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Best Coffee Beans for Espresso 2020 – Top Picks & Reviews

Espresso shot and coffee beans

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):

ImageProductDetails
Best Overall
Winner
Lifeboost Espresso Lifeboost Espresso
  • Smooth flavor
  • Velvet touch
  • Good crema
  • Best Ground Espresso Beans
    Second place
    Volcanica Espresso Volcanica Espresso
  • Well-rounded, chocolatey flavor
  • Good crema
  • Grinds well
  • Best Decaf Beans
    Third place
    Lavazza “Dek” Lavazza “Dek”
  • Affordable
  • Sweet flavor
  • Aromatic
  • Death Wish Death Wish
  • Pleasant flavor
  • Not acidic
  • Money-back guarantee
  • illy Intenso illy Intenso
  • Aroma
  • Bold flavor
  • Toasty notes
  • The 8 Best Espresso Bean Brands

    1. Lifeboost Espresso – Best Overall

    Lifeboost Espresso

    If you’re searching for outstanding coffee, Lifeboost’s Espresso is our number one choice, with a velvety touch and a rich profile. This is a very dark roast that boasts hints of chocolate and brown sugar. Its robust flavor holds up especially well in milk-based drinks. These beans come in a 12-ounce 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 available.

    Pros
    • Smooth flavor
    • Organic/Fair Trade certified
    • Velvet touch
    • Good crema
    Cons
    • Somewhat pricey
    • Oily

    2. Volcanica Espresso – Best Ground Espresso Beans

    Volcanica Espresso

    Volcanica’s Espresso is another good option — and it’s especially good if you don’t own a grinder. These dark, aromatic beans come in three grind sizes, including espresso, as well as whole bean. With a well-rounded flavor and hints of dark chocolate, this espresso also delivers a good crema.

    Though this is a dark roast coffee, we found it to taste more like a medium roast. Don’t worry, though — it’s still potent without being bitter. Noted as grinding well, it’s recommended as best used with an espresso machine.

    Volcanica roasts your coffee on-demand, so you can be sure you’ll never receive stale beans. It is a tad pricey, but probably won’t break the bank.

    Pros
    • Available in espresso grind and whole bean
    • Well-rounded, chocolatey flavor
    • Good crema
    • Grinds well
    Cons
    • A little pricey
    • More medium than dark roast

    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

    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.

    Best Italian coffee beans

    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.

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    Conclusion

    Hopefully, after reading our top ten reviews, you’ve identified a few beans you’re interested in trying. Our number one choice, Lifeboost’s Espresso, is an excellent bold coffee. It’s a little pricey, but it’s also low-acid and sustainably-grown. Our second pick, Volcanica’s Espresso, is a well-rounded, tasty bean that comes in a convenient espresso grind. 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!

    Kate MacDonnell

    Kate is a lifelong coffee enthusiast and homebrewer who enjoys writing for coffee websites and sampling every kind of coffee known to man. She’s tried unusual coffees from all over the world and owns an unhealthy amount of coffee gear.

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