Best Espresso Beans: Our Review on Which Beans Make the Best Espresso

best espresso beans

At Black Ink Coffee, we know that nothing can beat a great espresso shot which is why we take great pride in putting forward the best espresso beans possible. The rich, crema-filled flavor hits your taste buds, and the caffeine rushes through your veins almost instantly.

Now, it doesn’t seem hard to pull a perfect shot, but some small things often get overlooked, like the coffee bean that you use. In this guide, we will discuss what makes a great espresso, the types of beans used and how our espresso blend at Black Ink is a cut above the rest.

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What Makes a Great Espresso Bean

espresso shot

The most important thing in a perfect espresso shot is the bean. You can use regular coffee beans for your espresso, but we recommend a dark roast that was specifically designed for espresso. Roasters keep espresso beans darker than other coffee beans, so they give a richer flavor.

If you can see the oil shining on the outside of the bean, it may have been overly roasted. When the oils leak out, you’re losing flavor and body from your espresso.

Of course, if the beans are aged, they may become oily as a natural part of the aging process. Just remember: there’s a difference between a dark, full roast and being burned. Typically, an oily espresso bean means you’re getting a balance of flavor and acidity.

Espresso shots are used to make coffee drinks like cappuccinos and lattes. Since you’re adding milk to these drinks, you want a stronger roast that will counteract the creaminess of the milk. 

The best coffee for espresso will come from fresh beans. Look for coffee that has a roast date within one to four weeks and never keep your beans in the freezer (unless you want them to lose their flavor!).

Types of Espresso Beans

espresso beans

In addition to knowing the qualities of the best coffee beans, you should know about some of the different types of espresso beans. The one you favor will depend on your taste but learn about them all, so you can make the right choice.

There are predominantly two kinds of coffee beans: Arabica and Robusta. There are different subtypes of coffee branching off from each of these. Some blends, especially those that prioritize caffeine, will contain a mix of both.

Arabica Espresso

arabica espresso

If you’re looking for full flavor espresso shots, Arabica beans are the better choice. The beans themselves are sweeter, containing almost twice as much sugar as Robusta beans. There are dozens of varieties of Arabica beans.

Arabica beans are grown in rainy conditions, which gives them a higher oil concentration. This means they’ll produce a great crema and richer flavor than Robusta beans. The oils add different aftertastes to the espresso, such as fruity, creamy, or tart.

The oils in Arabica beans also influence the aroma the beans give off when brewing. Robusta beans give off a typical coffee smell. Using these beans for espresso can give off rich scents with sweet undertones.

Arabica beans have consistent flavor across batches because they come from a self-pollinating plant. This consistency will help you pull perfect shots because you’ll become familiar with the bean in practice.

All of these factors that elevate the flavor and aroma of Arabica beans increase the price accordingly. These beans are more expensive than others on the market and are often seen as “superior.”

Robusta Espresso

robusta espresso

If you’re using espresso shots to make a cappuccino or latte, Robusta beans can also give you a great flavor. A shot made of Robusta beans will taste bitter on its own, but it provides a good foundation when you add milk and flavors. 

Robusta beans have more caffeine than Arabica. This could go both ways as an advantage or disadvantage, depending on your caffeine tolerance. The additional caffeine of the Robusta beans contributes to its bitter flavor, so it’s worth considering the flavor and caffeine trade-off.

Robusta plants are easier to grow than Arabica plants, so the beans are more affordable. The plants are hardy and can endure harsher conditions while still making good espresso. Since Arabica plants require so much care, the beans will be more expensive.

As with anything, you have to make a choice depending on what’s important to you. Do you want more of a caffeine buzz from your espresso? Choose Robusta. Do you want to pull a rich, flavorful espresso shot with quality crema? Buy Arabica.

Single Origin Espresso

single origin espresso

Single origin coffee comes from one specific location. That means the flavor of the beans you brew benefits from the area’s climate and soil quality. Most coffee trees are found in the Equatorial zone, also called “The Bean Belt.” Over 50 countries produce coffees that vary in taste and quality depending on growing conditions.

Brewing single origin coffee beans will help you pinpoint exactly what you like. Blends can muddy your tastes because you can’t be sure that you like a certain type of coffee. With single origin beans, you’ll be able to understand how climate influences aspects like the beans’ oil concentration.

Fans of single origin espresso beans are often compared to wine connoisseurs. Wine tastes different depending on where the grapes were grown. Coffee beans also vary according to location. Buying single origin beans gives you a chance to compare and contrast the flavors that come from different regions.

You’ll be able to take full advantage of flavors in single origin coffee if you drink it black. If you like milk based coffee drinks, the creaminess might mask the beans’ natural taste. That being said, single origin coffee isn’t necessarily better than blends. Any fresh coffee is going to taste great, regardless of whether you can trace where it comes from or not.

Blend

espresso blend

Blends refer to two types of coffee that are mixed. They can be blends of Arabica and Robusta beans or blends of the same strain of coffee that comes from different regions. Buying blends can be more affordable, especially if they mix Robusta and Arabica, but it’s also a great way to get balanced flavors.

Blends of coffee that come from different places can be as subtle as beans from different altitudes on the same farm. It can also refer to beans grown in different areas or even different countries. Many espresso blends combine the best of both worlds: Arabica and Robusta. You’ll get the flavor profile of Arabica beans with the caffeine boost of Robusta. 

In general, blends are great ways to customize your coffee preference. You can blend beans to balance the acidity and richness of stronger coffees into something more palatable. Plus, if you enjoy multiple flavor profiles, say dark chocolate and caramel together, a blend can deliver the perfect cup of coffee for your preferences.

Omni Roast

omni roast

While Arabica, Robusta, single origin, and blend refer to the espresso coffee beans themselves, Omni roast refers to the roasting method. Typically, coffee beans are either light roast, medium roast, or dark roast.

Light roast coffee is best used for pour over or even cold brew coffees (surprisingly). Medium roast coffee is the most versatile in terms of brewing methods. It has a great flavor regardless of whether you use it in a Moka pot, a percolator, or a French press.

Dark roast coffee is typically used in espresso machines. It can make a strong drink in a Moka pot or French press, though, so it’s worth playing around with. At Black Ink, our espresso coffee beans are are dark roast blend of 100% organic origins.

Many coffee lovers think that each type of coffee bean needs its own roasting method for optimal brewing. This means beans used for French press should be roasted differently than beans used for espresso.

Omni roasters believe that any coffee that has been roasted well can be satisfactorily used for different brewing methods. If the beans were properly roasted, the brewing method would only heighten certain aspects of the taste.

A French press can spotlight the beans’ dark undertones, while espresso might showcase the citrus notes that would otherwise remain hidden. When you use Omni roasting, you can often taste the following aspects of the beans:

  • place of origin
  • distinct flavor profiles
  • balance of richness
  • balance of color (not too light or too dark)

A growing trend in roasting is to light roast beans to prevent flavors from burning away with a darker roast. Unfortunately, the resulting flavor of light roasts is somewhat sour and weak. It might taste okay from a coffee machine because it takes longer to brew, but you'll need to take caution if you are trying to use these coffee beans for espresso.

For many coffee roasters, this proved that the type of roast mattered. A light roast should be used in coffee machines while a dark roast is for espresso machines. However, omni roasters realize there’s a balance between the two.

A farmer’s job is to grow the best beans possible. The work then falls to the roaster to find the perfect roast to highlight the natural flavors of the bean. If the roaster does their work correctly, then the barista can use any method of brewing to get the best cup of coffee from the beans.

Fairtrade

fairtrade espresso

Fairtrade isn’t exactly a type of espresso bean. It refers to the ethical way farmers are compensated for their beans. It’s easy for companies to pay farmers an amount that seems like a lot to them but isn’t much in American dollars. 

Companies that are Fairtrade pay farmers in other countries what they would have to pay for the same beans in America. This ensures the farmers will be able to support themselves and their families while still providing coffee to other countries.

Fairtrade also works to improve working conditions on international coffee farms. The companies reinvest their profits into changing the fertilizers and chemicals used on the plants and endangering the health of farmers. 

Remember, not all coffee companies are Fairtrade, and not all Fairtrade coffee companies sell espresso beans. While we try to stick with Fairtrade coffee when we can, some of the best coffee beans come from farms that don't have the ability to offer Fairtrade coffee.

Organic

organic espresso

Fairtrade applies to the financial component of buying coffee from producers. Organic applies to the coffee beans themselves.

Organic coffee ensures that the beans you use are grown in natural conditions. The farmers don’t use chemical fertilizers, pesticides, or insecticides on their crops. This not only improves the taste of the beans but also causes less damage to the environment.

Organic coffee beans are healthier for you because they’re exposed to fewer synthetic pollutants. You’ll be able to taste the difference because the bean will taste like pure coffee instead of being hindered by chemicals.

Just like with Fairtrade coffee, not all coffee is organic. Not all organic coffee brands offer espresso beans on the market, either.

Finding the right espresso bean can take time and effort. At Black Ink, we’ve worked hard to refine our palettes, so you know you’re getting the best espresso beans.

Why Choose Black Ink Espresso

black ink espresso

Black Ink Coffee is a veteran-owned coffee subscription service. You can order a fresh coffee subscription and never worry about running out of coffee. You’ll get a new bag every week, two weeks, three weeks, or month.

Choose from a variety of whole bean and ground coffees, including pods to use in your single-serve coffee makers. Staying true to our veteran roots, we proudly run Operation Caffeination. Your support of Black Ink makes it possible for us to send a care package to a deployed military unit.

We make our Espresso Blend from dark roasted, oily beans that provide maximum flavor. You’ll taste hints of dark chocolate and honey nuts in this smoky brew. You can order this as whole bean coffee or in bags of ground beans.

If you think our blend will be too strong, consider trying blonde espresso. These beans are a lighter roast that has a sweeter flavor. While it has a smoother mouthfeel, this type of espresso still packs just as much caffeine as a darker roast (though you may need to use more to get the same kick per cup).

What Is Espresso Crema

espresso crema

When an espresso shot is perfectly pulled, you’ll see a thick, creamy foam on top. That’s called crema, and it adds a slightly sweet aftertaste to your espresso. Crema forms when air bubbles combine with the coffee bean’s oils. 

Fresh beans produce the best crema because the oils are still active after being roasted. Some dark roasts have excess oil that can clog coffee grinders. Some light roast beans might be too weak to produce a perfect crema. It’s best to choose an espresso roast because they’ll have the oils you need. 

If you create too much crema, you’ll have less espresso to enjoy. There’s a delicate balance between crema and espresso, with the ideal amount of crema being about one-tenth that of the espresso.

Crema can have different colors that mean various things. Colors can show the type of roast you used for the shot. A light crema might mean that you under-extracted your shot. Different colors can represent problems in the consistency of the coffee grounds.

Baristas have practiced pulling a shot with the ideal crema that isn’t too thick or too thin. In competitions, the goal is to have the crema sit on top of the shot for about two minutes before it dissipates.

Crema that drops in less than a minute is a sign that you extracted the shot too fast. If you use a light roast coffee bean, you might not get as rich of crema as you’d like. If there’s no crema on your espresso, you might have brewed stale beans.

Crema is an aspect of espresso that divides people. Some coffee drinkers love what crema adds to the robust flavor of espresso. Others think it tastes too bitter and coats the tongue, so you miss out on the espresso’s natural flavors.

Pulling a shot with no crema isn’t the end of the world. Some people love the taste that a good crema adds, but your taste might vary. There are so many small factors that influence crema, but you can still get a flavorful shot of espresso without it.

What Is Espresso Powder

espresso powder

Espresso powder isn’t your father’s instant coffee. This powder is extremely dark and concentrated. You can dissolve them into hot water for a quick espresso shot, but it might not suit your taste buds.

Bakers use espresso powder to flavor desserts. The intense flavor levels up the taste of chocolate in any baked good. You can even use espresso powder to season meat before you fire up the grill. 

You can buy espresso powder in a jar or make your own. After you brew espresso, spread the grounds on a baking sheet and dry them out in the oven. Use a low temperature because you’re just trying to dry them out, not roast them again.

Once you have dry espresso, grind them in a coffee grinder until they turn into a fine powder. You can also use a blender or food processor for this step. You’ll be left with espresso powder you can use to flavor meats and desserts. 

Tips to Make the Best Espresso

best coffee for espresso

Finding the best espresso bean is key for pulling a good shot, but there’s more to it than that. In addition to having a bean that was prepared correctly, you want to grind it very finely. The finest grind of beans will survive the pressure and heat of the espresso machine.

If you’re using an espresso machine with a single wall basket, you have to grind your beans as finely as possible. A quality grinder will make micro-adjustments to ensure you’re getting the finest grinds possible.

Using a pressurized portafilter means you have a bit of leeway with your espresso grounds. You don’t even have to grind it yourself! You can buy coffee that’s labeled as “espresso” and be confident that these grounds will be fine enough for the portafilter.

Tamp your espresso grounds into a puck. The espresso machine will heat the water to 200 degrees Fahrenheit. It then uses anywhere from 9 to 15 bars of pressure to push the water through the grounds.

It sounds like a lot of work, but a good espresso machine can extract a shot in 25 seconds or less. You’ll seriously want to time your machine because less than 20 seconds means weak espresso, and more than 25 seconds means it will be bitter.

You might be used to preparing a pot of coffee to brew and walking away for ten minutes or more. That brewing process is different from an espresso machine, so it takes longer. The heat and pressure used for espresso make the resulting coffee stronger than what you’d get from a drip percolator. 

A single shot of espresso consists of 1.5 ounces of water being pushed through one tablespoon of coffee grounds. A double shot is three ounces of liquid pushed through two tablespoons of coffee grounds. Though a double shot requires and produces more coffee, it doesn’t take any additional time to brew.

The ideal espresso shot will have three layers:

  • the heart, which is the dark brown base
  • the body, which is the middle layer
  • the crema, which is the slightly sweet foam on top 

To ensure you’ll get a great shot, keep your espresso maker clean and preheat it before you brew. Use fresh coffee beans that you grind right before you intend to use them. Tamp the grind evenly and carefully to give the machine a solid puck to work its way through.

If your shots aren’t coming out right, adjust the grind first. Getting the right grind will ensure your brewing time hits the mark. This will make it more likely that the rest of your shot will go smoothly.

Once you learn how to pull a great espresso shot, you can practice the craft until it suits your taste. You’ll also be able to use it as the base of cappuccinos and lattes, which you can customize with frothed milk and flavored syrups.

FAQ

There’s a lot to learn about the best espresso beans and how to pull a perfect shot. You might feel overloaded right now, but you most likely still have some lingering questions.

What Beans Make the Best Espresso?

espresso shotsThe best espresso beans are a finely ground blend. Medium-dark and dark roasts have higher oil concentrations, which help them have a full flavor. These roasts will extract quickly, so you’ll get the best shot in the 25-second window.

Medium roasts can be adjusted to give your better results. You can use water at a higher temperature to ensure it will extract more coffee flavor in the short brewing time. 

Darker roasted beans are richer and will give you more flavor within that short time. It will also have less acidity than espresso made from light roasts, which can taste tart.

That being said, you can finely grind coffee beans for espresso. The resulting shot might not be as dark and rich as one made from espresso beans, but you’ll get to experiment with the process and taste. Buy the best coffee beans if you’re going to try this method.

Are Coffee Beans and Espresso Beans the Same?

coffee beans vs espresso beans

Yes and no. Coffee beans and espresso beans are the same, but the way they’re prepared is what makes the difference. Espresso beans are traditionally roasted to be darker than the standard coffee beans and extracted with a lot of pressure.

How you grind and prepare the beans also influences the flavor of your coffee drink. Espresso ground coffee is very fine. Coffee beans can be ground coarse or fine, depending on what machine you’re using to brew them.

Espresso makers use more pressure to quickly make a concentrated coffee drink. Standard coffee makers take a longer time to make more coffee, usually with the slow immersion or dip brewing technique. The resulting coffee doesn’t have as rich a flavor as espresso. 

You can use any coffee beans for espresso, but the resulting shot might taste tart and it may not punch through milk very well. You also may not get quality crema from a shot made using coffee beans, especially if they have not had a chance to age.

What are the Best Espresso Beans to Buy?

black ink espresso beans

We don’t like to brag, but Black Ink Espresso Blend has the best espresso beans around. You’ll get an oily bean that has smoky, dark chocolate flavors. If you want an espresso shot that’s going to give you the maximum jolt of caffeine, you can’t go wrong with our Espresso Blend.

Using espresso blends ensures you can use your shot in a variety of ways. It will be smooth enough to drink straight and result in good flavor. It will also be strong enough so you can use it in a milk-based drink without losing its taste.

What Espresso Machine should you use?

lavazza

There are many espresso machines on the market. You can find small machines for use at home and larger machines for commercial use. Just as there are so many differences in the espresso beans themselves, there are different types of espresso machines.

When you’re buying an espresso machine, think of what features you want it to have. If you only want to pull espresso shots, you can buy a small, basic machine. If you want to splurge, you can get a machine that has a built-in grinder, capable of automating your day!

Some machines have milk frothers and steam wands so you can pull an espresso shot and then make a cappuccino or latte. A few can even make iced coffee in addition to hot drinks. The level of control over the shot itself may vary, but you’ll be able to find the right machine for your needs.

The size of espresso machines varies greatly depending on these special features. Make sure you have room in your kitchen for the one that suits your needs.

Verdict

There’s a lot to learn about coffee beans, espresso beans, and the nuances of pulling a perfect shot. As you know by now, it all starts with buying the freshest and best espresso beans possible. This guide should give you all the basic knowledge you need to craft your drinks. Make sure you keep plenty of Black Ink Espresso Blend on hand as you practice this skill and enjoy your caffeine buzz.

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