A small drink with a big reputation, an espresso has become a staple drink in cafes and homes around the globe. But how do you know you’re getting the best beans for the job? There are a couple of things you need to keep in mind, when browsing for your perfect espresso coffee beans.
In this article we’ll be going through the best coffee beans for espresso, and share a few tips and tricks on how to choose the right beans for you.
We’ll be looking at these 5 coffee bean roasts:
- What Is An Espresso?
- What Makes An Excellent Espresso?
- Which Roast Is Right For Me?
- Single Origin or Blend?
- Whole Beans or Pre-Ground?
- The Best Coffee Beans For Espresso – The Reviews
What Is An Espresso?
An espresso is a brew method, contrary to the common misconception that it is a type of roast or bean. It forces hot water through a puck of coffee grounds at high pressure, and any type of roast or bean can be used.
An espresso is a shot of liquid, roughly an ounce. The smaller the yield, the smaller the extraction of coffee from the grounds is, but at a higher strength – the strong taste is also helped by the pressure within the machine. Essentially, a shot of espresso is the drink you need for that 7am pick me up – or the 7pm ‘get me through night shift‘ start.
What Makes An Excellent Espresso?
You need a balance of 3 elements to achieve the ‘perfect’ espresso:
- Acidity – This creates a crisp and tart sensation within the drink
- Bitterness – Too much of this is overpowering, but the right amount adds depth and complexity
- Sweetness – This is a mild and pleasant flavour that softens the harshness of the other two parts
Balancing these can be pretty tricky, but just like anything – perfection takes time, practise and patience. As we have mentioned before, you could try adding a tiny pinch of salt. This is said to neutralise the bitterness and create a smoother coffee.
There is a visual clue that your espresso is well made, and that’s when it is brewing. It should have a consistency of warm honey, and will have a dark, thick, golden crema. Crema is a flavorful, aromatic, reddish-brown froth that rests on top of a shot of espresso, it gives a fuller flavor and longer aftertaste than drip coffee.
Check out this video to understand the difference between drip coffee and an espresso!
Which Roast Is Right For Me?
There are several factors that go into creating the flavor of any particular coffee. The location and environment that a plant is grown in plays a huge role, however one of the biggest influences on its taste is the roasting procedure. It is a common misconception that only dark roasts can be used for an espresso, however, you can get creative and use any type of roast that suits your palette. At the end of the day, it’s completely up to you which flavours you prefer.
A shot of espresso will contain up to 12% of dissolved coffee solids. Whereas a cup of brewed coffee through a filtered method will contain less than 2% of these dissolved coffee solids (the rest is water). So you can probably see why it’s important to choose a roast you like.
A light roast has a citrus, berry or floral type of flavour that leaves a tang in your mouth. This roast has the delicate flavours that a dark roasts tend to lose in the roasting process.
Dark roasts are widely regarded as the best espresso coffee beans, but again that doesn’t mean it’s the right one for you. It has chocolatey/caramel flavours with a full bodied texture in your mouth. It is the most common as it’s the strongest in flavour of all roasts.
A medium roast is a happy middle between the two. With some tangy tastes such as berries, but still with that deep, full bodied coffee texture, and darker flavours like chocolate and caramel.
Single Origin or Blend?
Single origin is as simple as it sounds, where all the beans have come from one farm/region. Given they are from one place, they are often seasonal and exclusive to certain times of the year. Blends are a blend of coffee beans roasted and mixed together from different regions/places.
Single origin tends to be more expensive due to the availability of being seasonal. Blend coffee is often cheaper because beans can be mixed together and therefore produced all year round. Many people say that blended coffee has a more flavourful taste, due to the range of beans from different places. If you’re wanting to taste coffees from different regions, then single origin is the way to go. It’s your personal preference at the end of the day, you can maybe give both a go to see if you can tell a difference.
Whole Beans or Pre-Ground?
So you know the type of roast you want, whether you want single or blended coffee, now to choose between whole beans or pre ground. The biggest difference is freshness. Pre ground is simple, easy and more straight forward if you want that convenience. However it doesn’t retain the freshness of when you grind the beans yourself.
If you can, we recommend buying whole beans and investing in a good quality grinder – and always grinding your beans just before you want to use them. The flavours of the coffee are more prominent when freshly ground. Some coffee makers even come with a built in grinder.
You’d be surprised at the difference in taste between fresh and pre ground coffee, as grinding your own coffee allows you to get the most out of the flavour of your beans. If you’re on a budget with a coffee machine, simply grinding your own beans can ensure you still make a great cup of espresso.
For an espresso the grounds need to be really fine, this is because the smaller grind exposes more surface area of the beans to water. In turn, this means a more efficient brewing throughout the short extraction process.
The Best Coffee Beans For Espresso – The Reviews
Now you know which type of bean to look for, we’ll go through and review 5 coffee beans that we recommend.
- Whole beans
- Dark roast
- Colombian/Guatemala/Sumatra blend
- Heavy body
- Fair trade certified
This is a small batch roasted, packaged immediately and shipped – so it is very fresh coffee to receive. There is a great aroma while the beans are whole, while ground, and while brewing. You will want to get out of bed just for the smell! Even though it is a dark roast, it is still smooth and sweet without the bitter taste. There is a strong dark chocolate finish, and a complementing underlying cinnamon tone.
This brand has also put a lot of thought into the packaging of the product, there is an easy pull tab to open it and a thick resealable lining to keep the beans as fresh as possible. The opening forms a spout for an easy pour, as well as a valve on the back to squeeze the air out. It’s these little design quirks that sets this brand apart from all the others.
With the sweet flavours, this bean can be described as a stepping stone, entry level coffee for a dark roast.
- Whole bean
- Sweet, smokey and audacious
- Indonesia/South America
- Environmentally friendly, Organic & Fair trade certified
- Sustainable farmers
- Arabica beans
This brand prides itself on being environmentally friendly, organic, and fair trade. They only use sustainable farmers, and produce coffee that is not only good and fair for the coffee drinkers, but also the farmers and the planet – so you can drink away knowing you’re doing your bit for the planet too.
The coffee is described as having hints of chocolate malt, molasses, liquorice and an earthy finish – a deep, dark, slightly bitter taste but not sour or acidic, and without the burnt, sludge-like aftertaste. This coffee is great if you like the smell of coffee to wake you up in the morning, with an aroma of sweet vanilla and dark chocolate.
Kick Ass isn’t super dark, but it has been roasted enough to give the chocolatey hints, and may be another good first step into the world of dark roasts.
I’ve seen mixed reviews of this coffee, some people find the taste too smokey for their liking, but others say they absolutely love it due to the unique taste. Coffee is a very subjective taste, and you don’t know until you try!
- Ground coffee
- Dark roast
- Rich and smooth
- Latin america / Pacific area
- ‘A coffee lovers coffee’
This is a good option for those looking for a rich, robust flavour in their cup. It is an excellent choice for the people who like it ‘the stronger the better’. This brand was developed in 1969, so has stood the test of time through generations of coffee drinkers, with the Major Dickason’s Blend being one of their most beloved products.
It creates a ‘typical’ espresso taste – a dark, rich, complex blend of flavours while having a smooth taste. It is important to note that this coffee is powerful, so if you’re looking for something mild, with less flavour this might not be ideal one for you. It doesn’t blend too well with sugar and sweet additions.
However, I have seen a fair few reviews questioning the freshness of this brand with the ‘best by’ date often being only a week after purchase. This isn’t often though, but something to be aware of when ordering.
- Dark roast
- Whole beans
- Latin America
- Roasted manually
- A more personal experience
This coffee has hints of vanilla and a sweet syrupy smokiness with a smooth, bold finish. This company focuses more on sustainability, the environment and organics than any of the coffee’s we have looked at. They operate with the purpose of eliminating systematic poverty in rural latin america through responsible trade. They put the farmers first with the belief that happy, healthy farmers equals better quality products for the customers.
Another unique selling point of this brand is that they roast all coffee manually batch by batch, using maths and experience to make the great quality coffee.
It has a strong rich flavour which is typical of a dark roast but not overpowering or bitter.
I feel this is a great bean if you want an excellent espresso with all the full flavours. You’ll also be making little steps to help the environment and social differences in the world.
- Dark roast
- Full bodied
- Specifically for espresso
- Pre ground
- Blended – Brazilian/African/Indonesian
This bean is a full bodied dark roast with a creamy flavour, rich aftertaste and hints of chocolate. It is a very strong flavour but is described as a perfectly intense with a well-balanced aroma.
This brand has been around since 1895, and is therefore well established. They actually invented the concept of blending coffee from different regions, so understand which types of coffee beans to mix to get the perfect flavours. This blend is 30% Arabica and 70% Robusta, which makes a powerful yet delicate coffee with flavours of vanilla and chocolate without the bitter tang.
Lavazza Crema e Gusto is pre ground and vacuum sealed for long shelf life. This means it won’t be as fresh as grinding your own whole beans, but they do try to maximise the freshness of their ground coffee.
If you have your grinder, I would suggest the Koffee Kult Dark Roast Coffee Beans. I feel this brand has put the time and effort into ensuring freshness in the coffee within the packaging, as well as the sweet dark chocolate taste and cinnamon undertones.
If you prefer pre ground coffee, I recommend the Lavazza Crema e Gusto. I think it produces a strong, rich coffee without being too overpowering – not to mention that it is specifically made for espresso!
Here’s a review we did of the Gaggia Brera, an awesome bean-to-cup espresso machine for your perfectly matched espresso coffee beans.
If you’d like to check out some more coffee bean reviews, you can find them here.
Let us know what coffee you went for in the comments!