Last Updated: August 2017
To enjoy the best possible cup of espresso, you’ll need to start with the right beans. When it comes to espresso beans, you have numerous choices, which is why it is important to know what to look for. Here are some things to keep in mind when looking for the best espresso beans.
Table of contents
- Bulk Beans Vs Foil Valve
- Country of origin
- Arabica Vs Robusta Beans
- Our recommendations
Bulk Beans vs. Foil Valve
When buying espresso beans, you can purchase them either in bulk from bins or in foil valve bags. Foil valve bags allow oxygen to be flushed out before dropping freshly-roasted beans in and tightly sealing the bag to lock in flavor. Once inside the bag, the roasted coffee begins to produce carbon dioxide. This further enhances the flavor by eliminating oxygen, something which can cause coffee to prematurely become stale.
Bulk beans can be just as flavorful as ones in foil-sealed bags, provided they are roasted on site. For best results, purchase your beans from a specialty coffee shop that does a great deal of volume, as this increases your odds of obtaining freshly-roasted beans. You’ll likely get far better quality from a coffee shop than you would a supermarket.
Keep in mind that just because you purchase beans from a bin does not mean they are freshly roasted. Many supermarkets and even gourmet coffee shops such as Starbucks receive their beans in foil bags, which they then open and dump into bins. As such, you should always ask where and when beans were roasted to ensure you know what you are getting.
Country of Origin
Your coffee’s country of origin can also play a role in the flavor of your espresso. Here’s what you can expect when purchasing espresso beans from various nations.
- Brazilian beans tend to have low acidity and a sweet, full-bodied flavor, and are therefore one of the best choices for espresso.
- Indonesian/Indian beans are also slightly sweet and full-bodied, especially those from Papua New Guinea
- Caribbean beans are known for their light-bodied flavor, which is lightly acidic and somewhat sweet
- Hawaiian varieties are often more bitter than other beans, and produce a somewhat stronger taste
- African-grown specimens are highly acidic. Kenyan beans tend to have a berry aroma, while Ethiopian varieties often possess a floral aroma.
- Middle-Eastern types produce a bean that possesses a combination of sweetness and acidity with fruity undertones
Arabica vs. Robusta Beans
There are two basic types of coffee beans: Arabica and Robusta. Many people prefer Robusta beans for espresso because they feel these beans produce a better crema. It’s not uncommon for people to choose a blend of Arabica and Robusta beans to come up with the perfect taste at the most cost-effective price.
Arabica beans are thought to be the highest quality, and some common characteristics include:
- Primarily grown in Africa, Latin America, and Papa New Guinea. Columbia produces Arabica beans exclusively.
- More costly than Robusta beans
- Rich, dark flavor
- Approximately half the caffeine content of Robusta
Although Robusta beans are considered lesser quality, they can still produce an excellent cup of coffee or espresso. Some characteristics of Robusta beans are:
- High caffeine content
- Grown exclusively in the Eastern Hemisphere, with most Robusta production found in Indonesia and Africa
- Stronger flavor with a somewhat grainy texture and nutty overtones
- Often used for supermarket blends and/or instant coffees
Coffee beans are found inside a berry, and are completely green when harvested. Before these beans can be suitable for brewing, they must first be roasted by exposing them to very high temperatures. Beans will become darker and shinier the longer they are roasted, as high temperatures result in oils inside them coming to the surface. Dark roasted beans will therefore have a stronger, bitterer taste than light or medium roasted ones.
Most baristas recommend darker roasted beans for espresso. You will likely find a 70/30 or 80/20 combination of dark and light roasted beans an ideal blend for espresso. Even so, many people nonetheless use medium or dark roasted beans exclusively. The choice is largely a matter of personal preference.
You may grind espresso beans into a consistency that is almost like fine power, or into thicker, coarser chunks. How you grind your beans does make a difference, as your espresso will have a stronger flavor if you use finely-ground beans. On the other hand, your drink will have a smoother flavor if you choose coarsely-ground beans. Regardless of the type of grind you choose, you’ll enjoy the maximum flavor whenever you brew your espresso shortly after grinding. Waiting too long can give your beverage a rather stale taste.
Best Espresso Options
Buying locally-roasted beans may be the preferred option; however, doing so can become expensive over time. For this reason, it’s a good idea to have some alternative options in mind that you can fall back on in the event that buying locally-roasted beans isn’t feasible. Here are a few varieties of espresso beans you should consider trying:
Koffee Cult Dark Roast Beans
These fair-trade organic Arabica beans produce a delightful aroma right inside the bag, and that aroma will only intensify when grinding or brewing. Koffee Cult is often touted as one of the best brands for beginning espresso brewers to try, due to their high quality of beans. These beans come from some of the best coffee-producing nations in the world such as Columbia, Guatemala, and Sumatra. These artisan-roasted beans have low acidity, and are the same quality that you would normally find in gourmet coffee shops. An added bonus is that they are roasted to USA food standards. While they are an ideal bean for making espresso, many people nonetheless claim they produce a rich yet mellow cup of drip coffee as well.
Lavazza Super Crema Espresso
Lavazza beans consist of a blend of 80% sweet Arabica and 20% Robusta beans to produce a thick, velvety crema that is ideal for espresso, latte, and cappuccino. Lavazza consists of a blend of Brazilian, Indonesian, and Central American coffees. These beans are medium roasted and a uniform medium to dark brown color with minimal oiliness. They may also be finely ground for use in traditional coffeemakers, and will produce a mellow cup of coffee with a light crema on top. Regardless of how they are used, they will dazzle you with a stunning aroma of honey and almonds from the moment you open the package.
Kicking Horse Cliff Hanger Espresso
These organic coffee beans come from Indonesia, Africa, and the Americas, and have been medium roasted in the Canadian Rocky Mountains to provide a somewhat sweet taste with a hint of cocoa. The company claims that roasting these beans at 3,000 feet above sea level is what helps ensure the freshest flavor possible. Only the finest Arabica beans are selected for this coffee brand, as Kicking Horse prides itself on maintaining its high quality standards. These free trade beans are very versatile, as many consumers also enjoy using them for latte, mocha, and regular drip coffee. For maximum enjoyment, grinding by hand rather than using an automatic grinder is recommended. Kicking Horse beans are also available in decaf and dark varieties.
Coffee Bean Direct Espresso
One advantage that Coffee Bean Direct has is that its beans are roasted and then immediately packaged to ensure freshness. The company also roasts their beans very slowly, ensuring they have a full, even flavor. These beans are “Italian roasted”, a dark roasting method that produces beans that are extremely dark and shiny, often with burnt tones. This method of roasting nearly eliminates acidity to produce a thin-bodied espresso or a delicious smooth-tasting iced coffee. To ensure maximum freshness, cut only one corner of the bag and tape it securely shut after each use. Store beans at room temperature away from direct sources of light.
Lavazza Caffe Espresso 100% Premium Whole Beans
Lavazza Caffe Espresso beans would be the perfect choice if you would also like to brew other types of coffee such as drip or French press. Consisting only of Arabica blend beans, Lavazza is dark roasted for added flavor and a rich body. One thing you will notice about these beans is that they are highly aromatic, leaving a very pleasing scent throughout your home whenever the bag is opened. Unlike other dark roasted beans, these do not contain a burnt taste, and produce a very creamy coffee with a mild, smooth taste.
Two Volcanoes Whole Bean Guatemalan Organic Coffee
This brand of coffee is known for its great taste and aroma, which many claim is because it is single-origin coffee. What this means is that beans are gathered from a single region rather than from many different ones. Its name comes from the fact that it is grown at the base of two separate but nearby Guatemalan volcanoes. Two Volcanoes grows, harvests and roasts its coffee beans in one location to ensure the best possible freshness. These beans are medium roasted in small batches to deliver more precise results, providing the perfect levels of aroma and acidity.
You have lots of things to consider when choosing the right espresso beans. Don’t let that overwhelm you-instead, think of finding the perfect beans as something of an adventure, and you will likely have a great deal of fun trying new types.