Few things are more delicious than a silky cup of espresso for a coffee enthusiast. However, picking the right beans for your espresso can be just as important as using the correct extraction method for your taste.
Here are the 6 best coffee beans for espresso:
- Intelligentsia Black Cat Classic Espresso
- Stumptown Coffee Roasters Hair Bender
- Kicking Horse Coffee Cliff Hanger Espresso
- SF Bay Coffee Fog Chaser
- Illy Classico Espresso Ground Coffee
- Lavazza Espresso Italiano Coffee Blend
Let me walk you through some factors to look out for when picking the best coffee beans for espresso. Afterward, I’ll explain what makes these six coffee beans best for espresso.
How coffee beans for espresso differ
While the coffee beans themselves aren’t that different, coffee beans for espresso are usually roasted longer than those for drip coffee.
This makes coffee beans for espresso much more flavorful with deeper profiles than light or medium roast coffee beans.
You can check out this comparison article between espresso beans and regular beans if you’re interested in learning about all of their differences.
Now that many coffee extraction processes are available, it’s important to pick coffee beans suited to the extraction method.
An espresso machine will pull a complex flavor out of a single shot of espresso, making dark roast coffee beans more attractive for an espresso machine.
The difference between Arabica and Robusta
Arabica and robusta are the two most popular species of coffee beans. Arabica beans are grown over 600 meters (1968.5 feet) above sea level and are generally much sweeter.
Robusta beans are grown below an altitude of 600 meters (1968.5 feet) and tend to be more bitter and more highly caffeinated.
For espresso drinkers, a blend between Arabica and Robusta beans will often be ideal. Arabica beans have more complex flavor profiles that you’ll be able to enjoy after a nice pull.
On the other hand, Robusta beans are excellent for creating crema—the nice layer of foam on top of your espresso.
However, too many Robusta beans in your blend could result in a shot that’s far too bitter to be enjoyable.
On the other hand, a 100% Arabica blend could result in too little crema. Thus, a good rule of thumb is to go for a blend that includes up to 15% of Robusta beans.
Use multi-origin coffee beans for espresso
Coffee beans are grown all over in different climates and terrains, which will significantly impact their flavor profiles.
Single-origin coffee beans can be troublesome for espresso, as they can change flavors significantly as they age.
Certain regions around the world are known for their high-quality coffee beans: Colombia, Mexico, Ethiopia, Brazil, Kenya, Vietnam, and a few more.
Just as wines from France, Italy, and Napa Valley have a better reputation due to the regions the grapes are grown in, the coffee origin will have a big impact on the taste of your cup.
When it comes to picking the right type of beans for your espresso, one of the things you should look out for is flavor consistency.
A single-origin coffee bean blend will be riskier as the beans may quickly change flavors. Unless you’re looking for an adventure, you should try to hedge your bets and go for a multi-origin blend for more consistent shots.
Medium to dark roast coffee beans work best for espresso
Most coffee experts prefer dark roast beans for their daily shot of espresso.
The deep flavors of a dark roast coffee bean tend to go well with milk, so beverages like lattes, macchiatos, cappuccinos, and cortados will taste great when made with dark roast beans.
Most espresso blends fall somewhere in between medium and dark roast. The deeper notes of caramel, chocolate, and even vanilla that darker roasts offer can be better appreciated in milk-based espresso beverages.
Additionally, lighter roasts tend to age very quickly. This means that lighter roasts will change flavor composition relatively quickly, making them less reliable than dark roasts.
Predictability and durability are other reasons why baristas prefer dark roast coffee beans for their espresso.
Can I make espresso with any coffee beans?
You can make espresso with any coffee beans you prefer. Still, some roasts and blends are designed specifically for espresso and produce very favorable results. Nonetheless, most beans will work perfectly fine for making a decent shot of espresso, even if they are light roast.
Keep in mind, the extraction method is one of the most important factors when making a shot of espresso.
Whether with a machine or a Moka pot, espresso extraction methods are generally more advanced than a regular drip coffee machine.
They create most of the magic that allows you to enjoy a nice, creamy shot of espresso.
The beans you use will certainly impact the taste of your latte, but you don’t need to worry too much about using beans made for espresso.
As long as you have a good grinder that can grind the beans fine enough for your machine, you won’t have too much trouble making a good espresso.
You can check out the pros and cons of a Moka pot in this article if you’re looking for an affordable coffee brewer that makes great espresso-like coffee.
6 best coffee beans for espresso
The best beans for espresso will be medium or dark roast and pack a ton of flavor in each little bean.
Here are some of my top recommendations for someone just getting started with espresso at home.
Note: All options are available on Amazon.com.
1. Intelligentsia: Black Cat Classic Espresso
Intelligentsia made a name for itself for providing extremely high-quality coffee at affordable prices.
The Black Cat Classic is a wonderfully-flavorful blend of Brazilian and Colombian coffee beans that will help you pull a tasty and fragrant coffee.
This blend has a reliably sweet taste with notes of dark chocolate, fruit, and sugars, perfect for casual and avid coffee drinkers.
The Intelligentsia Black Cat Espresso is my top choice for espresso enthusiasts.
2. Stumptown Coffee Roasters: Hair Bender
Indonesian coffee beans are world-famous for their rich flavors. South American and African beans are known for their distinctly classic coffee taste.
The Stumptown Hair Bender blend does an excellent job combining beans from these regions to retain their best qualities. Also, it’s one of the most affordable options on this list!
Stumptown is another roaster that has become synonymous with quality in recent years. The Hair Bender is their most popular coffee and with good reason!
This traditionally sweet blend will guarantee a consistent quality shot day after day.
3. Kicking Horse Coffee: Cliff Hanger Espresso
If you’re looking for something extraordinary, then the Kicking Horse Coffee Cliff Hanger Espresso is for you.
Recently acquired by Lavazza and maintained as a distinct brand, Kicking Horse Coffee became a major disruptor in the Canadian and American markets by introducing intense flavor profiles to consumers.
The Cliff Hanger Espresso is a medium roast blend with lighter cocoa and fruit notes. Just like the Stumptown coffee above, this blend incorporates Indonesian beans along with Latin American beans for a consistent yet powerful flavor.
4. SF Bay Coffee: Fog Chaser
San Francisco Bay Coffee has grown tremendously in recent years while remaining a family-owned corporation.
If you’re looking for boutique coffee beans that are easily accessible, you won’t find much better than this SF Bay Coffee Fog Chaser.
This blend is a well-balanced medium roast that incorporates beans from Central and South America.
You can expect notes of toffee, mandarin, and milk chocolate from the silky and smooth espresso shots pulled from these beans.
Other than Amazon, many grocery stores and big-box retailers like Costco, should have SF Bay Coffee readily available at a location near you.
5. Illy Classico Espresso Ground Coffee
Illy is a world-famous Italian coffee company that’s partly responsible for popularizing espresso around the world. Although it’s an enormous corporation, Illy can still produce craft-quality espresso blends that’ll leave you wanting more.
This flavorful medium roast has touches of caramel and chocolate, making a deliciously sweet shot of espresso.
What’s special about this coffee is that it already comes in an espresso blend in a pressurized can. This also makes it an excellent choice for those without espresso-quality grinders.
6. Lavazza Espresso Italiano Coffee Blend
Lavazza is another large coffee corporation that can be found in many places all over the world.
Their Italiano blend is an excellent choice for anyone, but especially for those just getting started with espresso and would prefer to start with a consistent blend before moving to more adventurous beans.
In addition, the Lavazza Italiano comes conveniently pre-ground and has a rich-bodied taste for those who want to enjoy a delicious shot of espresso.
Other great coffee beans
Not sure yet about making an espresso with the coffee beans mentioned in this article? Or just curious to see which coffee beans are out there?
I’ve got you covered! Check out the lists below to find great coffee beans for different brewing methods and recipes:
- Best Coffee Beans for Cappuccino
- Best Coffee Beans for Chemex
- Best Coffee Beans for Cold Brew
- Best Coffee Beans for French Press
- Best Coffee Beans for Latte
Although you can make a good shot of espresso with any type of beans, there are a few qualities you should look out for to make the best espresso possible.
First, you should try to steer clear from light roast coffee as they tend to age faster.
Also, avoid single-origin coffee as its flavors can change quite quickly. Instead, opt for a multi-origin blend for a more consistent flavor.
Finally, look for a nice blend between Arabica and Robusta beans for great flavors without sacrificing a beautiful crema.