The Best Coffee Beans for Espresso & How to Choose Them
Find the Best Choice for 2021
Brewing a tasty, rich, and satisfying shot of espresso is a little bit like an art. It's much more than plopping a pod into a single-cup brewer, or absently tossing a few scoops of ground coffee into the drip coffee maker. No, my friend, creating that awesome espresso requires practice and the proper tools. But, it is definitely possible to create a memorable shot of espresso at home, and with some practice you can impress your friends with your barista-esque skills.
All that said, finding the best coffee beans for espresso is an essential part of the equation. And that's what we're going to help you find. It's definitely not a one-size-fits-all decision, so we'll be looking at the what, why, and how of discovering the best espresso beans for you.
We've done the research and identified the espresso coffee beans for 2021 that are highly rated and loved by so many espresso aficionados.
How do we come up with our 'best of' list? Honestly, with time, and attention to detail. We scour the internet world, discover what's available, and filter out the little beans that don't make the cut. Then, we study the roasting profiles individually for those that look promising, comb through the reviews and actually read them, to identify the pros and cons of each brand as identified by real-life users. From there, we identify the top...the best...the most consistently rated higher...and present them to you.
If you happen to click on a link and then make a purchase, I may earn a small commission at no extra cost to you.
The Best Coffee Beans for Espresso in 2021: A quick Look
Here is the quick list of the recommendations for the best coffee beans for espresso in 2021. Note that we don't rank them in any particular order. Why not? Well, zeroing in on the best espresso coffee beans is a personal decision, and we feel that any one of these brands could be the perfect choice for you.
We'll give you more detail on each below, but for now, here are our recommendations:
What's the Difference Between Espresso beans & Regular Coffee Beans?
Well, ultimately, a coffee bean is a coffee bean. There isn't a special 'espresso' coffee tree that the little beans originate from. So there you go.
But, coffee beans that are roasted for longer period of time become darker in color and stronger in flavor. Note that they are not stronger in caffeine content than beans roasted for a lesser period of time. Those little guys actually contain a slightly higher caffeine content than the darker roasted beans.
Still, a roast labeled 'espresso' usually means that the beans have been roasted for a longer period of time and have a more robust flavor. These types of roasts, when coupled with the process of brewing espresso coffee, will result in that intense, dark, rich flavor we expect from espresso.
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Should Espresso Beans Always Be a Dark Roast?
Espresso coffee can be brewed with any type of bean or blend, although most of the time a dark roast is used because of the flavors it brings out in the brewed espresso.
There are some wonderful medium-dark, medium, and even light roast coffees that have amazing flavors. Here are some tips from our friends at Bean Box:
- If you like to drink your espresso coffee sans cream and sugar, try something with brighter tasting notes as opposed to the typical dark roast
- Coffees that have been processed naturally (vs washed coffees) may work well for espresso because they tend to retain their natural sweetness
- A roast that is labeled 'espresso' is most likely intended to be paired with milk.
Bean Box is a wonderful source for experimenting with a variety of fresh roasted (and very delicious!) coffees. Check out their recommendations for espresso coffee.
I've been enjoying the tasting subscription that Bean Box offers, and they produce some of the best tasting java I have ever experienced. And I'm a coffee snob.
The Espresso Taste Profile
If you're new to the world of espresso drinks, it will be difficult to know exactly what type of roast you'll prefer. At a minimum, you know that a shot of espresso is potent, it's brewed hot and it's brewed quickly.
Bottom line? Experimentation, my friend. We all have a unique palette, and what I think is the most wondrous espresso shot ever may not be your cup of tea, so to speak.
Here are a few tips for you to consider while on that journey.
THE BITTERNESS - when you're first acquiring a taste for espresso coffee it can seem bitter. All coffee has some bitterness to it, and in espresso it can be particularly powerful. Remember though, that bitterness is a flavor that adds depth to our food and drink. We want some of that intensity in our espresso!
THE SWEETNESS - coffee beans grow on trees and are a fruit that gets sweeter as it ripens. The roasting process can bring out that inherent sweetness as well as the caramelization that makes the coffee brown and brewable. This sweetness should balance out both the bitterness and the acidity.
THE ACIDITY - think about how your tongue feels after it tastes lemon juice, or a slice of green apple. You definitely know that you've tasted something acidic. Espresso roasts can bring out the acidity in the coffee, so you don't want too much, but if there is too little acidity the brew can seem dull, or flat.
How Should the Espresso Coffee Beans be Ground?
When you are preparing to brew your delicious shot of espresso, you'll get the best results by grinding the whole espresso beans just before brewing.
A fine or superfine grind size is what you want, although having said that, you might experiment a bit to see what produces the espresso coffee that is most pleasing to your palette. It never hurts to take notes so you'll remember what you did! There's nothing more frustrating than trying to recreate the perfect result without the essential details at your fingertips.
Why is a fine grind important when brewing espresso coffee? Espresso machines use pressure to brew, forcing hot water through the grounds. If the grounds are too fine the water won't get through. It the grounds are too coarse the water will pass through too quickly. It needs to be just right. Thus, the experimentation.
Brewing Methods for Espresso Coffee
Classic Preparation with an Espresso Machine
Here are some basic instructions for brewing a shot of espresso with an espresso machine. Your particular machine may be set up a little bit differently, but this will give you a general idea of how the process works:
- Fill the reservoir with filtered water; turn on the machine and wait for the 'Ready' light to come on.
- Dose or weigh your coffee, using 14-18 grams for a double espresso and 7-9 grams for a single shot.
- Grind the coffee beans finely, like table salt.
- Dump the grounds into the portafilter, then tamp the grounds with about 30 pounds of pressure.
- Lock the portafilter in place and press the 'brew' button on the machine.
- Pull the shot, aiming for about a 25 second extraction time, give or take 5 seconds.
3 Simple Alternatives for Brewing Espresso without a Machine
It is possible to brew a shot of espresso coffee without an espresso machine and have a good result. It won't be exactly like a pulled shot of espresso but if you don't want to invest in an espresso machine, these methods are simple and all are pretty easy.
What are those 3 methods?
- brew with a French press - distinctive mouthfeel of French press with the boldness of espresso
- brew with a Moka pot - affordable alternative that brews a tasty cup of espresso coffee
- brew with an Aeropress - you'll create the closest taste and feel with this method
And, if you really want to know how many ways there are to brew a cup of java, take a look at this Coffee Methods Brewing Guide.
Can you use Espresso Beans to make Regular Drip Coffee?
Yes, you can use any coffee beans you like in a drip coffee maker. Just remember that if you use dark roasted espresso beans you will most likely taste a chocolatey bitterness. It's really all about taste and preferences. I've used a dark espresso roast with a pour over method of brewing coffee, and when I add steam milk with a bit of foam, it's very smooth and tasty.
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Best Coffee Beans for Espresso in 2021: Our Recommendations
We've gathered the pertinent details for you with these five recommended coffee beans for brewing espresso in 2021. Any one of these blends could be the perfect choice for you. Note that each brand may be offered in a different size package, so keep that in mind when comparing the cost.
rich and balanced taste with notes of caramel and chocolate
If you prefer a pre-ground coffee that is created for espresso machines, Illy has just what you're searching for. The classic, medium roast has a smooth, rich, and full-bodied taste with notes of caramel and chocolate. Many reviewers rave about the smooth, never bitter taste of this blend.
- Freshly brewed perfection: finely ground to provide optimal extraction with Espresso machines that take ground, tamped coffee.
- Illy Coffee is packed in an air-free, pressurized can that enhances and seals in aromas and oils, for perfect coffee.
bright tang, smooth crema, hazelnut notes
Peets Coffee is known for consistent quality and very loyal customers (I am one of them!). This dark roast, 100% Arabica blend is crafted specifically for preparing espresso. It has stout body, rich flavor, and a perfect crema. Reviewers compliment the fact that the espresso is not bitter.
- Espresso Forte: While many of our coffees make an excellent espresso, we crafted this blend specifically for this most demanding – and rewarding – method of preparation.
- Flavor & Roast: Bright tang, smooth crema, hazelnut. Dark Roast.
- Peet's Commitment: To achieve our signature rich flavor, we source the world’s best coffee beans, hand-roast them in small batches, and uphold the strictest standard of freshness.
- The Pursuit of Perfection: Alfred Peet was renowned for achieving perfection through his blends, bringing together coffees so exceptional, each could stand on its own. For unparalleled complexity & nuance, look no further than our signature blends.
- Obsessed with Fresh: Do you know when your coffee was roasted? We do. Freshly roasted coffee means a more flavorful cup. We print the roast date on each and every bag so you know you are enjoying the freshest coffee possible.
silky and complex, wild berry syrup with a smooth cocoa finish
A loyal following for this brand that is Canada's #1 selling whole bean coffee. Cliff Hanger Espresso is blended for use in an espresso machine as well as other brewing methods. An aroma of black current, milk chocolate, and brown sugar. Yum! 11% Arabica coffee; Organic and Fairtrade
notes of roasted hazelnut and brown sugar, and all the harmony of Italian espresso
Lavazza Super Crema blend may be perfect for those who want a traditional espresso with a full rich taste and no bitterness. The natural sweetness makes it easy to enjoy without adding sugar. This is Lavazza's best selling blend in the U.S. The beans are not overly oily.
- One 2.2 pound bag of Lavazza Super Crema Italian whole coffee beans
- Mild and creamy medium espresso roast with notes of hazelnuts and brown sugar
- Blended and roasted in Italy
- Best used with espresso machine
- Produced in a nut-free facility center, Contains only coffee
nutty, sweet with hints of citrus, and a smooth-finish
This espresso provides the typical Cuban coffee flavor without the strong bitterness of other common brands. It is a medium-dark roast of 100% Arabica coffee that is nutty, with hints of citrus, and a smooth finish.
- A nod to our Cuban heritage where coffee means espresso; nutty, sweet with hints of citrus, and a smooth finish
- Our whole bean coffee delivers the freshness and quality you need to create the perfect espresso shot.
- Our Direct Impact Initiative influences every business decision we make so that we can preserve natural resources and our environment for future generations of our family and yours
- Coffee is our family tradition
- Blended, roasted and packed at our zero-waste-to-landfill facility in Los Angeles
How and Where to Buy Espresso Coffee Beans
When shopping online for the best espresso coffee beans, many coffee-lovers choose Amazon for the wide variety of choices as well as shipping options. You've probably noticed that the recommended espresso blends found here are available through Amazon. That's where you'll be taken when you click on a link.
If you're receptive to a subscription-type service, there are some wonderful options available:
Bean Box Coffee - coffee subscription and gifts from the World's Best Artisan Roasters, so say the folks at Bean Box. And I have to say, they roast an awesome coffee bean! I love the depth and flavor of the coffee, and also the creative names. It makes it more fun, don't you think? For an espresso roast, they recommend Dark Side of the Moon, Bearded Lady, and Milk Money, just to name a few.
Humblemaker Coffee - always roasted to order and delivered to your door. Roasted and packaged in California, Humblemaker is committed to donating a portion of proceeds to families living with autism. With a subscription, you choose the whole bean or cold brew coffee(s) you want, choose your quantity and frequency, and the orders are delivered to your door.
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Espresso Coffee Bean FAQ's
Espresso coffee beans are typically roasted for a longer period of time and become darker in color and stronger in flavor. So, although they are not a 'special' type of coffee bean, the roasting process gives them a rich, strong flavor.
Grind the espresso coffee beans finely, like table salt.
The taste profile of a shot of espresso coffee includes 3 characteristics: The bitterness, the sweetness, and the acidity. How we react to these characteristics is unique to each of us.
The best way to find your 'perfect' espresso bean is by trying various blends, as well as experimenting with the amount of coffee used in the preparation. Keep track of your experiences, and you'll find the best espresso coffee beans for your individual taste and preferences.
Candi Randolph is a coffee lover, blogger, and content creator who loves to share her knowledge with the coffee-drinking world. You'll often find her tending to her coffee bar at home, deciding which method to use to brew her next cup of java. Life is full of important decisions!