If you’ve been trying to figure out how to get the best coffee beans for espresso, I know your struggle.
There are lots of blends and different types of coffee beans out there and the variety can seem overwhelming; you don’t want to get the wrong beans and wind up wasting your time and money.
As someone who’s been in the coffee business for quite some time now, I am going to give you a quick shortcut to use whenever you’re searching for the best coffee beans for making espresso with.
Are Arabica coffee beans better for espresso?
Whenever you’re buying coffee beans, no matter which subtype they are, make sure you’re getting Arabica beans. The two most common kinds of coffee beans are Robusta and Arabica, with many subtypes branching from both; Arabica beans are better for making espresso.
As long as your espresso blend contains mostly Arabica beans, you can be sure that you’ll get a full-flavored and bright shot of espresso. Robusta beans have their place as well but getting a bag of coffee beans made up of mostly Robusta beans can give you a more bitter and bland tasting shot of espresso.
Figuring out whether your blend of coffee beans is made up primarily of Arabica beans or Robusta beans may prove challenging.
There are also some exceptions to this rule and you’ll want to take the roasts used into account as well.
Below, I will walk you through exactly what you should be looking for in your espresso coffee beans and explain why Arabica beans are best.
Arabica Coffee Beans Are Better For Espresso and Here’s Why
When I was a barista, I worked for a few different coffee shops.
This is where I learned that arabica espresso was flavorful and aromatic while Robusta espresso needed a lot of milk and sugar to help it along.
Let’s go over exactly why this is and why Arabica beans are better for making espresso.
1. Arabica Coffee Beans are Sweeter
Arabica beans are grown in shady conditions at higher elevations than Robusta beans.
This means that you get sweeter coffee beans when you harvest and roast.
They have almost twice as much sugar than Robusta coffee beans do.
This is why robusta coffee requires so much cream and sugar. Arabica espresso is naturally a little bit sweet.
2. Arabica Beans Give you More Flavor
When you grind and press Arabic beans, you’ll get a better release of oils. In these oils are caffeine and a lot of the components that give your espresso its flavor.
Since Arabica beans aren’t exposed to the dry conditions that Robusta beans grow in, they naturally contain higher oil concentration.
Arabica beans have anywhere from 50% to 70% more oil content than Robusta beans.
This means that you’ll get evenly distributed espresso crema and a smoother, cleaner mouthfeel.
3. Arabica Beans Have Less Caffeine
Even though Arabica beans have more oils, they tend to have less caffeine. Robusta beans have a higher concentration of Caffeol which is the oil that caffeine comes from.
Arabica beans have other, more flavorful oils that can give you a fruity, floral, tart, or creamy aftertaste.
To put it plainly, Arabica beans will taste better because they don’t have as much bitter caffeine.
Since the caffeine is balanced out better with Arabica beans, you’re less likely to have jittery and shaky after-effects.
4. Arabica Beans Smell Better
Any variant of Arabica coffee bean will have a better Aroma than any variant of Robusta bean.
Arabica beans have complex scent profiles with sweet undertones, rich mid-notes, and bright top-notes.
Since scent and taste go hand in hand, this is a very important factor to consider when making espresso.
Robusta beans have that signature coffee smell and that’s about it. If you use only Robusta beans in a shot of espresso, you’ll get bitter and burnt aromas.
5. Arabica Coffee Plants are more consistent in flavor
Arabica coffee plants are self-pollinating, which makes the resulting beans more consistent in flavor.
This is important when you consider that even flavor distribution makes for a better shot of espresso.
Since Robusta beans are cross-pollinated, you’ll have a bigger difference in each coffee bean.
6. Arabica Coffee Beans are Grown with Care
Arabica coffee plants are harder to care for. they take longer to grow, mature slowly, and must be kept in the right conditions.
Robusta beans are farmed easily.
They’re hardy and tough and thus are cheaper to grow. Many Robusta beans are farmed under harsh conditions that yield bitter and rubbery tasting coffee beans.
Arabica beans, on the other hands, must be farmed with care. When you use Arabica coffee beans, you can be sure that the plants they came from were tended carefully and properly.
Other Factors to Consider
If you like to get a buzz from the caffeine in your coffee, or if you like that bitter coffee aftertaste, you may want to go with an espresso blend that also contains Robusta beans.
Robusta beans are great for anyone who likes caffeine.
However, ideally, you’ll still want to choose a blend that uses mostly Arabica beans.
This way, you’ll get your bitter coffee and caffeine fix while still tasting many lovely flavors.
I believe that Starbucks may actually be using medium-roast Robusta beans instead or dark-roast Arabica beans as they claim.
I believe that this is an easy way to produce cheap and inexpensive espresso with a ton of caffeine.
While many people think they like that bitter and over-caffeinated taste offered by mass coffee retailers, they may simply be addicted to the excessive caffeine.
If you’ve ever compared a shot of Starbucks espresso to a shot of espresso that’s made with premium Arabica beans, there’s a visible difference.
What I am saying is that anyone who thinks that they love Robusta beans may simply be hooked on the caffeine content.
I suggest trying Arabica as an alternative for two weeks. Arabica beans still have plenty of caffeine but they don’t overdo it.
Arabica blends with 2/3 Arabica and 1/3 Robusta are a good way to balance things out if you don’t want to completely switch to Arabica-only espresso blends.
Espresso Beans 101
Now that I explained why Arabica beans are better, I’ll have to tell you what they are, how they’re used, and where they come from.
This way, you’ll be able to figure out which espresso blends are using mostly Arabica beans.
Arabica and Robusta Origins
Coffee beans come from the Coffea plant. There are two main Coffea plant species used for growing coffee beans: Arabica and Robusta. Arabica coffee is grown with a lot of care at elevations above 800 meters.
Arabica coffee plants get lots of rain, take a while to mature, come in hundreds of variants, and ultimately yield coffee beans that taste flavorful and bright.
Robusta coffee plants are grown in drier regions and at lower elevations. Their resulting coffee beans are dense, bold, bitter, and well-caffeinated.
Understanding Espresso Blends
There’s no such thing as an “espresso coffee bean” meaning that there aren’t coffee beans grown just to be used in espresso.
There are, however, many espresso blends that have been roasted and balanced with multiple coffee bean types for better espresso.
Years ago, people used either only Robusta beans or only Arabica beans for coffee and espresso.
As espresso grew in popularity, coffee producers started crafting espresso bean blends.
These blends contained multiple variants of both Arabica and Robusta coffee beans to create a better tasting blend that could be used to get more flavorful and well-balanced espresso shots.
How to Read Espresso Bean Labels
When you’re shopping for coffee beans optimized for use in espresso, you’ll first want to pick an espresso blend. From there, you’ll want to look at which kinds of beans are in that blend.
The best espresso bean blends will contain mostly dark or medium roasted Arabica beans with some Robusta beans. Espresso beans that list Arabica beans first can be trusted to contain more Arabica beans.
Blends that advertise their Robusta beans will usually be overly bitter.
Here’s an example of a blend of espresso beans with mostly Arabica bean variants: Lavazza Super Crema Whole Bean Coffee Blend for Espresso.
As you read the product information, you’ll see that Arabica beans are listed first under the “origin” section.
If the package of espresso coffee beans you’re looking at doesn’t have the species of beans (Arabica or Robusta) listed in a clear way on the label, keep in mind that most Robusta beans come from Vietnam, the Philippines, or the Pacific islands.
Arabica beans are grown primarily in Brazil, Columbia, India, Venezuela, and other places with mountains.
Most bags of coffee beans will clearly state where the beans were grown.
So there you have it. In my opinion, Arabica beans are better for espresso because they taste better, smell better, are farmed with care, and are loaded with rich oils.
What do you think? Do you prefer Robusta beans for your espresso? Please feel free to leave your comments and feedback!