What To Look For When Buying Good Espresso Beans

What To Look For When Buying Good Espresso Beans

When buying good espresso beans, you want to ensure you are getting your hands on the best possible quality and best tasting beans for brewing a truly amazing espresso with a great taste and nice, thick creama on top.

This article deals exactly with this topic, from roast level, to regions that cultivate coffee, whole bean or pre-ground, grind size and how to store your beans for the maximum freshness.

My goal with this article is to simply help you to buy good espresso beans and know what you should be looking for and why.

What Makes Good Espresso Beans?

The coffee beans that you buy will make a big difference to the quality of espresso that you make, but simply buying an espresso roast does not mean you are making a shot of espresso.

It is the method of elaboration, the whole method of preparation that your coffee beans undergo when you are brewing your espresso shot, that has a much bigger impact. The water pressure, the grind size, temperature and brew time play a large factor.

…And the freshness of your beans. Beans that are not so fresh will taste off and will have less of a crema on top.

Making a great shot of espresso, your coffee beans first need to be oily and very finely ground and your home espresso machine set to a pressure of 9 bar or 130 PSI with a hot water temperature of between 195F (92C) to 205F (96C).

Prior to the brewing process and extraction of your shot, you need to finely and evenly tamp your grounds.

The extraction process is around 25 to 30 seconds. Get all the variables right and the result will be an intensely focused coffee that is short, rather enjoyable and forms the base of many milk based coffee drinks and a cup of coffee in its own right, the famed espresso.

Due to the method of elaboration, you need a special machine to make it as other coffee brewing equipment simply does not have that much needed 9 bar (130 PSI). A home espresso machine or a professional one is a must have piece of equipment for making excellent espressos.

For the beans, espresso beans are usually roasted to a deeper and darker roast than regular coffee bean and an espresso roast is officially classed as dark roast beans due to the roasting temperature and how long they are roasted for.

So,

at the core of it, the heart of the matter, there is no difference between espresso beans and regular coffee beans other than their roast profile. It is the method of preparation that makes an espresso distinctive from other coffee drinks.

You can, if you so want, use any coffee beans for espresso, but you must use an espresso machine and a very fine powder like grind size.

Also,

your espresso beans, if you grind them to a coarse grind size, they are still good to make a regular cup of coffee using your French press, drip brewer, siphon coffee maker and what ever you want to use.

What Makes Good Espresso Beans
There ar number of factors to consider when buying good espresso beans

Read: Which coffee For espresso machine is best?

Which Roast Level For Good Espresso Beans?

The degree in which your espresso coffee beans are roasted to plays a large part in how your espresso tastes.

This is true for single-origin beans, regular run-of-the-mill beans or a blend.

Thus,

it is important to know the role that the roast level plays and how it affects the final result.

All coffee beans start off as green beans which have a high water content and a very grassy taste and are highly acidic. They are then put through the drying phase before they are roasted.

Once they are roasted, their appearance, color and aroma change as they take on flavors associated with the roasting process to a greater or lesser degree depending on the level of roast. A light roast has more aromas and flavors associated with the origin, with darker roasts having less and more tastes associated with the roasting process.

Medium-dark roasts and dark roasts are perfect for espresso brewing due to having a low acidity and a fuller body with deep, more traditional coffee like flavors and a good degree of oil, which is essential for getting a creamy rich crema on top.

Something worthy of note is that the darker a roast is, the more oil it has on the surface of your beans. Also, Colombian beans are less acidic than other beans of a similar roast due to being washed as part of the cultivation process.

A dark roast will have less of the flavors of origin, more oil and a darker, smoky, ash like taste, particularly in Italian roasts, where as medium roasts and medium-dark roasts will have some notes and aromas from the origin and slightly less oil on the surface of the beans.

Which Roast Level For Good Espresso Beans
Medium-dark and dark roasts are good for espresso beans

Read: Best beans for espresso

What Is An Omni Roast?

An omni roast is something you will occasionally come across and will most likely find it in speciality roasters. It is a semi-new approach to coffee which has a mix of roast levels to produce a unique flavor in a single roast.

The general advice is that an omni roast, which is essentially a blend of roast levels for espresso brewing. I beg to differ and advise trying it and ensuring you get at least 50% dark roast beans to ensure a good or reasonable crema and a blend of flavors from the other roast profiles.

An omni roast is perfect for making all kinds of coffee drinks with numerous brewing methods and techniques.

Arabica Or Robusta?

Arabica and Robusta are two words you will see on your coffee packs, particularly whole bean coffee bags.

Arabica and Robusta both refer to the species or type of coffee plant the beans come from, and the result is two very different coffee experiences, regardless of which roast level.

Arabica is by far the most popular, with 60% of all coffee beans sold in the world being Arabica and 30% Robusta. The remaining 10% is split between Liberica (7%) and Excelsa (3%). Arabica beans are known as being higher quality, less acidic, lower in caffeine and more flavorsome. They are known for a softer, sweeter flavor profile and are grown at higher elevations than a Robusta plant.

Robusta are grown predominantly in the East and particularly in Asia and are lighter in taste and significantly higher in caffeine, averaging 1.7x to 2.2x more caffeine.

Arabica beans are grown in Latin America and Africa, if you like the western part of the coffee belt. Which is best for you will depend on your own personal taste and if you want a high amount of caffeine in your coffee or a less pronounced bitter flavor.

Arabica Or Robusta
Arabica Or Robusta beans is the big question

Single Origin Or An Espresso Blend?

Which one of these you choose, single origin or espresso blend, will play a large factor on how your espresso will turn out. Blending, and getting the blend right, comes down to the talents of the coffee roaster and the roast master as it is their skill that will balance the flavor of the espresso blend. Earthy, bitter, acidic, fruity, nutty, it is all down to their skill.

At Latte Love Brew, we highly recommend that you get in on the home roasting revolution and roast your own coffee beans.

A single-origin coffee beans is a fantastic way of getting an espresso or espresso-based drink to taste exactly as you want, enjoy the flavors that you enjoy and love. An espresso blend really has the advantage here, as due to the high level of roasting required for an espresso, you will lose a great deal of the flavor associated with the origin.

If you are making a coffee with a single origin coffee bean at a medium roast, you will enjoy the complex flavor profile of the beans but have less oil on the exterior and thus a reduced crema.

Worth noting is that espresso blends will often have more than one type of coffee bean as robusta beans will be added to the blend to boost the caffeine content.

Single Origin Or An Espresso Blend
Single origin is great but don’t rule out an espresso roast

Why Is Single Origin Important?

Hard core coffee lovers love a good single origin coffee, and there is really no coffee snobbery about it. They really do taste different and unique. Coffee beans, like wine and a vineyard, have a specific taste based on the region in which they are grown.

Contributive factors to the taste include the altitude, soil quality and the climate. The term “single origin” is in reference to all the beans coming from a single estate, a single plantation or co-operative or a single specific region.

A single origin coffee has a unique taste where a blend may have 4, 5 or more different beans all from different locations with no one single flavor dominating.

For this very reason, a new type of espresso roast is becoming more common, single origin espresso roast. Usually, a single origin espresso roast is roasted to a slightly lighter roast than a dark roast and more like a medium-dark roast.

This roast is best enjoyed as an espresso, a ristretto, but not with your milk-based espresso drinks as the coffee flavor will not cut through the milk.

Why Is Single Origin Important
Single origin is important.

What To Look For In A Blend

The first thing to consider when it comes to buying a blend is to first think about what kind of coffee you are going to make. Will you be making espresso shots or milk-based drinks more?

If you are going to be brewing an espresso shot you are best looking for a 100% Arabica blend that has East African and Latin American coffee beans in the blend. You will end up with a great espresso with good fruity notes. Look at the blend not being too dark a roast.

If you are more likely to be brewing milk based drinks, then darker blends that have a mix of Arabica and Robusta beans that have a deeper, stronger coffee taste that will cut through the milk.

What To Look For In A Blend
The are a few things to consider in an espresso blend

Good Espresso Beans And The Coffee Growing Regions

Good espresso beans grow all over the world so how do you decide which to buy and why?

Each plantation and co-operative has their own distinctive characteristics and flavors. Great Indonesian coffee from the island fo Sumatra is great as a dark roast. Grown of volcanic soil and and earthy flavor, even as a very dark French roast, it has a tangy, smoky taste of barbecued portobello mushrooms.

Indonesian beans generally produce a bold flavor that is well balanced with a medium-dark roast being an excellent choice due to only having a slight hint of bitterness and slight fruitiness.

Latin American coffees are very popular as medium roast coffee bean, which is how the local coffee enthusiasts like their coffee in this region.

They are brighter, fruity with distinctive floral notes. Colombian coffee tends to be less acidic due to the washing process and make for an excellent shot of espresso and all round great clean coffee made using a drip coffee maker, provided you use a cloth or metal filter.

Brazilian, Panamanian and Guatemalan coffee have a tendency to be of a sweeter flavor, and lighter and are best when blended with stronger robusta beans for espresso due to a lack of a caffeine kick.

African coffee beans use a dry processing method in which the beans are dried naturally in the sun and have great quality mineral dense soil, the result of which is great coffee with notes of chocolate and fruity hints. Which results in a very balanced coffee and a great cup of espresso, particularly when using Ethiopian coffee beans or Tanzanian coffee beans.

Good Espresso Beans And The Coffee Growing Regions
Each region produces a different taste.

Whole Bean Or Pre-ground?

It is always the big decision of coffee aficionados, but, seriously, the extra effort in grinding your own beans is worth the effort.

The reason is freshness.

As soon as you grind your beans, the surface area increases and more of your coffee is in contact with the air and the degradation is accelerated.

That alone improves the quality of your cup of coffee. Another factor is, of course, the ability to change the grind size and when required.

Most automatic espresso machines have a built in grinder. Honestly, hand on my coffee loving heart, you are by far best forgetting about one of these all-in-one machines with the built in coffee grinder.

The main reason is the quality of grind and the annoyance when it comes to brushing out and cleaning your grinder.

It is much more convenient to have a separate piece of equipment, keep it clean by brushing it out and giving it a good wipe and blowing it down after every use and only using an exact amount of beans, the amount you need to make your coffee just as you are about to brew it.

This again is to help you get fresher and better coffee.

The all-in-one machines can end up with rotten rancid coffee particles and oils clogging the grinder and ending up in your cup of coffee!

I make no apologies for being a stickler for freshness.

I have two very busy coffee franchises in Vietnam and Cambodia, I never have my staff fill the hopper (where the beans are stored in the grinder) but measure and grind fresh beans which are freshly stored (more on this later) for every single cup of coffee made.

Whole Bean Or Pre-ground
Whole bean is better than pre-ground coffee

Which Grind Size Is Best For An Espresso?

An authentic espresso, a very fine grind size is required, by very fine, ideally around 1/32 of an inch or 80 to 100 micron particle size, will produce a powder like grind that is perfect for pulling espresso shots but not so small that they will impede the flow of water.

Your grind should provide some resistance to the flow of water, if it doesn’t, you will end up with a watery espresso. If you end up with a watery espresso, chances are your grind size is too large.

For most grinders, your smallest grind size setting is perfect to produce the ideal espresso grind you are seeking.

Preground coffee that is marked as espresso is most likely to be ground to a size that is perfect for using in your home espresso machine and Moka pot.

Which Grind Size Is Best For An Espresso
The grind size is important

Storing Your Coffee Beans For Maximum Freshness

There are a few key effortless practices you can do to maximize the freshness of your coffee beans. The most important one is related to storage.

Please make the extra effort of using a proper coffee cannister that is airtight and has a one way valve. The one way valve stops air from getting in and degrading your beans while allowing the carbon dioxide emitted to be released.

The next step is simple.

Store you coffee cannister with your coffee beans in it in your freezer. They will not freeze, but they will remain fresher and colder. Keeping them colder also aids in the heat friction problem associated with grinding.

Final Thoughts, Frappé-Ing It All Up – Good Espresso Beans

Now that you know what to look for in good espresso beans, all that is required for you is to keep these tips in mind, put them into practice and get your hands on the best and most suitable espresso beans that suit your needs. 

Personally, I love trying different medium-dark roasted volcanic beans for an espresso as well very dark roasted Italian roasts.

Coffee is love, it's more than love — it's a passion of mine. I've had the luck to have travelled and enjoyed the most exotic of coffee's and unique flavors, brewing methods and techniques of making the perfect coffee from Thai hill tribe coffee to Indonesian volcanic coffee, Malaysian coffee that comes in a tea bag and the array of flavors in Vietnam, from Vanilla to Orange to Coconut to Avocado to even salt coffee and the famous egg coffee. The best part of my coffee adventures is getting to mix with the locals over a nice brew and learning how they make it! I'm cited and referenced on Google Scholar for the topic of coffee.

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