa, Indonesia, Central & South America
Perhaps one of the most famous coffee roasters on the planet, the Italian company Lavazza has been roasting coffee beans for over 120 years.
The Super Crema medium roast is one of the best Lavazza coffee beans for espresso with a mild and sweet flavor and low acidity.
They are a less oily coffee bean which also makes them one of the best beans for superautomatic espresso machines.
Note that the mild flavor and low acidity means these Lavazza espresso beans lack some of the robustness and depth of others on our list. For some this will not be a strong enough coffee.
But if you like a mild cup of coffee with milk, this is a good choice. The beans are nitrogen packed for extra freshness.
Flavor Notes: Honey, almond and dried fruit
Origin: Brazil, India, Colombia, Indonesia, Vietnam
Single origin Indonesian medium roast organic coffee beans. This offering from Fresh Roasted Coffee has bold body and is perfect for a fresh cup of espresso.
This blend is also Rainforest Alliance Certified which ensures the coffee is grown in a sustainable way that protects the local environment.
Fresh Roasted Coffee Company have a huge range of coffee blends available, but the Bali Blue Moon has a strong following and is one of their best sellers.
It is on the pricey side but we still think it is one of the best medium roast espresso beans on the market and one of the best espresso beans for superautomatic coffee machines.
Flavor Notes: Dark chocolate, vanilla bean, anise with a creamy mouthfeel and spiced finish
Described as syrupy and sweet, the Black Cat Classic Espresso Blend is the flagship product amongst the Intelligentsia espresso beans. With perfect balance it is just as good with milk as without.
Intelligentsia are on a mission to offer a range of espresso blends under their Black Cat Project that challenge the boundaries of flavor. We think the classic is pretty good though.
The Black Cat beans come in an organic version too. They are perfect for those who don’t drink a lot of coffee as they come in a smaller 12 oz package.
Intelligentsia introduced the concept of Direct Trade to the industry and directly source their beans from growers to produce their top espresso blends.
We recommend you purchase from the Intelligentsia Storefront to receive the freshest black cat espresso beans!
Flavor Notes: Stone Fruit, Dark Sugars and Dark Chocolate
Origin: Brazil, Costa Rica
This crew source their beans from the top 2% of all organic Arabica beans through direct sourcing.
They are incredibly good value considering the coffee beans are organic, Fairtrade and Rainforest Alliance Certified.
With a smooth finish and lacking the bitterness found in many dark roasts the Jo Espresso blend is the perfect every day coffee blend. It comes in both a 12 oz and 2 lb bag.
If you are looking for a more intense espresso blend from Jo, they also offer the Wild Jo blend.
Flavor Notes: Heavy dark chocolate with a rich crema
Origin: Africa, Central and South America
Sometimes you just need the best cheap espresso beans for good everyday drinking. If this is you too, I think this blend from AmazonFresh Coffee is one of the best affordable coffee beans options.
A dark roast with bold flavor and good reviews, it is the price that makes this so hard to go ignore.
AmazonFresh offers a range of blends and they can also be purchased ground or for k-cups. Sure it probably won’t knock your socks off in terms of complexity or depth, but it will make a perfectly good espresso for the everyday drinker.
Best of all, if you sign up for the AmazonFresh free trial (click here to sign up) you can have this set up on autopilot to be delivered to your door every month without fail.
Flavor Notes: Bold full body
Origin: Central and South America
This single origin dark roast espresso coffee is the only one on our list that is grown, processed, roasted and packed at source.
The beans are grown at higher elevations at the base of two volcanoes.
The Guatemalan Espresso blend has a deep full body without bitterness. The beans are grown organically, but are not listed as USDA compliant.
Note these dark espresso coffee beans do tend to be on the oily side so best avoided if you have a superautomatic machine.
Flavor Notes: Fruity and wooden and dark chocolate notes
Described as having a smooth but sharp character, this dark espresso blend from Verena Street is full bodied with sweet and creamy complexity.
Roasted in small batches for maximum freshness, these dark roast espresso beans are also Rainforest Alliance Certified so they are good for the environment too.
Verena Street is a small family run business based in Iowa. You can choose between a 12 oz and 2 pound bag of beans.
If you are enjoy a little flavoring with your coffee beans, Verena Street also produce a number of flavored espresso beans including the immensely popular Verena Street Mississippi Grogg.
Flavor Notes: Chocolatey, velvety and nutty finish
Origin: Central and South America, Indonesia
Koffee Kult has grown rapidly in recent years and has become something of, well, a cult.
The Koffee Kult espresso dark roast is a strong bold coffee with heavy body and a smooth finish yet there is none of the bitterness found in many dark roasts. For this reason we think it is one of the best dark roast espresso beans on our list.
This roast can be purchased in 1, 2 or 5 pound bags. There are a large number of different roasts to try in the Koffee Kult family. Don’t be afraid to experiment with other blends too.
Flavor Notes: Cocoa, cinnamon and bright with medium acidity and a long finish
Origin: Colombia, Guatemala, Sumatra
With twice the caffeine of your average coffee, Death Wish Coffee offers one serious hit of espresso.
Certainly bold with a full body taste, this Death Wish espresso is also surprisingly smooth.
The flavors may be too bitter for black coffee drinkers, but it is perhaps the perfect espresso bean for milk coffee drinkers who love strong coffee.
The blend has a mix of Arabica and Robusta beans, which is how they have bumped up the caffeine profile.
It is however one of the more pricey beans on the market. If you aren’t convinced they offer a 100% refund. They make a great gift for coffee lovers.
Flavor Notes: Subtle cherry, chocolate, nutty with medium acidity
Origin: India and Peru
Equator Coffees and Teas have been roasting coffee since 1995 and roast a range of blends and single origin coffees in Marin County, California.
The Jaguar Espresso beans have been roasted with milk coffee drinkers in mind. Made from a blend of organic and fair trade certified coffee beans from three stand out coffee regions, it has a rich, intense flavor with dark chocolate and apricot flavor notes.
All coffee beans are roasted to order for guaranteed freshness.
This espresso blend comes as whole beans in a 12 oz bag. They do offer espresso grind and drip grind too. If you are looking for a medium roast in the Equator Coffees range, the Tigerwalk Espresso medium roast is a great option.
Flavor Notes: Bittersweet chocolate, spices, apricot, hazelnut
Origin: Guatemala, Sumatra, Ethiopia
Best Coffee Beans for SuperAutomatic Espresso Machines
If you own a superautomatic espresso machine, then hopefully you already know you need to use non oily espresso beans.
The best thing about superautomatic machines is they do everything for you from grinding the beans to frothing your milk.
Unfortunately one of the downsides is they can be difficult to clean.
Dark oily coffee beans have a reputation for clogging up beautiful expensive superautomatic espresso machines. In general the darker the roast, the more oily the bean.
So to minimize cleaning and issues with the brew head, we recommend you stick with a medium roast for espresso. If you are considering purchasing a super automatic, read our reviews of the top automatic espresso machines here.
From this list, the best beans for super automatic espresso machines are:
- Lavazza Super Crema Espresso Coffee Beans
- Fresh Roasted Coffee Bali Blue Moon Espresso Beans
- Kicking Horse Cliff Hanger Espresso Beans
Where To Buy Espresso Beans
If you are searching for the best whole espresso beans, we recommend avoiding supermarket coffee beans. A use by date is not the same as a roasted date and you are unlikely to be buying fresh coffee beans.
If like most of us you don’t live close to a good coffee roaster, below we share where to buy the best espresso beans online.
One of the easiest ways to ensure you never run out of fresh coffee beans at home is to order online through Amazon Prime.
If you aren’t yet signed up to Amazon Prime you can sign up for a 30 day trial here. With free two day delivery, you can have the best espresso beans delivered straight to your door anytime.
Coffee Subscription Box
If you are looking to experiment a little with whole espresso beans but are unsure what to buy, another great option is to sign up for a coffee subscription box.
Three great options are:
- Trade Coffee – a fully personalized order every month based on your preferences and feedback. Click to find your perfect match today.
- Driftaway Coffee – receive a tasting kit, provide feedback and enjoy a customized order every month. Click to see the options here.
- BeanBox – a 3 month subscription with four difference coffees delivered each month. A great gift for a friend (or yourself 🙂 Click to review the options and inclusions.
Which ever way you decide to source your coffee beans, we encourage you to experiment in order to find the best espresso beans for you and your palate.
If you are confused by any of the flavor descriptions you can check out the Specialty Coffee Association flavor wheel here. It is a great visual representation of coffee flavors and descriptors.
For our list of all the best coffee beans in the world click here.