Best Coffee Beans for Espresso – A Buyers Guide

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best coffee beans for espresso

There’s nothing quite like getting your caffeine buzz from a good espresso. But what beans should you choose? A fruity single-origin, a robust classic coffee flavor that cuts through a tall latte or rather a dark chocolate number… There are many options.

For a safe bet, go straight to our favorite all-rounder, the Espresso Roast from Coffee Bros. Alternatively, you can afford to spread your wings here. Follow the advice in our top tips section, and you’ll be gliding effortlessly from bittersweet ristrettos to open and nuanced lungos in no time.

A Closer Look At the Best Coffee Beans for Espresso

We’ve aimed to pick a diverse selection of coffees here. Whatever your preference, there should be something for everyone. Across many different styles, we have selected what we believe represents the best beans for your espresso.

Whichever coffee you go for, we recommend opting for whole beans and grinding them at home. Fresh is always best, and with tiny adjustments, you can dial in your setup for the best shots. If you buy pre-ground coffee, you’re stuck with what’s in the bag.

Coffee Bros – Espresso Roast – Best Overall

At A Glance

Roast Profile: Medium Roast

Origin: Ethiopia / Colombia

Flavor Profile: Smooth / Red Fruit / Vanilla

Our Notes

Of all the coffees featured here, this is the best all-around performer. It stands up well on its own, with flavors of strawberry and sugar cane sweetness, and is equally pleasant paired with milk. Although called an Espresso Roast, this blend is a medium roast. Not going all the way to second crack allows the red fruit from the Ethiopian beans in this blend to come to the fore.

Top Tips

Try this one as an Americano if you prefer a longer drink. It has more than enough flavor to carry it well through dilution. You can go with your standard recipe on this one, and it should perform well in most situations. It is an easy espresso to get right.

Volcanica Coffee – Honduras Natural Honey – Best Single Origin

At A Glance

Roast Profile: Light Roast

Origin: Honduras

Flavor Profile: Honeysuckle / Tea-like Lemongrass / Berry

Our Notes

From the Finca Terrerito, this is a honey-processed coffee. Honey processing is something of a misnomer, as there is no honey involved. It simply means that the coffee beans are left to dry naturally in their mucilage on raised beds after removing the pulp. This lets some of the fruity sugars absorb back into the bean and is what gives this coffee its honeysuckle nectar sweetness. 

Top Tips

We’d recommend a slightly higher brew ratio to make the most of the wilder lemongrass and zingy berry notes in this light roasted, single-origin coffee. Verging towards a lungo rather than a normale, you could go as high as about 1:3 (one part water to three parts coffee).

Related Read: What Is An Espresso?

Counter Culture Coffee – Forty-Six – Best For Espresso Based Milk Drinks

At A Glance

Roast Profile: Dark Roast

Origin: Peru / Ethiopia

Flavor Profile: Dark Chocolate / Smoky / Full-Bodied

Our Notes

Counter Culture is often considered one of the best roasters in the USA. The darkest coffee they produce, this blend is an excellent partner for milky drinks. Its rich and smoky qualities cut exceedingly well through milk. Although it makes for a dark and moody espresso on its own, it’s bold enough that you can still detect its complexity, even in something like a latte.

Top Tips

We like this one as a shorter drink. A proper macchiato allows the sweetness of the milk to provide an excellent foil to the intense smoke in this one. This coffee can be heavy enough in the mouth to carry through a longer milk drink, and the way you prepare your shot can help here.

To give the espresso shot a leg up, carrying its intricacies through the milk, you want a high TDS and a full body. The easiest way to achieve this is with a higher dose of coffee against the total volume of your drink. Think closer to a ristretto brew ratio.

Klatch Coffee – WBC World’s Best Espresso

At A Glance

Roast Profile: Medium Roast

Origin: Brazil / Sumatra / Ethiopia

Flavor Profile: Sweet Dark Chocolate / Orange Citrus / Berry

Our Notes

There’s a reason this coffee won the World Barista Championship accolade World’s Best Espresso and is a four-time Golden Bean Champion. It was a very close runner-up for our best overall coffee for espresso. Its sweet citrus profile makes it a beautiful espresso to drink alone, or it pairs particularly well with oat milk for a longer drink. Think malty chocolate orange.

Top Tips

If you have control of the water temperature, which will vary from machine to machine, we’d recommend playing with this variable. A hotter water temperature will give you more extraction quicker and a fruitier result by bringing out more of the desired acidity. 

It is a good shout for fruitier coffees when you want to accentuate some of the acids and works well paired with a longer brew ratio as we did with the Honduras. It works here to bring the orange flavor to the fore.

Intelligentsia – Black Cat Classic Espresso

At A Glance

Roast Profile: Medium Roast

Origin: Brazil / Colombia

Flavor Profile: Stone Fruit / Dark Sugars / Dark Chocolate

Our Notes

This Black Cat blend is a stunning and complex coffee best straight up as an espresso from Intelligentsia, another highly regarded roaster. If you drink it with milk, we recommend a shorter drink like a cortado, so you don’t drown the delicate plum notes.

Top Tips

You can accentuate the jammy sweetness of the stone fruit flavors in this coffee by grinding a bit finer without adjusting your dose. It will give you a slower pouring shot which will come out a little sweeter and more full-bodied. However, take care not to go too fine here, as you can risk masking your efforts behind too much bitterness. 

Stumptown Coffee Roasters – French Roast

At A Glance

Roast Profile: Dark Roast

Origin: Central America / South America

Flavor Profile: Clove / Bittersweet Chocolate

Our Notes

The French Roast from Stumptown is, as the name suggests, a very dark roast. It makes for a great coffee paired with milk as it has a lot of very strong aromatics running through it that will stay bold throughout a latte. Appropriately prepared, it is a wonderfully full-bodied coffee perfect for those winter milk drinks. But, with a few tweaks, you can enjoy it as an espresso, too.

Top Tips

If you’re going to brew this one for pairing with milk drinks, we’d suggest aiming to accentuate that almost aniseed, clove spice. You want a slower pouring shot and maximum exposure to the grinds to achieve this. Try grinding a little finer and aiming for a slightly shorter brew ratio (lower yield). This will bring out the bittersweetness in your shot.

Alternatively, for an interesting espresso to drink alone, try going the other way with your ratio and pulling it to a longer yield.

Blue Bottle Coffee – Bright

At A Glance

Roast Profile: Light Roast

Origin: East Africa (Mostly Ethiopian)

Flavor Profile: Blueberry / Golden Raisin / Lemon Zest

Our Notes

A vibrant blend from California roasters Blue Bottle, these beans are as fruity as coffee comes. If you like East African single-origin coffees, try this blend for your espresso. It has a zingy and complex palate reminiscent of the best Ethiopian and Kenyan single origins, with almost winey notes when made as an espresso. It is definitely best taken black. 

Top Tips

Extraction time is critical with this coffee. While you will want to allow some of the bitters out to let the complexity of this cup sing, you don’t want an overpowering amount. Depending on your setup, you may be looking for something around the 20-25 second extraction time. If you’re struggling to achieve this, try grinding a little coarser.

Volcanica Coffee – Espresso Dark Roast

At A Glance

Roast Profile: Dark Roast

Origin: Varied

Flavor Profile: Sweet Caramel / Spice / Signature Dense Intensity / Light Acidity

Our Notes

This coffee from Volcanica is roasted to fit a particular flavor profile irrespective of seasonality. For this reason, they don’t specify the origins of the beans, as they may change them depending on the time of year. These beans have a classic profile, with not too much fruit. If you’re a traditionalist, they are a good choice for you.

Top Tips

Your standard recipe should work here. If, however, you are finding the flavors a little too dark and the intensity is muddying the sweeter caramel notes, you could try going for a slightly lower TDS. With consistent extraction time, this will give you a somewhat thinner-bodied coffee and provide the acids and sugars with more space to breathe. 

Koa Coffee – Estate Medium Roast Kona Coffee

At A Glance

Roast Profile: Medium Roast

Origin: Kona, Hawaii

Flavor Profile: Sweet / Fruity / Hints of Spice

Our Notes

Koa Coffee is one of the leading producers of coffee in the Kona region of Hawaii. Uncommonly for the specialty coffee industry, the beans grown here are also roasted at the site of origin. This can benefit the freshness of the green beans and reduce the risk of ferment. Koa doesn’t provide tasting notes, but we found it a good example of a typical Kona profile.

Related Read: Best Kona Coffee

Top Tips

As with most single origins as espressos, it would be a good idea with this coffee to raise the water temperature to close to 205 °F (96°C) and grind a little finer. This trick will up the acidity and sweetness in your finished cup, helping to highlight the fruits without too many overpowering bitters.

Counter Culture Coffee – Apollo

At A Glance

Roast Profile: Light Roast

Origin: Ethiopia

Flavor Profile: Citrus / Floral / Silky

Our Notes

Although always all from one country of origin, Apollo isn’t strictly a single-origin coffee. It is, in fact, a blend of Ethiopian coffees selected to fit Counter Culture’s idea of the best flavor profile you should expect from a typical Ethiopian. It’s a solid benchmark against measuring other single estate Ethiopians. 

Otherwise, this would have been a close contender for the best single-origin beans on our list. Counter Culture’s Apollo, as with pretty much anything from these roasters, is a perennial favorite. At the moment, it is 100% Dambi Uddo, from the Guji region, grown as forest coffee.

Top Tips

Conversely to guidance for the other fruity numbers featured here, we’ve gone in the opposite direction with the water temperature with these coffee beans. Lower the temperature a little bit with these ones.

Some Key Characteristics and Considerations 

In the following section, we will guide you through the most important factors for buying coffee beans for espresso.

Coffee Beans vs. “Espresso Beans” – What’s the Difference?

While some coffee beans will be marketed as “espresso beans” or “espresso roast / blend”, these are just ways roasters describe the character and intended use of the beans. There is no real distinction between coffee beans for espresso or any other brewing method.

Beans destined for espresso are sometimes marketed like this to give consumers an idea of what to expect when they are shopping around. An espresso roast will usually be at least a little darker, and beans for espresso are often blends of various origins to provide a balanced and predictable cup. 

That doesn’t mean that you can’t grab any coffee beans and try them as an espresso. We’d certainly recommend not being put off from trying a light roast single origin.

Arabica vs. Robusta

Arabica and Robusta are the two main varieties of coffee grown for commercial coffee production today. Contrary to its name, Arabica originated in Ethiopia and Kenya, whereas Robusta is native to Uganda. 

Arabica is usually the first choice for specialty coffee as its beans are higher in acids and other flavor compounds. This means you will most often find that single-origin coffees, except some great Ugandan Robustas, tend to be Arabica. On the other hand, many blends have Robusta added as it helps to produce a good crema and, in cheaper coffees, can be added for bulk.

For a more in-depth discussion of the differences between these two varieties, we have a whole blog post on Arabica and Robusta.

Growing Regions

There is no one-size-fits-all guide to flavor profiles to expect from given coffee-producing countries. However, some very broad observations may help choose the best coffee beans for espresso.

Speaking very generally, if you prefer a fruity and floral coffee, East Africans may be a favorite of yours. At the other end of the spectrum, coffees from the Americas are often home to more prominent chocolate and nutty tones. This is one reason why they are quite commonly paired in blends to give a balanced coffee.

How To Adjust Your Espresso Recipe According to Your Preferences

We’ve discussed how best to pick out certain qualities from your beans in our Top Tips sections for each coffee above. The following section is a brief summary to help you tweak your brew by controlling various parameters. A good rule of thumb is to only change one thing at a time. If it doesn’t work out how you were expecting, you can always change it straight back. 

Grind Size

This should always be the first parameter to adjust. Dialing in your grinder is an absolutely critical step toward good espresso. In brief, the finer the grind, the more extraction will occur, and the longer the extraction time will be. A finer grind exposes more coffee surface area to the water and leads to a more full-bodied sweeter extraction. On the other hand, a coarser grind creates a more sour shot.

Your Brew Ratio – Dose vs. Yield

Your brew ratio is another vital variable. Dose refers to the amount of ground coffee you put into the portafilter, usually measured by weight. Yield refers to the amount of coffee in the cup at the end, again using weight for best practice. 

The dose primarily affects the TDS in your finished drink or the amount of coffee solids dissolved. Therefore, a higher dose to yield ratio will give a more intense, heavier-bodied coffee. Comparatively, a greater yield from a smaller dose can bring out bright complexities such as sweetness and acidity in some beans.

Water Temperature

Water temperature has an interesting effect on espresso. While at the extremes, water temperatures over 205 °F (96°C) will scald fresh coffee, reasonably high temperatures give a higher extraction yield. This means they get more of the compounds, notably acids, from the coffee beans in a shorter time. To accentuate the acidic side of a coffee’s flavor profile, you could try hotter water, which may be desirable in some fruity beans.

On the other hand, cooler water temperatures will extract fewer bitters and result in a brighter tasting shot that is not masked or overpowered. This would most commonly be useful to avoid bringing out too much of the darkness in some roasts. It can also help expose sweeter aspects of fruity profiles, too.

Extraction Time

To some extent, this is governed by your other variables. It is, nonetheless, worth a look at the impact it has on its own. A shorter contact time between water and coffee will give a more sour cup, while a longer contact will favor full body and bittersweet notes. 

It can be useful to look at this at the extremes to understand it better. An under-extracted espresso (usually one which has brewed in 15 seconds or under, as a rough guide) will taste very sour and, in extreme cases, even salty. An over-extracted shot, on the other hand, will be very bitter.

This is due to the order in which compounds are extracted from coffee. It can be very helpful to remember this. The acids come out first, then the sugars, and finally the bitters. You can try this at home by lining up three glasses under your machine, catching the first 15 seconds in one, the next 15 in another, and letting your shot run to 45 seconds into the final one. In fact, this is an excellent learning tool, and if you’ve never tried it, we’d recommend you go do it now. 

Our Verdict

Hopefully, this post will leave you feeling better equipped to select your best coffee beans for espresso and more confident with tweaking your brew to get the desired effect. Any of the beans on this list will serve you well. The Coffee Bros beans are excellent in any situation, whatever your beverage of choice, and are one of the easiest to get right. With a nuanced and subtle fruity strawberry note, these are truly delicious coffee beans. We’d recommend them as a great point to start at, particularly if you are relatively new to espresso.

Photo of author
Aidan is a former barista and coffee industry professional, turned writer and passionate home brewer. He never travels anywhere without his emergency coffee kit (hand grinder, scales, and v60).

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