There are many ways to drink coffee but for many, the espresso is king.
Without espresso, there are no cappuccinos or lattes; and no French press or pour-overs can match the rich intensity of a well-pulled espresso.
Here’s our guide to the best espresso beans for that shot of liquid magic.
Our Top Recommended
Best Espresso Beans Buying Guide
What is espresso?
Espresso has been with us since around 1900 – that’s when what can be called the first espresso machines were invented.
Since then, the machines have been modified and perfected, giving us the modern espresso machine capable of brewing that tiny cup of black gold.
Espresso is unique in that it is brewed differently from other types of coffee.
Whereas most coffee is made using either total immersion (where the grounds are steeped in water, as with the French press method) or percolation (where water is dripped through the grounds, as with the pour-over method), espresso is brewed under pressure (1).
The result of forcing water through the grounds under pressure like this is that it produces a rich, dark and powerful cup – and for many, it is the only true way to enjoy coffee.
The other result of this high-pressure method is that it causes the oils in the coffee to emulsify, creating the distinctive crema – the creamy froth – that is the hallmark of a good espresso.
No other methods of making coffee create crema in this way.
How do you make the perfect espresso?
Pulling the perfect espresso is a fine art. Of course, you need the right beans – we’re coming to that soon – and you need good equipment.
Check out this video of a blind taste test to see how much money it’s worth spending on an espresso machine.
However, without the necessary skills and experience, you still won’t be able to pull an espresso like an expert barista.
That’s because every step needs to be carried out with meticulous care. If you fail at any step in the process, your espresso will be of inferior quality.
The steps involve choosing the appropriate grind, dosing precisely, using the right water temperature and pressure, judging the correct extraction time and more.
Combining all these perfectly is something that takes patience to master.
After all, that’s why top baristas compete in international competitions to showcase their skills.
Check out this video to see how all the factors combine to make the perfect shot.
Does espresso contain more caffeine than other types of coffee?
There is a myth that espresso contains more caffeine than other types of coffee. Is there any truth in this or is it simply a myth? Well, the answer is…both. Let’s look at why.
As we have mentioned, the espresso method of brewing produces a rich and highly concentrated type of coffee.
If you take a regular 1oz cup of espresso and measure the caffeine content compared to the caffeine content of 1oz of a regular brewed coffee, it will be much higher.
However, when we drink regular coffee, we usually drink far more than 1oz – a standard cup of regular coffee is around 8oz or 10oz.
This means that the overall caffeine content of the regular coffee is higher simply because there’s more of it (2).
To put it another way, espresso has a higher caffeine content per volume whereas regular coffee has a higher content per cup (because there’s just more).
So, if you just want a caffeine hit, go for a big jug of regular coffee over an espresso shot since there’s more caffeine in there.
How do you choose the best espresso beans?
Most espressos are blends. This means they are made up of beans from different places that are carefully chosen and combined because they complement each other well.
Lots of espresso blends contain an amount of Brazilian coffee beans blended with coffees from elsewhere.
Many espresso blends also include a mix of robusta beans and arabica beans. Arabica beans are the more delicate type of beans that impart more complex flavors to the espresso.
However, robusta beans are also included because they add a certain amount of strength.
Robusta beans also contain twice the amount of caffeine as arabica beans, giving the espresso an extra kick.
Having said this, nowadays, many people are much more particular about the coffee they choose, and there are now plenty of single-origin specialty coffees that are also suitable for making espresso.
Some might argue that if you have a particularly fine and delicate coffee, there are better ways to appreciate the subtle and complex flavors than by making it into an espresso – but that is just a debate you will have to settle for yourselves.
Roast and grind
Most espressos are dark roast (or sometimes “espresso roast” which is more or less the same thing).
If you are buying pre-ground beans, you should choose a fine grind, sometimes labeled as “espresso grind”.
The reason for this is that since the water is in contact with the coffee for such a short amount of time, the grind needs to be very fine to allow enough extraction to take place.
If you use coarse-ground coffee in an espresso machine, the resulting drink will be weak and insipid, so make sure the coffee is suitable for the brewing method.
The best espresso beans reviews of 2019
Here are our top picks for the best espresso beans.
1. Starbucks Espresso Dark Roast Whole Bean Coffee
Starbucks needs no introduction – either you’re a fan or you’re not. If you’re a Starbucks devotee, you’ll love these espresso beans from your favorite high street coffee shop chain.
These beans are dark roast for a fuller, bolder flavor. Espresso made from these beans will be rich and intense with notes of caramel sweetness and a full body.
These beans are ideal for making pure espresso, but also for making Starbucks-style drinks such as cappuccinos or lattes.
2. Lavazza Super Crema Espresso Whole Bean (Our Top Recommended)
Lavazza is one of the world’s most famous brands of espresso coffees as well as being the best-selling brand in the US.
These beans are professional grade and would be suitable for coffee-shop use as well as brewing on your own espresso machine at home.
These whole beans are traditional Italian espresso-style and make a coffee with a rich, full taste that is naturally sweet and creamy.
These beans could be a perfect pick for those searching for that authentic Italian coffee shop flavor without the need to travel all the way to Italy.
3. Kicking Horse Coffee, Cliff Hanger Espresso, Medium Roast, Whole Bean
Kicking Horse is a well-known importer and roaster of quality beans.
These medium-roast espresso beans are perfect for brewing complex espressos bursting with subtle flavors for you to savor.
The beans are a blend of African, Indonesia, South American and Central American coffees.
Tasting notes describe a bright and fruity espresso with hints of cocoa.
The aroma displays notes of blackcurrant, milk chocolate and brown sugar, while the taste includes hints of wild berry syrup with a cocoa finish. Certified Fair Trade, organic and kosher.
4. Verena Street Espresso Beans, Shot Tower Espresso Whole Bean
This family-owned roaster has been around for over three decades. They import their carefully selected beans and roast them at their facility in Dubuque, Iowa.
They source their beans from Rainforest Alliance farms, ensuring a fair deal for farmers and protection for the environment.
Their espresso beans are dark roast to give a full body and a sweet and creamy complexity. They produce a smooth crema that leaves a lingering rich aftertaste.
These beans are pre-ground for espresso. All products from this company are certified kosher by the Orthodox Union.
5. Coffee Bean Direct Italian Roast Espresso
This traditional Italian-style espresso is a blend of beans sourced from the Americas and India.
They are roasted in small batches just before shipping to ensure they arrive in optimum condition.
These beans are a classic dark roast ideal for making espresso. The coffee they produce is rich and dark with a full body.
Tasting notes describe a smoky flavor with hints of cocoa powder and molasses. A real treat for fans of traditional Italian espresso.
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Great beans for sublime coffee
In coffee circles, there will always be a debate. What is the best way to drink coffee? Is it pour-over? Is it French press? Or is it espresso?
While each style has its proponents – for delicate complexity, pour-over is hard to beat – nothing can match a top espresso for intensity or power.
If you are an espresso convert – or even if you just enjoy a rich, dark shot from time to time – you will want to buy the best espresso beans possible.
We hope our guide has been of use; now you just need to work on your barista skills to perfect pulling the perfect espresso shot.
Do you love espresso? Which beans are your favorite? Or perhaps espresso is just something you use when you make a cappuccino, flat white or latte?
Whatever your view, we’d love to hear it, so please leave us a comment. And if you enjoyed reading, please don’t forget to give us a share.
My name is Kathy Gallo, Editor of Ag Ferrari, a Coffee buff. The guide you find here is designed exactly for you, and it is our hope that you find it not only interesting but also actionable.