Best Espresso Beans: My 10 Current Favorites

Hi! My name is Arne. Having spent years working as a barista I'm now on a mission to bring more good coffee to the people. To that end, my team and I provide you with a broad knowledge base on the subject of coffee.

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I have to say I've been procrastinating about writing this guide to the best espresso beans. I mean, with so many options available, who am I to say which are the best coffee beans for espresso? Plus, everyone has different tastes and opinions on how a good espresso should taste.

I have to say I’ve been procrastinating about writing this guide to the best espresso beans. I mean, with so many options available, who am I to say which are the best coffee beans for espresso? Plus, everyone has different tastes and opinions on how a good espresso should taste.

With that in mind, I’m going to offer a disclaimer of sorts: in this article you’ll find a curated list of what I currently consider to be the best beans for espresso. What’s more, I’ve tried to include a wide range of options and styles from both small-batch roasters and large companies.

So, if you don’t find what you consider to be the best coffee for espresso on my list, it doesn’t necessarily mean it shouldn’t be there. It’s just that I couldn’t include every roaster in this guide!

Best Beans for Espresso at a Glance

Here’s a sneak peek at the espresso beans I bought to test out for you.

1Product List Image

Medium roast

Sustainably sourced

Complex and full-bodied

2Product List Image
Best Italian-Style

Lavazza Super Crema

Blend of Arabica and Robusta

Medium roast

Notes of brown sugar and hazelnut

3Product List Image

Light roast

High-quality Kenyan beans

Notes of tropical fruit and honey

4Product List Image

Always consistent

Medium roast

Notes of lemon, chocolate and dried fruit

5Product List Image

Medium-dark roast

Ideal for milk drinks

Notes of dark chocolate and molasses

6Product List Image

Medium roast

Sustainably sourced

Notes of dark chocolate and stone fruit

7Product List Image

Dark roast

Great value

Notes of chocolate and brown sugar

8Product List Image

Medium roast

Washed and natural process blend

Notes of chocolate and stone fruit

9Product List Image

Italian-style blend

Great with steamed milk

Notes of caramel and molasses

10Product List Image

Blend of Colombian coffees

Medium roast

Notes of cacao and dark fruit

Regular Coffee vs Espresso Beans: Is There a Difference?

I’m fairly sure I brought this up in my guide to making the perfect espresso. Still, it bears repeating: There’s no such thing as an espresso coffee bean. In fact, you can make espresso with any type of coffee beans you like.

Sure, many people imagine that the best beans for espresso feature a super dark roast profile. However, it’s now more common to find cafés pulling shots using medium roast blends. Plus, if you visit a trendy third wave coffee shop, don’t be surprised if you’re offered a choice between an espresso blend and a light roast single-origin.

Ultimately, if a roaster labels its coffee as an espresso blend, that means the folks responsible for crafting it have done so with espresso preparation in mind. In other words, they’ve selected a specific combination of beans to produce a complex, sweet and full-bodied shot. 

Choosing the Best Espresso Beans: What to Consider

Before we get to my list, let’s take a look at a few things to look for when selecting the best beans for espresso. As I said earlier, everyone has different tastes, so it’s a good idea to narrow down your options by considering at least some of the following factors.

Roast Level

Fellow Opus Filling in Beans

We can never thank the Italians enough for gifting us espresso. I mean, the world would be a lot less fun without it. However, traditional Italian-style espresso blends have always featured a super dark roast profile.

That’s all well and good if you prefer a bittersweet, smoky flavor profile – plenty of people do. Still, I tend to think that a medium roast profile works best for espresso.

It might sound kinda weird, but I like to compare roasting coffee with cooking onions. In essence, what you’re trying to do is slowly caramelize the natural sugars in a raw product until you’ve created something sweet and complex.

Take things too far and you’ll burn the sugars, resulting in potentially unpleasant flavors.

Ultimately, it’s a fine line, requiring a lot of skill on the part of the roaster. However, I’d say there’s a range within which coffee can be roasted for espresso. At the lighter end of things, your shots will be bright, floral and complex. On the other hand, a slightly darker roast will offer more body, chocolate notes and a pleasant bitterness.

With all that said, I recommend trying a bunch of different espresso blends until you find a roast profile you prefer. Oh, and if you usually drink espresso with steamed milk, choosing a darker roast is usually a safe bet.

Single Origin vs Blend

As I pointed out earlier, you can make espresso with any coffee beans. And as the specialty coffee scene has grown and diversified, single-origin espresso has become more popular than ever.

To be honest, I pushed back at the idea of using single origin coffee to prepare espresso at first. In my mind, it simply wasn’t possible to create a complex, multi-faceted shot without blending multiple beans together.

However, I’ve since come around to the idea that single origin espresso can be incredibly tasty and interesting.

But, like most folks, I prefer pulling shots with a blend. That’s because you’ll always get a more full-bodied and well-balanced espresso from a blend that’s been crafted to produce a full range of complex notes.

Arabica vs Robusta

Espresso Bottomless Portafilter

If you’ve read my Arabica vs Robusta post you’ll know that Robusta has been overshadowed by its more refined counterpart for years. Although there are plenty of good reasons for that, some folks have been reassessing Robusta of late.

And while the majority of Robusta coffee beans produced are substandard to say the least, some specialty Robusta is starting to emerge.

Anyway, the majority of espresso beans you’ll encounter will proudly display a “100% Arabica” label. Still, traditional Italian espresso blends usually contain a sprinkling of Robusta. That’s because this coffee species is high in caffeine, low in acidity and helps produce aromatic crema. And it doesn’t hurt that Robusta is a lot cheaper than Arabica.

Ultimately, I have nothing against an espresso blend containing a little Robusta. That is as long as the roaster hasn’t gone overboard. If that’s the case, the resulting caffeine jitters can get pretty unpleasant!

Freshness

I shouldn’t have to tell you that buying freshly roasted beans is always the way to go. Reputable coffee roasters will always include a roast date on their packaging, but try to avoid coffee beans with a best before date.

Personally, I like to buy direct from the coffee roaster seeing as they’ll often roast your beans to order. So, if you’re buying coffee beans on Amazon try and find those that come direct from the vendor.

At this point I should mention that your coffee beans can be too fresh for espresso preparation. In this case, the carbon dioxide that accumulated in the beans during roasting hasn’t had a chance to escape. So, when you try to pull a shot there’ll be too much gassy crema bubbling out of your portafilter spouts.

The solution is to let your espresso roast coffee beans “rest” for a few days before using them. In fact, many professionals will tell you that espresso blends taste best after five days and up to two weeks after roasting.

Incidentally, don’t forget to store coffee beans in a suitable canister, no matter how fancy the bag they arrived in might be!

The 10 Best Coffee Beans for Espresso

OK, let’s get into the details of my pick for the best espresso beans. Incidentally, I used a couple of different affordable home espresso machines during my tasting sessions, and always used the Baratza Sette 30 to grind the coffee. So, nothing fancy by any means.

Put simply, it’s possible to get fantastic results using home barista equipment as long as you’re willing to experiment a little. Besides, a little trial and error is always part and parcel of espresso preparation!

Herkimer Coffee Espresso Blend

Herkimer Coffee Espresso Blend Beans
  • Roast Level: Medium

  • Origin: Central and South America, Africa

  • Tasting Notes: Citrus, chocolate, graham cracker

While plenty of specialty coffee roasters in Seattle’s burgeoning specialty coffee scene attract nationwide attention, Herkimer Coffee flies somewhat under the radar. This small specialty roaster has been quietly doing its thing since 2003, continuously nurturing long-lasting relationships with producers from El Salvador to Yemen.

As a result, Herkimer Coffee offers some truly spectacular single origin coffees, as well as an espresso blend that’s beloved by those in the know.

Comprising an expertly crafted blend of coffees from the Americas and East Africa, Herkimer’s signature espresso is complex, full-bodied and sweet. I picked up dominant notes of sweet pie crust and dark chocolate, as well as citrus and red fruit on the finish.

Featuring a medium roast profile, Herkimer Coffee Espresso Blend is equally delicious as a straight shot as it is with a dash of steamed milk. In fact, I’d say the espresso macchiato I enjoyed during my testing was one of the best I’ve ever had. Now that’s really saying something!

Lavazza Super Crema

Best Coffee Beans on Amazon Lavazza
  • Roast Level: Medium-dark

  • Origin: South and Central America, Indonesia

  • Tasting Notes: Hazelnut, brown sugar

I decided to include Lavazza Super Crema on this list for a couple of reasons. Firstly because I know how popular Italian-style espresso blends are, and secondly because this coffee represents really good value for money at $22.18 for a 2.2-pound (1-kilogram) bag.

Listen, you guys know I always try to stay away from mass-market brands like this. However, if you do end up having to buy coffee in the supermarket every so often, Lavazza Super Crema is worth checking out.

As I already mentioned, this is very much an Italian-style espresso blend, right down to the inclusion of some Robusta. That said, it’s not roasted as dark as you might imagine. Still, I wasn’t at all surprised by the espresso shots I pulled with this coffee. They were full-bodied, smokey and displayed lots of crema, thanks to those Robusta beans.

Furthermore, I was pleasantly surprised by the complexity on offer. I particularly appreciated the long, sweet finish with notes of hazelnut. Let me tell ya – lovers of Italian coffee won’t be able to get enough of this particular blend!

Verve Coffee Roasters Swara AB Single Origin Espresso

Verve Coffee Roasters Swara ab Espresso Beans
  • Roast Level: Light

  • Origin: Kenya

  • Tasting Notes: Tropical fruit, honey

Verve Coffee Roasters has been getting a lot of attention lately, having been named Roaster of the Year 2024 by Roaster Magazine. It’s easy to see why – this fiercely independent coffee roaster focuses on quality and sustainability across the board.

Still headquartered in Santa Cruz, California, Verve Coffee Roasters now has four cafes in its home state as well as one in Japan. However, the company still maintains the feel of a small scale enterprise.

Verve Coffee Roasters Swara AB Single Origin Espresso has been on my radar for a while, and I just had to give it a go. A light roast blend of exceptional Kenyan coffees, Swara AB is sourced from a single mill near Nairobi.

I’ll admit that I was dubious about being able to pull a good shot of espresso using Kenyan coffee, seeing as it’s notoriously bright and fruity. However, I was pleasantly surprised by the results.

While Swara AB won’t appeal to every palate, those who appreciate delicate, fruity espresso will be in heaven. This coffee truly delivered on its promise of tropical fruit and honey notes, without any hint of sourness. Plus, the coffee’s acidity was pleasant without being overly aggressive.

Stumptown Hair Bender

Stumptown Coffee Roaster Hair Bender Espresso Beans
  • Roast Level: Medium

  • Origin: Latin America, Indonesia, Africa

  • Tasting Notes: Lemon, dark chocolate, dried fruit

One of the original third wave trailblazers, Portland, Oregon-based Stumptown Coffee Roasters is now a household name across the United States. And while Stumptown is now majority-owned by a large corporate holding company, the roaster maintains an impressive business model, focusing on long-lasting relationships and sustainability.

Stumptown Hair Bender is the company’s original espresso blend, developed by founder Duane Sorensen in the late 90s. Comprising a blend of coffees from Latin America, Indonesia and Africa, what’s remarkable about Hair Bender is its enduring consistency. Seriously, I’ve been buying this blend for years, and it tastes the same today as it always has!

Incredibly well-balanced and complex, Stumptown Hair Bender will appeal to those who enjoy straight espresso as well as latte aficionados. I particularly enjoy the citrusy brightness, which compliments the dried fruit and chocolate before providing a long, sweet finish.

Oh, and in case you were wondering, this coffee is named after a beauty parlor that once occupied Stumptown’s first café space.

Onyx Coffee Lab Monarch

Onyx Coffee Roasters Espresso Beans
  • Roast Level: Medium-dark

  • Origin: Colombia, Ethiopia

  • Tasting Notes: Dark chocolate, caramel, molasses

Based in Arkansas, Onyx Coffee Lab is a small-batch roaster that’s been making big waves in the specialty coffee industry. These guys are serious about developing and maintaining a sustainable business and only source high-quality coffee from farmers they’ve worked with on the ground. Plus, Onyx Coffee Lab has developed a solar-powered roastery and packing center.

Before ordering my box of Onyx Coffee Lab Monarch I visited the company’s website to check out the details. I must say, the amount of information about each coffee is quite staggering – these guys are leading the way in terms of transparency.

So how was the espresso I made with the Monarch blend? Well, as a straight shot it was fairly underwhelming. Not bad by any means, but rather flabby and lacking in personality.

Then again, the roaster is explicit in telling us that this blend was crafted to be enjoyed with milk. And after whipping up a latte everything made sense. The addition of creamy milk foam truly elevates this espresso, allowing its caramel sweetness to come to the fore.

Ultimately, I have to say these are easily the best espresso beans for milk drinks on my list.

Intelligentsia Black Cat Espresso

Best Coffee Beans on Amazon Black Cat Espresso
  • Roast Level: Medium

  • Origin: South and Central America

  • Tasting Notes: Dark chocolate, marshmallow, raw sugar

Those of you familiar with the big names in third wave coffee will have heard of Intelligentsia. This Chicago-based roaster has been in the specialty coffee game for decades, and played an integral part in the development of the direct trade movement.

Although Intelligentsia is now owned by a large corporation, the roaster still maintains a high level of quality control and its sourcing and buying practices haven’t changed. In other words, this company pays good money to producers, maintains long-lasting relationships and only sells high-quality coffee beans.

Intelligentsia Black Cat Espresso has long been one of the company’s best sellers and for good reason. While the blend has a medium roast profile, you can expect dark and rich notes of cherry, molasses and chocolate.

During my testing I enjoyed drinking straight shots of Black Cat Espresso, although I wouldn’t say it’s particularly full-bodied.

On the other hand, this espresso blend really shines as the base for milk drinks. Thanks to its low acidity and chocolate notes, I definitely recommend Black Cat for latte and cappuccino freaks.

Blue Bottle Espresso

Blue Bottle Coffee Espresso Beans
  • Roast Level: Medium-dark

  • Origin: Latin America, Central Africa

  • Tasting Notes: Chocolate, nougat, brown sugar

As you probably know, Blue Bottle Coffee rose to prominence during the early 2000s as a big player in the third wave movement. And although the company is now mainly owned by Nestlé, it’s still an industry leader when it comes to fair trade practices.

I included Blue Bottle Espresso on this list seeing as it has a much darker roast profile than the other espresso beans I’ve included. And let’s face it, plenty of folks prefer smoky, chocolatey espresso over something fruity and complex.

In that regard, Blue Bottle Espresso certainly delivers. This blend of certified organic coffees from Latin America and Africa is dark and quite oily, meaning you’re going to miss out on a lot of delicate notes. However, during my testing I was quite surprised by how much I enjoyed the shots I pulled.

As it happens, I was able to extract rich, satisfying espresso with an impressive amount of aromatic crema. And the espresso’s smokiness was tempered by a long, sweet finish.

Of course, Blue Bottle Espresso will pair wonderfully with steamed milk, and I’d go so far as to say it’ll make a pretty decent drip coffee or French press, too.

Presta Coffee Roasters 120 PSI

Presta Coffee Roaster 120psi Coffee Beans
  • Roast Level: Medium

  • Origin: Mexico, Ethiopia

  • Tasting Notes: Chocolate, stone fruit, almond

Tucson, Arizona-based Presta has to be one of my all-time favorite coffee roasters. In business since 2014, these guys still roast daily in small batches and also operate a couple of ultra-cool cafés.

Whenever I’m in the mood for an exotic single origin coffee, I’ll often order from Presta. They feature an ever-changing lineup, often including beans that have been processed in new, interesting and sometimes pretty weird ways.

With all that said, I opted for the Presta Coffee Roasters 120 PSI for the purposes of this guide. After all, it’s Presta’s signature espresso blend, and what they serve in their cafés.

Comprising both fully washed and natural process coffee beans, 120 PSI has a medium roast profile. I find that this espresso blend works equally well for straight shots as it does for milk based drinks. However, dialing in to perfection can be a little tricky.

During my testing I had to experiment with grind size, dose and extraction time, but the effort was worth it. In the end I was rewarded with delicate, complex espresso, with a medium body and syrupy mouthfeel. I also enjoyed notes of milk chocolate and stone fruit.

By the way, if you haven’t yet figured it out, the name “120 PSI” refers to 9 bars – the ideal pressure for extracting espresso. Pretty cool, eh?

Cuvée Coffee Stella Cometa

Cuvee Coffee Espresso Beans
  • Roast Level: Medium

  • Origin: Central and South America

  • Tasting Notes: Caramel, molasses

Austin, Texas-based Cuvée Coffee has been developing producer relationships since the late 90s, making it one of the first direct trade roasters. Aside from this business model being beneficial for the folks responsible for growing and processing coffee, it also means Cuvée can maintain a high level of consistency.

Enter Cuvée Stella Cometa, which is the roaster’s flagship espresso blend. As you might have guessed from the name, which means “Guiding Light” in Italian, this coffee is inspired by traditional Old World blends. That said, Stella Cometa is 100% Arabica coffee and features a medium roast profile.

As with a couple of the other blends on this list, I found Stella Cometa to fall rather flat as a straight shot. Then again, an Italian espresso blend is never my first choice. However, once I’d rustled up a cappuccino or two, I began to truly appreciate what the roaster had been going for with this coffee.

Ultimately, Stella Cometa’s roasty, somewhat medicinal notes work beautifully with the caramelized natural sugars in milk. Let’s call that a win for latte lovers, shall we!

Devoción Toro

Devocion Botica de Cafe Espresso Beans
  • Roast Level: Medium

  • Origin: Colombia

  • Tasting Notes: Cacao, molasses, dark fruit

If you’re looking for the best espresso beans from a company that does things a little differently, consider checking out Brooklyn-based Devoción. These guys not only focus on maintaining high-levels of sustainability, they’re also committed to offering the freshest coffee possible.

And I’m not just talking about roast dates here. As it happens, Devoción sources all its coffee from their direct relationship partners in Colombia. The company also has a coffee processing facility in Bogotá, from where it is flown direct to New York just days after harvest.

In other words, the coffee you buy from Devoción has been roasted less than two weeks after it was picked, which is very exciting.

I decided to buy a bag of Devoción Toro, which is one of the roasters most popular house blends. Comprising a blend of coffees from “Active Harvest” regions, the roast profile is on the darker end of medium.

After spending a while dialing in, I was rewarded with some superb espresso with a beautifully viscous mouthfeel. I particularly enjoyed the Toro’s pronounced acidity, which was elegantly supported by a full, juicy body. Plus, I experienced notes of dark fruit, molasses and almond, as well as a long, satisfying finish.

What else can I say? I’m sold on this wonderful espresso blend!

Final Thoughts

I wish that I could have written a guide to the 100 best beans for espresso! There are simply so many awesome coffee roasting companies out there. However, I feel pretty good about the selections I made and I hope you’ll get to try a few of them. Besides, tasting espresso from 10 roasters has left me feeling pretty sleep deprived, so I think I’ve hit my caffeine limit.

Ultimately, espresso is all about experimentation and having fun, so I encourage you to buy from a different roaster whenever you run out of beans. You might not love every bag you buy, but nothing ventured, nothing gained!

I hope you’ve enjoyed my guide to choosing the best espresso beans. Now it’s over to you. Tell me about your favorite coffee beans for espresso and why you love them. The comments section is all yours!

Your coffee expert
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Arne Preuss

Hi! My name is Arne. Having spent years working as a barista I'm now on a mission to bring more good coffee to the people. To that end, my team and I provide you with a broad knowledge base on the subject of coffee.

More about Arne Preuss

Hi! My name is Arne. Having spent years working as a barista I'm now on a mission to bring more good coffee to the people. To that end, my team and I provide you with a broad knowledge base on the subject of coffee.

More about Arne Preuss

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