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How To Choose The Best Espresso Bean – Review Tips and Tricks!

Not all coffee beans are the same. Often you will see “espresso beans” or “espresso blend” on the package. That means that the coffee beans inside are specifically meant to be brewed as an espresso, with an espresso machine.

That doesn’t mean you can’t brew them with any other method.

Only that the beans have been selected and roasted to be brewed as an espresso, focusing on the body (heavier than average), intensity, and ability to produce a good foam (the crema). This usually means that Arabica with a medium-heavy body and a dark roast is often classified as “espresso beans”.

Robusta beans, albeit often considered lower in quality than Arabica, are very commonly present in espresso blends as they have a fuller body and are able to produce a good crema on top, which not all Arabica beans can. They can be often considered among the best espresso beans out there.

With that clear, let’s see what are some of the best espresso beans on the market, just to have an idea of what they are and taste like!

Best Espresso Brands

Intelligentsia Black Cat Classic Espresso

Intelligentsia Coffee, Medium Roast Whole Bean Coffee - Black Cat Espresso 12 Ounce Bag with Flavor Notes of Stone Fruit, Dark Sugars and Dark Chocolate

Coming in a stylish, all black, package, Intelligentsia Black Cat Classic Espresso aims to reproduce the classic espresso taste profile. A blend of beans from Colombia and El Salvador, grown at high altitude to provide the most flavorful espresso. Tones of chocolate and molasses mix in a cup that is heavy bodied and dark, as a classic espresso should be.

Stumptown Coffee Roasters Hair Bender Whole Bean Coffee

Stumptown Coffee Roasters, Medium Roast Organic Whole Bean Coffee - Founder's Blend 12 Ounce Bag with Flavor Notes of Vanilla and Cocoa Powder

The most popular blend of Stumptown Coffee Roasters, the Hair Bender is a collection of espresso beans from Indonesia, Latin America and Africa. Complexity and clarity are the key elements of this coffee. Gentle sweetness and a good body highlight what is one of the best espresso beans.

Lavazza Super Crema Whole Bean Coffee Blend

Lavazza Super Crema Whole Bean Coffee Blend, light-Medium Espresso Roast, 2.2 Pound (Pack of 1) ,Premium Quality, Aromatic, Mild and creamy

A blend of Arabica and Robusta beans from the Italian classic roaster, the Super Crema is geared towards espresso. Blending together coffee beans from Indonesia, Colombia, Brazil, India and Vietnam, it ends up with an espresso with a thick crema, robust but not bitter. Hazelnuts, brown sugar, honey and molasses are the typical flavors of this blend.

Koffee Kult Thunder Bolt Whole Bean Coffee

Koffee Kult Thunder Bolt Dark Roast Coffee Beans, Whole Bean, Fresh Roasted, 100% Arabica Robust Blend of Colombian And Brazil Whole Beans Bulk 32oz

A typical french roast, one of the roast types that is mostly used in espresso beans, Thunder Bolt is an Arabica blend from Colombian and Brazilian beans. Full bodied and dark, it has an intense flavor. Molasses and the smokiness of tobacco mix into this cup, creating a strong coffee experience.

Coffee Bean Direct Italian Roast Espresso

Coffee Bean Direct Penny Pincher's Dark Roast Blend, Whole Bean, 5 lb Bag

An Italian roast, another typical roast type for espresso beans, this blend merges beans from South America and India. With a medium acidity underlining the heavy body, it provides a nice tasting experience. Flavorful, with honey, cocoa powder and molasses flavors, it has a toasty finish for an intense experience.

Illy Classico Espresso Ground Coffee

Illy Ground Ground Espresso Medium Roast, 8.8oz (Pack of 2)

The classic espresso blend for the Italian historical roaster, Illy’s classic roast is a flavorful take among the contenders for the best espresso beans. Full bodied and fully Arabica beans, it has flavors of caramel, orange blossom and hints of jasmine. A smooth, never bitter and delightfully sweet cup of coffee.

Single Origin and Blends

Popular today are Single Origin coffee. They are not necessarily different from espresso bean blends, sometimes a Single Origin coffee is promoted as espresso too.

Single Origin coffee comes from a specific place, often a specific farm, in a specific region of the world where coffee is a major export. 

They are like wine or beer, consistent with the place it was cultivated in. Their flavor is influenced by the soil, climate, farming and processing where they’re grown.

Packing together beans from the same origin helps in producing a package of coffee that has a specific and peculiar taste. On the opposite side, blends in general, and including espresso blends, mix together beans from many parts of the world in order to achieve a specific taste profile.

Espresso beans are often not Single Origin though. That’s because most coffee experts tend to brew these beans in a gentler manner, unlike with a pressurized espresso machine. That is to savor the full spectrum that the coffee beans possess.

Nothing prevents you from using a Single Origin coffee for an espresso, at all. It is not suggested as these beans aren’t meant to be at their best in an espresso.

Whole Bean vs Ground Beans

While shopping for coffee, it is immediately noticeable there are only two choices: whole beans or ground beans. Espresso bean blends often come in pre-ground form. This is to help consumers to enjoy the best espresso possible, as you don’t have to ground them before brewing and their ground size is already perfect for brewing in an espresso machine.

For convenience, you may then prefer ground beans. Especially if you aren’t a coffee expert, the ease to just fill the portafilter of your espresso machine with a good, pre-ground coffee, without having to worry about the grind size and if it’s uniform or not, it’s a great advantage of these espresso beans.

But if you want to get the best out of your coffee by adding a little more work, whole beans are the way to go. Firstly, because you can tweak the grind size for your tastes, which greatly influences the final espresso you will drink. That’s not possible, obviously, with pre-ground coffee. 

Secondly, because by grinding your coffee right before you brew it, it will be the freshest possible and retain the most flavors. Ground coffee becomes stale very quickly, in a matter of hours if left open in the air. 

Grinding whole beans for your espresso at the very last moment makes sure that the coffee you are drinking is always fresh and flavorful as it should be.

Types of Roast

There are several levels of roasting, ranging from light to dark. The name comes from the actual color of the beans after roasting: the longer they are kept on the heat, the darker they become. 

The roasting time impacts in a massive way the final taste! Light roasts are more acidic, sweeter, and contain more of the lighter flavors like flowers, fruit or cereals while darker roasts tend to lose them. 

In contrast, very dark roasts are more bitter, little to non acidic. Still sweet but with different qualities like molasses or caramel instead of like fruits.

There’s not a precise scale of roasting levels, but roughly speaking a light roast is not used for espresso beans, as the more a bean is roasted the heavier body coffee it will produce, plus a thicker crema. Two aspects that are highly sought after by espresso drinkers.

Medium roasts, divided in City, Breakfast and American roasts, are more popular, especially to complement darker roasted beans in espresso blends.

The darkest roast levels are the most used for espresso beans. They come in Full City, French, Vienna and Italian sublevels, according to how long the beans are kept roasting, from the lighter to the darker one. At these roasting levels, the beans are dark brown or even black, oily, and with strong flavors being more prominent.

Tips for Making Best Espresso

So now that you know about espresso beans and have some of the best beans, some tips on how to make the best espresso are due.

A good grinder is important if you went the whole beans route. One that is capable of uniformly grinding all the beans is the most important feature to look for. Then make sure to preheat the portafilter, the espresso machine and your cup. Use a soft, filtered, water. 

Grind the beans right before making the espresso, as already said. Weigh the coffee you need for brewing: the golden ratio is about 1:18, which translates roughly in 8 grams of coffee per cup, or 1.6 tablespoons. Depending on how much espresso you plan to make and the espresso beans of your choice, this ratio can vary. 

Tamp the coffee grind evenly into the portafilter. The whole extraction should last 25-30 seconds. Adjust the grind size otherwise. Remove the loose coffee grinds off the portafilter before locking it. Press the button and enjoy your espresso!