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After it’s brewed, a cup of espresso can have around 12% dissolved coffee solids from your grounds. When compared to the mere 2% of traditional coffee, it’s no wonder there’s such a noticeable difference in intensity.
Because so much of the essence of the coffee grounds makes it into the final brew, it’s vital that the beans you use pair well with the brewing process. Not every bean is equal when it comes to espresso.
That’s why we’re here to point you in the direction of some of the best espresso beans to use depending on your personal tastes. Read on for the full low-down on espresso and the beans used to make it.
What makes an “espresso bean”?
So, it’s not actually the beans that make your espresso espresso. It is the brewing process that those beans undergo.The roast, origin, and notes actually have nothing to do with it. However, the grind size, pressure, and temperature have everything to do with it.
For espresso, you’re going to need a very fine grind. These grounds get tamped into a puck. Then, water is heated to about 200 degrees Fahrenheit and a machine uses at least 9 bars (but often as many as 15 bars) of pressure to push the steam through the grounds.
This extraction process should take between 25 and 30 seconds. The high heat, high pressure, and increased surface area allow you to get a very intense coffee concentrate fondly known as espresso.
Thus, what makes a good espresso bean is any bean that complements this style of drink. That means flavorful, Arabica beans and usually with medium to dark roast.
Best High Intensity Beans
Death Wish Coffee
First, if you’re looking for something that’ll give you a serious kick in the bum, these are the beans for you. With double the caffeine of most beans, this dark roast will give you the boost you need for rough mornings and all-nighters alike.
Like Death Wish, Kicking Horse’s beans are organic and fair trade; it’s also Kosher. Sourced from Indonesia, Central American and South America, the brew you get from these is sure to please with an earthy flavor profile featuring notes of chocolate and nutmeg.
Also, 454 is notably well-balanced for a dark-roast and has a velvety mouthfeel and low acidity. It’s not quite as powerful as Death Wish but it will certainly ensure you’re bright eyed and bushy tailed when you finish your cup.
If you want a robust dark roast but are leaning towards a different flavor profile, we recommend Kicking Horse’s ( Kick Ass Dark ) blend. It has a sweeter taste with a bit of smokiness.
Koffee Kult Thunder Bolt
Some people face the unique predicament of wanting a more subtle coffee taste while maintaining a substantial caffeine potency. If that’s the case for you, Koffee Kult’s Thunder Bolt might just do it for you.
While their packaging lacks any official documentation, Koffee Kult’s product descriptions boast sustainability. The beans themselves are sourced from Columbia and Brazil.
The resulting brew is not as high-impact as the other two on the list since it’s a French roast (more on the medium than the dark side). However, Koffee Kult advertises it as one of the most strongly caffeinated blends available.
Additionally, these beans are best for those who have finicky super-automatic machines that get clogged by extra oily dark roasts like Death Wish. You’ll still get some strong caffeination with a heavy body and slightly sweet flavor.
Their Koffee Kult Dark Roast Coffee Beans – Highest Quality Gourmet – Whole Bean Coffee – Fresh Roasted Coffee Beans, 32oz also comes highly recommended and has a slightly bolder flavor, if that’s your preference.
CoffeeBean Direct Italian Roast Espresso
If you’re looking to buy in a more bulk to save on your coffee without sacrificing quality, check out CoffeeBean Direct. This Italian Roast Espresso is a rich, strong brew that stands out at this price point.
Sold in 5lb bags, these whole beans are sourced from South America and India. The company prides themselves on their unique roasting process.
The beans are slow-roasted immediately before packaging, allowing the consumer to enjoy their freshness and flavor. With this full-bodied brew, you’ll get notes of cocoa powder and smoky molasses.
The profile and intensity of these beans isn’t quite as distinct and impressive as some higher-end competitors we’ve listed, they’re a good option for the price range.
Intelligentsia Black Cat Analog Espresso
If you get bored easily but aren’t looking to get the jitters from drinking one of the high intensity beans, Intelligentsia’s Black Cat Analog beans might be for you.
With a mission to revolutionize the way people think about espresso, this blend does not disappoint with its unique brightness. Plus, the flavor profile shifts slightly from season to season as it is a blend.
It has a syrupy mouthfeel and more sweetness than most espresso blends. There are also some chocolate notes that ground the beans with a homey, classic feel.
Stumptown Hair Bender
Another unique option, Stumptown’s Hair Bender beans are a fan favorite and boast one of the most complex flavor profiles on this list.
Stumptown Coffee Roasters Whole Bean Coffee, Hairbender, 12 Ounce. Sweet and Balanced Espresso, Indonesian Latin American African Coffee Blend, Perfect for Espresso, Drip or French Press Brewing Price: $14.66
Sourced from Indonesia, Latin America, and Africa, this is a sweet, well-balanced blend. The sparks of cherry complement the prominent toffee and fudge flavors.
Thanks to the unique profile, it works well both as a morning pick me up and an evening dessert. Plus, it is not too oily (rare for a dark roast), making it a good choice for those with machines featuring built-in grinders.
Medium Roast Beans
Lavazza Super Crema
One of the most popular espresso beans on the market, Lavazza’s Super Crema demonstrates that they opted to NOT sacrifice quality despite being a larger corporation.
These beans are blended and roasted in Italy, sourcing beans from Brazil, India, Columbia, and Indonesia. With espresso being a matter of pride in Italy, it’s unsurprising that these beans make a pretty excellent brew.
This medium roast is mild and creamy with notes of almonds and honey as well as a slight fruitiness. It has a higher acidity (due to the presence of Robusta beans) and lower caffeine content than some of the other beans we’ve reviewed and is made with 80% Arabica and 20% Robusta beans.
Lavazza beans are also nitrogen packed, which gives them a longer pre-opening shelf life. The Robusta beans also provide the brew with an excellent crema.
Blue Horse 100% Kona Coffee
For those willing to invest a bit of money to treat themselves to a truly unique espresso experience, this Kona coffee is worth a try.
These single-origin, hand-picked Kona beans are directly sourced from a family farm in the Kona region of Hawaii. They are grown herbicide and pesticide free (though they are not certified organic).
While these beans are priced pretty steeply, they aren’t quite as expensive as other Kona options, which can run around $90. However, you’ll still get that homey sweetness with hints of almond and vanilla plus some spicy afternotes, a signature of Kona coffee.
The medium roast helps the beans maintain their flavors, but you can also get it as aDark Roast . The medium roast will give you an overall less impactful brew both in boldness and caffeine, which suits some and irks others. So take your personal tastes into account before investing.
Klatch Coffee World’s Best Espresso
Ordained with the impressive WBE title at the 2007 World Barista Championships, this blend is sure to please your taste buds.
The three bean blend includes Brazil Yellow Bourbon, Sumatra Lake Tawar, and Ethiopian Natural. This powerhouse combination creates a bright mix of chocolate and orange notes. The flavor develops as you sip, leaving you with a syrupy sweet taste accented by berry and spice.
Klatch also has theBelle Espresso which features a slightly different flavor profile: brandy, chocolate, and caramel.
The flavor of your beans heavily depends on factors surrounding its place of origin. Things like rainfall, shade, soil chemistry, and altitude can seriously impact the taste of that espresso in your cup.
First, a little background on the coffee bean industry: most of the coffee available to the world comes from coffee trees that grow along the “Bean Belt.” This is a region that hugs the equator, spanning about 25° north and 30° south of it.
Within that region, there are 50+ countries that produce coffee. However, like with any market, some options are more popular than others for a number of reasons. In this case, it’s the flavor profile. Read below for a little bit on some of the more well-known regional tropes.
- Colombian beans are mild and well-balanced with prominent caramel flavors and occasional nuttiness. Most of the industry is supported by small family farms.
- Brazilian beans vary much more in flavor profiles than Colombian varieties due to the shifts in altitude. However, the classic “Brazilian” flavor is generally identified as being slightly nutty or spiced with a heavy body.
- Ethiopian beans also have a lot of variety. So you can expect to find anything from heady, wine-like palates as well as lighter, floral brews.
- Kenyan beans are grown with more sunlight exposure than most of the other regional coffees. The result is quite savory with a bit of tart sweetness.
- Indonesian beans are more often recognized as their specific variety names, such as Java and Sumatran. You’ll find those in addition to some aged coffees, which feature a deeper body.
- Hawaiian beans, or Kona beans to be more specific, are prized for their unique flavor. Heavy rainfall and plentiful sunlight create rich coffee with a slightly sweet and floral notes with the occasional biting aftertaste.
When it comes to espresso blends, most of them include Brazilian or Indonesian beans (sometimes both). A good few also include Colombian beans.
Whole vs pre-ground
You may have noticed that all of the beans we have listed here as sold as whole beans. However, many of these products also have pre-ground options, so what’s the difference?
The biggest difference is freshness. While you may do everything you can by checking the roast date on your beans, if they are pre-ground, they won’t retain the same freshness.
With any coffee, espresso and otherwise, we recommend buying whole beans and investing in a quality grinder to grind the beans shortly before you use them. Most super-automatic machines and even a few fully/semi-automatic espresso machines have a built-in grinder, so you won’t have to worry about an extra investment.
Furthermore, grinding your own beans allows you to get the most out of their flavor. Especially if your machine isn’t top-of-the-line, fresh grounds can help compensate to make sure you still get a great cup of espresso.
If you do your own grinding but don’t want to do so every single time you make espresso, you can grind in small batches. In this case, you should make sure that you keep the grounds in an airtight container to maintain their freshness as much as possible.
The roast time and method can play just as big of a role in your brew as the origin and grind. So, it’s important to know what you’re looking at when you’re browsing for beans.
Dark roasts are the favorite for espresso brewing because they have a full body and low acidity. You can recognize them by their dark oily surfaces. Additionally, they have the most natural oils, which contributes to the formation of crema.
On the other hand, medium roasts will give you a little bit more of the bean’s flavor notes and have a more mid range acidity. If your machine gets clogged easily by the oils of dark roasts, these beans present a reasonable alternative.
So there you have it. Whether you prefer intense, caffeine-packed brews or lighter, more-complex medium roasts, or something in between, you should be able to find a bean that suits your palate on this list.
Remember that you should buy whole beans an grind them yourself to get the most out of your bean of choice. Also, take into consideration your machinery, the roast, and the origin of the product to make sure you find the best bean for you.
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