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As the contemporary coffee movement has shown us, our favorite morning beverage is endlessly variable, as complex and nuanced as our wine choices at dinner time. Espresso is a luxury that requires special roasting techniques to bring out the best in each green coffee for this extraction method, and these seven roasters offer the best espresso beans, each of which represents a wide range of styles and roast levels.

Espresso coffees are often blends (rather than single-origin coffees), as different green coffees contribute different elements to the espresso shot. For example, coffees from Brazil tend to offer body and nuttiness, while Colombia’s often add structure and chocolate notes, depending on roast levels, and Ethiopia’s contribute distinct fruit notes.

Historically, espresso beans were considered best when darker-roasted, but that stereotype has changed with the third-wave coffee movement, which leans toward medium and lighter-roasted espresso styles. Pulling espresso shots at home — dialing in grind size and coffee-to-water ratio correctly — is tricky and dependent on your machine, but it’s a worthy endeavor in pursuit of the best morning espresso drinks, from a straight shot with perfect crema to a cappuccino with latte art.

All the best espresso beans are available for online ordering and home delivery, so it’s easy to try coffees roasted outside your local area. Here are our picks for making the best espresso drinks in morning, noon, or night.

Our Top Picks

Best Overall Espresso Beans: Red Rooster Flight Seasonal Espresso

Size of Package: 12 ounces | Origin: Guatemala, Colombia, Sumatra, Ethiopia | Processing: Washed, Natural, Wet-Hulled |  Freshness: Roast-Dated  | Ground VS Whole Bean: Whole-Bean |

Pros


  • Balanced
  • Seasonally variable
  • Good value
  • Compostable packaging
  • Beautiful bag art

Cons


  • Bags provide minimal oxygen barrier

Why we chose it: Red Rooster’s Flight Seasonal Espresso is always on point, despite seasonal component rotation — balanced, deep, juicy and bright.

In the heart of rural Virginia, Red Rooster Coffee Roaster has built a specialty coffee brand over the last decade that leads with community-mindedness, sustainability, and transparent sourcing of green coffees. Its Flight Seasonal Espresso is always a delight, combining washed and natural-processed coffees to craft a blend that is both richly chocolaty and vibrantly fruit-forward. The price is excellent for the quality, and the artist-designed bags, unique to each coffee, add a touch of whimsy. It’s also available in a subscription series and five-pound bags that come with extra savings.

Best Classic Dark-Roast Espresso Beans: Counter Culture Forty-Six

Size of Package: 12 ounces | Origin: Peru, Ethiopia | Processing: Washed, Natural | |  Freshness: Roast-Dated  | Ground VS Whole Bean: Whole-Bean |

Pros


  • Balanced
  • Consistent perennial profile
  • Good value
  • Compostable packaging
  • Transparent sourcing

Cons


  • Bags provide minimal oxygen barrier
  • Stores often stock older roast dates

Why we chose it: One of Counter Culture’s darker-roasted coffees, Forty-Six is an ideal espresso blend for those who like gentle acidity and viscous, creamy body.

Founded in 1995, Counter Culture is one of specialty coffee’s third-wave pioneers and, remarkably, is still an independent brand. The Durham, North Carolina-based coffee roaster is a Certified B-Corp, and the company is well-known for its creation of positive working conditions, as well as innovative sustainability programs at origin. Forty-Six is a workhorse blend, chocolaty and nut-toned, that lends itself well to espresso format, though it does not bear the label of espresso on its bag.

Best Value Espresso Beans: Intelligentsia Black Cat

Size of Package: 12 ounces | Origin: Brazil, Colombia | Processing: Honey, Washed | Freshness: Not Roast-Dated | Ground VS Whole Bean: Whole-Bean |

Pros


  • Inexpensive
  • Balanced
  • Chocolaty

Cons


  • Inconsistent Brazil components
  • Not roast-dated

Why we chose it: Intelligentsia’s very affordable espresso blend is medium-roasted, not too dark and not too light, and its dark chocolate throughline expresses itself boldly in milk-based espresso drinks.

Intelligentsia was founded in Chicago in 1995 but is now owned by JAB Holdings. Quality has remained high, and the brand’s coffee is now available on Amazon. (Of note: bags are not roast-dated, so you can’t be sure how fresh the beans are.) Known for its creamy nuttiness and round acidity, Black Cat Blend has been a flagship since the brand’s inception.

Best Classic Italian Espresso Beans: Paradise Roasters Espresso Classico

Size of Package: 12 ounces | Origin: Brazil, Colombia, Ecuador, Thailand | Processing: Natural, Washed | Freshness: Roast-Dated | Ground VS Whole Bean: Whole-Bean |

Pros


  • Affordable
  • Classically balanced
  • Richly floral

Cons


  • Packaging isn’t compostable

Why we chose it: While Paradise Roasters is known for its rare microlots, its Espresso Classico nails the classic Italian profile with the ideal amount of bittersweetness and fruit-forward profile.

Miguel Meza, Paradise Roasters’ founder, scours the world for high-quality green coffees that are under the radar, and he’s also prone to experimentation in processing. But the Espresso Classico evokes the familiar aromas and flavors of a shot of espresso in a coffee bar in Florence — gently fruity, richly cocoa-toned, and sweetly herbaceous.

Best Organic Espresso Beans: Mr. Espresso Organic Neapolitan Espresso

Size of Package: 12 ounces | Origin: Not disclosed | Processing: Not disclosed | Freshness: roast-dated | Ground VS Whole Bean: Whole-Bean |

Pros


  • Affordable
  • Certified Organic & Fair Trade
  • Deftly darker-roasted

Cons


  • Blend components not identified on bag
  • Packaging isn’t compostable

Why we chose it: Oakland, California-based Mr. Espresso’s Organic Neapolitan Espresso is made in the Italian tradition — bittersweet, chocolaty — and is also certified both organic and fair trade, making it a good choice for espresso drinkers who appreciate the official designation.

While many coffees are grown organically because farmers can’t afford pesticides and fungicides, organic certification is expensive, and Mr. Espresso has gone the extra mile. Fair Trade certification ensures that farmers are paid a fair price for their green coffee. The Organic Neapolitan Blend is one of Mr. Espresso’s staples, offering both value and quality. Blend components, which likely rotate seasonally, are not identified on the bag.

Best Women-Owned Espresso Beans: Mother Tongue Coffee Bittersweet

Size of Package: 12 ounces | Origin: Brazil, Colombia | Processing: Natural, Washed | Freshness: not Roast-Dated  | Ground VS Whole Bean: Whole-Bean |

Pros


  • Affordable
  • Deftly darker-roasted
  • Chocolaty

Cons


  • Packaging isn’t compostable
  • Processing isn’t identified

Why we chose it: Mother Tongue is the total package: ethically sourced coffees that are versatile and balanced for any use. 

After roasting coffee for Intelligentsia and Blue Bottle, 2019 U.S. Cup Tasters Champion Jen Apodaca set off on her own to launch Mother Tongue in Oakland, California with the notion that trust is the center of all good relationships and that coffee needed to be a part of that narrative. Her goal is to offer customers affordable, ethically sourced coffees whose stories she is proud to tell. Her Bittersweet Blend is roasted to a perfect medium-dark and intended to balance bitter and sweet impulses. The seasonally rotating coffees she chooses from throughout Latin America meet work well in both straight shot and milk-drink formats.

Best Omni-Blend Espresso Beans: Nostalgia Coffee Roasters Glory Days

Size of Package: 12 ounces | Origin: Mexico | Processing: Washed | Freshness: Roast-Dated | Ground VS Whole Bean: Whole-Bean |

Pros


  • Women-Farmed
  • Affordable
  • Balanced
  • Compostable Packaging

Cons


  • Bags provide minimal oxygen barrier

Why we chose it: Glory Days is a single-origin dark roast, perfect in espresso or drip format, that is a Nostalgia Coffee flagship for its depth, satiny mouthfeel, and gentle acidity.

Founder Taylor Fields turned a mobile coffee truck into a successful brick-and-mortar shop on the cutting edge of specialty coffee in San Diego. She sources everything from the classic to the wildly experimental and offers it to customers without an ounce of pretension. Glory Days is a menu anchor — some customers prefer a bold pour-over (maybe even with a splash of milk) or a sweetly tart straight shot of espresso. This coffee goes both ways, making it a perfect choice for omni-brewing at home.

Features to Keep in Mind When Shopping for Espresso Beans

Roast

Espresso roast levels range from new-wave light to classic dark. The lighter the roast profile, the higher the perceived acidity level (expressed by a bright juiciness) and more delicate fruitiness, while darker roasts tend to bring out notes of chocolate, caramel, and nuts, offering a gentler, rounder perceived acidity.

Whole Beans vs Grounded

Because roasted coffee begins oxidizing as soon as it’s ground, you should choose whole beans if at all possible. However, espresso preparation at home requires a burr grinder, more expensive than handheld blade grinders. Click here for grinder reviews: https://www.saveur.com/best-coffee-grinders/

Country of Origin

Coffee from any growing region in the world can be roasted as espresso. Coffees from two or more origins are often blended for espresso formats, as each origin contributes different properties to the final espresso. Click here for some recommendations for roasters that offer coffee subscriptions: https://www.saveur.com/best-coffee-subscriptions/

Package

Packaging remains pretty standard across the board, with the main goal of protecting the beans inside from sunlight and air inside of a bag. These days, many roasters choose compostable packaging for their coffees instead of landfill.

Organic Certificates

There are many coffee certifications, including organic and fair trade, and these are noted on the bags.

Ask the Experts

Q: What are the strongest espresso coffee beans? 

The strength of espresso depends on how it’s brewed, i.e., the water to coffee ratio. Using less water results in the stronger, more concentrated flavor of a shot of espresso. Adding water, like in an Americano, will dilute the flavor, though the level of caffeine will remain the same. 

Q: Are espresso beans the same as coffee beans? 

Yes, espresso beans are coffee beans roasted for espresso applications. You may use any beans for espresso with that in mind, though it may not produce the same shot of espresso you’re used to drinking.

Q: Can I use regular coffee beans in an espresso machine? 

Sure, but the grind size will be different from other brewing methods. Espresso requires a fine grind to extract the flavors and aromas from the beans. 

Q: Is drip coffee stronger than espresso? 

The strength of any coffee depends on the water to coffee ratio. In terms of caffeine, a one-ounce serving of espresso contains more caffeine than a cup of drip coffee, simply because of the volume. 

Q: Why do I like espresso but not coffee? 

People who prefer espresso over drip coffee tend to prefer more intense, concentrated flavors. The texture is also different, with a creamier mouthfeel as a result of the method used to make it.

Q: Can I drink a cup of espresso without milk? 

Yes, a straight shot of espresso, served in a demitasse cup without milk, is a classic way to enjoy espresso. Drinks made with espresso, like lattes, come with steamed milk.

Our Take

There are many styles and roast levels of espresso beans available from all over the world. Our favorite is Flight Seasonal Espresso from Red Rooster Coffee Roaster in Floyd, Virginia, for its balance, depth, and seasonal variety.

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