After hours of carefully selecting a grinder for consistency. Weeks of experimenting with pounds of coffee beans to get the right grind coarseness. Thousands of YouTube videos watched to master your tamping technique.
It all comes down to one extraction.
And… bleh. This coffee tastes like dirt.
The moral of this all too familiar story is: you need to pick the right espresso beans to make all your painstaking espresso efforts worth it!
If the name “Death Wish” doesn’t grab you, believe me, the espresso bean will. This is by far the most complete dark roast coffee that you can get in order to achieve an authentic espresso taste at home.
At Coffee Dorks, we spend a considerable amount of time tasting (drinking) coffee and we certainly stand still behind our top choice for espresso bean. Mind you, this USDA certified organic and Kosher bean is among the strongest. But, at the end of the day, this is how we like our espresso shots.
What is Considered an Espresso Bean
Traditionally, dark roast beans are considered “espresso beans” but that’s a bit misleading.
Any bean can be an espresso bean!
If you see beans labeled as “espresso roast” or “espresso beans” that usually means it’s a dark roast.
But there’s nothing stopping you from using a lightly roasted bean.
What makes a bean suitable for making espresso is its quality, freshness, and how it’s processed. Step 1 is to pick a good bean (we’ve covered that below). Step 2 is the beans need to be finely ground, evenly distributed and perfectly extracted.
Instead of finding the “perfect bean for espresso”, you can just as easily adjust your extraction time and grind size to suit.
For example, dark roast beans tend to be strong flavored, moderately oily and quite bitter. You can use a fine grind and quick extraction time as the oils will easily extract. Over-extraction here would make your coffee too bitter.
Light roast beans, on the other hand, are dry rather than oily with sweet and delicate flavors. A super fine grind will help the coffee oils extract better, and you may even want to extend your extraction time to help those flavors develop.
We favor dark roasts for our espresso as we’re aiming for a small shot of very strong coffee with intense flavors, but medium-dark, medium, and even some light roasts can be just as delicious if you know how to adjust your process.
NOTE: The beans we have listed here, are not just for commercial machines. As a matter of fact, they can go with any home espresso machine that costs under $500, maybe even less.
List of Best Espresso Beans
Dark Roast Espresso Beans
Dark roast espresso beans have been roasted intensely. The darkest beans can almost be charred or burnt. This reduces the acidity and original flavors that the bean is characteristic for while increasing the bitterness and enhancing that roasted flavor.
Death Wish Whole Bean Coffee
- Origin: Arabica and Robusta beans from India and Peru
- Type: blend, very dark, reminiscent of a French roasting style
- Taste: smooth and intensely strong with notes of chocolate and cherry
Although the exact origins of the blend of Fairtrade, USDA organic certified beans is unknown, we do know for a fact that this is the world’s strongest coffee. Death Wish’s espresso beans are supremely dark and intense with a serious amount of caffeine.
However, the whole beans are surprisingly smooth with low acidity and noticeable notes of chocolate and cherry that cut through the bitterness. It’s certainly strong, but not overpowering.
The roasting method is a Death Wish secret, but the resulting dark beans that are perfectly bold without a single burnt note have us guessing at perhaps a French or Italian style roast. There’s no roast date on the bag, which is disappointing, but they still taste fresh as they come from within the US.
These are ideal for your morning espresso; make a ristretto first if you’re not used to very high caffeine content. A double espresso made with Death Wish beans will knock your socks off!
- Origin: beans from Brazil, Indonesia, and El Salvador
- Type: blend, medium, and dark roast beans
- Taste: sweet, creamy, and smooth with sharp and rich aftertastes
The Shot Tower espresso beans blend from Verena Street currently combines beans from Brazil, Indonesia, and El Salvador. But what we really love about Verena Street is that they’re not afraid of changing the blend with the seasons to maintain that high-quality flavor. Substitutions will be made throughout the year to keep those cupping notes tasting consistent.
There’s an expiration date but no roast date on the bag. Verena Street offer a 100% satisfaction guarantee if you should open a bag of stale beans.
The individual beans are roasted separately in Iowa to compliment the natural flavors. The combination of medium and dark roasts gives this blend the characteristic bitter, low acidic taste combined with sweeter and creamier notes from the medium roast beans. Delicious!
The creaminess of this bean transforms into a very smooth, silky crema on your espresso. This espresso bean blend wows you with a classic and creamy flavored espresso rather than a taste explosion.
Koffee Kult Coffee Beans
- Origin: beans from Columbia, Guatemala, and Sumatra
- Type: blend, dark roast in small-batch roasters
- Taste: rich and smooth with a heavy, full body and bright notes of cinnamon
Koffee Kult’s 16 and 32oz bags of dark roast beans are freshly roasted just before they’re packaged in small batches. This reduces the time between coming out of the roaster and hitting your kitchen coffee grinder, for a fresh taste. Cupping notes for this blend feature the typical heaviness, richness and slight bitterness you’d expect from a dark roast, coupled with bright notes and cinnamon flavors.
Each blend is full of Rainforest Friendly specialty grade sourced beans (Koffee Kult work directly with the coffee growers and farmers) that are hand roasted in the US in small batches.
There’s a certain warmth to this coffee blend from the notes of cinnamon and brightness that we adore. It translates well into your espresso cup but also blends very well with milk-based drinks. We’d be happy to enjoy a latte made with Koffee Kult dark roast.
Koffee Kult Whole Bean Coffee
- Origin: organic beans from South America and Indonesia
- Type: blend, Micro-Roasterie dark roasted beans
- Taste: bold and smooth with notes of caramel and chocolate
One of the freshest blends we tried. Stone Street use a “micro-roasterie” in Brooklyn, NYC, to provide a very fresh yet dark roast. Their organic dark roast blend is made from organic beans from South America and Indonesia – unfortunately, there’s no specific info on where exactly in South America these beans are from, perhaps Brazil for those caramel tones?
One little touch that we particularly liked was the 1-way de-gassing valve on the bag. It does nothing for the flavor of the coffee, but it certainly extends the life of your beans. As you’re only using a small amount of coffee for espresso, having a good way to store your beans is essential. Kudos to Stone Street!
The chocolate and caramel notes are subtle and counteract the bitterness from the dark roast – but don’t mistake this for a sweet coffee. It’s still got a bold and silky-smooth body that creates a well-balanced espresso with minimal aftertaste.
Kicking Horse Dark Roast Coffee
- Origin: Arabica beans from Indonesia and South America
- Type: blend, dark
- Taste: bold, sweet, and smoky with notes of chocolate, malt, molasses and licorice
Although Kicking Horse doesn’t advertise their Kick-Ass dark roast for espresso use, the natural bean flavors greatly compliment espresso. These beans have a very bold flavor with a distinct smokiness that leaves a great earthy aftertaste. Hints of chocolate, malt, and molasses are delicate but noticeable – you might also find notes of licorice too, but with a cold brew or French press method.
The dark roasted beans from Indonesia and South America (nowhere more specific is mentioned) are shade-grown, organic, Fairtrade and even Kosher. They’re roasted in the Canadian Rocky Mountains for freshness which deepens the slight bitterness and completely eradicates any acidity or sourness.
This was our favorite blend from Kicking Horse. Their other dark roast blends, 454 Horse Power and Grizzly Claw, have distinctly different flavors. So, if you find you like the freshness and level of roast of Kicking Horse coffees, definitely give those a go too.
Coffee Bean Direct
- Origin: Arabica beans from Guatemala
- Type: single origin, French, dark, slow-roasted immediately before packaging
- Taste: intense, smooth and full body with notes of toasted nuts and cinnamon
One of the few dark roast beans with a medium-high level of acidity. The slightly oily Guatemala beans are picked from the volcanic southern regions of the country. They have a sharp, clean finish with a lemony acidity that breaks through the intense coffee flavor and full body.
The slow, French roasting method intensifies notes of toasted nuts and cinnamon without burning the beans or destroying that citrus acidity that sets it apart from all other dark roasts on our list.
It’s a very bold cup, second only to the Death Wish beans, but with a more complex flavor profile with spicy and nutty tastes. Absolutely delicious in espresso but very strong. You can tone it down a bit by using a French press or other brewing methods. It also makes a great dessert coffee thanks to that acidity and freshness!
Our only concern is that there’s no certification whatsoever for these beans, not even organic.
Medium Roast Whole Beans
This is the roast you’ll be most familiar with. Medium roast beans tend to be the most balanced of all the roasts. A good medium roast will have sweeter notes than a light roast, but a brighter acidity and less bitterness than a dark roast. With flavors that won’t overpower the palate and often delicious aromas, it’s no wonder the medium roast is our favorite breakfast coffee.
Lavazza Crema e Aroma
- Origin: Arabica beans from Central and South America, with Robusta beans from Africa
- Type: blend, medium Italian (intensity ranked 8/10 by Lavazza)
- Taste: intense, dark and earthy flavor with a mellow aroma
The best medium roast bean we found was from Lavazza, the Italian coffee brand. The Crema e Aroma beans are blended and roasted far away in Italy, so although your beans arrive fresh they do tend to go stale sooner than US roasted beans (if the 2lb bag lasts that long).
The founder of Lavazza first thought of the idea of blending coffee beans from various origins. Although this blend contains Robusta beans, we were thoroughly impressed with the resulting flavor palate. It’s almost melt-in-the-mouth.
Ideal for espresso, this non-GMO coffee tastes divine with milk-based beverages. The mellow aroma compliments the milk rather than standing boldly against it. Even without milk, the thick and creamy crema that these beans produce creates a well-balanced espresso shot.
You might also find chocolate notes, but we found these very delicate in our espresso. These beans are also great for the Moka brewing method.
Blue Horse Kona Coffee Beans
- Origin: Kona beans, Hawaii
- Type: single origin, medium verging on light.
- Taste: a mellow and smooth body with hints of spice
Very expensive but very worth it! Kona coffee is in high demand, so expect to pay extra to enjoy Kona’s espresso beans. Grown on the slopes of Moana Loa, Blue Horse source their Kona beans from a single estate where the beans are grown herbicide and pesticide free, handpicked and sun-dried. Peaberry also available.
This coffee is certified Kona, not blended and not mislabeled. The coffee is government checked and Coffee Dork approved!
Roasted fresh when you order a bag (as you’d expect for the price), the roast level is near the light end of the medium roast scale. This prevents the Kona bean being overly sweet and hones your palate onto the rich flavor and complex aroma.
The mellow and smooth body creates a very nice and creamy crema.
We thoroughly enjoy a Kona espresso, but generally, save it for special occasions. Like a fine wine or bottle of champagne, you might not want this all day every day.
Medium, Dark, or What?
Medium dark roasts are often slightly oily and carry through the more delicate aromas and notes that you’d pull out with a medium or light roast. They also cut down on the acidity, like a dark roast, but may still have a slight bitterness. The best of both worlds.
The medium dark roast beans is a good one to start with if you’re undecided. You might find that you prefer the sweet notes to the bitter notes, or vice versa, so you can adjust your roast choice accordingly.
Cafe Don Pablo Signature Blend
Don Pablo’s blend of non-GMO Arabica beans from Central and South America create a very smooth espresso with low acidity and noticeable chocolate tones. Don Pablo is part of the Sharing Certified program with over 1 million coffee plants in South America. The artisan small-batch roasting (in a USDA approved roasting facility) gently caramelizes some of the coffee bean sugars to give a sweeter aftertaste.
It’s packed into foil-lined bags with CO2 valves, to keep the coffee fresher for longer. A nice touch.
The medium dark roast creates a light oil that extracts beautifully into a mellow crema on your espresso. The full body compliments milk-based espresso beverages but we found that it’s just right for a black espresso shot too.
There’s no hint of bitterness or acidity in this roast, so don’t expect it to pack a punch. This is a full-bodied coffee with gentle flavors that caress your palate rather than creating a flavor explosion.
Cafe de Loja Specialty Beans
At 6200 feet on the slopes of Ecuador’s mountains, coffee beans are handpicked for Café de Loja. The strictly high grown beans have a medium, full body, an intense aroma, and fruity notes. Despite having a crisp, almost refreshing flavor from the fruity notes, there’s no hint of bitterness or sourness.
The beans are wet-processed and dried before being roasted to a medium-dark color. They have a light oily appearance, but less so than the Café Don Pablo.
They make a fantastic, everyday espresso. Nothing too overpowering, but strong enough that you really taste those coffee flavors. You’ll notice that the price is a little easier on your wallet, yet the taste easy competes with the other big coffee names on this list like Koffee Kult and Blue Horse.
How To Choose Espresso Beans
First of all, you should only be considering whole beans. There’s really no point going to all this effort to buy a home espresso machine and choose the perfect flavored beans if you’re just going to buy pre-ground.
The flavor is noticeably poorer, and nothing really beats grinding your own coffee in the morning. It’s part of the ritual.
If none of our best espresso beans selections caught your eye, or you’re just having trouble narrowing down your favorites list, here are a few key things to look for when you shop.
Use the below as a general guide:
Central and South America
Sweet, acidic and a light body.
Notes range from chocolate to caramel to nuttiness and citrus.
Medium acidity and a medium body.
Notes are varied and exotic from fruity and winey to fresh, floral and citrusy.
Asia, Indonesia, and Pacific Regions
Low acidity and a heavy body.
Notes are usually earthy with hints of berry.
Espresso Beans Price
Price varies greatly.
Arabica beans will always be higher quality, and therefore a higher price than Robusta.
Our cheapest bean on the list is Coffee Bean Direct’s Guatemalan single origin coffee at around $16 per 2lb. The most expensive is, of course, the Blue Horse Kona coffee at around $86 per 2lb.
Those are really your 2 extremes.
Most good quality coffee beans on this list fall between $20 and $40 per 2lb.
You’ll be able to make about 110 cups of coffee from that!
In general, a single blend will have simpler flavors, while blends will have more complex flavors that interact.
It all comes down to personal taste. When you’re creating a very strong espresso, having just one overpowering flavor can be a bit much or it can be exactly what you’ve been craving.
Of course, there are exceptions to the rule, like Kona coffee which is naturally a very complex and rich single origin bean.
Both can be absolutely delicious. If you find having just one note or flavor in your coffee to be overpowering, a blend can be a great way to mellow those flavors out.
On the other hand, a blend can go disastrously wrong if one bean has a change in flavor (which does happen with extreme weather and as the seasons change) but the coffee provider doesn’t adjust the blend to mix. With poorly blended coffee beans, you’ll also find it harder to lock down a consistency. The grind size that makes a perfect espresso from one batch, may be awful from another batch with a slightly different ratio of beans.
Variety is the spice of life, so if your favorite coffee goes downhill just look at it as a chance to try something new.
A very important date that far too many coffee roasters leave off their bags. The closer you are to the roast date, the better.
In a poorly sealed container, you really need to use those beans within 2 weeks of the roast date. If you’ve snagged a bag with a degassing valve, coffee can stay fresh for around 6 months.
Find a coffee provider that roasts beans as orders are placed (not in advance) and send them out in bags with degassing valves, and you should find your coffee is incredibly fresh.
Enjoy this list of top quality espresso beans and always remember, it is never the beans! Just like it is never the wood, but the carpenter.
Anthony is a professional barista in the city of Chicago. He has written for many online publications on various topics related to coffee.