7 Best Espresso Beans: 2023 Picks Reviewed and Ranked

Updated on: November 10, 2023
Author: Nick
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Best Espresso Beans

Are you a coffee aficionado searching for the best espresso beans?

Do you want to know which roast is the best, or how the origin of the bean affects the flavor?

Well, read on and this article will cover our seven top picks for coffee beans for espresso. We will review each and delve into the details you need to know.

And this of course includes how to choose roast levels that suit your preferences. We will also cover the difference between coffee and espresso beans.

If you’re a beginner, we’re here to introduce you to the fine art of espresso making.

There is nothing better than the tantalizing smell of coffee in the morning. A shot of espresso is the perfect way to wake up! The intense and complex flavor perks up your taste buds and gets you ready for the day ahead.

Espresso can have lots of different flavors and here we will explore how to find the best coffee beans for your espresso wants!

Best Espresso Beans

What are the Best Espresso Beans?

Here is the summary of our top picks. Click on the links below to jump below for more details.

  1. Kicking Horse Coffee - Cliff Hanger Espresso
    Pick #1 for Medium Roast

  2. LavAzza - Super Crema
    Pick #2 for Medium Roast

  3. Intelligentsia - Black Cat Espresso
    Pick #3 for Medium Roast

  4. 49th Parallel Coffee Roasters - Old School Espresso
    Pick #1 Medium-Dark Roast

  5. Ethical Bean - Sweet Espresso
    Pick #2 Medium-Dark Roast

  6. LavAzza - Gusto Forte Espresso
    Pick #1 Dark Roast

  7. Starbucks - Espresso
    Pick #2 Dark Roast

1. Kicking Horse Coffee - Cliff Hanger Espresso - Pick #1 for Medium Roast

The Kicking Horse coffee is organic, Fairtrade, and Kosher. It is grown in an environmentally and socially responsible way, and by farmers with sustainable businesses.

The coffee is shade grown, which means trees cover the plantation and the coffee matures slowly which increases the natural sugars.

The coffee is smooth with a fruity and cocoa flavor. The aroma is of black currant, milk chocolate, and brown sugar.

Pick #1 for Medium Roast

Cliff Hanger Espresso - Kicking Horse Coffee

  • Fruity, chocolate, and molasses flavor
  • Organic, Fairtrade, and Kosher
  • Made with Arabica beans

2. LavAzza - Super Crema - Pick #2 for Medium Roast

LavAzza is a big brand that has been around since 1895. It is used widely in hotels, cafes, and restaurants. This espresso blend is blended and roasted in Italy for that authentic espresso experience.

This roast is specifically to be used with an espresso machine. It is a mix of Arabica and 40% Robusta beans which gives it a balanced flavor.

It creates a long-lasting foam with a natural sweetness. It has a rich body with fruit and nutty hints and a cocoa aftertaste.

Pick #2 Medium Roast

Super Crema - LavAzza

  • Produces a traditional Italian espresso
  • Mixture of Arabica and Robusta beans
  • Nutty, sweet flavor with cocoa aftertaste

3. Intelligentsia - Black Cat Espresso - Pick #3 for Medium Roast

Intelligentsia introduced Direct Trade to the coffee industry which means there are no middlemen like importers. This is good for you the consumer because you get fresh coffee beans which is important for getting the best flavor.

They print the roasting dates on their packages which show how fresh your coffee is. Their Black Cat Espresso roast is specifically made for espresso. It has a sweet and complex flavor.

The coffee has notes of dark chocolate, ripe cherry and brown sugar, while the flavor changes subtly from season to season because it is an espresso blend.

Pick #3 Medium Roast

Black Cat Espresso - Intelligentsia

  • Fruity, chocolate flavor
  • Roasting dates printed to ensure freshness
  • Works well in milky drinks

4. 49th Parallel Coffee Roasters - Old School Espresso - Pick #1 for Medium-Dark Roast

The Old School Espresso roast is sourced from Ethiopia and Honduras and is specifically for a traditional espresso.

They roast their beans in small batches in Canada’s Pacific Northwest. Small batch roasting helps the beans stay fresher for longer.

The resulting coffee is full bodied and with low acidity. It has complex flavors from sweet caramel, nuts, and dark chocolate.

Pick #1 Medium-Dark Roast

Old School Espresso - 49th Parallel Coffee Roasters

  • Full bodied
  • Low acidity
  • Caramel, nutty, dark chocolate flavor

5. Ethical Bean - Sweet Espresso - Pick #2 for Medium-Dark Roast

As the name suggests, this brand is Fairtrade, organic and free from chemicals and pesticides.

It uses small batch roasting and has a resealable bag, both of which ensure the coffee beans are fresh.

It is made with 100% Arabica, which is a higher quality bean, and it has a low acidity, no bitterness, and the flavor is nuanced with toffee highlights.

Pick #2 Medium-Dark Roast

Sweet Espresso - Ethical Bean

  • Fairtrade and organic
  • Nuanced medium-dark roast
  • Toffee highlights

6. LavAzza - Gusto Forte Espresso - Pick #1 for Dark Roast

The second LavAzza coffee bean in this list, which is no surprise since it is a big brand and for a good reason.

This roast is made with Robusta beans from Central Africa and South-East Asia, and it’s strong and intense. The coffee has a spicy flavor and a cocoa aftertaste. 

Pick #1 Dark Roast

Gusto Forte Espresso - LavAzza

  • Strong and intense
  • Robusta beans
  • Spicy, rich flavor

7. Starbucks - Espresso - Pick #2 for Dark Roast

Starbucks uses 100% ethically sourced Arabica beans in their coffee which is what gives it its intense flavor.

This roast has caramel notes and a bold flavor. It is specifically made for espresso but can also be used in espresso and milk beverages.

If you enjoy Starbucks coffee, then this is a great way to savor that flavor at home.

Pick #2 Dark Roast

Espresso - Starbucks

  • Notes of caramel
  • Ethically sourced
  • Bold

Espresso vs Coffee

Is there a difference between espresso and coffee, and if so, what is it?

  • The coffee beans used to make traditional coffee and espresso are the same but the preparation of each makes them different. The result is that espresso has a more intense flavor because it contains more dissolved coffee solids than traditional coffee.

  • Espresso beans are usually roasted for longer which makes them a darker color and gives them a stronger flavor. The stronger flavor is because the natural oils are higher due to the longer roasting process.

  • Regular coffee doesn’t use the same high pressure in the brewing process as espresso does. During the brewing process for espresso, the water is heated to around 200° Fahrenheit (93° Celsius) and pushes the water through the grounds. The high heat combined with the high pressure produce the bolder flavor that espresso is known for. This is why an espresso machine is typically required. There are workarounds though as discussed here.

Choosing the best coffee beans for espresso is of course of capital importance to have a good start of the day! Coffee beans come in a variety of different kinds.

Their flavor depends on many factors including their origin, the type of bean, the drying process, and of course the roasting processes. This breadth of flavors means someone's pick for espresso beans will differ from someone else's!

It is better to choose a whole bean and one specifically for espresso for your espresso needs.

Bean coffee as opposed to ground coffee does not lose its freshness as quickly, as ground coffee as a much larger surface area for oxidation to occur.

You can buy whole bean coffee and use a grinder to finely grind them before using them, or grind them in smaller batches and keep them sealed for convenience. Some super-automatic machines also have a built-in coffee grinder. These are basically an espresso machine that grinds the beans and pours the espresso shot with the press of a few buttons.

Finely ground beans should be used for espresso coffee. This is because finely ground beans can sustain the high pressure needed for a good espresso.

Which Espresso Roast Should You Choose?

There are a number of roasts which include light, medium, and dark. The beans' appearance will change depending on what type of roast they are.

Roasting brings out the aroma and flavor of the coffee beans. The process causes chemical changes as the beans are brought to a high temperature. Then they are quickly cooled to stop the process. The moisture is roasted out of them.

Light roasts are roasted for the least amount of time. They are a light shade of brown with an earthy and acidic flavor. Light roasts are not recommended to be used as coffee beans for espresso.

Medium roasts are roasted for longer and will gain more of the bean’s flavor. It has a mid-range acidity. Medium roast coffee will generally have a more balanced taste.

While dark roast coffee is roasted the longest. It features the strongest and boldest taste. The coffee will be almost black and have an oily surface. They have the greatest number of natural oils which contribute to the formation of crema, which is the golden layer on top of your espresso shot. 

Medium-dark and dark roasts typically are generally best used for espresso.

When choosing espresso beans, remember to check the roast date on the packet. The fresher the coffee bean, the better the taste.

You may think espresso beans would have a higher level of caffeine, but darker roasts have similar levels of caffeine than lighter roasts. The type of bean is a better determinant of the amount of caffeine. For example, Robusta beans contain about twice the amount of caffeine when compared to Arabica beans.

Espresso Beans Origins

The origin of the coffee bean you select will have an impact on the flavor. There are many factors which contribute to the difference in flavor including what part of the world they are grown in, rainfall, shade, soil, and altitude.

7 Best Espresso Beans: 2023 Picks Reviewed and Ranked

Naturally, beans from countries along the “Bean Belt” region end up producing the best espresso coffee beans.

Countries like Colombia, Brazil, and Hawaii are part of this region and all have different flavors.

Colombian coffee beans will have a mild, well-balanced flavor with hints of caramel and nuttiness. It is grown on small family farms.

Brazilian coffee beans vary in flavor due to the altitude. It can be a bit nutty or spiced with a heavy body.

Ethiopian beans are generally either intense or lighter and floral.

Kenya gets more sunlight, so their beans tend to be savory or have a tart sweetness.

Indonesian beans are split into categories like Java or Sumatran, and both are deeper coffees.

Hawaiian or Kona beans have a unique flavor because of the heavy rain and lots of sun. The taste is a rich, slightly sweet flavor.

Arabica vs Robusta

There are different types of coffee beans, but the most popular being Arabica and Robusta.

Arabica beans usually grow in higher elevations, mostly in Latin America, and tend to have a soft sweet flavor. Robusta beans are usually stronger, with a lower acidity and grown in the Eastern Hemisphere.

Robusta beans are easier to grow which is why they are more common in supermarkets. Big coffee companies like Starbucks usually use Arabica beans which have less caffeine and are less bitter.

High quality beans are usually all single-origin beans because a blends can contain lower quality beans. However, if an espresso blend is composed of high quality beans all around, then it can give a better balance of flavors depending on your personal tastes.

Nearly all single origin beans are Arabica beans because they are high quality and more expensive than Robusta. Robusta has more caffeine and is more bitter. They are easier to grow and cheaper, but they can still produce some delicious beans for espressos. 

Final Thoughts

It’s fun to experiment with different types of coffee to find the best espresso beans that suit your personal taste buds. Try the different types, roasts and origins until you find your favorite!

And remember medium to dark roasts are best and ensure you finely grind your coffee beans to get the best flavor. 

Nick loves coffee... Actually, he NEEDS coffee! So, he has dedicated his time to learning all he can about this magical bean. He can make a mean latte, is obsessed with flat whites, and is always up for a cup of java!

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