As a master coffee roaster and owner of Lake City Coffee, I’m often asked, “What are the best coffee beans for espresso?” Honestly, despite my blunt and perhaps critical opinion to the subject, I do believe this is a good question and I’m going to give you a truthful, honest, direct, and very complete answer.
What Is Espresso?
Let’s start by defining the term espresso. Espresso is not a bean. It is not a roast. It is not a blend. It’s not even a mixed drink. Espresso is simply a method of brewing coffee. Suffice it to say, espresso coffee is made by using very hot water and steam, under high pressure, to press water through finely ground and firmly packed fine coffee grounds, which creates a thick, bitter, and highly concentrated form of coffee drink.
Invented by the Italians as a means of making coffee quickly, i.e., “express”, the espresso brewing method took time to catch on. Invented in the late 19th century, it took nearly a century to become ubiquitous in coffee shops on both sides of the Atlantic.
In Europe you’ll find espresso stands nearly everywhere, but unlike their American cousins, these espresso stands actually serve espresso, i.e. thick, bitter, highly concentrated coffee in small cups.
America’s Espresso Bastard Child
You know us Americans; we have to improve on everything. In this case, we didn’t improve on espresso; we just made it American by adding, cream, sugar, milk, caramel, chocolate, whip cream, and sprinkles. What passes for espresso here in America is absolutely pathetic.
To make my point, I’ve heard from American vacationers that the best coffee beans for espresso comes from Turkey, Cambodia, Columbia, Brazil, Vietnam, Costa Rica, etc., etc., etc. I call this the Vacation Espresso Syndrome.
Fresh Roasted Coffee
So, why is espresso distinctly better in any country other than the good old US of A? In a single word; freshness. The American coffee industry revolves around shelf life. Been selecting, processing, roasting (burning), preserving, and packaging all happens with a long shelf life (months to years) as the primary goal.
Here’s a truth that you can take to the bank. All roasted coffee beans start going stale in 30 days and no amount of space age packaging technology can change that fact. That’s exactly why American espresso tastes bitter and burnt.
Yet, nearly every other country in the world measures coffee roasting freshness in hours or days vs. America’s months or years. When it comes to great tasting espresso, you can truly tell a huge difference between beans that were roasted yesterday vs. 4-6 weeks ago, much less 4-6 months ago.
Espresso Bean Blend Hype
As I said in the beginning, espresso is a brewing method, not a bean. Any company claiming to have an espresso bean or worst yet, an espresso blend, isn’t selling espresso, they’re selling horse shit.
First of all, an espresso blend is nothing more than marketing speak for, “We bought the cheapest damn espresso beans that money could buy and blended them together.
What Are Your Favorite Beans?
What espresso beans are best for espresso? Remember there is no such thing as and espresso bean. There are only beans that are good and beans that are bad, according to your taste buds.
So, to answer the question, what are the best coffee beans for espresso? If you like burnt and bitter industrial coffee, then just buy Charbucks, Yuban, Hills Brothers, or Costco. It really doesn’t matter, they will all give to you that horrible burnt and bitter industrial taste.
Espresso From Hell
Additionally, if you intend to mix your espresso with steamed milk, chocolate, caramel, corn syrup flavorings, whipped cream, and sprinkles, then which beans you use, really doesn’t matter. Hell, you could use Kingsford Charcoal and you wouldn’t know the difference.
On the other hand, if you want to actually taste your espresso and you like bold, slap-you-in-the-face, full bodied espresso, then you’ll want to find coffee from Africa or Asia, e.g., Sumatra, Papua New Guinea, Ethiopian, or the like. But, if you prefer smooth espresso that tastes like real coffee, with distinct notes of citrus, chocolate, or nut, then you’ll want fresh roasted coffee from Central America.
Best Coffee Beans For Espresso
Keep in mind that I prefer my espresso to be super smooth, with no bitter or burnt flavor. Each year I do a blind taste test of beans from a dozen different countries. And without exception, each year my favorite coffee beans come from Costa Rica. Costa Rican beans are smooth as silk, but they also have strong distinctive notes of Chocolate, nuts, and citrus.
After years of consistently selecting and buying Costa Rican coffee, Alisha, my wife, and I took a trip to Costa Rica for the purpose of finding the country’s best coffee. What we found was a coffee bean that was super smooth AND had very distinctive flavors of chocolate, citrus, and nut. To this day, we source all of our beans from the Amapola plantations in the Tarazzu region of Costa Rica.
All industrial coffee companies and even the small want-to-be companies, in an attempt to mimic Charbuck’s success, roast the living snot out their beans; leaving behind a charred residue resembling Kingsford Charcoal. As a result, nearly every gram of bioflavonoids, antioxidants, caffeine, and flavor have been burnt out of these beans.
Your great-great-grandma knew the trick to gently roasting coffee beans to perfection. Her secrete was roasting low-n-slow over an open flame, and only to a medium or dark brown color, but never black. By roasting in this old fashioned way, most of the bean’s oils, which God put there, remain there throughout the roasting process, thus making the coffee naturally sweet with all of it’s original flavors.
The Espresso Bottom Line
In conclusion, for the best espresso experience of your life, follow these tips.
- Experiment with beans from different countries. You might like a bolder espresso than I do. As I said, I prefer smooth, so I like Costa Rican coffee beans.
- Buy fresh roasted beans. That means beans that were roasted within the last week and preferable within the last 3 days. And I will promise you this. Take any packaged bean that’s over 30 days and compare it side-by-side with “fresh” 3 day old beans, and you’ll notice a world of difference. And, to answer your question, there is no way on God’s green earth that you can preserve the heavenly freshness that God put into those beans. You have several options:
- Freeze them
- Put them in the refrigerator
- Seal them in air-tight bags
- Vacuum seal them
- You can even can them
- Make sure the beans are not over roasted. If they’re black, you might as well be using Kingsford Charcoal. Not only does it taste like charcoal, but most of the caffeine has been boiled out of the bean. Let’s see… no taste and little caffeine; what’s the purpose.
- Grind the beans right before brewing them with your espresso machine. The minute you grind those beans, the oils in the beans start to evaporate. And it’s those oils that contain all the good stuff.
Your Best Espresso Bet
Lastly, although I sound critical of other approaches to espresso, do this one thing. Drink what you like. If you like bad coffee or don’t care what you drink, then good for you and go for it.
On the other hand, if you’re cursed with the need for great, no I mean awesome espresso beans, then try my Delectable Dark or Majestic Medium or Majestic Decaf, or if you’re really crazy, try my White Lightning in your espresso machine. Give Lake City Coffee A Try. I think you’ll be pleasantly surprised.