There’s one thing that makes me downright furious when I talk to casual coffee drinkers. That’s their tendency to understate the benefits of a good espresso.
A lot of people think of espresso as just “coffee on steroids” or “coffee that comes in a fun tiny cup.” But the reality is: espresso has a number of incredible qualities that set it apart from a traditional cup of coffee. Chief among these is flavor: when you drink an espresso, you get an incredible depth of flavor. Tastes ranging from chocolate and red velvet cake to popcorn and whiskey can all be contained in a cup of espresso or cafe crema!.
If you’re used to cheap espresso, you probably haven’t experienced the wonderful depth of flavor from a good cup of espresso. That’s why I decided to take a look at my favorite espressos, including one of my personal favorites: Verena Street’s amazing dark roast espresso. (click to buy on Amazon or read full reviews below)
- Top Choice: Two Volcanoes Guatamala Dark Roast
- Best Crema: Lavazza’s Super Crema Espresso
- Best Dark Roast: Verena Street’s Shot Tower Espresso
- Best Light Roast: Wild Coffee Single Origin Peru Light Roast
- Best Medium Roast: Ethical Bean Coffee Sweet Espresso
- Best For Lattes and Cappuccinos: Death Wish
- Best Decaf: San Francisco Bay Coffee
Another favorite on the list is the Two Volcanoes single origin. That’s because I think it’s an absolute journey for your tastebuds: something you can only get out of the best espressos.
We’ll be taking a more in-depth look at these beans in a short while. But first, here’s our brewing and buying guide when it comes to coffee beans for espresso.
What Makes A Good Espresso?
The biggest misconception about espresso is the idea that it has to be extremely dark. While a number of wonderful espressos are made using dark roasts, the reality is that a good espresso is defined by its complexity. You should look for a rich variety of flavors in your cup.
As a matter of fact, if you can only describe your beverage as “dark” or “strong,” then you’re either drinking a bad espresso or have a cold.
A good one will give you many of the flavors associated with light roasts: berry, citrus fruit, and red velvet cake have all been tasted as notes of a good light espresso. Some of my favorite dark espressos have included tastes such as popcorn, whiskey, and dark chocolate.
If you aren’t sure what flavors you will or will not like in your espresso, you should start with something single origin. Single origin coffees genuinely emphasize certain clear flavors, making them invaluable tools for people looking to figure out exactly what they like.
Another misconception is that espresso has fundamentally more caffeine than regular coffee. While it is and should be brewed stronger, there is no difference between the caffeine content of a coffee bean and an espresso bean.
One other thing to look for in espresso is low acidity. This is because espresso, particularly when made with either an espresso machine or an aeropress, has a lower brewing time than a cup of regular coffee. This plays a huge role in reducing the beverage’s Ph level.
Finally, make sure you buy whole bean coffee to preserve the flavor and aroma of your espresso. You can use regular beans to make a coffee. The secret is in the grind: you should make your espresso incredibly fine to maximize strength and flavor density.
Methods For Brewing
There are multiple options for those looking to brew espresso. Which you choose is a matter of personal taste and budget.
The easiest (but most expensive,) way to brew espresso is with an espresso machine. There are various varieties of machine, but an average espresso machine can run you anywhere from $50 to over $900.
Espresso machines will also come with various twists and tricks. Many newer models include a built-in milk frother for those looking to make lattes and cappuccinos.
If you don’t want to pay for an espresso machine, you may be able to make a fine cup of espresso with the coffee maker you have. Both Aero and French Presses can be used to make espresso by slightly changing the grind and volume of the beans you use.
With the Aeropress, simply fill the tube with finely ground coffee to the “1.” Then, pour in your water and press down. You should be able to make a nice cup of double espresso like this: however, you will not get the same mouthfeel or crema from this as you will using an espresso machine. That being said, the extractive qualities of the Aeropress are such that you won’t be missing out on the taste of the espresso.
Using a french press, simply increase the amount of coffee you use before steeping it for four minutes. Make sure you give the french press a “bloom” when you pour in the water: put a small quantity in for 15 seconds before adding the rest.
While an espresso machine is recommended for those looking for a classic espresso, these are great ways to make some on a budget.
Moka Express or Moka Pot
A Moka Express or Moka Pot is a cross between a drip coffee maker and an espresso machine. While it advertises itself as an espresso machine, the cup of coffee you get out of it is far more similar to an Aeropress “espresso” than anything machine-made.
To make espresso with a moka express, simply follow the package instructions. Luckily, the device is made for making a type of espresso. Once again, you will not get thickness or crema from this method: that tends to be reserved for the use of an espresso machine. Still, this will give you the flavor you want out of an espresso and is a great budget method: a Moka Express can be purchased for under $40.
7 Amazing Espressos
Top Choice: Two Volcanoes Guatamala Dark Roast
Most people don’t think of dark roasts as fruity. But Two Volcanoes’ dark roast is absolutely phenomenal in its ability to surprise. Filled with woodsy and fruity goodness, you can really taste the rainforest in this espresso.
This is my favorite coffee on the list. That’s because it does what I think good single origin coffees, along with good espressos, should do: it takes you on a journey. Every sip is an adventure, and it features some wonderful mind expanding qualities.
Best Crema: Lavazza’s Super Crema Espresso
If you’re interested in having a thin and foamy layer at the top of your espresso, or making a Swiss-style cafe Crema, then Lavazza’s Super Crema is the way to go. Made specifically to produce the crema effect, this beverage gives you the creamy mouthfeel espresso-lovers crave without sacrificing flavor.
Be aware that it’s a lot easier to get this effect using an espresso machine than it is using other brewing methods.
Best Dark Roast: Verena Street’s Shot Tower Espresso
On top of being kosher certified, Verena Street’s dark roast is great for brewing espresso because it offers a complex take on the roast. A good dark roast should emphasize a chocolaty and nutty sweetness: this is something you get out of Verena Street’s dark roast.
When buying a dark roast to make espresso, be aware that you’ll need something that emphasizes complexity over robustness. I love sumatras, but I would never use a sumatra for my espresso.
This is something you get out of Verena street’s coffees because it is a small-batch craft coffee shop.
Best Light Roast: Wild Coffee Single Origin Peru Light Roast
A great single origin light roast, the WIld Coffee Peruvian blend makes a mean espresso. That’s because the nutty elements inherent to Peruvian coffees will stop the fruity light flavors from becoming overpowering in your cup of coffee.
Remember that, while you want strong flavors from your coffee, you also want to be able to taste everything. You get the best of both worlds with Wild Coffee’s Peruvian light roast.
Best Medium Roast: Ethical Bean Coffee Sweet Espresso
Ethical Bean Coffee’s Sweet Espresso is a well-balanced treat for morning or evening. Like Lavazza’s espresso, this offers some beautiful crema. It also offers a velvety mouthfeel and a lovely and complex taste.
When you drink this, you should get some notes of chocolate, nuts, and berries. Coming in a strong and sweet package, this is the perfect espresso for beginners and experts alike.
Best For Lattes and Cappuccinos: Death Wish
We’ve been critical of death wish in the past. And flavor has been a big part of that criticism: in exchange for a higher caffeine content, Death Wish opted to make a coffee thats flavor can be described as somewhere between “very bitter” and “way too bitter.”
While this makes Death Wish coffee a tough sell for those looking for a cup of black coffee, it can actually be beneficial for those looking to make a latte or cappucinno. That same bitterness, when combined with steamed/frothed milk and other flavorings, actually allows the coffee to stand on its own in your latte.
Anybody who’s ever made a latte at home knows this can be a problem: and those who have done it using the aero, french press, or Moka express methods of making espresso know that this can be nearly impossible.
In that respect, you should totally use death wish . It’s the easiest way to get a Starbucks or coffee shop-style latte from a home made espresso!
Best Decaf: San Francisco Bay Coffee
Some may say Decaf Espresso is an oxymoron. Hopefully, reading this article will help you realize that this is not the case. Espresso doesn’t just intensify the caffeine content of your beverage: it intensifies the flavor. Somebody who doesn’t want caffeine may still have a burning desire for that deep and rich taste.
One of the best things about San Francisco Bay’s decaf coffee is that they use the Swiss Water Process, which we’ve already mentioned is the best way to make decaf coffee. This preserves the natural flavor of the coffee beans and keeps you safe from the addition of chemicals during the decaf process.
Related: Ditch the Keurig! Why Aeropress is the Single Cup King, DIY Starbucks: The 5 Best Home Espresso Machines for Every Budget