The 10 Best Coffee Beans For Espresso

best coffee beans for espresso

Espresso is without a doubt the most popular and the most highly regarded form of coffee in the entire world. To think of espresso is to think of a fragrant, steamy, delicious cup of coffee. It is immediately associated with excellence.

Lucky for us, espresso is no longer something you can only get at the coffee shop. You can now make espresso at home, whether it is by using one of the many modern manual espresso makers—like the Aeropress or the Flair espresso maker.

Or even better, you can use one of the many home espresso machines which are better and more modern everyday that passes. Some home espresso machines can now not only grind the beans and automatically brew espresso, but can also froth and pour milk. Crazy times we live in.

But of course, the brewing method is secondary. What matters first is the prime matter: the beans. You’ve got to aim for the best coffee beans for espresso. Coffee beans are what influences the taste of your coffee the most, so you’ve got to be really careful about what beans you’re using.

In this article, we’ve compiled a short list including ten of the best options out there for you. First we’re going to show you a sneak peek of the best three choices in the list and then we’ll go into further detail in the complete list.

Top Choices for Best Coffee Beans for Espresso

1 Eight O’clock

Eight O’clock isn’t just named because it’s the tastiest thing that you can have at eight o’clock. No; it’s named so because it’s the best thing, the thing that you absolutely need at eight o’clock to wake you up at work so you can have a productive day.

This dark, bold roast really makes for a strong flavor. You see, caffeine isn’t everything there is to a good espresso. The stronger the flavor, the better job coffee does at waking you up and making you feel alert. This almost spicy espresso shocks your brain through your tongue.

This coffee is particularly great for those who enjoy having just a little bit of cream and/or milk with their coffee. Alone, it will prove to be a little too bitter! And its flavor isn’t the best for drinks like lattes or frappuccinos. But just the right amount of cream? Perfection.

  • Origin: Central/South America
  • Roast level: dark
  • Roast body: bold and full-bodied
  • Flavor: chocolatey, roastey
  • 100% arabica beans

2 Coffee Bean Direct – Italian Roast

Coffee Bean Direct is often a safe bet for many different sorts of coffees. This particular choice, however, is above even their own standards. It’s probably obvious that the guys at CBD love a good espresso because it looks like they’ve put a lot of extra effort into their espresso blend.

The key to this blend is, frankly, the Sumatra beans. These Indian beans are the ones that infuse the whole brew with a sweet, fragrant spice-like taste and aroma that makes for such a complete, unique experience. Costa Rica is there for sweetness (honey), and Kenya beans contribute to a fuller body and a bolder flavor.

Overall, this is a very ingenious blend that uses beans from three different continents to achieve a level of flavor that you don’t really see every day. It is undoubtedly one of the best options on this list and a must-buy for exotic espresso lovers.

  • Origin: Brazil, Costa Rica, Sumatra, Kenya.
  • Roast level: Italian roast
  • Roast body: full, balanced
  • Flavor: honey, spice, toasty. Chocolate.
  • 100% arabica beans

3 Lavazza – Gran Reserva

Lavazza is a coffee brand that goes back to the 20th century. They are renowned all over the world for their absolute excellence in most of their coffee. They specialize, of course, mainly in Italian favorites, which are mainly dark roasts destined for espresso.

This particular blend is the Gran Reserva, one of the best of the best when it comes to espresso. It has been designed to play up the best aspects of the beans used—arabica for flavor, and a little bit of robusta for increased punch and caffeine, which are very much appreciated.

The beans come mostly from Central and South America. This makes for a rather acidic flavor that reminds you of tropical fruit, while the much less acidic robusta contributes to a darker flavor that has a certain walnut quality to it.

All in all, a perfect espresso which masterfully balances both flavor and acidity.

  • Origin: Central/South America
  • Roast level: Italian roast
  • Roast body: full, syrupy
  • Flavor: bright acidity, walnut, maple syrup
  • Robusta & arabica

4 Stumptown Roasters – Hair Bender

Stumptown Coffee Roasters are legendary—and their Hair Bender blend even more so. It was created to get an espresso flavor that could please American audiences. You see, typical espresso roasts are made by Italian standards, which means it’s a very dark roast. Quite frankly, too bitter and too dark. Most American coffee drinkers would find it undrinkable.

So Stumptown Roasters got to work on a more palatable espresso blend. They would eventually settle on this, the Hair Bender, a very fun blend that combines all of the goodness of espresso (concentrated flavor, acidity and bitterness) and combine them with certain tasting notes that you wouldn’t usually find in an espresso roast.

This is a very fragrant coffee and has quite exotic tasting notes thanks to its African and Indonesian beans. It’s got sweet citrus, milk chocolate, and caramel. There are also some South America beans in there for good measure to help give it a sweeter, more balanced flavor.

  • Origin: Latin America, Africa, Indonesia
  • Roast level: medium
  • Roast body: round, full
  • Flavor: sweet citrus, milk chocolate, caramel
  • 100% arabica beans

5 Kicking Horse Coffee – Cliff Hanger Espresso

A super complex coffee, the Cliff Hanger leaves you always wanting for more. First, it’s important to know that most of the flavor here comes from South American and Indonesian beans. Indonesian beans have this rich wild berry, blackcurrant-like tasting note that makes it already super unique. The South American beans have a fragrant brown sugar taste and aroma that really make this coffee one of the best ever.

As for its body, it is quite silky, velvety, all the while being bold and full. It feels a lot like a creamy beverage even when taken black, which says a lot. Despite being a medium roast, this blend actually feels pretty strong and can turn out bitter if that’s your thing.

This coffee is Climate Pledge Friendly, one of the products selected for their commitment to the environment. It is completely organic and it is a recipient of the FairTrade International program, which helps farmers and coffee-growing communities all around the world.

  • Origin: Africa, Indonesia, South America
  • Roast level: medium
  • Roast body: bold, Full, silky
  • Flavor: wild berry, brown sugar, cocoa
  • 100% arabica beans

6 Allegro Coffee – Organic Espresso Sierra

This organic blend is a keeper.

Rainforest alliance certified, NON-GMO verified, and USDA organic certified. A coffee with high standards and of the utmost quality that you can ever find online. Allegro coffee has a lot of organic options, sure, but none such as this one.

But aside from being good for the environment, clean, and ethical, this coffee is also super delicious. You can immediately taste the advantages of that medium dark roast; there are traces of sweet caramel and a slight toasty flavor. And then, this rich dark chocolate flavor hits you like an eight-wheeler.

Surely a surprising option. The packaging, and even the description, don’t really alert you to the fact that this coffee is going to be so strong and so full of flavor. But it is; it is a perfect coffee to jolt you awake in the morning and it is incredibly full of flavor, too.

  • Origin: unknown
  • Roast level: medium dark
  • Roast body: rich, full-bodied
  • Flavor: layered dark chocolate, caramel
  • 100% arabica beans

7 Koffee Kult – Dark Roast Espresso

Koffee Kult pride themselves in creating straightforward, potent blends. Espresso would then naturally be one of the most important for them, since they are really emphatic about strong and high-caffeine blends. This dark roast espresso blend is sort of their crown jewel.

Colombian and Guatemalan beans are brought together to create an espresso that is not bitter at all but that actually feels rather smooth and has a very pleasant, fruit-like acidity that makes your mouth water at every sip.

Then, Sumatra beans are added to create a complex flavor that feels a little woody, darker, and with hints of walnut and cinnamon.

It is a rather sophisticated flavor profile that is nonetheless strong and bold, like all espresso blends should be!

  • Origin: Colombia, Guatemala, Sumatra
  • Roast level: dark
  • Roast body: smooth, bold
  • Flavor: cinnamon, bright, smooth
  • 100% arabica beans

8 Illy – Classico

If anyone’s perfected the espresso, that would be Italy. They’ve had way more time to play around with different beans than any other country, since they’ve had espresso for longer. One of the most agreed upon theories in Italy is that the perfect espresso should combine nine different beans. It’s their golden rule.

This Classico puts this old notion into practice, bringing together nine different beans from nine different countries, all of them different and yet they come together in perfect harmony to create one of the most perfect espressos that you will ever taste.

Rich, syrupy and bold, you can sense a lot of aroma in this one and you’ll be surprised by tasting notes of orange blossoms and jasmine, which are accompanied by a rich and quite sweet caramel flavor that really puts the finishing touch on this magnificent blend.

  • Origin: 9 different countries
  • Roast level: Italian
  • Roast body: full, rich
  • Flavor: orange blossom, jasmine, caramel
  • 100% arabica beans

9 Death Wish Coffee

Hardcore name, hardcore packaging and logo. Death Wish claims to be the world’s strongest coffee—but do they mean it in terms of flavor, like bitterness, or in some other way?

Effectively, not in terms of flavor. This blend is actually not any more bitter than any other espresso blend. In fact, it does a great job at keeping bitterness in check, with a rather bittersweet flavor in which the chocolate tasting notes come to light very often. There’s also a more subtle cherry flavor that makes this coffee quite unique.

The trademark of Death Wish coffee is actually its caffeine content. Instead of using all arabica beans, they use a ton of robusta beans, which have about twice the caffeine. This makes for a very strong coffee that will never fail in keeping you awake or waking you up in the morning.

One single cup to get you going all morning, and one single cup to satisfy your coffee cravings because of how delicious it is. A great choice for caffeine junkies!

  • Origin: unknown
  • Roast level: dark
  • Roast body: full, strong
  • Flavor: cherry and chocolate
  • Arabica & robusta

10 Old Havana Espresso

Cuban espresso is recognized for being one of the very first quality coffees to be enjoyed in America. Before Cubans brought over their rich, delicious coffee culture, Americans enjoyed mostly drip coffee. It was watery, weak, but at least it delivered caffeine efficiently.

Then Cubans introduced us to good coffee. Their love for coffee makes them search for the best quality around and nothing like this Old Havana espresso in terms of quality. It has a superb, creamy body that feels really pleasant to sip on because of how creamy it is.

Then, its flavor is subtle with a lot of different tasting notes hitting you all at once. You have certain nutty flavors like peanut and walnut which are accompanied with chocolate—a great combination of flavor, and not just in coffee.

This coffee is also quite high in caffeine, just like how Cubans like it. This coffee is best enjoyed black with raw sugar cane for a more complex flavor.

  • Origin: Central America
  • Roast level: medium/dark
  • Roast body: full, creamy
  • Flavor: nutty, sweet, chocolate
  • 100% arabica beans

What are Espresso Beans?

They are regular ol’ coffee beans. But, then, why aren’t they simply called coffee beans?

For the longest time, America was divided into two types of coffee. That which you had at home, and that which you had outside. And the only type of coffee you could make at home was drip coffee.

Drip coffee is made with medium roast coffee, which is very different in appearance to dark or very dark roast coffee, which is the roast for espresso.

The latter makes beans look very dark, shiny, and quite small. They even look like they are made of or covered in chocolate. They look quite tempting, which is why they captured the public’s imagination and they started referring to them as something of its own class. Espresso beans instead of regular coffee beans.

The truth is that espresso beans and coffee beans are the same thing, with only the difference that they have a different type of roast.

Even today, espresso beans don’t even necessarily have to be dark roasted. You can have espresso beans that are a medium roast and a light roast.

So really, the term comes from old times and even though it is still used today it will probably fade into disuse soon enough as more and more people are informed about coffee and realize that there is nothing different about espresso beans and they are, after all, coffee beans just like any other.

Roast

There has been a lot of debate in recent years as to what type of roast is better for espresso. While it may very well be that the dark roast was the roast chosen traditionally for espresso for more or less a hundred years, today we have a lot of options to choose from.

For example: the light roast. This type of roast wouldn’t have even crossed the minds of expert coffee drinkers in the last century, but it is quickly becoming one of the most popular roasts of this century thanks to new, improved ways of achieving light roasts that don’t feel undercooked like many of them felt in the past.

Each roast, after all, brings a different flavor to the table. Light roasts are far less heavy on the bitterness and acidity as dark roasts may be, and they have a more fruity vibe going on, while dark roasts are all about strong flavor, dark chocolate, and etc.

In the end, there isn’t really one true choice here. It all comes down to personal preference: what do you value the most in your coffee?

If it’s strong flavor, then definitely a dark roast is for you. They have the strongest flavor out of any other roast and have a very fragrant aroma. Beware: most newcomers can’t stand the taste of this type of roast.

If you value a milder experience and feel that too much bitterness actually ruins it for you, the light roasts are where you’ll find your haven. They have a more subtle flavor and are more fun to drink black.

Arabica VS Robusta

You will notice that some blends mix robusta beans in there. Robusta and arabica are two different types of coffee beans. What are the differences between them?

  • Caffeine
    Robusta beans are caffeine-heavy. They can have up to two, and sometimes even three times the amount of caffeine per bean that arabica has. That means that robusta are a great asset for when you’re crafting a coffee that has a lot of caffeine.
  • Flavor
    Arabica is characterized by complex flavors, fruity, nutty, and so on. Robusta, on the other hand, is rather blunt. It is bitter and may have a roasty flavor, but there isn’t a lot of inherent flavor in there. It tastes like roasted seeds, nothing more.
  • Price
    Robusta beans are much easier to grow, meaning that they are more readily available than arabica beans. They can even grow in harsher climates, so there is more surface area for farmers to grow them. This results in robusta beans being cheaper than arabica beans.

FAQ

What is the perfect grind size?

For espresso, there is only one grind size that works: fine. This is because espresso machines work by shooting water at high pressure, very rapidly through the grounds. This results in a very concentrated coffee that uses way less water and brews in about 1/10th of the time it usually would.

This only works, however, because the grounds are so small. Coarse grind would result in very watery coffee.

Whole beans or pre ground?

It really depends on your needs. Whole beans are much better for freshness, but this only works if you don’t drink a lot of coffee. IF you do drink a lot of coffee, you probably go through bags before they have a chance to go stale.

For maximum freshness, though, it’s better to buy whole beans and grind at the moment. This ensures the beans release their full flavor right before brewing, making a better coffee than you could ever hope to with pre ground coffee.

Are espresso beans required for espresso

Not really! As we mentioned earlier, this expression is nothing more than something born out of lack of knowledge. Nowadays, we know that we can make espresso out of any type of bean that we want.

Coffee, after all, is very subjective. If you want to buy a cold brew blend, grind it to a fine size and brew it on your espresso machine, that’s great. As long as you find it tasty, that’s all that matters!


And now, you should have a pretty good picture of what espresso beans are and what are the choices that you have. You don’t need to buy a certain type of coffee for espresso—there are loads of options for you out there.  

To learn more about espresso, check our article on how to make espresso at home.

Happy brewing!


Marcelo

Marcelo is a filmmaker and certified barista. He spends his free time cooking up new and exciting recipes – and drinking too much coffee in the process.