Espresso is the ultimate concentration of coffee. A shot of coffee heaven that can deliver texture, aroma and flavour to take your breath away. But only if you know what you are looking for and how to choose wisely. If you get it wrong then the bitterness and flavour of cigarette ash could put you off forever.
The good news is that you don’t need to spend a lot of money to get the best coffee for espresso because this is not the kind of drink where the more you spend the better it tastes.
Everyone’s palette is different which is why some people love the strength and punch of pure espresso and others prefer to add differing amounts of milk to produce a flat white, cappuccino or latte to adjust the coffee strength to suit.
Good coffee is in the eye of the beholder and as long as you stay away from the cheaper low-quality mass-produced stuff you find on a lot of the supermarket shelves there is a huge choice out there for you to find your own personal coffee heaven.
There are two different ways to buy your coffee for espresso, either in whole bean form or beans that have already been pre-ground.
How do you choose between them?
Ground coffee or coffee beans?
Coffee always tastes best when it is at its freshest and it retains its freshness the most when it stays in whole bean form until you want to drink it.
So grinding your own coffee beans just before you make your espresso is the way to maximise the flavour from the bean.
This does mean a little more work to grind the beans with a coffee grinder or if you don’t have the time or inclination to do that yourself you can opt for a bean to cup coffee machine that will do it for you but they can work out pretty expensive.
Not everyone has the time to grind beans themselves or wants to lay out for a bean to cup machine so using good quality ground coffee is the next best thing.
The main thing to be aware of with pre-ground coffee is that the grind fineness has already been selected for you so you cant tweak it for your own coffee machine to get the best coffee extraction.
With whole beans, you can change the setting on your grinder to get just the right level of fineness for the bean you are using.
This is the best coffee for Espresso in the UK:
This is one of my personal favourites and we particularly like it because the beans are roasted in small batches in the UK by a company who’s owners have decades of experience in the British coffee market.
Different countries tend to have a different requirement for how they like their coffee and these guys have nailed it for the UK market with their signature blend.
It’s a medium roasted coffee blended form from beans from 5 different countries and you’ll always get the roasting date on the packet to show you how fresh the beans are.
Great value coffee that is highly rated by many customers over a number of years and not one that you will find in the supermarket.
Perfect for espresso and all espresso based drinks.
This is more expensive than the other recommendations on this list but if you want to treat yourself or give this to someone as a gift you will really notice the difference in flavour and quality.
A single origin coffee from Costa Rica these beans are organically grown so are completely free from chemicals or fertilisers.
These 100% organically grown coffee beans are bursting with flavour and will always arrive at your door freshly roasted with the roasting date clearly shown on the packet.
100% Arabica beans but not as expensive as the good life beans above but still full of character and depth of flavour.
Organic beans are much harder to grow as the crop yields fewer beans due to the lack of chemicals to controls the pests that like to feed on coffee beans so that makes these particularly good value for money as they are very cheap for an organic coffee bean.
A light roast single-origin from Columbia that produce a full flavoured medium intensity coffee.
If you are trying to discover a country or a type of coffee that you like then this is a great way to find out without buying a large amount only to discover it’s not to your taste. It also works brilliantly as a gift for any coffee lover.
You get 10 different bags from as many countries with a description of each one telling you exactly what you are getting from each one and what to expect.
Each packet of ten contains 60g of beans which is about enough for 3 double espressos or 6 singles.
A nice deep dark rich coffee bean for those who like it strong. Roasted in small batches in Italy this is a family-owned business that has a true passion for creating great coffee.
Good pre-ground coffee is hard to come by but this is up there with the best. Roasted in Spain in small batches this comes as 2 x 500g tubs to ensure the coffee stays as fresh as possible.
Roasted with beans from South America, Indonesia and Central America this is a medium roast coffee that will work well for espresso.
This is the ground coffee version of our favourite beans listed above. If you don’t have the time or inclination to grind the beans yourself then Spiller and Tait will do it for you so you are ready to brew as soon as you open the packet.
These are an ultimately convenient way to experience hassle free speciality coffee. These are brew in the pouch so you literally pour in the water wait a few minutes and pour.
You can sample coffee from 5 different countries to find one you like and then use that to explore a bit more. Really good for the home, office or as a gift.
Coffee from Brazil, Columbia, Ethiopia, Honduras and Guatemala.
What to look for to get the best coffee for espresso
If a coffee roaster really cares about the coffee they produce you’ll always get the date they roasted the beans printed in the packet
That’s the only true way to know how fresh the coffee is because you’ll often find a best before date of a year or more after roasting.
All food product is required by law to have a best before or a use-by date but with coffee it doesn’t help.
With many other products if you consume them a month before the best before date then mostly you’d still be getting the best out of it with no decay or reduction in quality.
But coffee is totally different. Whilst it is perfectly drinkable up to the best before date if you leave it till that point it will probably have been roasted about a year ago and that means although it’s fine to drink it won’t taste anywhere near as good as if it was freshly roasted.
Drinking coffee that has been roasted in the last 4 weeks makes a big difference so when you see the roasting date on the packet you know they care because they want you to enjoy fresh coffee.
One of the wonderful things about coffee is that everyone’s palette is different and so what works for you may not be to everyone’s taste and vice versa.
What that means is that you don’t need to worry too much about price when it comes coffee that works best for you.
The secret is in trial and error. All too often we stick to a certain brand that we have been drinking for years without even knowing if there is something out there that we may enjoy far more.
I often compare coffee to wine with the advice being to stay away from the really cheap stuff because they cut corners in the growing process and the production process. It’s worth spending just a little more to make a big difference.
With wine I’ll often spend £10 on a bottle to get something i will really enjoy rather than something to just glug down.
But it also applies at the upper end of the pricing as well. I’m no expert on wine so on the odd occasion I have spent £20 or £30 on a bottle of wine I can’t really tell the difference between the those and the £10 bottle but I can always taste the difference between the £5 and £10 bottle.
The same applies to coffee. The very cheapest is best avoided and if you spend a lot you probably won’t be able to tell the difference between that and the good stuff that costs a lot less.
As a good guide look to spend between £15 – £25 per kilo. You’ll find some really good coffee in that price range.
This refers to the amount of time that unroasted green coffee beans are exposed to high temperatures and roasted until they turn a certain shade of brown.
As a general rule medium and dark roast coffee beans are used for espresso and milk-based espresso drinks and light roast is more speciality type coffee used with other brewing methods such as pour over.
So for the best espresso coffee its best to stick to medium to dark roast.
This article explains the different roast types in more detail:
Arabica and Robusta are the two main types of coffee beans used for espresso with Arabica being recognised as the better quality of the two but sometimes a blend of both can make a really good espresso.
It’s not all about the coffee
Creating the perfect espresso or espresso-based milk drink such as cappuccino, latte or flat white is about combining the coffee with an effective brewing process.
Once you have found a coffee you love it is perfectly possible to make it taste terrible if you make your espresso incorrectly.
You don’t need to spend a lot of money on an espresso machine to make good espresso but you do need to do it right.
To make espresso that compares to the quality you have come to expect from a coffee shop requires a coffee machine that is capable of making good coffee.
There is a lot of rubbish out there so if you don’t want to invest the money in a machine then you may be surprised to know that it is perfectly possible to create a decent espresso without a machine you plug into the wall.
This article explains how in detail:
However, if you have gone to the trouble of finding the best coffee for espresso then making sure you have the right equipment to make a quality cup of coffee form it would be a prudent move.
The main consideration is the brewing method you choose and that all comes down to how much time you are prepared to spend making your favourite coffee drink each day.
If you have very limited time then a pod coffee machine may be best and if you want to perfect your barista skills and produce coffee that is better than you can get in Costa or Starbucks then a pump espresso machine may be the best fit.
Espresso coffee can be as easy or as complicated as you want it to be and it can become something of an art form for real coffee enthusiasts.
Many things need to be taken into consideration such as the amount of coffee you use, how finely the coffee is ground and how much coffee you extract into your cup.
To help you combine your coffee with the right machine these articles will help:
If you want to take your understanding of espresso to another level then this video from a coffee expert will give you some insight:
Once you get your brewing technique spot on and add to that the best coffee for espresso you will elevate your coffee drinking experience to a whole new level.