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Best Coffee Beans for Espresso 2020 – Top Picks & Reviews

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espresso coffee beans on a table

For coffee lovers, choosing a coffee bean is a sacred decision. Much thought is given, and it’s not a simple task. There are several things to consider when choosing a coffee bean, such as aroma, color, oiliness, freshness, value, and packaging. When choosing a good coffee bean for your espresso, crema quality is a big factor.

We’ve put together a list taking the importance of choosing to heart for our top ten picks for espresso beans. Grab your grinder and let’s begin the journey into choosing the next great coffee bean for the perfect espresso!


A Quick List of our Favorites (updated in 2020):

ModelPriceRoastEditor Rating
Kicking Horse Coffee “Cliff Hanger Espresso”
Kicking Horse Coffee Whole Bean
(Top Pick)

Check Price
Medium4.7/5
Lavazza “Gran Espresso”
Lavazza Gran Espresso(Whole Bean)
(The Best Italian Espresso Beans)

Check Price
Medium4.6/5
Lavazza “Dek”
Lavazza “Dek” (Whole Bean Espresso Blend)
(Best Decaf Beans)

Check Price
Dark4.4/5
Death Wish Organic Whole Bean Coffee
Death Wish Organic USDA Certified Whole Bean Coffee

Check Price
Dark4.3/5
illy Ground Espresso
illy Ground Espresso Dark Roast
(Best Ground Espresso)

Check Price
Dark4.2/5

The 8 Best Espresso Bean Brands

1. Kicking Horse Coffee “Cliff Hanger Espresso” – Best Overall

Kicking Horse Coffee Whole Bean

If you’re searching for outstanding coffee, Kicking Horse Coffee’s Whole Bean “Cliff Hanger Espresso” is our number one choice, with a velvety touch and a rich profile. This is a medium roast with dark intonations and hints of chocolate and brown sugar. Its robust flavor holds up well in milk-based drinks. These beans come in a 2.2–pound bag and are certified as both organic and fair trade.

Since these need to be finely ground for an espresso machine, be aware that these are oily and have the potential to clog the grinder. However, even with the oiliness, this coffee delivers an ample crema.

As our top pick, these are some of the best espresso beans on Amazon.

Pros
  • Smooth flavor
  • Organic/fair trade certified
  • Velvet touch
  • Good crema
Cons
  • Slightly pricey
  • Darker roast boldness
  • Oily

2. Lavazza “Gran Espresso” (Whole Bean) – Best Italian Espresso Beans

Lavazza Gran Espresso(Whole Bean)

Lavazza is one of the top brands in Italy, and Amazon delivers a little bit of Italy to your doorstep with Lavazza “Gran Espresso” as our runner-up and some of the best Italian beans out there. Bearing an aroma sure to make you swoon, these beans are blended and roasted in Italy. With a well-rounded flavor and hints of dark chocolate, this delivers a good crema.

This is a true medium roast coffee that’s potent without being bitter. Noted as grinding well, it’s recommended as best used with an espresso machine. It comes in a 2.2–pound bag only, with an average price tag.

While there is an expiration date on the bag, many complain of not receiving a fresh package. In some instances, the package was way out of date. This hang-up keeps this bean in our number two spot. If you receive fresh beans, the true nature of the bean is experienced; otherwise, it will be too stale to enjoy.

SEE ALSO: our favorite italian espresso makers.

Pros
  • Affordable
  • Aromatic
  • Balanced flavor
  • No bitterness
  • Grinds well
  • Good crema
Cons
  • Freshness inconsistency

3. Lavazza “Dek” (Whole Bean Espresso Blend) – Best Decaf Beans

Lavazza “Dek” (Whole Bean Espresso Blend)

With a mild flavor and a strong crema, Lavazza “Dek” Whole Bean Espresso Blend arrives on the list as our best in decaf. This choice offers notes of caramel on the soft side of a dark roast. Using a natural process for decaffeination, the flavor comes through as a non-typical decaf coffee. It grinds well and provides a good crema, as well as having a middle-of-the-road price tag.

With its mild and creamy profile, this may be too light for some as an espresso blend. If you’re a die-hard espresso snob, this won’t fit the bill for you. It also doesn’t come in a resealable package, so an airtight container for storage is a must to keep these beans fresh as long as possible.

Pros
  • Affordable
  • Sweet flavor
  • Aromatic
  • Good crema
  • Low acid
Cons
  • Too light as a dark roast
  • Can’t reseal package

4. Death Wish Whole Bean Coffee

Death Wish Organic USDA Certified Whole Bean Coffee

For the environmentally conscious, our next choice is Death Wish Organic USDA Certified Whole Bean Coffee. With a reputation for a caffeine kick, this bean comes through as smooth with tinges of cherry and chocolate. As a dark roast, the flavor delivers a bite without being acidic. It’s also noted that while the beans are slightly oily, they don’t present a clogging issue.

As one of the most expensive choices on the list, if you find you aren’t on board with this dark roast, a money-back guarantee is offered. For those not accustomed to a true dark roast, this may be a bit strong for your palate, and some noted a smoky aftertaste.

Pros
  • Pleasant flavor
  • High caffeine
  • Not acidic
  • Full-bodied
  • Money-back guarantee
Cons
  • Expensive

5. illy Ground Espresso – Top Ground Espresso Pick

illy Ground Espresso Dark Roast

Recognized in 2019 by Ethisphere as one of the World’s Most Ethical Companies, illy brings us to the number five spot on the list with illy Ground Espresso Dark Roast. If you go the route of buying pre-ground espresso, this is one of the best options. With dark chocolate notes and a consistent, bold flavor, the strong, wafting aroma is sure to bring a smile to your face. It arrives with the perfect grind for your espresso machine, as it’s very finely ground.

This blend arrives packaged in a pressurized tin. Unfortunately, many have noted that upon removing the lid, it explodes off, so proceed with caution as you dive in. While for most the finely ground espresso is ideal, depending on the machine you use, it could potentially cause clogging issues because it’s simply too fine. Know your machine well so you don’t find out the hard way, especially since this pick is the most expensive on the list.

Pros
  • Aroma
  • Bold flavor
  • Rich profile
  • Toasty notes
Cons
  • Expensive
  • Packaging issues
  • Potential clogging issues

6. Koffee Kult Coffee Beans

Koffee Kult Dark Roast Coffee Beans

Koffee Kult has a reputation for its robust coffee. The Koffee Kult Dark Roast Coffee Beans deliver chocolate and cinnamon tones through the medium side of a dark roast. It provides a rich aroma and a smooth flavor while also delivering a nicely consistent crema.

For the dark roast espresso expert, this one may deliver a bit too light. For those new to the dark side, you may note a bitter finish.

As a family-owned business, customer service is a top priority for Koffee Kult, and it’s noticed. This choice is on the pricier side, but it does offer a money-back guarantee.

Pros
  • Smooth flavor
  • Rich aroma
  • Good crema
  • Money-back guarantee
Cons
  • Slightly pricey
  • Bitter follow-up

7. Café Don Pablo Gourmet Coffee – Classic Italian Espresso

CaféDon Pablo Gourmet Coffee

Café Don Pablo’s Classic Italian Espresso is the most economical on the list, and one of the few that is food safety and organic production certified. On the lighter side of a dark roast, this bean offers a chocolate undertone with a smooth consistency.

For dark roast fans, this doesn’t deliver, as it comes across weak and muted. You may have to go the extra mile playing with the grind to achieve something close to satisfaction. However, if you’re new to dark roast and want to give it a try, this may be a gentle way in.

Overall, this pick is a good value for the money.

SEE ALSO: our favorite gourmet coffee brands of 2020

Pros
  • Economical
  • Low acidity
Cons
  • Muted flavor
  • Lacks aroma
  • Bitter finish

8. JO ESPRESSO

JO ESPRESSO 12 oz, Medium Dark Roast

The Jo Espresso Medium Dark Roast brings in a sweetness with a heavy dark chocolate hum. It has a consistent depth with a velvety finish. It whips up a smooth, rich crema to round it out and is also noted as grinding well with little oil. Jo Espresso is USDA and fair trade certified.

This choice, although a medium–dark roast, is noted as being too sweet for those looking for a bolder flavor. It also has a slightly expensive price tag.

Pros
  • Rich aromatic
  • Lacks bitterness
  • Excellent crema
Cons
  • Expensive
  • Sweet for the roast
  • Sour afterbite

9. Stone Street Tanzania Peaberry Coffee

Stone Street Coffee Tanzania Peaberry Fresh Roasted Coffee

This gourmet African coffee, Stone Street Coffee Tanzania Peaberry Fresh Roast Coffee, is bringing up the rear of the list. It’s a light roast with a smooth, full-bodied depth with rich flavor. It has a fruity undertone, giving it a distinguished aroma.

It doesn’t deliver a bitterness, but the fruity undertone is a turnoff for many. If you desire more of an earthy, chocolate undertone, this choice won’t serve you well.

The Tanzania Peaberry is truly a gourmet coffee bean grown on the slopes of Mt. Kilimanjaro. If you’re looking for something a little different and brand new to you, you may like this choice.

Pros
  • Distinguished aroma
  • Clean, crisp flavor
  • Fresh and non-oily
Cons
  • Slightly pricey
  • Weak flavor
  • Mediocre body

10. Coffee Bean Direct Italian Roast Espresso

Coffee Bean Direct Italian Roast Espresso

The Coffee Bean Direct Italian Roast Espresso delivers a big bite and a honey–toasted aroma. It has hints of chocolate and molasses with a body that’s not too bold. It comes in a 2.5-pound resealable bag, and the beans are versatile for most brewing methods.

There are variations in the consistency of the roast, and they present a bitter aftertaste.

Pros
  • Very affordable
  • Rich crema
Cons
  • Weak
  • Lacks aroma
  • Flat taste
  • Bitter aftertaste
  • Variations in roasting

Buyer’s Guide

Below are some factors to consider when choosing a quality coffee bean.

Aroma

The aroma of coffee beans will tell your nose first if it’s fresh and flavorful. It’s what will entice you to want to brew it. If there is little to no aroma, you likely won’t enjoy that cup of coffee.

Color

The color of beans is the real indicator of the roast and robustness. A blond color indicates a light roast. Light brown indicates a light to medium roast. Dark brown indicates a medium to dark roast. Blackish brown indicates a dark roast. If you open a bag and see a variety of colors, this means there will be a variation in flavor.

Oiliness

Coffee beans naturally contain oil. Dry coffee beans can indicate that the batch has gone stale, depending on the kind of roast. Dark, oily beans will indicate that they’re strong, bold and bitter. If the beans have a shine to them without being overly oily, it’s not necessarily a bad thing, as it depends on who you ask. With some experimentation and research, you’ll discover exactly the kind of bean that works for you.

coffee beans in a cup

Freshness

A roasted date and an expiration date are two different things. Ideally, you want to know the roast date. Once beans are roasted, oxidation begins, and this begins the staleness process. Most often, you’ll only see an expiration or “best by” date on the package. Coffee beans need to be stored properly in an airtight, non-clear container for optimal longevity. Essentially, there is a lot of guesswork involved, and a sure-fire way to know coffee isn’t fresh is when it no longer tastes good.

Value

No one wants to spend an exorbitant amount of money for quality coffee regularly. We all want good value for the money spent. Do your research and comparisons. The good news is that once you discover a great coffee you’ll purchase over and over, it’s likely that subscribe and save is an option.

Packaging

Regardless of how coffee beans are packaged, once they arrive at your doorstep, they need to be transferred to an airtight container and stored in a cool, dark place. Use a container that isn’t clear, because light encourages the oxidation process.

Conclusion

Hopefully, after reading our top ten reviews, you’ve identified a few beans you’re interested in trying. Our number one choice, Kicking Horse Coffee “Cliff Hanger Espresso”, is an excellent bolder choice. It’s a little pricey, but it won’t break the bank. Our second pick, Lavazza “Gran Espresso”, is an affordable way to visit Italy without leaving the comfort of your home. As our best decaf pick and third on the list, Lavazza “Dek” is a better-than-average decaf blend with a sweet flavor at an affordable price.

There’s something for everyone on our list. We wish you well on your quest. Keep on brewing!


Featured image credit: undulatus, Pixabay