Arabica and Robusta are two species of the most important beans that are used also as espresso coffee beans, and are being used to brew any kind of coffee drink you may choose to brew.
I consider Espresso coffee to be the best brewing method for coffee.
A lot of considerations go into making the perfect cup of espresso, including roasting, grinding, and brewing.
Getting the perfect espresso shot is considered an art that can only be mastered with practice, knowledge, and intuition.
“Which are the best coffee beans for espresso?” I’ll do my best to answer this question, because there is no simple answer.
This is because no one style of espresso is the “best.”
Espresso coffee can taste very different from one coffee shop to another.
It even differs from one barista to another, working in the same coffee shop, and using the best coffee beans for espresso.
What’s Your Favorite Style of Espresso?
Everybody has their own favorite style of espresso, and cultural tastes have developed in different geographical regions of the world.
If 100% of Arabica beans are used, the result will be a milder espresso, more fragrant, and less bitter.
Half of the world’s diehard coffee fans believe that this is the better way to drink espresso.
They like their espresso to have a sweet, fruity flavor. They don’t mind that it is not strong enough to defend itself in a fight.
This produces a thin layer of crema, which is considered an essential part of espresso coffee.
This is why the other half of diehard coffee fans think that the 100% Arabica crowd has lost it.
Most roasters will blend Arabica and Robusta to produce a strong yet still flavorful coffee.
When it comes to beans, there only two varieties of beans considered, you’ll only ever have two choices; 100% Arabica or a blend of Arabica and Robusta.
But it gets more complicated when you think about the roast.
Espresso’s taste depends on how the beans are roasted, and not just on what type of beans are used.
Do You Have a Favorite Roast?
Once again, battle lines have been drawn as to what type of roast is the best coffee beans for espresso.
The French like to drink dark roasted espresso. Which is milder and less bitter and acidic and lacks a proper crema.
But others think that milder roasts are better suited for espresso.
The only way to make up your own opinion is to try different blends, different roasts, and find the best coffee beans for espresso combination that you like.
But the confusion doesn’t end there.
After you’ve chosen your roasted to perfection beans , another thing that can affect the taste of the espresso is how you grind it.
Making an espresso is considered an art by many coffee aficionados.
Fair Trade Coffee Beans
When looking to buy coffee beans, another factor some people consider is whether they are ‘fair trade’ or not.
Fairtrade coffee is certified by the FLO (Fairtrade Labeling Organization). This is part of a worldwide movement. That arose to ensure that poor farmers get a fair price for their labor.
The fair trade movement helps growers form democratic cooperatives to export their coffee.
For all the coffee sold as fair trade. The growers receive a set minimum rate of $1.40 per pound for Arabica and $1.05 for Robusta.
If the market prices are higher than these, the fair trade growers receive the market price plus $0.20 per pound.
This is to ensure that the farmers are not affected too much by market fluctuations in the coffee price.
From the consumers’ side, fair trade allows them to participate in ethical consumerism.
This basically means that you can feel righteous about paying a little extra for fair trade coffee, and, in turn, helping the farmers who grew the coffee.
But there have been growing criticisms for the fair trade movement. Researchers have found that there are a lot of fundamental flaws in the fair trade system.
This means that the consumers pay extra, but the money doesn’t reach the farmers.
Because of a surplus of fair trade growers. Each grower can only sell a fraction of their coffee as fair trade.
It also incentivizes the farmers to sell their lower grade coffee as fair trade.
Because they can make more money on it, than if they sold the higher grade coffee at 20 cents higher than the market rate.
So, when you are thinking about buying fair trade coffee, be careful; it might not be as helpful to the farmers as you might think.
The Best Way to Buy Best Coffee Beans for Espresso
Now that you know how complicated the coffee beans’ world is. You must be wondering how you can make sure that you buy the best coffee beans for your coffee each and every time.
The first step is to know what you are looking for. After going through this post and trying out various blends and brewing techniques, you’ll slowly come to a “favored” taste.
This will dictate what type of coffee you buy. The first place to buy coffee beans would be your local supermarket store.
You should find a lot of instant coffee; stay away from them. You’ll also find a lot of grounded coffee beans.
This is much better than instant coffee, and you can consider it, especially if you are just starting out.
Grind Your Beans Immediately Before Brewing
Buying grounded coffee is convenient as you don’t have to invest in purchasing a grinder. And you don’t have to grind your coffee every morning in your zombie state.
However, the Grounded coffee starts losing its essential oils and other flavor impacting elements as soon as it is grounded.
If you buy the beans off the shelf it means that it must have been grounded at least a week ago, and that’s a minimum.
Even though you pack it in an oxygen-free container, it still isn’t as good as freshly ground coffee.
Also, as you get more proficient in making espresso, you’d want to be in control of the ground size.
If you buy off the shelf, you have to depend on the manufacturer.
Once you’ve made up your mind to buy whole beans, look for the information provided on the packaging.
Make sure that the coffee has a nice blend of Arabica and Robusta beans or is pure Arabica.
Look for the “roast date” instead of the “use by” date.
The popular coffees will move inventory quickly, and so you’ll have fresher coffee on the shelf.
Get the freshest one possible. Next, look for the source of the beans.
At first, try out coffees from different parts of the world until you find your perfect source.
If the source is not mentioned, it means that the roaster has mixed coffees from various sources, which can be either good or bad, depending on how good the roaster is.
They mix coffees from various sources to create signature blends. But as you become more experienced, you might want to buy single-source coffee and mix and match different combinations on your own.
And finally, the most essential information is the type of roast.
Roasters have come up with different names for the roasts. Which can be confusing, but remember that these names such as Starbucks Blonde Roast or Full City Medium Roast are more for trademark purposes than anything.
Introduction to The Types of Roast
In the most basic form. You can differentiate three types of roast based on the color of the beans: light, medium, and dark.
Lighter roasts are brown with no oil on the surface.
They retain a lot of the subtle flavors that depend on the place of origin.
They are more acidic and contains more caffeine. Lighter roasts roast below or up to what is known as “the first crack.”
This is when the bean pops and expands in size for the first time. It happens around 205°C internal temperature.
You can find names such as Light City, New England Roast, Cinnamon Roast, Half City, etc. for light roast coffee.
Medium roast coffee is a darker shade of brown than light roast. Some oil might be beginning to show on the surface.
They have a more balanced flavor and caffeine content. Medium roasts roast between the first crack and the second crack.
This happens in the temperature range of 210°C and 230°C. Popular names include Regular Roast, American Roast, City Roast, Vienna Roast, etc.
Dark roast coffee ranges from dark chocolate brown to black in color. They are shiny because of the oil on the surface.
The coffee doesn’t retain much of the original flavors and has a more bitter or burnt taste.
The amount of caffeine is also much reduced. Dark roast is when you roast the coffee above and beyond the second roast.
The temperature is usually from 240°C to 250°C.
Roasting above 250°C results in charcoal-like taste. Dark roasts are more popular as the roast of choice for espresso coffee.
Names such as French Roast, Italian Roast, Spanish Roast, Espresso Roast, Continental Roast, etc. are all for dark roasts.
What roast you choose will again depend on personal preference.
Where to Buy Your Espresso Coffee Beans?
This is why becoming a coffee geek is so much fun!
You get to try out all these variations and find the perfect combination, that you love and will spend hours fighting over on internet forums.
If you don’t want to buy from supermarkets, you can look for roasters in your area.
It will be slightly costlier, but you can guarantee freshness and boast about being a coffee connoisseur.
(They’ll just call you a coffee nerd, but you won’t care because you’d be drinking your freshly roasted coffee!) You can also look for roasters online and have the coffee delivered to your doorstep.
If you want to go a level higher, consider buying green coffee and roasting it yourself.
The only way to get coffee any fresher, is to move to a coffee-growing country and work on a coffee farm.
Green coffee is also much cheaper and you can store it for longer than roasted coffee.
You’ll have to buy it in bulk, about 5lb bags, but you can store it for longer.
The catch is that it requires a time investment, a money investment to buy roasting equipment, and a lot of practice to get it right.
We’ll talk about roasting coffee at home in a future post.