Best Coffee Beans for Espresso | Beans for Ultimate Taste

There’s nothing like a good cup of espresso, but the key to a great blend is using quality coffee beans. Whether you just want to learn more about specialty coffee blends or you are an experienced barista looking for tips on finding top-notch espresso beans, this post offers insight into how to select the best coffee beans for espresso. We’ll cover some specific brewing methods and provide advice from industry experts in order to help you produce the perfect shot every time.

Types of Coffee Beans

When it comes to coffee beans for espresso, two main species of the Coffee genera are commonly used: Arabica and Robusta. While Arabica is widely considered to be of higher quality and offers a better taste, the choice ultimately depends on personal preference. Here are some key differences between the two:

Arabica: Historically recognized for its superior quality and taste, Arabica beans thrive in higher altitudes and require more moisture. They are more vulnerable to damage but possess a lower acidity level, reduced caffeine content, and generally offer a smoother, more delicate flavor. In lighter roast levels, Arabica can exhibit a wide range of flavors, from floral to sweet and fruity.

Robusta: Traditionally considered of lower quality globally, Robusta beans can grow in a wider range of climates and altitudes, making them more resilient. They yield a higher quantity of coffee compared to Arabica. Robusta beans have almost double the caffeine content and a higher acidity level, resulting in a flavor profile that is often perceived as harsh. Around 40% of coffee produced worldwide consists of Robusta, which is traded separately from Arabica coffee.

When it comes to making espresso, both Arabica and Robusta beans can be used, depending on the desired flavor profile and characteristics you prefer.

Where Does Coffee Beans Come From?

Coffee beans for espresso originate from various locations across the globe, with Ethiopia being recognized as the progenitor of Arabica Coffee due to the genetic diversity found in heirloom and natural-growing coffee varieties. While coffee is now cultivated in numerous countries along the equator between the Tropics of Capricorn and Cancer, Brazil leads in coffee exports, followed by Vietnam and Colombia. Interestingly, coffee is actually the seed inside the fruit of a coffee tree, not a true bean. The taste and characteristics of coffee vary depending on the soil, climate, and processing methods. There are three popular ways to process coffee, namely washed process, natural process, and honey process, each significantly impacting flavor. This diversity and excitement in coffee tasting stem from such factors.

What Are Roast Profiles and How Does It Impact Taste?

Pre-brewing, one of the most critical factors affecting the flavor of your coffee is the level of roast undergone by your coffee beans. Historically, as coffee gained popularity in Europe, darker roasts were favored to mask defects, resulting in a burnt and sometimes excessively roasted flavor. However, the craft coffee industry now emphasizes quality throughout the supply chain, with most independent cafes and roasters focusing on lighter and medium roasts to showcase the unique flavors of the beans. There are three primary roast profiles: light, medium, and dark.

What Are Roast Profiles and How Does It Impact Taste?
What Are Roast Profiles and How Does It Impact Taste?

Light Roast 

Lightly roasted espresso beans are higher in acidity compared to their darker counterparts and usually exhibit a delicate floral or fruity flavor. The goal of light roasting is to preserve the original flavor profile of the beans and prevent overpowering the natural flavors with the roasted profile. These beans are lighter in color and possess a floral or fruity aroma upon opening the bag. Due to the shorter roasting time, the beans may appear relatively dry as they haven’t had enough time to extract oils, resulting in harder beans. Grinding light roasted beans, especially with manual grinders like our Royal, may require additional effort due to their hardness. Additionally, light roasts tend to produce less crema when brewing espresso because of their roast level. When brewing espresso, particularly with the Flair, lighter roasted beans are less forgiving to under extraction and usually require a higher brew water temperature of around 205 degrees F (96 degrees C).

Medium Roast 

Currently the most prevalent roast level in the coffee industry, medium roasted coffee beans exhibit a flavor profile that combines fruity notes like orange, apricot, or cherry with roasted flavors like chocolate. However, the flavor possibilities are virtually endless. Medium roasted beans generally offer a more balanced flavor and lower acidity compared to light roasts. They are easier to grind and allow for more forgiveness when dialing in your Flair espresso machine for the perfect shot.

Dark Roast 

Pre-brewing, one of the most crucial factors in determining the taste of coffee is the level of roast that the beans have undergone. Initially, when coffee gained popularity in Europe, the trend was to roast darker to mask defects in the coffee, resulting in a burnt and sometimes flame-roasted taste. However, in today’s craft coffee world, where quality is emphasized throughout the supply chain, independent cafes and roasters primarily focus on lighter and medium roasts to enhance the local and inherent flavors of the beans themselves. Generally, there are three main roast profiles: light, medium, and dark.

What To Consider When Choosing Best Coffee Beans For Espresso?

When selecting the best coffee beans for espresso, there are important factors to consider. The most crucial question is: which roast will yield the most flavorful coffee for the specific brewing method you plan to use? It is crucial to understand the coffee roasts that are best suited for making espresso. The Specialty Coffee Association of America has developed a precise method of classifying coffee roast based on color readings using the “Agtron” instrument and assigning a number to each shade. Although color roast numbers are not commonly used to label coffee roasts currently, there have been significant efforts to associate common roast names with a specific range of color roasts. This development has minimized ambiguity and empowered consumers to make more informed decisions about their preferred roast.

Best Coffee Beans For Espresso Make For The Best Espresso

For creating the ultimate espresso experience, selecting the finest coffee beans is crucial. Italian coffee culture emphasizes the “5 Ms” that contribute to an exceptional espresso:

  • Mano (hand) of the skilled barista
  • Miscela: a carefully crafted blend of coffee beans
  • Machina: high-quality coffee-making machines
  • Mascinatore: precision grinding of the coffee
  • Manutenzione: regular equipment maintenance
Best Coffee Beans For Espresso Make For The Best Espresso

While single origin coffees are gaining popularity in North America, Italians believe that true excellence in coffee comes from the artful blending of different types and varieties. By combining Arabica and Robusta beans, the espresso acquires complexity and depth that cannot be achieved with a single variety.

In the pursuit of the perfect espresso, renowned cafes exclusively rely on meticulously crafted blends that highlight the unique characteristics of both Arabica and Robusta beans.

Rules and Tips on Buying Best Coffee Beans For Espresso

  • Ensure that you adhere to the general guidelines when purchasing best coffee beans for espresso, regardless of your taste preferences. These rules are applicable to any brewing method, but the espresso shot is particularly affected by low-quality coffee.
  • To prioritize freshness, place beans at the top of your buying criteria. While buying from a small roaster offers advantages, inquire about the roast date. Most small roasters conduct weekly roasts, so you can arrange to buy beans on the roast day or the following day. Avoid purchasing beans roasted two weeks ago as they are considered old.
  • If you choose to buy from a large roaster, inquire about the packaging method. These coffees are often flushed with nitrogen or vacuum-sealed, providing a longer shelf life. Regardless, check the expiration date to ensure you don’t purchase coffee that has been on the shelf for a year.
  • Opt for buying coffee beans in small quantities to prevent staleness in your pantry.
  • If possible, purchase whole bean coffee. Ground coffee loses its flavor and quality after a few days, whereas small packages of ground coffee may encounter freshness issues.
  • When buying coffee, prioritize quality over mediocrity. Look for coffee that is picked fully ripe and manually sorted to remove any defective beans.
  • Acquire as much knowledge as possible about your chosen roaster. It is encouraged to try beans from a new roaster to discover what works best for you. However, obtaining references about the new roaster is recommended.
  • If you are considering buying from a small, local roaster, pay attention to how they store their roasted beans. Purchasing a bag from a batch of beans that were roasted a week ago is ideal if they have been stored correctly. Improperly stored coffee is almost stale by this time.
  • Avoid purchasing coffee that is untraceable. If you can’t determine the origin of the coffee, it is likely of poor quality.
  • Arabica beans are commonly regarded as the best choice for brewing espresso. However, including 10% to 40% Robusta beans in a blend can enhance the crema of your shot.

Pitfalls When Choosing the Best Beans for the Espresso 

Avoid basing your choice solely on price: Higher cost doesn’t always equate to better or tastier beans. Beans from islands like Jamaica or Hawaii may be pricier due to production costs and limited availability, not necessarily because of superior flavor.

Pay attention to freshness: Look for a roast date on the bag. Coffee beans need time to rest after roasting, typically between one and four days. The optimal flavor is usually achieved between five and ten days after roasting. Opt for beans that come in bags with air valves, as these are designed to facilitate the release of gas after the roasting process.

10 thoughts on “Best Coffee Beans for Espresso | Beans for Ultimate Taste”

    • Here are the ones I order from the most. Most (if not all) offer free shipping with a minimum order (usually 2 bags).
      – Pilot, Toronto, ON
      – Cantook, Québec City, QC
      – Luna, Langley, BC
      – De Mello, Toronto, ON
      – Escape, Montréal, QC
      – Detour, Hamilton, ON
      – Rogue Wave, Edmonton, AB
      – Nektar, Québec City, QC
      – Phil & Sebastian, Calgary, AB
      – 49th Parallel, Burnaby/Vancouver, BC
      – Monogram, Calgary, AB
      – Anchored, Dartmouth, NS
      – Société des cafés: They sell coffee from different North American roasters. They recently added James Hoffmann’s Square Mile to their offering. Free shipping in Canada over $75

    • Rich, sweet, and nutty (without acidity) is definitely a dark roast. Probably a very dark roast. Lucky for you, dark roasts are very forgiving and easy to extract. My go-to Espresso bean is Shot Tower from Verena Street (bought/shipped fresh online, not from a store). It’s sweet and creamy with no acidity, and only costs $11/lb when ordered fresh from the roaster. I’ve had lighter roasts, and they taste good to me, but I really like how sweet and creamy the dark roast gets (the first time I ever made a properly-dialed in dark roast espresso, I thought there was sugar and cream in there).


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