Would you believe me if I said I found the best beans for espresso? Would you believe me? Do not believe me or anybody for that matter. Of course, I can recommend you some fantastic espresso blends. It’s impossible to choose between two great blends when you have so many choices. Every blend offers something special, and you’re bound to find more than one that you like. The taste of coffee is subjective, like that of wine. It varies according to the person drinking it and their mood at that time.
Despite the subjective aspect of espresso tasting, there are a few objective factors to consider when selecting you next bag of espresso beans. There are four factors to consider: freshness, origin of the beans, quality of the beans, and packaging and storing.
This is a review of the best coffee beans for espresso including Klatch Coffee, Lavazza, Illy, and Kicking Horse. The list includes now 7 small & large roasters, in order to include more options like Volcanica Brazil Bourbon, and Blue Horse Kona.
- Modern Espresso vs Traditional Espresso
- Storage and Packaging
- Blends vs. Single Origin
- More Great Espresso Beans
Modern Espresso vs Traditional Espresso
I need to talk about the generational view on espresso coffee beans.
The traditional Italian blending follows a few rules. Coffee is generally a blend of Arabica beans sourced from Latin America, or a combination of Latin America and quality Asian Robusta coffee.
The Arabica beans come from Brazil and Colombia. These coffees give the flavor balance and the texture we are looking into a classic espresso. Dry-process Brazilian coffees contribute the nutty flavor, while the Colombian contribute the dark chocolate notes. Sometimes, other origins are added to balance the acidity, or add sweetness.
The acidity in the classic espresso is avoided, if any, it’s there only as a balancing factor, and not as a feature.
While Robusta has a bad reputation in North America, this absolutely undeserved. Washed-processed quality Robusta give the espresso blend an extra caffeine kick, and a huge amount of crema.
The modern espresso has no rules. You can use whatever coffee you want to create a unique espresso blend that will appeal to a minority of espresso lovers or a majority. Crema is not an important feature in modern espresso, so Robustas are not necessary. Most roasters will still choose Arabicas that produce more crema.
Roasters will still create blends that easy to extract, because they need to sell. Lighter roasts can be difficult to pull, and the barista needs to tweak a lot of variables for the perfect extraction. However, the modern espresso is not stuck into the dark roast mentality, and we see blonde espresso even from Starbucks.
We have an entire article where we go in depth on the subject, check that article here: How to Choose Coffee Beans for Espresso?
Klatch Coffee Espresso Blend Medium Roast – World’s Best Espresso
Klatch coffee is famous in the industry. The Perry family has done a tremendous work in the coffee business, on all levels. Mike Perry prides himself with numerous successful blends and single origins. The company claims they only buy quality beans from the top 1%.
Their WBE blend, (World’s Best Espresso), is indeed close to perfection. The blend won the title of “best espresso” at the World Barista Championship, so it’s not an empty title. This blend has a sweet and bright fusion of chocolate and orange notes. The lingering caramel finish will make you want a second shot and a third one!
The famous blend is composed of three excellent beans: Brazilian Yellow Bourbon, Ethiopian Natural and Sumatran Lake Tawar. Beans are roasted separately and blended together at the end for maximizing the characteristics of each bean.
The Brazilian beans bring the sweetness and the crema, the Sumatran beans contribute with some more body, and the Ethiopian coffee gives the blend its balanced acidity.
This is one of my absolute favorites, and it is a modern take on espresso. Innovative, yet still familiar, it is the perfect balance between innovation and traditionalism in espresso. The coffee is always fresh when it ships to customers. If you buy these beans from Amazon, you won’t get them as prime product, because they are shipped by Klatch. Because they sell and ship, they can ensure the beans’ freshness. Artisan coffee beans should always ship near the roasting day.
Klatch coffee has another fantastic blend, the Belle Espresso. Not as famous as the WBC, it’s still a great blend to try.
In the video below, Mike Perry from Klatch Coffee, talks about founding Klatch Coffee.
Storage and Packaging
Here is an anecdote about a friend of mine who was very passionate about his espresso. One day he called me saying that his espresso tasted mediocre every time, even though he was using great coffee. He was buying Illy coffee at the time.
So his coffee beans were definitely good, but his shots were sometimes great but sometimes a little flat. This apparently was going on for a while when he called me.
He had a decent machine, the Gaggia Classic. Yeah, Gaggia can be a bit temperamental, but not to the extent that you cannot predict the outcome. He knew how to temperature surf with his Gaggia to bring the brewing temperature where he needed it.
Between you and me, I knew right away what the issue with his shots was, but I let him explain the whole brewing process anyway. When he finished the explanation, I asked him more about the beans and how he stored them, more exactly. It turned out he was storing the beans in a paper bag near the stove. The beans were constantly exposed to heat and air. So he had Illy quality beans for 2 days maximum. The coffee was the ground coffee from Illy, which is amazing, but ground coffee expires even faster than whole beans. For some obscure reason, not getting into details here, he was transferring the coffee from the standard tin can from illy into a paper bag.
The lesson here is that we need to store our coffee properly. Even the best beans and blends will go stale if we they aren’t stored correctly. Make sure your coffee is properly packaged and stored.
Another note on coffee storing and packaging. I love small roasters, and I buy coffee from them. Small roasters, however, don’t follow strict processes like the big roasting companies. And they don’t have the big budgets that larger coffee companies have.
If you know your roaster just got a batch out, or if your roaster has a subscription-based system, it’s fine. But sometimes small coffee roasting companies don’t have enough sales and they keep coffee longer on the shelf.
Big companies have big stocks, and their coffee will stay longer on the shelves. However, their packaging technology is designed to keep the beans fresh for longer.
Lavazza Espresso Super Crema
Lavazza Espresso Super Crema is one of the most popular espresso beans on the market. It is a bestseller on Amazon, and people are leaving great reviews for it. I buy the Super Crema from time to time, and it never disappoints.
Italians are renowned for their espresso, and good coffee the norm in Italy.
We often associate big corporations with over-efficient processes, to improve profits. And in a way, this is true, but is not necessarily bad. Big coffee roasters have the advantage of improving on many aspects of selection, roasting, packaging, and distribution. These improved processes help both the business and us the consumers.
Lavazza Super Espresso is a blend of Arabica coffee beans from various origins. It combines beans from Brazil, India, Colombia, and just a hint of high-quality Robusta from Indonesia. The blend has notes of honey and almonds, and it is a medium roast.
While I recommend you the Super Crema as one of the best Lavazza’s blends, the Lavazza Crema e Gusto is also a decent blend, that is affordable. Read our review on it.
Blends vs. Single Origin
We have three more great choices of beans for you, but before getting to that, I wanted to point out the differences between blends and single origin beans.
I love single origin coffee because they are unique and they have distinctive flavors. However, many single origin coffees produce very little crema, and I’m a traditionalist. If there is no crema that’s not an espresso.
On the other hand, blends are meant to provide consistency and to be recognizable. I’ve said it before, coffee taste is very subjective. Most importantly though, people get used to a certain coffee taste and they don’t like to change. That’s why blends are so important.
The origin of the beans is not critical, you can get a decent espresso with almost any beans, as long as they are good quality ones. Obviously, they would taste totally different, depending on the provenience. But that is the point of single origin.
Why then create blends, and why Lavazza and Illy are so good? This is all about creativity and creating a consistently good blend. I’ll explain in a second.
When a roaster sells a single origin that customers love, everybody wins. The roaster has great sales, the customer has a great coffee. The problem is that the coffee is not going to be the same from batch to batch, even if it’s harvested from the same piece of land. So whatever great beans the farmer got last year, are different today.
This is the biggest problem when roasting for espresso. The beans are great anyway, but coffee taste is very subjective. A great coffee takes a week or more to get used to if you are not used to cupping. Most of us are not. Sweet Maria’s has a great page on blends in general, not just espresso blends.
Illy Whole Coffee Beans – Ethiopia
A perfect example of the single origin is the Ethiopia from Illy. It is not a true single origin like Illy would like us to believe. However, I wouldn’t worry much about that, because it is a really nice coffee.
The Ethiopia has the distinct Ethiopian floral notes, with a higher acidity. This will create a unique espresso shot, a little different from the traditional chocolate and caramel espresso.
The master roasters from Illy are authorities in the field, and their beans are just amazing. However, in my eyes, the packaging is of equal importance. Illy coffee is packed in a pressurized can designed to stop the coffee oxidation. The packaging at Illy is an innovation in the field and is probably one of the best ways to ensure freshness.
If you are looking for a classic espresso blend instead, illy has the Classico. It is a famous blend, and you can’t go wrong with it.
But a blend is so much more than consistency. A blend is also the chance to improve the shot. By mixing beans with different characteristics, the roaster creates a coffee that is better than the individual beans.
For instance, you normally wouldn’t pull shots from Robusta beans. The vast majority of coffee beans on the market are different varieties of Arabica coffee. However, Robusta is great for making crema, and 10-20% Robusta in your blend is just perfect. By adding a Yemeni bean, we add some spicy pungency to the blend. We can then balance that pungency with a little sweetness from a Sumatran bean. Add some lightly roasted Ethiopian Sidamo for the fruity aftertaste, the acidity, and the earthy bite.
As a conclusion, if you are still not clear what is best, there is no right or wrong. With blends, you get the refined, consistent taste, while single origin brings you personality, uniqueness.
If you are so inclined, you can even make your own espresso. Here is a great article that explains the art of blending beans for an espresso. I tried it a few times, I bought green coffee from Sweet Maria’s and roasted it myself. It was a great experience, and I plan to repeat it. However, this is just a hobby for me. My blend wasn’t bad, but compared to some of the great commercial blends was just OK. My single origin roasting was decent as well, and I pulled some great espressos from those beans. But as I said, for me is just a hobby, I don’t have enough time to dedicate to roasting. And in order to be great at roasting you need practice.
Kicking Horse Beans – Cliff Hanger Espresso
I love Kicking Horse coffee. Their beans are just great. Their espresso is really good. I bought a few times from their online store, and it was awesome, and the coffee was very fresh. They closed their online store, and they sell now through distributors exclusively. It helps them focus on the roasting side.
While I understand the move, shelf life can be a problem. Coffee can be a month old, when you buy it from Amazon. The bags are airtight with valves to ensure coffee degasses properly. However, at this moment they don’t flush with nitrogen as the bigger guys do, (Lavazza and Illy).
I really love this blend. What I don’t like is that there is no option to buy smaller packages. When you buy 2 pounds of coffee, you need to realize that they would go stale after 2 or three weeks. Yeah, you can store your beans in vacuum cans, but you should have the option to buy a smaller package.
Kona Coffee Espresso
If you are looking for ways to improve your espresso experience, Kona coffee is one of the best options. Blue Horse sells a medium roast single estate, made exclusively with beans from their farm.
The beans boast the Hawaiian coffee sweetness with just the right amount of bite. It produces a lot of crema, and the taste is just unique. Not your typical espresso blend though.
The Blue Horse coffee also stands apart from your typical espresso blend, with a medium roast. This helps to retain the unique Kona character.
In general, good quality Kona pulls exceptional shots. The shot pulled from Kona tastes a lot like good quality Brazilian espresso. Someone defined Kona as “comfort food style” espresso. I partially agree with them, there are the sweet, chocolatey notes that makes us think of comfort food. But the specific Kona bite is unique, and you can’t replicate it with other beans. Espresso shots pulled from Kona beans are just fantastic. The only downside is, of course, the price…
Intelligentsia – Black Cat Analog Espresso Beans
I know the title promises five beans only, but I couldn’t omit Intelligentsia from the list. Not because their name sounds cool, but because their coffee is great.
Black Cat is Intelligentsia’s project to innovate the dull and common espresso blend. It is a modern espresso blend, but still keeps some of the traditional espresso traits. As Intelligentsia say it: they want to “expand what is possible in terms of flavor, aroma, and mouthfeel”. They also hope to challenge us, the espresso lovers, “to reconsider what espresso is and what it can be”. Black Cat is a blend, and as such, it could be different from season to season.
The Black Cat Analog blend is a Brazilian blend, that has a bit more brightness than your regular espresso. It has a dark and abundant crema, and a syrupy mouthfeel, and a lot of sweetness. Chocolate tones make it feel like “I know this blend, I tasted it before”. The extra brightness makes it different, but ultimately it is designed to be comforting. Sure, that’s a little shift from their promise about Black Cat, but I’ll take that every day.
Volcanica Coffee – Indian Monsooned Malabar
Monsooned Malabar is a process applied to coffee beans in order to obtain special characteristics. In the process, the coffee beans lose their acidity and swell.
Volcanica’s Indian Monsooned Malabar coffee is pungent, with chocolatey aroma and notes of spice and nuts. With a heavy body, it makes a great choice for pulling espresso shots. They are also great beans for French press brewing, or Moka pot.
Not all single origins will yield a lot of crema, but the Monsooned Malabar coffee produces a nice thick layer of crema that is smoother than most others.
If you like some acidity in your espresso, this coffee on its own is not your choice, but you can make your own blend by adding some African beans renown for their acidity. I personally like to switch between various levels of acidity.
I love coffee from Volcanica, I tried many of their coffees, and I wrote an article reviewing a few other coffees from them here: Volcanica Coffee Reviews.
Volcanica’s master roaster balances traditional roasting principles with the modern roasting approach. This translates into great coffees that are not over-roast to the point that all coffees taste the same. Their beans are not under-roasted either, which is a risk with modern light roasts.
More Great Espresso Beans
If our selection didn’t inspire you yet, here are a few more reputable roasters renown for their espresso blends: Miscela d’Oro, Caffe Borbone, Koa Coffee, (Kona coffee), or choose a coffee subscription, if you intend to explore.
Coffee is an acquired taste. If you are not a coffee professional, it takes at least a few days to adjust to a new coffee. From adjusting your dose, grind to adjusting your palate to the new taste, this is a journey. If you are not an adventurous coffee lover, and you are attached to your coffee habits, maybe stick to tastes that you know.
On the other hand, if you want to explore the world of espresso, and try new espresso concepts, I strongly encourage you to try at least some of these coffees. Do not forget to read our article on how to make the perfect espresso, we have in there some tips on adjusting your grind, tamp, and dose with new coffee beans.