The Best Coffee Beans for Espresso and How to Choose Them

Last Updated on January 24, 2023

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.

the best coffee beans for espresso and how to choose them

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 2023 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 2023: A Quick Look

Here is the quick list of the recommendations for the best coffee beans for espresso in 2023. 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?

  1. brew with a French press – distinctive mouthfeel of French press with the boldness of espresso
  2. brew with a Moka pot – affordable alternative that brews a tasty cup of espresso coffee
  3. brew with an Aeropress – you’ll create the closest taste and feel with this method

Here are all the details for these 3 methods of brewing espresso coffee without a machine

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.

Here is a handy guide to help you make great coffee whether it is a hot or a cold brew.

Best Coffee Beans for Espresso in 2023: Our Recommendations

how to choose the best coffee beans for espresso

We’ve gathered the pertinent details for you with these five recommended coffee beans for brewing espresso in 2023. 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.

illy Classico Espresso Ground Coffee, Medium Roast, 8.8 oz

rich and balanced taste with notes of caramel and chocolate

best coffee beans for espresso


  • Finely ground for optimum extraction with espresso machines  
  • Composed of 9 of the finest Arabica coffees
  • Rich and balanced with notes of caramel and chocolate
  • Very smooth, not bitter


  • The cost is higher than some others 
  • Older reviews (2018 and prior) mention some orders arriving without a reusable lid

Bottom Line:

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.

illy Ground Coffee Espresso – 100% Arabica Coffee Ground – Classico Medium Roast – Notes of Caramel, Orange Blossom & Jasmine – Rich Aromatic Profile – Precise Roast – No Preservatives – 8.8 Ounce
  • THE COFFEE YOU DESIRE – illy’s blend of fine Arabica ground coffee with a distinctive flavor, featuring a mild and balanced taste with notes of caramel, orange blossom, and jasmine.
  • PREPARE COFFEE WITH EASE – Evoke a classic Italian beverage at any time. Coffee is to be freshly prepared and enjoyed immediately. Create the finest coffee experience in the comfort of your home.
  • THE FINEST GROUND COFFEE – We select only the 1% of the finest beans, thanks to a devoted collaboration with growers who place maximum importance on quality and sustainability.
  • WE BRING THE TASTE OF ITALY TO YOU – We’ve spent eight decades refining a singular, signature blend celebrated over the world as the pinnacle of what espresso coffee can be.
  • SUSTAINABILITY IS OUR VISION – We pride ourselves on the constant focus on our environment and the community. We are part of a global movement with a common goal: to pave the way for a better, more liveable and more enlightened world.

Peet’s Coffee Espresso Forte, Dark Espresso Roast Whole Bean,32 oz bag

bright tang, smooth crema, hazelnut notes

peets coffee espresso forte


  • Crafted specifically for espresso preparation  
  • Bright tan, smooth crema, and hazelnut notes
  • 100% Arabica coffee
  • Aromatic and full-bodied
  • Reputation for consistent quality


  • A dark roast 

Bottom Line:

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.

Peet’s Coffee, Dark Roast Whole Bean Coffee – Espresso Forte, 32 Ounce (Pack of 1)
  • Contains one (1) 32 Ounce Bag of Peet’s Espresso Forte Dark Espresso Roast Whole Bean 100% Arabica Coffee
  • Flavor and Roast: Dark Roast. Chocolate, hazelnut, smooth crema. While many of our coffees make an excellent espresso, we crafted this blend specifically to have stout body, rich flavor, and perfect crema
  • Brewing Methods: Use fine ground coffee for espresso at home. Coarsely ground coffee (consistency of coarse sea salt) can be used to make cold brew or a French press. Use a medium grind (consistency of sand) for drip or a pour over in your Chemex
  • Sourcing With Impact: The coffee you buy can impact the welfare of the people and planet. Peet’s is actively engaged in driving positive impact in communities where our coffees are grown.
  • Rich. Complex. Incomparable. Masters of our craft for over 50 years, we hand roast the very best coffees in the world.

Kicking Horse Coffee, Cliff Hanger Espresso, Medium Roast, 35.2 oz

silky and complex, wild berry syrup with a smooth cocoa finish

espresso coffee beans from Kicking Horse Coffee


  • Canada’s #1 selling whole bean coffee  
  • Organic, Fairtrade
  • Silky and complex, wild berry syrup with a smooth coca finish
  • Use in a variety of brew preparations


  • Beans are oily  

Bottom Line:

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

Kicking Horse Coffee, Cliff Hanger Espresso, Medium Roast, Whole Bean, 2.2 Pound – Certified Organic, Fairtrade, 35.2 Ounce
  • TASTING NOTES: Silky and complex, wild berry syrup with a smooth cocoa finish.
  • ROAST: Medium
  • ROASTED IN THE ROCKY MOUNTAINS: It’s all deep, dark and delicious, roasted right below the towering Canadian Rocky Mountain peaks
  • AROMA: Blackcurrant, milk chocolate and brown sugar.
  • ORGANIC, FAIRTRADE, KOSHER, SHADE GROWN, ARABICA COFFEE: Coffee that is good and fair for the coffee drinkers, the farmers and the planet. 100 percent Certified

Lavazza Super Crema Whole Bean Coffee, Medium Espresso Roast, 2.2 lb.

notes of roasted hazelnut and brown sugar, and all the harmony of Italian espresso

lavazza super crema medium espresso roast


  • 60% washed and natural Arabica; 40% wet polished and natural Robusta 
  • Tasting notes of roasted hazelnut and brown sugar
  • Good value for the cost
  • Medium roast – not as dark as some others
  • Has a natural sweetness


  • Some reviewers felt it was not strong enough

Bottom Line:

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.

Lavazza Super Crema Whole Bean Coffee Blend, light-Medium Espresso Roast, 2.2 Pound (Pack of 1) ,Premium Quality, Aromatic, Mild and creamy
  • One bag of 2.2 lb Lavazza Super Crema Whole Bean Coffee Blend
  • Roast: Light/ Medium
  • Taste: Mild and creamy
  • Aromatic Notes: Hazelnut and brown sugar
  • Blend: 60% Arabica and 40% Robusta

Gaviña Old Havana Espresso, whole bean, 32 oz. bag

nutty, sweet with hints of citrus, and a smooth-finish

Old Havana Espresso


  • 100% Arabica coffee  
  • Medium-Dark roast blend of south and Central American coffees
  • Nutty and sweet with hints of citrus.
  • Blended with a nod to Cuban heritage


  • Some reviewers stated the coffee was bitter  

Bottom Line:

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.

Gaviña Old Havana Espresso, Whole Bean, 100% Arabica Coffee, 32 oz Bag
  • 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.
  • BLENDED, ROASTED & packed at our zero-waste-to-landfill facility in Los Angeles.
  • Our family’s tradition of roasting espresso dates back to our Cuban estate where the word “coffee” was synonymous with “espresso.” Café Gaviña Espresso Continental, the first product we sold in the U.S., draws its signature rich and aromatic flavor from our Spanish origins. Our passion for that bold, balanced flavor continues to this day. Nothing can beat the rich flavor of our espressos.

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.

30% off Subscription Boxes – Bean Box Coffee

Humblemaker Coffeealways 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.

Subscribe and Save 20% on Humblemaker’s Line of Whole Bean Coffee


best espresso coffee beans