Last Updated on January 2, 2022 by John Moretti
If you are a modern specialty coffee geek like me, then you know all about espresso beans. High-quality espresso beans can change the coffee’s aroma, spice, flavor, and the tingle it leaves in your mouth. Let me help you go from a mere geek to a coffee expert with this article’s summary of the best espresso beans.
- Best Unique Espresso Beans: Café Don Pablo
- Best Finish Espresso Beans: Jo Espresso
- Best Italian Espresso Beans:
- Coffee Bean Direct
- Peets Coffee Italian
- Illy Classico Espresso
- Best Organic Espresso Beans: Lifeboost Espresso Coffee Beans
- Best Medium-Roast Espresso Beans
- Volcania Coffee Tanzania Peaburry
- Coffee Bros Espresso Roast
- Lavazza Super Cream
- Best Dark Roast Espresso Beans
- Koffee Kult
- Verena Street Shot Tower Espresso
- Kicking Horse Coffee
- Best High-Intensity Espresso Beans
- Kicking Horse Coffee – Cliff Hanger Espresso
- Cuvee Coffee’s Karmadillo Dark Blend Espresso
- Death Wish
Best Unique Espresso Beans: Café Don Pablo Classic Italian Roast
Café Don Pablo is my first pick. I have to say that this is the most unique espresso I have ever had. Its combination of spicy Sumatran Mandheling with nutty Colombian coffee tantalized my taste buds.
This is an economical choice with certified organic production and food safety. This dark roast gives you both a spicy and chocolate flavor offering a smooth and complex blend.
These beans also have low acid. If you are a person that suffers from acid reflux due to intake of high acid espresso, Café Don Pablo might be a suitable choice for you.
Don Pablo is known for its high-grade and high-quality coffee. They use Arabica beans sources from Columbia that are grown in rich volcanic soil in mountain terrains.
Don Pablo is a unique blend but weak for dark roast fans. If you want to achieve something more robust, you will have to work the grind with this one. But if you are new in the ‘dark world’ of coffee, Café Don Pablo is a safe place to start.
- Unique blend
- Low-acid levels
- Lacks Aroma
- Bitter finish
Best Finish Espresso Beans: Jo Espresso
Jo Espresso is a medium-dark roast which I love for its elegant finish. It offers a sweet chocolate flavor with a velvet note, and its rich cream gives your tongue a smooth experience.
Jo Espresso is a Non-GMO and certified organic and Fair Trade. It ticks every environmental box and uses 2% of the best Arabica beans, ensuring you receive nothing but fine quality in your espresso shot. Additionally, JO is a member of the Specialty Coffee Association, which means you can fully trust them.
These beans are pricey, but they will give a good value for your money. However, I found it too sweet for a medium-dark roast. If you like a bolder dark roast, this may not be the choice for you.
- Rich aroma
- Not bitter
- Elegant finish
- Rich crema
- Certified organic and Fair-trade product
- Too sweet for a medium-dark roast
Best Italian Espresso Beans:
Coffee Bean Direct
You didn’t think I would forget about Coffee Bean Direct in the Italian Espresso Beans List. It offers a powerful bite of toasted flavor and honey aroma. These pure beans dark roast blend with a bold taste with smoky molasses and cocoa. I love its versatile nature, which makes it suitable for many brewing methods. The best thing about Coffee Bean Direct is that it is affordable and has high-quality espresso.
Coffee Bean Direct offers their Italian roast in Frenchtown, New Jersey. They sell to their clients directly, which cuts costs and ensures that the coffee is fresh. They roast their espresso beans upon order and deliver when the roasting date is very close.
They offer their espresso beans as whole and pre-ground. The pre-ground version is made using a regular grind. It is better to get the whole beans and give them a fine grind.
These Italian espresso beans are sourced from India and South America. They are milder compared to other Italian roasts, but the company also offers dark roasts. This espresso will offer a balanced acidity and comes in 1,2.5 and 5-pound bags. If I buy a 2.5-pound bag or more, I ensure to store them in the freezer to preserve freshness for a long time.
- Offers sealed bags for freshness
- Has an airtight package
- Medium acidity
- Honey-flavor and aroma
- Bitter aftertaste
- Has variations in the roasting
Peets Coffee Italian
Another Italian espresso brand that I like is Peets Coffee Italian. It has a smoky flavor and a hint of sweetness for a dark Italian roast. It offers a balance between robust flavor and sweetness, giving it a delicious taste. However, it has a burnt or bitter aftertaste. It might be the blend for you if you are a dark roaster.
Peets is a legend in the coffee industry. These Italian dark roast beans come from the Indigo-Pacific and central and south America. They are 100% Arabica which gives you a delicious sensation. Peet’s uses an Italian roasting style that delivers a simple and high-quality taste likely to please dark roast fans.
Peets roast their beans a day after your order which guarantees you freshness. This authentic American espresso with a bold and complex flavor gives you the caffeine kick you need.
- Gives you a strong caffeine kick
- Roasted a day after the order
- Bold flavor
- May give a burnt and bitter aftertaste
Illy Classico Espresso
The first word that pops up in my mind when I think of Illy Classico is Italy. Illy Classico is a brand that has existed for hundreds of years and is known for its quality products.
Illy Classico espresso is medium roasted, 100% Arabica, and comes from six regions: Ethiopia, Guatemala, Costa Rica, Colombia, Brazil, and India.
I like this Italian blend because of its sweet flavors and fruity notes. If you like a sweet espresso shot, it is wise to give Illy Classico a try. With notes of jasmine, caramel, and orange blossom, you will get precisely what you want.
Illy Classico also delivers your beans in different forms, including whole beans, pre-ground coffee, E.S.E. espresso coffee pods, and iperEspresso capsules. They ensure that their products are fresh by packing them in steel containers with inert gas rather than air.
Like a cherry on a cake, this brand is also one of the most ethical in the industry. It has been making the Ethisphere list for eight years consecutively.
- Available in different forms
- Bold flavors
- Packed in containers filled with inert gas
- Too sweet for dark roasters
Best Organic Espresso Beans
Lifeboost Espresso Coffee Beans
One of the best espresso beans in the market today is Lifeboost Espresso Coffee beans. They are organic and offer a smooth and mouth-watering taste. It offers different flavors such as caramel, chocolate, and fruit. Its rich profile, velvet touch, and plenty of flavors make it best for a milk-based drink. I love a cappuccino, and these beans make my morning worthwhile.
Lifeboost Espresso coffee beans are certified as Fair Trade and Organic. They come from Nicaragua and are planted and harvested without pesticides. Low acid levels make them best for people with dental problems or digestive issues.
These hand-picked beans are considered to be the most environmentally friendly in the market. They are grown in the shade to preserve the natural ecosystem giving them a diverse taste and rich aroma. Growing these beans in the shade also ensures that there is optimum absorption of critical nutrients. Additionally, the trees offer a ton of benefits for the environment.
Lifeboost beans are all hand-picked to ensure high quality. They are also harvested using unique technology, which also contributes to their quality. You can purchase these medium-roasted beans as a whole or pre-ground.
- Certifies fair trade and organic
- Smooth and delicious flavor.
- Good crema
- Environment friendly
- Somewhat expensive
- Oily, which makes it easy to clog in the grinder
Best Medium-Roast Espresso Beans
Volcania Coffee Tanzania Peaburry
I had to add this medium roast to the list. It may be a medium roast but perfect for making espressos. The Volcania Coffee Tanzania Peaberry offers an entire body of buttery richness. It captured my heart and taste buds with its flavor notes, including nougat, plum, orange, and chocolate. Just like Coffee Bean Direct, it is a diverse coffee that can be brewed using many methods.
One interesting fact about these beans is that they are from Peaberry mutation in the coffee cherry. This means that they produce one seed instead of two. Many people believe that this helps increase the concentration of flavor and nutrients.
It has a fruity undertone which turns away many, but I like it. It hides the bitterness well, which I prefer. This Tanzania Peaberry grows in Mt.Kilimanjaro slopes. It is an excellent choice if you are looking for something new on your coffee bucket list.
Volcania was founded in 2014 and focused on producing coffee from a single origin and estate. Their goal is to give their clients the best coffee grown in rich volcanic soils at high altitudes. They roast small batches every week in Atlanta to maintain freshness.
Volcania does not compromise its ethical practices, and they are U.T.Z. Certified company. This means that they offer high levels of sustainability, including living and social conditions.
- Non-oily and fresh
- Diverse, and you can brew in various methods.
- Single origin
- Slightly expensive
- Not-so-good body
Coffee Bros Espresso Roast
Coffee Bros Espresso Roast delivers precisely what it promises. Its beans are 100% Arabica, come from Columbia and Ethiopia, and come packed in releasable bags with a degassing valve.
This espresso offers a vanilla, strawberry, and sugar cane flavor, which was a bit much for me. You will taste notes such as juicy-berry and nutty caramel and offer freshness. If you like your espresso balanced with fruity, light, and sweet flavor notes, you will enjoy these beans very much.
Coffee Bros combines the Ethiopian and Columbian varieties to create a great blend that offers a balanced and smooth espresso taste. Columbia produces the most significant quantity of the Arabica variety of coffee worldwide. Roasting makes the acidic properties of the beans transform into softness.
On the other hand, Ethiopia offers many fruity, floral, and sweeter coffee plants compared to Columbian coffee.
Coffee Bros are very particular when it comes to roasting their beans. They ensure their beans are well-roasted so you can taste all the flavors they offer. The roasting process plays a significant factor in what makes them unique in taste.
- Stored in airtight packages
- Smooth flavor
- Not bitter
- Special roasting process
- Perfect blend of coffee varieties from two origins.
- Too sweet
- Leaves an aftertaste.
Lavazza Super Crema
You didn’t expect me to put this brand in this category. You were expecting it on the best Italian espresso coffee. So, why put it in the medium roast category? Lavazza, for me, is a great medium roast espresso. It is mild and creamy and too light for an espresso. If you like your espresso dark and bitter, this will not suit your taste.
Lavazzo beans are 20% Robusta and 80% Arabica. They come from different regions, including Columbia, Brazil, Indonesia, and India. These properties, together with Italian roasting traditions, result in a super crema, medium roast blend.
Lavazza is a brand that has been existing since 1985 hence trendy among many. It is mainly used by cafes, hotels, and restaurants all over the world. People love it for its mild and creamy flavors and hints of fruit, almond, and honey. You do not need any additional sweeteners while having a Lavazza Super Crema espresso.
Lavazza beans have higher acidity and low caffeine levels, which makes them unique. Additionally, these beans are nitrogen packed, which increases their shelf life.
- It is affordable
- Super crema
- Higher acidity
- Sweet flavor
- Too light for dark roast
- Can’t reseal the packaging
Best Dark Roast Espresso Beans
If you are looking for a bold, rich, smooth espresso low on acid, it is time to join the Koffee ‘Kult.’ It has notes of spice, cinnamon, and chocolate together with a nuttiness hint. With the right grind of Koffee Kult beans, you will get an espresso that is not bitter. Other factors such as brew time and tamping pressure will also affect the taste.
Once you join this ‘Kult,’ it’s hard to get out. I like my espresso balanced in every way, but this one got me hooked even though it lies on the dark side. It has an aroma that pulls you into another dimension.
These beans come from different sources such as Brazil, Columbia, Guatemala, and Sumatra. The roasting process happens in Hollywood. Koffee Kult espresso beans are certified fair trade and organic, lacking official documentation but delivering high sustainability levels.
Espresso geeks often complain that this is too light, but you can begin with Koffee Kult if you want to venture into the dark side. More so, these beans are preferably best for automatic machines that clog easily due to oil. They are not as oily as other dark roast beans, but you will get strong caffeination.
- Smooth flavor with no bitterness
- Money-back guarantee
- Rich flavor and aroma
- Good crema
- Slightly expensive
- Bitter if the beans are not finely ground
Verena Street Shot Tower Espresso
Verena Street Shot Tower Espresso are high-grade beans roasted in Wisconsin, Iowa, and Illinois. If you like a fine-grind espresso, you can go for these fully roasted and smooth beans. You do not need any sweeteners to reduce the bitterness with a shot tower espresso. Verena gave me a smooth velvet-rich creamy texture and a rich body with a sweet flavor.
Their 100% Arabica beans are Rainforest Alliance certified. This means that they ensure a sustainable environment and wildlife.
These dark roast beans give a rich aroma and are somewhat oily. Do not turn away due to their oily nature because it indicates dark roast espresso beans. The oily nature proves to be tricky during the grinding process, but it is expected in all oily beans.
One of the best features of Verena is that they make it easy to make an espresso shot with a super-automatic espresso machine.
You receive all the rich aroma and bold flavors at a price-friendly rate. Verena roasts the beans in batches, so you are assured of freshness and quality.
- No burnt or bitter aftertaste
- Low acid levels
- Sustainable for the wildlife and environment
- Kosher certified
- The beans are a bit oily
Best High-Intensity Espresso Beans
Kicking Horse Coffee – Cliff Hanger Espresso
The kicking Horse Coffee gives you high intensity but not like Death Wish. However, it will undoubtedly deliver on intensity and leave you bushy-tailed after a cup. The beans are 100% organic, Kosher, and Fair Trade. The business is sustainable, and the beans are planted in a socially and environmentally responsible way. Just like Lifeboost espresso coffee beans, Kicking Horse coffee beans are also shade-grown. The tree shade helps in coffee maturation which helps in optimum absorption of nutrients.
When exploring the dark side of espresso, I don’t mind a shot of Kicking Horse Coffee espresso. It offers smooth cocoa and fruity flavor. Its aroma is also unique and is of milk chocolate, black currant, and brown sugar.
These Arabica beans have different sources, including Indonesia, Central America, Latin America, and Africa. The beans give a well-balanced dark toast espresso and give a note of velvet with low acid. I recommend the Kicking Horses (Kick-Ass Dark) blend if you want a robust dark roast with a different flavor profile.
- 100% organic
- Fair Trade
- Well balanced for a dark roast
Cuvee Coffee’s Karmadillo Dark Blend Espresso
Cuvee Coffee’s Karmadillo dark blend espresso is a dark roast strong enough to bring back life into your mornings. I tried these beans when I was pulling an all-nighter, and it gave me the results I needed.
This company started in 1998 and is located in Austin. They are the first company to use nitrogen for a creamy result. Their beans are 100% Arabica sourced from Central and South America. They also combine with Ethiopian and Indonesian coffee to blend milk, chocolate, and caramel flavors.
These beans are great for single-shot espresso in your morning but are also an excellent base for milk. I love using them in my cappuccino because they blend nicely with milk and give me a balanced flavor.
The Karmadillo coffee offers a rich, complex flavor from molasses and tobacco tasting notes. On the other hand, it still gives you sweet flavors from chocolate and caramel. You can’t go wrong with Cuvee’s coffee if you want a sweet flavored-high intensity espresso.
- Strong enough to bring you back to life
- Works with both single shot and milk-based espresso
- Rich and complex flavor
- Blend perfectly with milk
- Sweet and high-intensity espresso
- Might be too sweet for dark roasters
Last but not least, I give you – Death Wish. The name says it all. Death Wish is the most robust coffee worldwide. What I love about this brand is that they use fair-trade and USDA-certified organic beans. Other than that, I do not have a ‘death wish’ and cannot stand the vigorous intensity. If you are not like me and you like something risqué, have a Death Wish espresso.
These beans have a level of caffeine three times that of a typical cup of coffee. Additionally, they are sourced from Peru and India. The secret to these beans is the Robusta variety and, most importantly, the dark roasting process. Increased temperature levels and time ensures that your ‘death wish’ is delivered effectively. Death wish gives you an instant slap to the face during all-nighters and rough mornings.
Even with high caffeine levels, it still delivers a smooth cherry and chocolate flavor. It gives you the boost you need without the high acidity. However, some complain that the beans are too oily and can clog super-automatic machines.
For a first dark roaster, I would recommend starting with Kick-Horse and upgrading to Death Wish later on.
- Money back guarantee
- Pleasant flavor
- High caffeine
- Not acidic
- Too greasy
What Are Espresso Beans?
Espresso beans are coffee beans. However, espresso beans are roasted for a longer time and have finer ground size. Aeropress or espresso machine is used to make espresso. I like taking a shot of espresso in the morning to get me up. This is why I am picky about my espresso beans.
You can get espresso beans in either medium to dark roast. Dark roast espresso beans are more run-of-the-mill. Some prefer their espresso dark and bitter, while others like it lighter, depending on the type of beans one chooses.
Difference Between Espresso and Coffee Beans
Coffee beans and espresso beans are the same. As stated earlier, the difference is in the roasting duration. Traditional coffee is not as intense as a cup of espresso because it has fewer dissolved coffee solids.
Espresso beans are darker and shinier than coffee beans. They attain their darker color due to a more extended roasting period compared to coffee beans. Additionally, espresso beans have a higher concentration of natural oils, which makes them shinier.
When brewing, espresso beans use high pressure and water temperatures of 93 degrees Celsius. This pushes the steam into the espresso grounds. High temperatures and pressure give espresso its intense flavor, which it is loved for.
What To Look For When Choosing Espresso Beans
When buying my espresso beans, some factors guide me to get the best in the market. The various choices out there can make you get confused, especially if you are an amateur. However, I believe the following list will help you as much as it helps me.
Arabica Vs. Robusta
There are more than 100 species of coffee beans worldwide. The two main ones are Arabica and Robusta. A third of the world produces Arabica, and the remaining gap is filled mainly by Robusta producers.
Arabica is a high-quality bean that has lesser caffeine levels compared to Robusta. Brazil is the primary source of these coffee beans. I love these beans because they are less bitter, giving me a smooth experience down my throat. However, quality comes at a high cost. Arabica beans are often double Robusta’s price.
Do not dismiss Robusta because it can give you an excellent cream for your cup of espresso.
Light/Medium Or Dark Roast
The degree of roast makes a massive difference in your coffee. If you like your espresso shot towards the bitter side, dark roast beans are best. However, if you are more of a lukewarm human, medium roast beans will do you good. Light roast beans are mainly used to make traditional coffee.
- Light– These have a light color and give the typical coffee flavor. Coffee lovers refer to them as half city or light city. They have higher caffeine levels and a brighter flavor compared to medium and dark roast beans.
- Medium– You will hear people calling medium roast beans- city. Me and most of the American coffee drinking population prefer these beans. I can’t resist the balance of aroma, flavor, and acidity they give.
- Dark– You will notice these beans by the extra shine they have due to surface oils. They have a bold and bitter flavor. Most companies name their espresso, but medium roast can be used for making espresso.
Bitterness and Acidity
A great cup of coffee has two main elements; acidity and bitterness. Acidity is a positive thing to hear from a coffee reviewer.
When I was an amateur in the espresso world, I used to look at coffee reviews. They would guide me on making the right decision to get the best of espresso.
Acidity is the bright flavor coffee has, and it is an indicator of fresh beans. Lighter brews have high acidity levels, while dark roast beans have a fuller body.
Coffee has many acid types: malic acid, citric acid, tartaric acid, chlorogenic acid, and quinic.
Bitterness is almost always never a good thing to get from a reviewer. It results from many factors; improper water to grind ration, incorrect grinding, or low-quality coffee. You have to remember that a great cup of coffee hits the sweet spot because of balance. Bitterness, acidity, and sweet, sour, salty flavor are well balanced. If one thing is in excess, it results in mediocre coffee.
Single Origin Vs. Blends
There is so much fuss about single-origin and blends. The most noticeable difference in packaging is that blends have smaller fonts compared to single-origin espresso beans. Additionally, there is a considerable price difference because of several factors- quality is not one of them.
Single-origin espresso beans come from one origin- estate or region. They give a distinct taste that lets you know their place of origin. These beans are more expensive given that they only produce seasonally and come from one region.
On the other hand, the most popular beans are blends that are produced throughout. I like to look at blends as art because they incorporate many tests to come up with something that compliments one another. Blends are complex notes from different locations in one cup.
Here, you will have to try the single-origin and blends to figure out which one suits you. Some people like single origins. Others, like me, appreciate the mastery and artistry it takes to blend coffee from different locations.
Whole Bean Or Pre Ground Coffee
It is better to purchase whole beans and grind them at home. Grinding before brewing helps release natural compounds that help the coffee go stale faster. This helps give your espresso a better flavor.
Sometimes, you will need to buy pre-ground coffee. It is critical to make coffee with evenly ground beans to avoid bitterness, especially when making a cup of espresso. Only a high-quality grinder can give you excellent results. If you do not have one, it is better to buy pre-ground coffee.
Whether you purchase pre-ground or whole beans, ensure that you store them in a dry environment to preserve the freshness. Ensure your bags are moisture-proof and airtight to prevent staleness. Coffee drinkers store their coffee in the freezer with airtight seals for freshness. However, they ensure that the beans are at room temperature before they brew.
Fair Trade Coffee
Three simple words can make you trust the shot of espresso you take every morning- Fair Trade Coffee. It forbids child or forced labor and shows respect, transparency, and sustainability for the environment and industry.
However, these three simple words have been used as a marketing strategy for ethical consumerism. So, many coffee planters and distributors prefer direct trading. It has the same guidelines as Fair-Trade Coffee but does not have any expensive certifications. Planters and distributors work directly to save costs. But there is no person to monitor their relationship.
Organic coffee means that there are no chemicals used while planting, harvesting, and producing espresso beans. Products earn this seal if they are more than 95% organic. The fewer chemical used during the production process means that soil and water become less contaminated.
Espresso beans can degrade due to air. It is better to avoid espresso beans that are on sale in a large and open container. You may end up with a weaker espresso version compared to your expectations of the real thing.
The best espresso beans are the ones that have a roasting date of fewer than three months. The roasting date means the days that have passed after the beans have been roasted. Most coffee geeks prefer a roasting date of one to two weeks, which is impossible to get if you are not near a company. I would recommend the 90 days, which will still give you something fresh.
Type Of Drink
The type of espresso shot you are into can help you determine the type of beans to purchase. Are you a cappuccino fan like me? If so, you can get slightly cheaper espresso beans since you will dilute them with a lot of milk. But, if you like your shots neat, a higher quality, and more expensive brand of espresso beans. Do not take this as entirely compromising on quality. This is a chance to save a few coins while still getting good-quality espresso beans.
Tips While Brewing Espresso
One of the most critical brewing factors while making espresso is the grind size. I always grind my coffee with a high-quality burr grinder to ensure the grind size does not affect the flavor in my espresso.
As stated earlier, you can buy pre-ground espresso beans if you do not have a grinder. However, this will not give you the same experience as grinding your beans.
While starting this espresso discovery journey, my espresso shot would come out either too sour or too watery due to errors in grind size. When the grind size is too fine, it results in bitter-tasting espresso. On the other hand, when your espresso is too watery, it means the grind size is not as refined as needed.
You will experiment a lot while brewing coffee which will result in loss. But enjoy the process and have fun because this is the only way you learn.
Remember that an ordinary blade grinder cannot make great espresso. Invest in something worthwhile or go for pre-ground coffee.
Tamping is the act that comes after grinding. You will use a portafilter to compact and flatten your ground coffee bed before brewing. Tamping is another critical step where you use a tamper to apply pressure of 30 pounds. If you are not sure what 30 pounds feel like, test it out with a kitchen scale, then apply to your ground beans.
The water from the machine should meet a flatbed of ground espresso beans to ensure water passes evenly. Water will go where there is least resistance which means that coffee will be over-extracted from one place. This then leaves a sour and bitter taste in your espresso.
Carbon dioxide (CO2) that forms during the roasting coffee determines the quality of your espresso. Coffee or espresso beans gradually release CO2.
It is essential to get espresso beans that are close to the roasting process. Whole beans are better because they maintain freshness from days to months.
If you buy pre-ground coffee, use it right away to maintain the freshness. But if you have a burr grinder, ensure that you brew your espresso after grinding. It helps maintain the freshness you want since the Co2 extraction process fastens when grinding the coffee.
One thing to keep in mind is, ground coffee will remain fresh for minutes to two months.
A simple way of avoiding the hustle of grinding and brewing every morning is storing in the freezer. Ensure you put your ground coffee in airtight and moisture-resistant bags to lengthen the freshness.
Pre-infusion is another crucial step. Some espresso machines let the ground coffee settle in the portafilter with water before applying any pressure. This ensures less probability of water channeling into specific areas by improving even flow through the ground coffee.
There are various espresso beans for all you roasters out there. Whether you like your espresso on the bolder side or just sweet, you will get one. If you haven’t found your espresso ‘niche’ yet, I’d suggest experimentation. It will help you know what your taste buds can withstand