Although it is usually recommended that you use a medium to dark roast, strictly speaking, you can use any coffee bean to make espresso. It’s just that light roast beans tend to lack the flavour and depth that is required for a short, sharp shock of espresso. Otherwise, choosing espresso beans means finding a flavour you like with a strength to match. However, getting a good bean is important because poor-quality beans can ruin an espresso experience, no matter how well you grind and tamp the coffee or prepare the espresso.
Below, you will find reviews of 10 of the best espresso coffee beans in the UK, including medium and dark roast, as well as some organic and decaf options to meet all possible tastes.
A Quick Comparison of Our Favourites in 2023
The 10 Best Espresso Coffee Beans in the UK:
1. Spiller & Tait Signature Blend Coffee Beans – Best Overall
Spiller & Tait Signature Blend Coffee Beans are medium/high roasted Arabica coffee beans from Columbia, Brazil, Kenya, and Ethiopia. The level of roasting and the use of Arabica beans make this the Devonshire-based company’s espresso blend. The beans are roasted in the UK which means there’s a better chance of them arriving fresh at your door. The beans are also suitable for other types of coffee drinks and can be used in cafetieres, bean-to-cup machines, and espresso makers.
The coffee has tastes of almonds and demerara sugar, although because this is a medium to heavy roast, it is the coffee flavour that really stands out above all others.
2. Lavazza Qualita Rossa Coffee Beans – Best Value
|Bean source:||Brazil, Africa|
|Bean type:||Arabica, Robusta|
Trying to make the best-tasting espresso means trying to emulate the best Italian baristas and espressos. Lavazza Qualita Rossa Coffee Beans are a mix of Robusta and Arabica beans, medium roasted, and supplied by Lavazza, who is a well-known Italian coffee maker. The beans give a smooth flavour and have flavours of chocolate and dried fruit, which especially come through when made into espresso. The bag is resealable, which might sound like a small thing, but a 1-kilogram bag can last weeks if you only have one or two espressos a day, and it saves you having to transfer the beans to a different container.
The Lavazza beans are very well priced, the cheapest on our list, and their all-around performance means that they are the best espresso coffee beans in the UK for the money.
3. Rounton Coffee Brazil Family Farm – Premium Choice
A lot of coffee beans claim to be single source beans. In some cases, this means roughly the same region and can actually incorporate several areas of a country. In other cases, it means that the beans have come from a specific area of a country. Rounton Coffee Brazil Family Farm beans come from a single family-run farm in Brazil.
The beans themselves are roasted in Yorkshire, ensuring they are fresh when delivered, and the Arabica beans are medium roasted, so they are suitable for espresso and other types of coffee machines. Expect chocolate and strong coffee flavour from this blend, which is on the expensive side and is a little weak for strong espresso coffee lovers.
4. Lavazza Super Crema Coffee Beans
|Bean source:||Brazil, Central America, Indonesia|
|Bean type:||Arabica, Robusta|
Lavazza Super Crema Coffee Beans are a combination of Arabica and Robusta beans from Brazil, Central America and Indonesia. They have been medium roasted to create a coffee bean that is ideal for making espressos. The blend has been specially created to promote a good espresso froth or crema, so that the crema lasts longer without dispersing. The coffee has flavours of brown sugar and hazelnut with a flowery aroma.
Although the beans are targeted at espresso lovers, they can be ground and used in any style of coffee machine and are among the cheapest on this list. However, as with a lot of commercial coffee brands that are found on supermarket shelves, the Lavazza Super Crema Coffee Beans are not as fresh as those that are ground in the UK in small batches. Plus, the flavours aren’t as rich as in some other speciality espresso beans.
5. Grumpy Mule Organic Seasonal Decaf
|Volume:||6 x 227 grams|
The Grumpy Mule Organic Seasonal Decaf coffee is a medium roast decaffeinated coffee with a smooth chocolate flavour. Not everybody drinks espresso for the caffeinated kick it provides, and if you enjoy the flavour of a cappuccino but want something you can drink in the evening or are sensitive to caffeine, then decaffeinated beans are an alternative.
The Grumpy Mule beans are suitable for a host of coffee machine types, including espresso machines and pour-over and percolator machines. The beans are about average price, but they are decaffeinated, so won’t be what a lot of people are searching for.
6. Moreish Coffee Roasters Strong Shit! Dark Roasted Coffee Beans
|Bean type:||Arabica, Robusta|
Moreish Coffee Roasters Strong Shit! Dark Roasted Coffee Beans are a dark-roasted combination of Arabica and Robusta beans from Brazil. The beans are roasted in the UK, so they should be fresher than most of the commercial brands. This is a dark roast, and while the roasters claim that the beans give a coffee with flavours of caramel, peanut, and treacle, the dark roasting process means that the overwhelming flavour is one of strong coffee.
The bag is on the expensive side and clearly targeted at people that really like a strong flavour espresso. This doesn’t mean that the coffee is any higher in caffeine than other beans—strong refers to the flavour.
7. Grumpy Mule Organic Espresso Whole Bean Coffee
|Bean type:||Arabica, Robusta|
|Volume:||3 x 227 grams|
Grumpy Mule’s Organic Espresso Whole Bean Coffee is a dark roasted blend of Arabica and Robusta beans from around the globe. The beans have been slowly roasted, which means that they should have retained more of their additional flavours while also bringing out the coffee flavour.
It has flavours of soft fruit and chocolate, a nutty aftertaste, and low acidity levels, which makes it a good choice for the espresso machine. It is an expensive coffee, but it’s also Fairtrade and Rainforest Alliance certified. It is also organic, and there aren’t too many organic coffee options out there. Like all Grumpy Mule coffee beans, the espresso blend beans are roasted in the UK.
8. Rave Coffee Colombia El Carmen Green Coffee Beans
The best way to ensure that you receive coffee beans soon after they are roasted is to roast them yourself at home. You can buy a special coffee roaster, although some roast coffee beans in a cast iron skillet on the stove. These Rave Coffee Colombia El Carmen Green Coffee Beans are green beans, which means they have not been roasted and shouldn’t be used until they have been.
It has flavours of caramel, chocolate, and red fruits, although how much of these flavours will be evident in the brew will be determined by how long and how dark you roast them. You can expect around 400–450 grams of beans once they are roasted, but even with some weight loss during the roasting process, this works out as a cheap coffee option and gives the satisfaction of roasting the coffee yourself, as well as the added benefit of being able to
9. Brown Bear Real Colombia Coffee Beans
Brown Bear Real Colombia Coffee Beans are Arabica beans from Colombia that are medium roasted and considered suitable for use in espresso machines as well as cafetieres, bean-to-cup machines, and other types of coffee machines. The coffee boasts toffee and chocolate flavours and a medium coffee flavour.
The coffee is expensive, albeit because it comes in a smaller bag, but the bag is resealable, which helps ensure freshness without having to siphon the beans into a different container. What’s more, 5% of all purchases of Brown Bear coffee are donated to the Free the Bears UK charity.
10. Rave Coffee the Italian Job Blend
|Bean type:||Arabica, Robusta|
Rave Coffee The Italian Job Blend is another bean from Rave Coffee. The roasters say that this is a darker blend than they usually use, and the darkest they offer. They have also included some robusta beans in order to increase the caffeine levels and to make an espresso that has a caffeinated kick.
The resulting coffee tastes of dark chocolate and walnut and while it is designed for espresso makers and espresso coffees, it works well with milk for espresso-based drinks and can also be used to make strong brewed coffee and other coffee styles. The coffee is reasonably priced, but despite being darker roasted, it is still lacking the coffee punch that you would expect from a good Italian espresso—still good for the mild espresso lovers.
Buyer’s Guide: Choosing the Best Espresso Beans in the UK
Generally speaking, espresso uses a dark or medium-dark roast coffee bean. Anything lighter and you can be left with an acidic tasting drink because of the quicker extraction method used to make an espresso.
Single Origin or Blend?
You may have seen the terms single-origin and blend in the description of certain coffee beans and both can be found in espresso beans.
Single-origin espresso beans are beans that all come from a single origin. Some manufacturers use this to refer to the same country, but it usually means that the beans have come from the same region of the country, or, in some cases, even the same farm. This means that all the beans should have a very similar flavour and profile so that you won’t get an odd mixture of flavours.
Blends or blended coffees combine beans from different regions or different countries. They may, and often do, combine different bean types so that an espresso blend includes both Arabica and Robusta beans. This can give a more rounded coffee with a good balance of acidity, fruit flavours, and rich coffee flavour. While purists might prefer single-origin coffee beans so that they can choose and stick to a specific flavour profile, many drinkers prefer a blended coffee because it has everything to offer.
Arabica or Robusta?
Arabica and Robusta are the two main types of coffee beans used in espresso making.
Arabica are considered high-quality beans. They have a complex flavour profile that combines chocolatey, fruity, and nutty flavours, although the exact characteristics depend on the coffee beans themselves. Most growing regions produce Arabica beans.
Robusta beans are easier to grow and are less prone to disease and other problems during growth. They also taste more bitter and don’t have the same complex flavours as Arabica beans. One thing, other than lower costs, that they do have going for them is that Robusta beans tend to have around twice as much caffeine as Arabica. For this reason, you will often find blends that are made up mostly of Arabica but with a relatively small amount of Robusta to increase the caffeination level.
The Best Coffee Growing Regions for Espresso Beans
Coffee is grown in a host of countries and regions around the world and while every coffee farm or plantation has its own unique flavour of bean, thanks to soil and environmental conditions, there are some common features in coffees from certain regions.
- Sumatran coffee plantations use a unique hulling process that ultimately gives their coffee an earthy, almost mushroomy flavour. This won’t be to all coffee drinkers’ tastes, but some people will love it. Sumatran coffee does tend to be dark roast, which lends itself well to espresso coffees.
- Southern and Central American beans tend to end up as medium roast coffee. They have a little more acidity and combine fruity and floral flavours. Colombia is an especially popular country for espresso beans while Brazilian coffee beans are used in a lot of espresso blends because they have a naturally sweeter flavour that pairs well with stronger beans.
- African beans are left out to air dry naturally in the Sun. This process gives a stronger flavour to the beans, which also have chocolate and fruit flavours and makes them a good choice for espresso.
- Indonesian beans are also considered to have a strong and robust flavour and are another good choice of bean for espresso.
Ensure a Fine Grind
Whatever the origin of the bean and whether you opt for single-origin or blended coffee, one of the most important steps to making a good espresso from coffee beans is in the grind. Specifically, you need to ensure that the beans are ground sufficiently fine. Espresso brewing is a relatively quick brewing technique, when compared to pour-over and other methods. By grinding the powder fine, it forces more pressure during the process and ensures that the water passes through more coffee grounds and extracts more flavour. If the coffee is ground too coarsely, it will give a weak and watery espresso.
One way to ensure that you are grinding to a suitable fineness is to look at the crema. This is the golden or cream-coloured froth that should appear on the top of your espresso. If there are too many large bubbles or the crema is virtually non-existent, it is likely that your coffee is too coarsely ground.
Good Tamping Is Important
Another important element to espresso making is the tamping of the coffee in the filter. If you have a bean-to-cup machine or an automatic espresso machine, you probably don’t have to tamp the grounds yourself. If you do, it can take some practice to get it just right. They need to be tamped compactly enough to prevent the water from just running straight through, but not so tight to prevent the water from dispersing around the whole coffee and extracting into the cup.
Certifications and Claims
When buying espresso beans, there are certain claims that might be found on packaging and in marketing materials.
Organic coffee means that the beans were farmed using organic farming methods. The coffee should not have been grown in soil that uses fertiliser, pesticides, or other potentially harmful chemicals. Try to check organic claims rather than believing the use of the word, however, as some marketing materials use the word to mean different things.
The Fairtrade certificate means that farmers are paid a fair amount for their coffee in addition to a Fairtrade premium. The farmers, for their part, agree to meet certain standards, including not using child labour. Not all of the coffee beans used in a coffee blend need to be from Fairtrade farms for a coffee to claim to be Fairtrade, however.
The Rainforest Alliance was set up to help ensure that natural resources aren’t destroyed and that people working to harvest those natural resources are treated fairly. To receive Rainforest Alliance certification, companies do not need to meet any specific standards but need to show that they are attempting to improve their processes.
Does Espresso Contain More Caffeine Than Other Coffees?
Typically, an espresso should contain around the same amount of caffeine as a brewed coffee made using the same amount of the same beans. Although they use a different extraction method and espresso tastes strong, they do not necessarily contain more caffeine than any other coffee. However, there are some brands and some specific espresso beans that have been chosen for their highly-caffeinated levels.
Are Beans Better Than Ground Espresso?
Generally, fresh beans are always better than pre-ground beans. As soon as coffee is ground, it starts to lose its flavour and freshness. Storing the ground coffee in an airtight container can slow this deterioration, but not completely stop it. By grinding beans and using the grounds straight away, you will be enjoying coffee in a much fresher state to even the freshest ground alternative. This means that the coffee will retain more of its flavour and will more readily give its secondary flavours when drunk.
Grinding your own beans also means that you have total control over how fine the coffee is ground, which can greatly impact the quality and flavour of the resulting drink.
Can You Freeze Espresso Beans?
Some people swear by freezing their coffee beans, but unless you can provide perfect conditions (vacuum packed in airtight containers), the defrosting process will result in moisture being added to the beans and this tends to result in a loss of flavour. If the beans are stored too openly, they can even take on the flavours and smells of other foods in the freezer, although this tends to be a greater problem with ground coffee than with the whole beans.
Espresso Bean Storage
If you shouldn’t freeze espresso beans, what is the best way to store them to ensure that they stay fresh as long as possible?
Put them in an airtight container and store this container in a cool, dark place. Avoid putting too many beans in the hopper of the espresso machine, because even with a silicone seal, the hopper is not airtight, and the beans will start to degrade and lose quality.
There isn’t really any such thing as espresso beans. Any coffee beans can be used to make espresso, but it is true that certain types of beans tend to make a better shot than others. Dark or medium-dark roasted beans yield the best results, with Colombian beans being especially popular for this purpose, but it comes down to personal taste whether you choose to use a single-origin bean or a blend. Also, where those beans come from or even how they are roasted could affect it. Hopefully, the reviews above have given you some idea of where to start in your hunt for the best espresso beans in the UK.
We believe that the combination of almond and chocolate flavour from the medium-dark roasted Spiller & Tait Signature Blend Coffee Beans makes them the best overall bean to use for espresso, while the lower cost and uniform Lavazza Qualita Rossa coffee beans are a good alternative and the best espresso beans for the money.
Featured Image Credit: Spalnic, Shutterstock
Table of Contents
- A Quick Comparison of Our Favourites in 2023
- The 10 Best Espresso Coffee Beans in the UK:
- 1. Spiller & Tait Signature Blend Coffee Beans – Best Overall
- 2. Lavazza Qualita Rossa Coffee Beans – Best Value
- 3. Rounton Coffee Brazil Family Farm – Premium Choice
- 4. Lavazza Super Crema Coffee Beans
- 5. Grumpy Mule Organic Seasonal Decaf
- 6. Moreish Coffee Roasters Strong Shit! Dark Roasted Coffee Beans
- 7. Grumpy Mule Organic Espresso Whole Bean Coffee
- 8. Rave Coffee Colombia El Carmen Green Coffee Beans
- 9. Brown Bear Real Colombia Coffee Beans
- 10. Rave Coffee the Italian Job Blend
- Buyer’s Guide: Choosing the Best Espresso Beans in the UK
- Single Origin or Blend?
- Arabica or Robusta?
- The Best Coffee Growing Regions for Espresso Beans
- Ensure a Fine Grind
- Good Tamping Is Important
- Certifications and Claims
- Does Espresso Contain More Caffeine Than Other Coffees?
- Are Beans Better Than Ground Espresso?
- Can You Freeze Espresso Beans?
- Espresso Bean Storage