The Best Espresso Coffee Beans
We’re all here for a reason. We love coffee. No, I mean we LOVE coffee. And sometimes, it’s nice to have a cup at home in our bathrobes, rather than having to get dressed and head over to our favorite coffee shop.
This article will help you find the best coffee beans for espresso. But first, a little primer on the not-so-humble coffee bean!
What is a coffee bean?
The coffee bean is the seed of the coffee plant. It is the pit inside the fruit of the coffee tree, often referred to as a cherry.
As with cherries, coffee is a stone fruit. Each coffee “cherry” contains two stones with their flat sides together. The two most important coffee varieties are Robusta and Arabica.
Roughly 40% of coffee produced is Robusta and 60% is Arabica. Arabica beans consist of up to 1.4% caffeine and Robusta can contain up to 4% caffeine (guess which I prefer…).
Coffee trees grow to 15 to about 33 feet high. As a tree matures, it branches less and produces more fruit. Coffee trees are relatively finicky, requiring very specific conditions to flourish, namely specific temperature ranges and amounts of rainfall, depending on the variety.
As well, they only grow between the Tropics of Capricorn and Cancer. Coffee is a major crop in some parts of the world (Brazil exports almost 45% of all of the world’s coffee).
How is coffee harvested and why this is important?
Coffee is almost always hand-picked when ripe, and can either be picked selectively (only those fruits that are ripe are picked), or “strip-picked” where all of the berries on any given tree are harvested.
When a grower picks the coffee berries selectively, they can use the specification “OCR” which stands for “operation cherry red.” Coffee picked in this way commands a higher price.
How are coffee beans processed
Once the coffee is picked, there are two methods to process the berries in order to extract the seeds. Coffee “beans” are actually seeds, but are referred to as beans because they resemble beans.
The two processing methods are “wet” and “dry.”
In the wet method (also known as washed), the seeds and flesh of the coffee cherry are separated. The seeds are soaked in water for about two days to ferment them. The seeds are then washed with water to remove the mucilaginous material that surrounds them.
In the dry method (which is cheaper), detritus (twigs, leaves, stones, etc…) is separated from the berries which are spread on raised beds in the sun to dry. The fruit is turned regularly for even drying. This process takes between 2 and 3 weeks.
Roasting the beans…
Coffee roasting has a long history going back to the Ottoman Empire in the 15th century. Small amounts of coffee beans were roasted over a brazier in a shallow perforated pan (usually made from metal or porcelain). The beans were stirred with a spoon. The first hand-cranked cylinder roaster can be traced to Cairo, Egypt in about 1650.
Un-roasted coffee beans are referred to as “green,” although if ripe, they are more a yellowish brown color. Roasting is the second of three processes needed to take a coffee bean from the tree to your cup. Processing is first (as described above), followed by roasting, and then (finally!) brewing.
The roasting process
During the roasting process, coffee is sorted, roasted, cooled, and packaged. It may also be ground, but being the coffee connoisseurs that we are, pre-ground coffee really doesn’t interest us.
Once coffee beans are sorted (and debris is removed), coffee is weighed and put into the roaster where heat is applied and all kinds of chemical magic happens. Once the roasting cycle is complete, the beans are removed and cooled with a fan. This stops the “cooking” and keeps the beans from becoming over-roasted.
During the roasting process, the coffee beans lose about 16% of their weight (due to water loss and loss of other volatile compounds), but nearly double in size because of the expansion of the cellulose structure of the beans.
Depending on where the coffee is roasted, some other ingredients may be added to the coffee prior to roasting. In Vietnam, clarified butter and sugar are added to the beans before roasting. This “butter roast” yields a richer tasting and slightly caramelized tasting beverage.
The art and science of roasting
The Best Coffee Beans for Espresso
Mystic Monk Coffee: Espresso Classico Whole Bean (Dark Roast 100% Arabica) – 12 ounce bag
Mystic Monk Coffee was founded by a group of Carmelite Monks in 2007. Their coffees have fantastic reviews overall, and they report that 85% of their business is from repeat customers. The website describes the Espresso Classico:
“Syrupy crema and body with deeply fragrant tones of caramel and dark chocolate. Multi-layered fruit and malt tones perdure throughout the abiding aftertaste.” These coffee beans are 100% Arabica. The resulting brew can be described as having “great complex flavor with very little if any bitterness.”
The beans have the appearance that they should… They almost look as though they are sweating, and the aroma is spot on. I grind mine fine and use my trusty Moka pot to make a fantastic morning espresso. These beans produce a brew with complex, almost sweet flavor. Mystic Monk has great reviews and they seem to have a cult-like following!
Nicoletti Coffee Espresso Roast Beans 2.20lb (Made in Brooklyn NY since 1972)
Nicoletti Coffee Roasters is a coffee shop located in Brooklyn, New York. They have been in business since 1972, and they roast (and sell) all of their own coffee. All of their roasts have a roast date printed on the package and all packages ship within 24 hours of roasting.
The bean and roast consistency (a lighter roast, by the way) is excellent from batch to batch and that the coffee is smooth with no bitterness or acidity. This blend works especially well for cappuccinos, lattes, and other milk drinks. As well, the roast has a flavor profile that has baker’s chocolate and some nutty flavors. The shots are thick and syrupy. The price is also excellent, $21.95 / Kilogram at the time of this writing.
Koffee Kult Eye Cracker Espresso Beans – Bright, Bold Medium Roast with a Citrus Twist Coffee (12oz)
Koffee Kult coffee beans are organically sourced fair trade Colombian coffee and roasted in Hollywood, FL. This roast has a fruity, bright flavor, with a flavor profile of tangerine, carmel, cherry, mild lemon, and a hint of sweetness. It also has a high caffeine content which makes a great morning cup! Roasted in small batches, it is packaged in a re-sealable valve seal zip-top bag.
The brew from these beans has a decent crema, and produces coffee that is smooth, rich, and low acid.
Since coffee is such a personal taste and experience, I really cannot recommend the right blend for you.
Finding coffee that you really love takes some trial and error, but all of the best espresso beans that I’ve reviewed are a great jumping-off place to find your own caffeinated bliss!