Best Espresso Beans

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With its bold, rich flavor and creamy, velvety texture, espresso is a one-of-a-kind sensory experience packed into a tidy little package. Whether sipped, slurped, guzzled straight up as a shot or used as the flavorful foundation for a milk-based (or any number of popular milk substitutes) beverages, espresso is a drink like no other.

Not long ago, you would have had to travel to Italy and visit one of its quaint neighborhood cafes to experience espresso the way it was intended. But now, you can enjoy authentic espresso in the comfort of your home, prepared just how you like it, at any time of day.

If you’re new to the espresso world or want to try something different, look no further than this specially curated list of the best espresso beans available. Whether you consider yourself a coffee connoisseur, a hardcore java junkie, or just like to enjoy the occasional latte, your perfect espresso beans await, so keep reading.

Espresso Beans

Best Beans for Espresso

Think of a roasted coffee bean as a tiny package of unique characteristics waiting to be opened and enjoyed. Espresso is simply a type of coffee that is sourced, blended, and roasted with the specific intention of being brewed using the espresso preparation method (more on this later).

Appealing to multiple senses, an espresso’s aroma, flavor, mouthfeel, and finish all combine to create a sensory experience like no other. Espresso coffee beans present wildly different flavor profiles depending on where it is grown, how farmers cultivate it, and what processing it undergoes after harvesting. 

For instance, whereas African coffees are famous for their wild, exotic notes, Central American coffee beans are known for their vibrant acidity and floral qualities. Coffee beans from Brazil (the largest coffee producer in the world) are renowned for the smooth, creamy nuttiness they impart into coffee roasts. 

Gathering these coffee beans from the far reaches of the globe and masterfully roasting them to unlock their prized characteristics is the job of coffee roasters, and these talents are put on full display by the eight espresso blends below. Whether your go-to beverage is a macchiato with a dollop of foam or a cappuccino with a double shot of espresso, these are the best coffee beans for espresso.

Coffee Bros. Roastery – Espresso Roast

Coffee Bros Espresso Roast

New York-based Coffee Bros. Roastery is a relative newcomer to the craft coffee roasting scene and has quickly made a name for itself with impeccably sourced espresso beans that are masterfully roasted to produce a diverse collection of single-origin coffees and blends. 

One of Coffee Bros. Roastery’s most popular selections is its Espresso Roast, a blend of estate-grown Ethiopian and Colombian coffee beans producing a sweet, fruity flavor profile that is sublime as a straight shot and perfect as the base for lattes and cappuccinos.

Here are some of the flavor notes and qualities that make this espresso so unique:

  • Distinct strawberry notes provide a subtle fruitiness
  • Hints of sugar cane bolster the natural sweetness of this blend
  • Vanilla highlights provide a welcoming warmth to this espresso’s aroma
  • This espresso is lovingly developed to a medium roast to maximize the blend’s signature sweetness and smoothness

One of the hallmarks of Coffee Bros. Roastery’s Espresso Roast is its versatility. While Coffee Bros. developed its rich and exotic flavor profile with espresso in mind, its fruit-forward characteristics lend themselves to other brewing methods, such as pour-over or even in a stovetop Moka pot.

If you are partial to a deeper, fuller espresso experience, Coffee Bros. also offers a Dark Roast Espresso producing a bolder flavor profile featuring chocolate notes. The Dark Roast Espresso is perfect if you’re partial to drinks like lattes and cappuccinos but still want the espresso flavor to shine through the milk.

illy – Classico Coffee

In the world of espresso, illycaffè, or illy for short, is widely viewed by coffee connoisseurs as the golden standard. In the eyes of purists, illy is to espresso as Ferrari is to automobiles. Both brands even share an affinity for the color red. 

The familiar illy script logo is a familiar sight on porcelain espresso cups and shade umbrellas adorning sidewalk cafes everywhere. The silver aluminum can that illy uses to package many of its products, including the Classico espresso, has become an icon among espresso drinkers and a fixture in the kitchens of coffee purists everywhere.

Founded in Trieste, Italy, in 1933, illy is one of the oldest coffee roasting companies around and continues to rank among the most popular brands of espresso beans in the world, with legions of loyal fans all over the globe. The Classico (medium roast) is illy’s signature coffee and epitomizes everything that an authentic Italian espresso is supposed to be:

  • Sweet flavor profile with pronounced caramel notes
  • Hints of zesty orange blossom and fragrant jasmine add depth and complexity to the Classico’s balanced flavor profile
  • As the mildest of illy’s three espresso roasts (the others being Intenso and Forte), you can prepare Classico using an espresso machine or brewed as coffee

What makes illy espresso beans so popular among drinkers from all walks of life is its profound simplicity. A flavor that is welcoming and approachable, with consistent brewing results no matter what espresso machine is used, is a hallmark of illy espresso and the main reason it is a staple in high-end Italian restaurants and the home pantries of espresso connoisseurs.

Intelligentsia – Black Cat Classic Espresso

Intelligentsia Black Cat Espresso

Coffee’s so-called third-wave movement started in the 1990s, bringing higher coffee quality and sustainability to the forefront. One of the companies leading the charge was Intelligentsia Coffee, and today, its popularity stretches far beyond its original Chicago roots.

One of Intelligentsia’s signature offerings is its Black Cat Classic Espresso. This espresso has been a fan favorite from day one. Blended with honey-processed coffee beans from Brazil and a washed Colombian from the Tolima region, Black Cat Classic Espresso has all the attributes you would expect in a premium espresso:

  • Exceptionally balanced acidity, body, and flavor
  • Flavor notes include marshmallow, raw sugar, and dark chocolate 
  • Naturally sweet with a syrupy mouthfeel

The Intelligentsia Black Cat Classic Espresso is part of a collection of espressos called the Black Cat Project. Other espresso blends in the Black Cat series include the Honey Badger Espresso, a seasonal blend with notes of stone fruit and caramel, and the Analog Espresso, which features an all-Brazilian cast of espresso beans presenting chocolate and molasses flavors.

Intelligentsia sources its coffee beans from a network of over 50 Direct Trade growing partners in 14 countries to achieve its masterful roasting results.

Lavazza – Espresso Italiano Classico

Another Italian company customers highly venerate in the world of espresso is Lavazza. Its Espresso Italiano series offers a full spectrum of espresso flavors in authentic Italian fashion. 

Roasted in the Lavazza production facility in Torino, Italy, the Espresso Italiano collection consists of three espresso blends, each providing a unique perspective on this popular beverage:

  • Espresso Italiano Classico is the lightest roast in the collection, and is a blend of Central American, South American, and African coffee beans, exhibiting a floral aroma and a fruit-forward flavor profile
  • Espresso Italiano Aromatico brings together coffee beans from Africa, Southeast Asia, and South America to create a complex flavor profile with notes of dried fruit and chocolate
  • Espresso Italiano Cremoso is the darkest roast in the collection and features coffee beans from Southeast Asia and South America, presenting deep earthy flavors with hints of spice and cocoa

Each of the three Espresso Italiano blends presents espresso in a different light and together demonstrates why Lavazza is such a respected name in coffee roasting circles. With a history steeped in tradition, Lavazza is a brand that is synonymous with premium espresso.

Lifeboost Coffee – Espresso 

Lifeboost Espresso Beans

One coffee company that has taken a different approach to producing premium coffee is Lifeboost Coffee. Marketing itself as a life-affirming brand offering coffees that appeal to health-conscious drinkers, Lifeboost Coffee bases its philosophy on producing the healthiest coffee beans possible without sacrificing flavor and character.

Lifeboost coffees are sourced and produced under strict protocols to maintain the highest standards of quality and safety:

  • Lifeboost roasts all coffees using single-origin coffee beans to avoid the risk of cross-contamination of mold from one lot to another
  • Lifeboost tests all coffee beans in an independent laboratory for the presence of mycotoxins, molds, heavy metals, and hundreds of other potential contaminants
  • Lifeboost coffees are pesticide-free
  • At origin, all Lifeboost coffee beans must fully mature before they are harvested, naturally sun-dried, and washed in spring water baths to produce low-acid, stomach-friendly coffees that are nutrient-rich and flavorful
  • All Lifeboost coffees are shade-grown and USDA-certified organic

The Lifeboost Coffee espresso roast features organically grown hand-picked coffee beans from Guatemala. Unlike espresso beans from popular roasters like illy and Intelligentsia, Lifeboost Coffee Espresso is a dark roast to produce a bold profile with deep flavors that can cut through the milk and shine in beverages like lattes and cappuccinos.

Stumptown Coffee Roasters – Hair Bender Blend

Stumptown Hair Bender

Stumptown Coffee Roasters disproves the theory that the specialty coffee scene in the Pacific Northwest begins and ends in Seattle. Adopting a century-old nickname for Portland, Oregon, Stumptown Coffee Roasters is a highly respected name in the craft coffee scene, and its Hair Bender Blend consistently ranks among the most popular espresso beans.

Named after the vacant hair salon that housed the first Stumptown cafe location, Hair Bender is Stumptown’s signature blend and most popular offering. It is also the staple espresso served in all its retail locations.

Hair Bender espresso is a complex blend of coffee beans meticulously sourced from the far corners of the globe – Central America, South America, East Africa, and Indonesia. Together, these exotic locations contribute to an espresso blend like no other, with a flavor-packed profile exhibiting:

  • Floral jasmine
  • Zesty citrus and sweet cherry
  • Buttery caramel
  • Bittersweet chocolate

Whether enjoyed straight up or as the foundation for milk-based drinks, Stumptown’s Hair Bender is a must-try for serious espresso drinkers, while its versatility makes it a great all-around coffee that you can brew in any number of ways and still be exceptional.

Temple Coffee Roasters – Dharma Espresso Blend 

Northern California-based Temple Coffee Roasters adheres to the simple principle that “great coffee is not an accident” and only results from meticulous sourcing and masterful roasting. Temple Coffee Roasters hits the mark if the Dharma Espresso blend is any indication.

Composed of coffee beans hailing from farms in Brazil, Guatemala, and Ethiopia, the Dharma Espresso Blend presents a fascinating palette of richly satisfying flavors and characteristics:

  • Fruit-forward notes include dried cherry
  • Hints of chocolate and maple syrup provide a natural sweetness and syrupy texture to this espresso
  • Warm, earthy tones are reminiscent of baking spices and add depth to the complex flavor profile

Overall, the Dharma Espresso Blend provides a top-shelf espresso experience that is sure to please even the most discriminating consumer. But its approachability and ease of brewing are the qualities that make it a must-try espresso option for anyone looking to expand their coffee horizons by trying something new. 

If you live or work in the greater Sacramento area, then be sure to visit one of Temple Coffee Roasters’ eight retail cafe locations to experience its Dharma Espresso Blend up close and personal. But even if you don’t, great espresso is only a mouse click or smart device tap away.

Trade Coffee – Espresso Subscription 

Trade Coffee Selection

If you find yourself experiencing option anxiety from all the espresso choices in front of you, then signing up for a subscription with Trade Coffee is a great stress-free option for sampling a variety of espressos. Trade Coffee specializes in individually curated coffee subscriptions that ship out selections based on your preferences.

Trade Coffee’s espresso subscription comprises a diverse collection of espresso beans from over 40 coffee roasters. The proprietary algorithm used by Trade Coffee’s platform ensures that espresso shipments conform to the qualities you expect from your beans. Here are some of the ways that you can personalize your espresso shipments:

  • You can specify the roast color from light-medium to medium to medium-dark to dark roast
  • Indicating your preferred flavor notes, such as berry, citrus, chocolate, nut, and vanilla, will allow Trade Coffee to select espresso beans that align with your tastes
  • If you are partial toward coffees from a particular region or a specific country, you can provide this information
  • Processing methods can heavily influence the flavor profile of espresso beans, and you can choose from washed, natural, honey, pulped natural, and wet hulled
  • Another parameter you can use to custom-tailor your espresso subscription is specifying what certifications you want your espresso beans to carry, such as Fair Trade or Kosher

If you elect to go with a monthly shipment of espresso beans, based on Trade Coffee’s current roster of roasters, you can expect a steady supply of espresso lasting nearly four years. (You can also hand-select the coffee companies you want to purchase from if the prospect of trying out over 40 different espressos seems a bit daunting.)

Why Do the Beans Matter for Espresso?

Technically speaking, espresso is a type of coffee beverage prepared in a specific way. It is the unique method of preparation that truly distinguishes espresso from coffee.

Coffee is most commonly brewed by methodically pouring or spraying hot water over a bed of coffee grounds. In such cases, the gentle interaction of the coffee particles swimming in hot water creates a mixture that extracts aroma, flavor, and body. This liquid collects in a receiving vessel (usually a cup or pot), and there you have it – coffee.

Espresso, on the other hand, requires a far more extensive process for its preparation. The main difference is the forcible nature of espresso brewing. Espresso is made under an enormous amount of pressure. Hot water is forced through a compacted bed of finely ground particles to extract flavors and attributes you would not find in brewed coffee.

Here are some of the unique qualities that make espresso such an extraordinary beverage:

  • The typical serving size is one ounce (single shot) or two ounces (double shot)
  • An integral part of an espresso is the thick, persistent layer of foam that lies on top of the liquid – this is the crema, and no properly made espresso should lack it
  • As far as the liquid portion of espresso, it is intensely flavored with sweet notes of caramel or toffee, and a syrupy, viscous texture that coats the tongue as it is sipped

Espresso is an incredibly complex beverage that packs a myriad of unique flavors and qualities into a tiny one or two-ounce serving.

While you could technically prepare espresso with any type of coffee bean, only beans that have been roasted, and sometimes blended, for the specific purpose of brewing espresso, will yield the exquisite characteristics that make espresso such a profound drinking experience. Traditionally, espresso is a dark roast coffee which blends well with milk. However, modern espresso is now made with medium to light roasted coffee as well.

Where To Buy Espresso Beans From

Espresso beans can be purchased from a variety of places. The first is the supermarket. Buying espresso coffee beans from the supermarket is convenient and often cheaper. However the trade-off is that the coffee is not very fresh. Coffee should be treated like produce, it is best brewed fresh, usually within 2-4 weeks of roasting. However unlike produce it won’t actually go ‘off’ and because of this supermarket coffee can sit on the shelves for months, going stale long before you go to brew it.

The second place you can buy coffee from is your local coffee shop. Coffee shops often sell the coffee they serve so you get a change to try before you buy. The coffee is also fresh, especially if they roast their own espresso coffee beans.

Finally, you can purchase coffee online. This has become a popular option, allowing you to sample a variety of coffees. If you are buying direct from a roaster the coffee is very fresh, typically shipped the next day. When buying online you can also get some good deals.

What To Look For When Buying Coffee

We have compiled a basic guide below of things to consider when buying coffee.

  • Buy Fresh- It is always best to buy fresh coffee. Coffee degrades quickly and loses a lot of its flavor profile. Ideally, you want to buy coffee that has been roasted in the past 2 weeks. If a bag of espresso beans does not have a roast date on it, chances are it was roasted a long time ago and it is best to avoid. This is a problem if you are purchasing coffee from the supermarket which usually has a best before date on the bag but not a roast date.
  • Buy Whole Bean Coffee- There are several advantages to buying whole bean coffee and grinding your own beans. Whole bean coffee lasts longer and offers better value for money. In addition, when brewing espresso, grind size is very important. Grinding your own coffee beans with an espresso grinder allows you to dial the coffee in precisely for a perfect shot.
  • Origin Matters- The country of origin has a big impact on the flavor of the espresso beans. As mentioned above, each country features unique tasting notes. When purchasing coffee, it is helpful to buy traceable coffee, that shows where the coffee is from, so you can learn about the different tasting profiles. Popular countries include Brazil, Colombia and Ethiopia.
  • Roast Level- Finally, the roast level will impact the flavor of the espresso beans. Espresso is traditionally brewed with a dark roast coffee, with more bitterness. However, speciality coffee is moving more towards medium to light roasts which highlight the origin notes and acidity more.

Best Espresso Beans-Final Thoughts

Whether you have been a lifelong espresso drinker or are a newcomer to the espresso scene, there is a growing number of espresso options out there, each offering its unique take on what this magical elixir can offer. Any one of the eight espresso beans listed above is a great place to start on a new and exciting espresso journey. However, ultimately it comes down to personal preference. It is worth trying out a few different brands to find out what types of espresso beans you like.

Where shall you begin?