Espresso. The word alone implies a drink that is ready to fill you with zest, energy, and caffeine kick needed to tackle whatever the day throws at you, even if you only managed to eek out a few meager hours of sleep the night before.
Espresso. The foundation, nay, the reason many exquisite coffee drinks even exist. The milk, drip brew, and swirls of flavor and cream that often accompany it are but supporting members of a production whose star role is reserved for a rich boldness that is so delicious it need nothing more than an ounce or two to steal the show.
Coffee shop juggernauts have built their empires on the popularity of the small-in-stature drink as it’s the key component to a majority of the concoctions found on their menus, but home brewing has become increasingly popular over the years due to the prevalence and affordability of brewers, and roasters have been keeping up with the trend by making sure that their best flavors are represented with espresso-exclusive products.
Method or Bean?
Officially, espresso is a method. The term, which many of us incorrectly pronounce as “expresso”, refers to the process of forcing a small amount of hot, pressurized water through a batch of beans. The procedure was created by Italian inventor Angelo Moriondo, and his creation of a machine that was able to instantly deliver a decadent cup of coffee would not only win multiple awards, it would serve as the blueprint for which later iterations would follow.
But the procedure is nothing without a great product to brew, and that has led many coffee growers to produce what you’ll find in your coffee aisle labeled as espresso beans.
A point of contention for some is whether or not espresso beans actually even exist. Technically speaking, there are only two kinds of coffee beans – Arabica and Robusta – and all coffee beverages are created from either one or of the other, or a blend of both.
There is no plant that yields a variety of bean with the name of “espresso”. When you see products that are labeled as such, the manufacturer is referring to what they’d consider to be the best way to brew that particular product. Generally, these are roasts whose flavors work best and are more pronounced when brewed in espresso fashion, that is, with hot water forced through them and not drip brewed.
Characteristics of Espresso
A good espresso is more than just a strong shot of coffee with uber amounts of caffeine. It should also have a rich, frothy head of crema. A heavy body is to be expected, as is a measure of bitterness.
The individual flavor of espresso will vary based on which specific product you purchase, and the spectrum of tastes includes something for everyone. From dark and milk chocolates to toasted nuts and berries, all of the flavorings you’d expect to find in drip brews are also available in espresso products.
Please note that the following recommendations are in no particular order.
Direct from Italy, the home of espresso, Lavazza delivers a full line of espresso brews and their name is synonymous with rich, decadent coffee. The history behind the name is just as rich as their line of coffees, and for many, it’s the only brew they’ll drink.
Striking a nice balance between dark and light, this selection has nice medium body and earthy notes. Don’t be surprised to find yourself still enjoying the wonderful aroma lingering about long after you’ve finished your cup.
If chocolate’s your thing (and if it isn’t, then we can’t be friends), then stop looking, buy a few bags of this, and prepare your senses for decadence unmatched. Medium body that sings with delicate florals and citrus accents perfectly punctuating a handsome chocolate flavor. Of course it’s great on its own, but if you’re into making dessert-style coffee drinks, this is a great place to start.
The shining star of many “best of” lists as it relates to espresso beans, Florida-based Koffee Kult has rightfully earned their spot amongst the greats of espresso roasters. Aside from offering a full line of coffees, teas, and accessories through their online shop, the company also regularly supplies many boutique shops with their beans. A quick glimpse through their catalog only unearths a single offering marketed as an espresso brew, but any of their products will yield a delicious cup regardless of how it’s prepared!
If you ever needed a reason to get out of bed early, this is it. You’ll stop pounding the snooze alarm when a fresh brewed cup of Eye Cracker awaits, a name not merely given, but earned. Medium in body with a veritable fruit dish full of juicy notes, including cherry, tangerine, and lemon. Smooth-as-silk caramel and just a nip of natural sugar round out the taste profile. The combination is so right that we recommend trying it sans creamer or additional sweetener for a brew that will perk you right up.
“Wake Up and Kick Ass” is more than just a motto for Canada’s numero uno selling whole bean coffee; it’s the philosophy behind which the brand was founded. All of their offerings are organic and fairtrade, even earning them an award for such back in 2015. Die-hard devotees claim that if you’re looking for the most bang for the buck, then a bag of Kicking Horse should always be in your cabinet.
Black currant, what with its berry-like flavor and aromatic floral essence, is the headlining act that also stars the creaminess of milk chocolate and a pinch of brown sugar.
There’s no need for an explanation; you already know who they are and have probably spent a mint on your favorite drinks there. So the next time you hear the call of the siren, why not brew your own at home?
Dark roasted beans typically contain less caffeine per serving, as the longer roasting period leaches the caffeine from the beans. Add in the fact that while espresso drinks have more caffeine per serving than regular coffees, you generally consume less overall because of the small size of the shot. But this is the rich, velvety smooth caramel drink that the coffee giant created back in 1975 and has mastered in the decades since. You’ve had it, you know it, and you love it. Just be sure to double up on it if you need a little extra get-up-and-go.
You’d be forgiven for not recognizing the name as Verena Street has only been producing coffee since 2010, but after your first sip you’ll be proud to count yourself among the growing number of java drinkers who are fast becoming fans. Family-owned and operated out of Dubuque, Iowa, the company masterfully roasts only small batches of Arabica that have been culled from Rainforest Alliance Certified™ farms.
A dark, full-bodied roast that’s minus any acidity. The creamy taste and texture proves reminiscent of butterscotch, caramel, and hazelnut, with a matching aroma. The beans are sourced from Indonesia, Central, and South America, for a triple treat of decadence.
Coffee Bean Direct
Great coffee at fair prices delivered straight to you. That’s the story behind the name of Coffee Bean Direct, and it’s a promise they’ve been making good on for coffee and tea drinkers for years. Their catalog is awe-inspiring, including no less than seven (!) individual espresso brews.
One of Amazon’s highest rated and most reviewed espresso products; this blend sources beans from South and Central America, Africa, and India. The company claims this is their most popular offering, as drinkers can’t get enough of the toasted and delicately sweet aroma of honey and the exquisite flavors of cocoa and molasses. A dark roast with heavy body and boldness that can’t be ignored, and can even be a little overpowering if mixed into other drinks. Best enjoyed by itself.
As previously mentioned, espresso is really more of a procedure that yields small amounts of ultra-caffeinated and outstandingly delicious coffee. And while the beans recommended above represent a select offering of some of the finest products available, there’s absolutely no reason they can’t be brewed drip style. The same holds true in reverse; products denoted for drip style brewing can be brewed espresso style, and there’s no harm in seeking out new flavors and styles to suite your own distinguished palate.
Less Is More
Shot by shot, each adorned with a wonderful frothy crema, espresso can jumpstart your morning or cap off a dinner fit for kings. Drink it straight or build your favorite cappuccinos and lattes around its bold, creamy base, as it’s your espresso to behold and enjoy however you’d like. Italy’s gift to the coffee community is steeped in over a hundred years of tradition, and many companies like the ones mentioned within have worked tirelessly to craft the right blends of beans representing magnificent flavor profiles that complement each other.