Top 7 Best Coffee Beans For Espresso Machines Reviewed
Whether you're a cappuccino or an americano lover, espresso is still at the heart of nearly every popular coffee drink in the world. A solid espresso shot relies on the barista's skill, the roast, the grind, and a thousand other things. Still, no roasting, grinding, or pulling talent can make a poor bean taste good. Today we invite you on a tour of the best espresso beans that can only be made better and taste sublime in any drink of your choice.
Before we pick each entry apart, here's a quick overview of our selection.
Best Espresso Coffee in 2021: Everything You Need to Know
Espresso is not the name of a coffee bean variety, but rather a unique brewing method. In layman's terms, espresso is a drink that results in pushing steam through the finely-ground and densely-packed beans at high (9 to 15 bars) pressure. Unlike other brewing methods, espresso uses a higher coffee-to-water ratio that ensures its powerful, intense taste. Besides, espresso is a relatively fast approach, as steam passes through the grounds in 30 to 40 seconds, and the shot is ready for drinking in a couple of minutes.
While many espresso lovers claim they achieve a much-needed energy boost after a shot, the caffeine content in espresso is, in fact, lower than in coffee brewed in a French press or a drip coffee maker. Espresso does come with a higher per volume unit caffeine amount, but the tiny portion negates this advantage. You'd have to go for a double shot to receive the same caffeine fix as you'd get with an average-sized coffee mug.
Espresso roasts are another common point of contention. Some snobs believe that dark roast is the only possible option. However, the physics behind this brewing method proves you can use any roast. In fact, omni-roast (the same level of roasting for different brewing methods) is common among professional baristas. For instance, Scott Rao believes roasters should care more about their coffee being drunk black or with milk and sugar than the brewing method.
What Sets the Best Espresso Beans Apart?
- Mild acidity. The lower temperature of the water passing through the grounds, and the dense packing can often lead to under-extraction. As a result, many espresso shots taste sour. Roasters try to compensate for this acidity with darker roasts, making medium to dark roasting traditional for espresso. Despite this common misconception, light roasts with mild acidity can result in a perfect short too.
- Fine grinding. The lightning-fast extraction is only possible because of the enormous surface area of the finely ground beans. Load coarse ground into your espresso maker, and you will receive weak, tinted water instead of a delicious shot. If your machine doesn't come with a grinder, it's worth investing in a professional device equipped with burrs that can produce fine powder perfect for espresso.
- Low oil content. Don't believe the pundits claiming oily shine equals fresh beans. It can be quite the opposite, and your grinder, whether built-in or not, will not thank you for using the oily varieties. The excessive oil will clog the burrs and make you waste hours on cleaning and maintenance every week.
- Powerful taste. You love espresso for its punchy energizing quality, and only the beans with intense palate can ensure you get what you're looking for. Besides, if you want to treat yourself to a latte or a cappuccino once in a while, you'll want the flavor to shine through the milk and sugar.
Our Top 7 Picks for Espresso Coffee Brands
Lifeboost Coffee Organic Espresso Review
- Nicaragua-grown arabica beans
- Medium roast
- Clean processing to prevent mycotoxins and mold contamination
There's no way you haven't heard of this brand and its mission by now. The company promises the cleanest and safest coffee you can get on the market and supports the claims by a research of Brazilian beans contamination. The single-origin arabica beans are grown in the shade of Nicaragua's mountain forests and processed by a hybrid of wet and dry methods to prevent mold and induce strong flavor and aroma. The beans are USDA organic and pesticide-free, but more importantly, they possess a smooth taste with moderate acidity and full body. This combination of features makes them a good fit for both hardcore espresso drinkers and those who prefer their java with milk and sugar.
The medium roast whole bean variety is only available in 12 oz bags, and the price might seem a bit steep. However, there are subscription options to lower the price and ensure you never run out of your morning energy boost.
The reviews are somewhat divided. Some buyers commend the taste and quality of the bean, especially when brewed in an espresso machine. Others claim the flavor is mediocre at best, comparing it to diner coffee. While the experience might vary depending on the batch, the refund guarantee is there to ensure you get your money back if you don't enjoy this product. Still, it pays to stay on the safe side and start with a single bag rather than splurging on bulk order.
Coffee Bros Espresso Coffee Beans Review
- A blend of Colombian and Ethiopian arabica
- Medium roast
- Vanilla, sugarcane, and strawberry notes
While the company entered the market in 2019, it quickly accumulated an army of supporters and fans. The java aficionados enjoy this delicious medium roast blend that combines the mellow Colombian notes with powerful Ethiopian nuances. Together, two varieties of arabica beans form a vibrant palate with sweet notes of sugarcane and vanilla and the subtle acidity of strawberries. The careful small-batch roasting ensures the beans save their best characteristics without introducing undue bitterness into the mix. As a result, this blend is perfect for espresso and espresso-based drinks, including latte and cappuccino.
The freshly roasted beans are packaged in airtight bags within minutes to preserve the flavor and aroma. The bags are equipped with a degassing valve to ensure the beans can safely release gas and achieve brewing readiness. Besides, the packages can be resealed, which is perfect if you don't have an airtight container on hand. Finally, each bag comes with a "roasted on" date, so you know for sure how fresh the beans are. And the company promises to reimburse you in case you receive a package that's been roasted over three months ago, which is a sure sign of quality customer service.
Considering the superb flavor and quality packaging, it's no surprise most buyers are ecstatic about this variety. However, some note the exceeding acidity, which might be a result of under-extraction. The taste might seem too mild for some espresso lovers, as the blend is understated rather than intense. Still, this is our top recommendation among the seven varieties on this shortlist.
Volcanica Ethiopia Yirgacheffe Review
- Harvested mostly from wild arabica trees
- Medium roast
- Notes of strawberry, lavender, and guava
Well-known to true coffee enthusiasts, the Yirgacheffe region produces remarkable beans, and this variety does them justice. The full-on arabica single-origin bean is harvested mostly from wild coffee trees populating the volcanic mountainsides above the 3,000 feet mark. The unique growing conditions infuse the beans with a rich, sweet flavor. Once brewed, the sugary notes of strawberries, guava, and lavender come to the fore. And the aftertaste boasts an addictive combination of chocolate and wine nuances. You'll never want to be without a cup of this mouthwatering drink.
The beans are medium roasted to preserve the bright flavor nuances and bubbling acidity without masking them with the bitterness of the dark roast. Packaged immediately after roasting, the coffee is sealed in a bag with a degassing valve and a "roasted on" date at the bottom. You can buy your beans by the pound or splurge for a 5-pound bag. And while the whole bean version is always best for preserving freshness, you can order espresso grind (French press and drip grinds are also available) to save yourself some time before brewing.
According to reviews, the company is struggling to find the perfect roast for these exceptional beans. The buyers are alternatively complaining about the roast being too light and producing a weak flavor or being too dark and resulting in a scorched taste in the cup. The freshness of the roast is another point of contention, as some customers receive their orders two months after the roasting date leaving a small window to enjoy the full potential of the beans. Despite all that, the number of positive reviews is overwhelming. You'll have to give it a try to make up your mind and add your feedback to the conversation.
Kona Coffee Peaberry Review
- Dark roast
- Made with 100% Kona peaberry beans
- Smooth and powerful taste
Only 3 to 5 percent of Kona coffee is peaberry, meaning this variety includes one of the most sought-after beans on the planet. The tiny oval-shaped seeds of the coffee cherry are choke-full of flavor and aroma, producing a rich crema and delicious espresso. Despite the dark roast, this variety is not bitter at all. Instead, the coffee is smooth and rich, with full body and velvety texture. The intense flavor is perfectly suited for both espresso and milk-based drinks, as well as a variety of brewing methods.
The freshly roasted peaberry beans are packaged into 8 oz and 1-pound bags before being shipped to you within days or weeks to preserve freshness and produce consistently powerful taste. The one downside of this particular variety is the exorbitant price. For the cost of the tiny 8 oz bag, you could get three 1-pound packages of quality coffee. Still, the peaberry beans are so rare that the price is understandable. If you want to give the "Champagne of Kona" a try, go for it, though you might not want to make it your regular bean or you might go broke.
Lion Coffee French Roast Review
- Dark roast
- Bold, aggressive flavor
There are plenty of believers that dark roast suits espresso best, and this variety might just be your perfect bean for a morning energy kick. Unlike many contenders on our shortlist, these 100% arabica beans are bold, aggressive, punchy. It's an energizing single-origin coffee for those who want their cuppa with a bit of attitude.
While not as popular as other varieties, Lion has been roasting coffee since the late 19th century. After the company moved to Hawaii in 1979, they have hooked thousands of people on the unique combination of local beans and talented roasting. Some buyers remain loyal to the brand and this particular product for nearly 40 years. That sort of dedication means it's a coffee worthy of taste-testing, don't you think?
The beans are packaged in 10 oz and 24 oz bags and are surprisingly affordable, compared to other island brands (see Peaberry above). While we recommend purchasing your beans whole and grinding before brewing, the company offers the ground version of the same bean and roast too. Finally, you can set up a subscription and get the java goodness delivered to your doorstep every two, four, or eight weeks.
Kicking Horse Best Espresso Beans Review
- Medium roast
- Blackcurrant and milk chocolate notes
- Affordable price for a 2.2-pound bag (1 kg)
There's no way to tell exactly where the beans for this unique blend come from. Still, the combination of African, Indonesian, Central and South American arabica makes for a great morning cuppa with a significant kick. The medium roast (though some reviews claim it's closer to a dark roast) brings out the best qualities of top-shelf coffee. The resultant flavor is smooth, silky, and complex, with intermingling notes of blackcurrant, milk chocolate, and wildberry syrup. From your first sip to the last drops, this coffee is a pleasurable experience.
While espresso is the optimum brewing method for this variety, it's also recommended for French press, pour-over, cold brew, and drip machine enthusiasts. Pleasant and smooth when black, this coffee pairs nicely with milk and sugar for your macchiato, cappuccino, and latte. However, milky drinks may seem a bit too sweet for those who're used to more bitter and acidic varieties.
Another point in favor of this blend is the dedication to ensure the coffee is good for drinkers, growers, and our planet. The company relies on Fairtrade, organic beans to ensure top quality and sustainability. The roasting facilities are hidden in the Canadian Rocky Mountains, and the beans are sold in 2.2-pound bags (1 kg). As most quality-conscious producers, Kicking Horse uses airtight bags with one-way degassing valves.
Lavazza Super Crema Best Overall Espresso Beans Review
- Arabica and robusta blend
- Medium roast
- Smooth flavor with notes of brown sugar and hazelnut
This blend is among the Amazon bestsellers for a reason. With over 120 years of blending and roasting experience, Lavazza sure knows how to make every espresso lover swoon. This variety uses a mix of Colombian and Brazilian arabica with a healthy dose of robusta from Vietnam and Indonesia. Aside from keeping the price extremely affordable, this combination ensures strong, mouthwatering aroma, full of honey, almond, and dried fruit notes. Meanwhile, the medium roast produces a smooth taste with hazelnut and brown sugar nuances. The addition of robusta beans is also a sure way to a delicious, thick crema to top off your espresso shot.
The beans are blended and roasted in Italy, in a nut-free facility. However, Lavazza is a huge manufacturer with extraordinary production volume. As a result, their attention to detail is not on par with tiny artisan roasters. There was a batch of coffee bags back in 2018 contaminated with rocks that got plenty of horrible reviews. Some buyers complained about the damaged grinder burrs and espresso machines. The situation has improved since then, but you should still be careful when dosing the whole beans for grinding.
While a 2.2 pound (1 kg) bag is a steal, it is not the best choice when it comes to bean freshness. Besides, you might receive a bag several months after the roasting date, which is not optimal for true espresso snobs.
The Verdict. What Are the Best Espresso Beans?
This time it was especially difficult to make a decision. All seven contenders on our list are great, each in its own right. Some are lauded for being organic and clean, others rely on the exclusivity of the peaberry beans. There's even a blend of arabica and robusta that's impossible to compare to 100% arabica varieties. Besides, our list is far from exhaustive. For instance, we didn't even have the place for Koffee Kult Dark Roast coffee beans and other solid options.
Still, we believe Coffee Bros to be the best whole bean espresso. While the company is extremely young, especially when compared to coffee giants, like Lavazza, it's already won over the hearts of thousands. We believe the secret of the popularity lies in small-batch roasting of Colombian and Ethiopian Arabica beans to bring out vanilla, sugarcane, and strawberry notes. With no excessive acidity and bitterness, this is a top-notch espresso bean that's also great for milk-based drinks and other brewing methods. The promise to reimburse any buyer receiving the beans after three months of the roasting date is another sure sign of quality, in our books.
Remember, this is a subjective opinion, and you're always welcome to share your thoughts and opinions.
Should I Invest in Single-origin Espresso Beans?As you might know, single-origin beans are harvested in prime growing locations and are usually more expensive than blends. The latter are cheaper because they include mass-produced coffee from Brazil, Colombia, or Vietnam. Single-origin varieties usually possess a unique palate and aroma, setting them apart and making them recognizable to an experienced coffee enthusiast. Some experts believe you should only use single-origin beans for espresso, while others convince you of the opposite. We won't take sides and insist you pick what you like. Remember that roasting and grinding have a huge impact on the taste, and the fast extraction in espresso machines makes it much more prominent. If you like a particular blend in a French press or cold brew, try using it in your espresso maker, and you might enjoy it even more. At the same time, we urge you to experiment with the best for espresso on our list, as they are usually blended and roasted with the specifics of high temperature and pressure extraction in mind.
Why Are Italian Espresso Brands so Popular?Espresso is an Italian invention, as the first machine was patented at the end of the 19th century by Angelo Moriondo. He developed an automatic device to extract the most intense coffee flavor from the finely-ground beans by a combination of high temperature and pressure. With over a hundred years of espresso brewing experience, Italian brands specialize in roasting and grinding the beans to fit the specific needs of espresso machines and espresso enthusiasts. That's why the names of Lavazza and Illy are so well-known. However, with the rise of small roasting shops, large brands are slowly losing their market share. You should definitely give them a try if you haven't already, just to learn what the classic Italian espresso should be.
Where to Buy Espresso Beans?Most manufacturers have online stores, so you can order your beans straight from the source. Some even offer subscription plans that we've mentioned above. It's a great way to ensure you're never out of your favorite beans. Amazon is another obvious option, especially if you're looking for free shipping or seasonal deals. Finally, you can simply follow the links in this post to secure the best coffee deals we've managed to find online.
What Are the Best Coffee Beans for Superautomatic Espresso Machines?The answer depends on many factors, including your taste, the espresso maker model, and your budget. Let's unpack a couple of crucial issues to ensure the best flavor and the longevity of your kitchen appliances. First, whole beans are the preferred option when it comes to superautomatic coffee makers. Most models come with built-in grinders with multiple settings, so you can finally get that elusive, powdery espresso grind. While many models come with pre-ground bypass chutes, the taste will never be the same, and the added maintenance is usually a pain. Second, the beans should not be too oily. Otherwise, excessive oil will clog the grinder and make the coffee undrinkable. Once again, that's unnecessary added maintenance and a risk for your espresso machine. Unfortunately, there is no way to tell how your gadget will deal with a particular variety until you load it in. That's why you should always start with a small batch and ensure your machine can handle it before committing to a large bag or a subscription.