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When you’re shopping for the best coffee for an espresso machine, you’re looking for a premium, medium-dark roast coffee bean. Unlike traditional drip coffee, the brewing process for making espresso is designed to bring out more flavor and a bolder aroma. And for this reason, you’ll want to ensure that you’re not attempting to turn a mediocre coffee bean into an espresso grind.
It’s worth noting that you don’t necessarily have to buy a specialized type of bean since both espresso and traditional drip coffee can both be brewed after grinding regular coffee beans. However, most connoisseurs will tell you that a dark roast Arabica bean is best for that authentic espresso flavor.
However, whatever you use, keep in mind that espresso requires a finer grind than drip coffee, which helps release more oils to create a bolder brew. Additionally, espresso brewing releases more caffeine, which may be a key selling point for some people. In most cases, if you’re a serious espresso drinker, you’ll prefer to grind your coffee instead of using espresso pods.
Keep reading our best coffee for espresso machines buying guide to learn more. And for other types of brews, check out our best coffee maker buying guide.
Award: TOP PICK
WHY WE LIKE IT: This product delivers a noticeable kick and a complex taste for users who want high-quality beverages to start their day. Additionally, this package promotes fresh brews and specialty shop-quality beverages that benefit from manual grinding for a user’s ideal cup.
Lavazza 8000070021341 coffee is an excellent choice for users who want fresh beans and complex flavors to make a morning drink to carry them into the workday. This whole bean coffee blend offers a balanced taste with notes of cocoa and black pepper for users with a developed palate for shop-quality coffee. While the bag this coffee comes in isn’t ideal for storage, users can easily place these beans in a separate container to maintain their freshness.
In addition to serving size and flavor notes, the Lavazza 8000070021341 coffee presents a fantastic option for users who want a hands-on experience while making espresso at home. This 2.2-pound bag of fresh whole beans is perfect for users who like to fine-tune their grind settings for the perfect espresso drink. Additionally, these medium-roast beans are ideal for authentic Italian espresso with rich and creamy crema for users who want a bold flavor to start their day.
Award: HONORABLE MENTION
WHY WE LIKE IT: This product consists of 100% Arabica beans that are dark-roasted to provide a smooth and bold mug of brew for early mornings or afternoon reading sessions. Additionally, users can enjoy fresh grinds without the mess of manually grinding their beans.
Medagalia D’Oro 074471006168 coffee is an excellent pick for users who want a convenient dark roast brew with their breakfast meal or mid-afternoon break. This pre-ground canister of coffee is a dark Italian roast that presents a bold and rich flavor that is impressively smooth to drink. This 100% Arabica coffee is pre-ground so users can have excellent espresso brews without the need for an expensive burr grinder. While pre-ground beans aren’t as fresh as whole beans, the canister does a great job of maintaining the coffee’s quality.
In addition to offering a rich brew and convenient brewing, Medagalia D’Oro 074471006168 coffee provides users with an authentic brewing experience in the Italian tradition. This pre-gound coffee features a fine grind to make it ideal for making strong espresso and shop-quality beverages in an espresso machine. That said, this rich coffee will work just as well with other brewing methods like pour-over and automatic drip coffee machines.
Award: BEST FOR STRONG BREWS
WHY WE LIKE IT: This ready-to-brew can of beans features an intense and full-flavored taste with notes of cocoa to provide a drink that can keep users going into the afternoon. Additionally, this product comes in a pressurized can to preserve and maintain the rich aromas of these ethically-sourced beans.
Illy 744539019781 coffee is a fantastic choice for users who want strong and convenient espresso-style coffee to start their day or to spur on creative brainstorms at work. This pre-ground dark roast coffee is ideal for espresso-style drinks and specialty beverages like cappuccinos and lattes. Users will appreciate these ethically-sourced beans that are ready to brew in a high-end espresso machine or simple automatic drip coffee maker. While pre-ground beans are never as fresh as whole coffee, this coffee comes in a pressurized can to preserve aroma and flavor.
In addition to being pre-ground and perfect for espresso brewing, illy 744539019781 coffee provides users with a rich flavor profile that hails from plantations throughout Brazil, India, and Central America. This pre-ground coffee features an extremely fine grind to promote thorough extraction during the brewing process, producing full-flavored cups of coffee. Lastly, the pre-ground nature of this coffee means that users don’t need to invest in expensive grinders or additional equipment before making hot mugs for themselves or guests.
Award: BEST FOR LATTES
WHY WE LIKE IT: This product features ethically-sourced beans that provide a bold brew with complex notes for users who crave a high-quality beverage to start their day. These beans offer a varied taste that is ideal for making specialty drinks like lattes and cappuccinos.
Starbucks Espresso Roast coffee is an incredible pick for users who want complex flavor notes and strong caffeine content for shop-quality beverages like americanos, cappuccinos, and lattes. This dark roast coffee is ethically sourced from multiple nations in the “Coffee Belt” to provide a drink that offers rich flavors from various regions. Since this product is pre-ground, users can enjoy a ready-to-brew coffee that is finely ground for optimal extraction. While this coffee’s packaging isn’t ideal for maintaining freshness, users can easily transfer the grounds to an alternative container.
In addition to a fine grind and ethical sourcing, the Starbucks Espresso Roast coffee provides a rich flavor that rivals expensive beverages from a professional barista. These dark roast grounds feature a bold flavor with notes of molasses and caramelized sugar to add a unique taste to specialty brews like cappuccinos, lattes, and americanos. Additionally, while this coffee is great for espresso brewers, it is still a great pick for users who brew with an automatic drip or pour-over machine.
Award: BEST FOR FLAVOR
WHY WE LIKE IT: This product uses gourmet beans from authentic sourcing to provide a rich and smooth mug of shop-quality brew. With Arabica beans and hints of Robusta, users will love this ready-to-brew product that ensures an excellent taste and caffeine strength to start their day.
CAFE CONTEMPO Ground Aroma coffee is a stellar choice for users who want authentic espresso coffee from the comfort of their own homes. This expertly-sourced Arabica coffee features hints of Robusta beans for a complex brew that offers a rich and creamy crema under the right brewing conditions. Additionally, this Aroma blend offers a full-bodied taste that is perfect for a cup of black coffee or mixing into a barista-quality brew. While pre-ground beans aren’t ideal for freshness, users will love the ultra-fine grind for brewing espresso.
In addition to varied sourcing and excellent flavor, CAFE CONTEMPO Ground Aroma coffee is great for coffee brewers of all types. While this pre-ground dark roast coffee is intended for tamping down in an espresso machine, it will work for other brewing methods like pour-over and automatic drip machines. Users will love the balanced taste of this coffee that provides a smooth texture with minimal acidity.
Award: BEST FOR FAMILIES
WHY WE LIKE IT: This multi-package kit features three distinct beans to offer variety and exploration for users who want to develop their palette or enjoy different flavors from morning to morning. Additionally, users will love these single-origin beans for their unique and complex flavor notes.
Cooper’s Cask Coffee Trio Set coffee is an excellent pick for users who want to broaden their horizons or keep multiple types of coffee to accommodate the varied tastes of their household. This three-bag set features unique single-origin beans to represent a range of possible flavors for high-quality espresso drinks. Additionally, these pre-ground beans feature an espresso-style grind that makes them ideal for tamping into a portafilter. While the flavor profiles aren’t mind-blowing for ventured coffee connoisseurs, these flavors are perfect for expanding a beginner’s palette.
In addition to espresso-style fine grind and varied flavors, the Cooper’s Cask Coffee Trio Set coffee features multiple styles of coffee so users can present novel tastes and textures to guests or their own mug. For example, this kit provides users with a light roast coffee for the optimal caffeine content, a medium roast for a balanced cup, and a dark roast so users can enjoy a smooth and bold cup of coffee.
Espresso coffee can be a misleading term as it implies that you have to select a specialty type of ground coffee or whole beans. This isn’t true. You can make espresso using “regular” coffee beans. However, you will need to opt for a finer grind so that the flavor is released properly during the brewing process. This is because espresso is brewed through high pressure (usually a minimum of nine bars or 130 psi) to extract more oils for a bolder taste.
In most cases, serious coffee drinkers will prefer to grind their beans rather than relying on pre-ground coffee. As the beans are ground, they release carbon dioxide (CO2) gas, and that CO2 gas can degrade the aroma and flavor profile. For this reason, grinding your beans shortly before brewing a cup of espresso ensures that you’re getting the most aroma and richest flavor. This can be ideal if you have the best coffee and espresso maker.
While you can opt for ground coffee labeled as espresso, just know that it doesn’t have to say “espresso” to work with an espresso machine. Again, the factor that will impact whether or not you can use a specific coffee — especially if you select prepackaged coffee grounds — is the size of the grind.
In truth, there’s no real difference between coffee beans used for espresso versus a cup of drip coffee. However, the grind size will be significantly different. While a coarser grind is acceptable for drip, French press, percolator, and pour-over coffees, this is too large for an espresso machine. In contrast, espresso coffee must be ground to a fine size.
The most significant difference between espresso coffee and other types of coffee is that it’s often much stronger, even if you opt for the best coffee for a Moka pot. Again, this is because of the more intensive brewing process, which relies on pressure to thoroughly saturate the coffee grounds with water, ensuring that more flavor is drawn out of the grounds. As a result, espresso coffee has a bolder flavor, features more dissolved solids, and often contains more caffeine than most other types of coffee.
One other defining feature that separates an espresso from other coffees is the size. Whereas cup sizes can vary widely with other coffees, you’ll find that espresso is consistently brewed for smaller cup sizes. A traditional coffee maker — including single-cup brewers — is usually calibrated to produce a five- or six-ounce cup of coffee as the default setting. However, these days most people are drinking more than five or six ounces per sitting.
In contrast, espresso coffee is usually intended to brew significantly smaller cups. An espresso is usually two to three fluid ounces. Also, note that espresso is brewed at a lower temperature as compared to most traditional coffees. Espresso is brewed between 190 to 196 degrees Fahrenheit while drip, pour-over, French press, and percolator coffees can all be brewed at 195 to 205 degrees Fahrenheit.
It might seem odd to have a section describing how espresso coffee works, but it’s a very nuanced drink that deserves an explanation as to why people are so specific about how it’s brewed and served. Espresso begins as a humble coffee bean, just like other coffee-based drinks, but it’s treated differently throughout the grinding, brewing, and pouring process.
Assuming you have an espresso maker and you’re using loose grounds rather than pods, your first step will be to grind whole beans to create the proper grind size or fill your portafilter with prepackaged espresso grounds. Picky coffee fans will prefer to freshly grind their beans to ensure they’re getting the best flavor and aroma.
As we mentioned earlier, espresso is a specialty coffee that’s brewed through a pressurized process. Water is pumped through the coffee grounds you place in the portafilter, fully saturating the grinds and releasing the most oils for a more flavorful drink.
But what makes espresso unique is that a layer of golden-brown foam forms on top of the brew during the process which is known as crema. The crema forms as a result of the enhanced CO2 saturation through the extraction process. And this is also why espresso is always served in a smaller two- or three-ounce cup. If you use larger cups, the crema layer will dissipate. Also, note that espresso is the basis for many other coffee drinks, including cappuccinos, macchiatos, americanos, lattes, and flat whites, to name a few.
We can’t stress enough that you don’t necessarily need to buy coffee labeled as “espresso” to use it in an espresso machine as long as it’s the right grind size. But there are benefits to upgrading your coffee experience with a premium cup of aromatic coffee. Beans that have been ground and roasted specifically for espresso will produce the right consistency, flavor, and body that you need for an authentic espresso experience.
The answer to this question is somewhat complex. Technically speaking, coffee beans don’t have a true shelf life because they’re considered shelf-stable. This means that you don’t have to necessarily worry about your coffee beans turning rancid.
However, there’s a caveat. While the beans might technically still be safe to use, there’s a correlation between freshness and age. Specifically, the flavor profile can be altered with age, especially if you aren’t storing them in an airtight container. Again, this has to do with the release of CO2, which impacts flavor and aroma.
If you opt for whole beans, experts agree that you should only grind exactly what you need rather than grinding the entire bag. Serious coffee fans should aim to finish a container of whole beans within three to four weeks of opening it. Meanwhile, ground coffee should be used within two weeks of opening.
To preserve your coffee, use an airtight container that’s ideally opaque so that light doesn’t impact the beans. Place your container in a cool, dark location as humidity and warm temperatures can also alter the coffee flavor. And avoid buying in bulk unless you’re positive that you can consume that much coffee in a short period.
Along with determining your preferred flavor profile for your coffee and whether you want to grind your beans daily or use pre-ground coffee, there are a few other factors you need to consider when shopping for coffee for your espresso maker.
This is the first question you need to ask yourself. If you have an espresso machine that relies on pods, there’s no need to go shopping for other types of coffee — ground or whole bean.
If you have an espresso maker with a built-in grinder (usually found on fully automatic and super-automatic machines), you can be confident that it’ll grind your coffee to the optimal size. If it doesn’t have a grinder, you’ll want to ensure that you pick a grinder that can produce espresso-friendly grinds. This is usually a much finer grind than the coarser coffee grounds used for other types of coffee.
Picking the right beans that produce a flavor you love is essential for coffee, especially for espresso, where a bean’s flavor profile is more pronounced through the high-pressure extraction process. Oily beans are a unique feature that occurs during the natural roasting process.
This can leave the bean coated with natural sugars, which can create unique flavor notes such as chocolate, caramel, and even a smoky quality. It can create a more flavorful cup of coffee, but you’ll need to choose carefully as these beans can cause havoc with super-automatic espresso makers and clog the grinder.
While there’s no special espresso bean, you do need to pay attention to the roast as this will directly impact flavor. For drip and other traditional coffees, a light or medium roast is perfectly fine. But because of the extraction process used to make espresso, it can create a sour flavor profile. Experts agree that you should opt for medium-dark to dark roasts, which hold up better during the brewing process and create better flavor.
There’s no right or wrong answer here. However, espresso blends tend to create a tastier cup of coffee, assuming that the blend is well-balanced. Single-origin can be a nice option if you want to experiment with flavor and discover which appeals to you most.
With single-origin, this means that you’re usually either drinking Arabica or Robusta coffee. Most single-origin coffee promoted for espresso is made from Arabica beans because they have a more complex flavor profile.
Everyone’s flavor preferences will differ. But as a general guide, coffee experts recommend opting for medium-dark or dark roast blends. You can use single-origins, but if you want more complex multi-note flavors, blends are preferable.
Freshness and flavor go hand in hand with espresso. Experts agree that you should grind your beans just before you’re ready to make a cup of espresso. And ideally, you should finish a bag of beans within three to four weeks of opening the package to minimize the risk of losing flavor.
In theory, there’s no difference. However, “espresso beans” are usually a darker roast or might even be a blend to create a more complex flavor profile. Because of the different brewing processes, light and medium roasts don’t typically taste as appealing when brewed as an espresso.
Because of the brewing process, espresso requires a much finer grind than traditional coffees which might rely on a coarser size. If you attempt to use a larger grind with an espresso machine, you may find that your espresso tastes weaker, bitter, acidic, or even salty as the grinds were under-extracted.