Espresso Coffee Beans

Wednesday, 8 April 2009

Different from regular drip coffee, coffee beans for espresso are ground much finer and brewed much faster. We find out what it takes in a bean to make a good coffee, the Italiano way.

The Basics

  • There are two main types of beans:

    • Arabica beans are have more flavour because they’re grown higher up the mountain and allowed to ripen longer before being hand-picked. They also cost more.

    • Robusta beans, grown lower down the mountain and on the plains are machine harvested. They also tend to have less flavour and more caffeine.

  • Espresso beans are roasted until they’re dark and oily looking.

  • An espresso is made by forcing near-boiling water under a lot of pressure through tightly-packed coffee grinds. Done right, you end up with a dark, slightly thicker liquid with a distinct layer of a creamy foam on the top, called crema.

  • A 1 oz. shot of espresso has half the caffeine (50 mg) of a regular 5 oz. cup of coffee (100 mg).

  • Buy your coffee beans in airtight foil bags or containers with a valve lock, which helps maintain freshness.

  • For the freshest espresso, buy whole beans. That means you’ll also need a grinder.

  • Don’t freeze your beans; store them in an airtight container in a cool, dark place.

  • Coffee is perishable. Use your beans ideally within 7-10 days of purchase.

Other Considerations

  • Look for the Fair Trade logo on the packaging to ensure you’re buying a product that has been acquired through ethical business practices.

  • After you brew your coffee, save the grounds, which are an excellent source of fertial organic matter for plants, containing about 4% nitrogen, 1% phosphorus and 3% potassium.

Be Aware

  • Avoid beans sold in the bulk section. Light affects freshness, and the bean oils can go rancid if they bins aren’t kept clean.


We set off to find the best espresso by serving up a taste test to some night shift workers. We tested these espresso roasts:

  • Grocery Store Brand (Safeway): $9.50/lb
  • Kicking Horse (Organic): $13.50/lb.
  • Starbucks: $14.50/lb.
  • Illy: $28.95/lb.

Taste Test

  • Most of our testers found the Illy far too bitter.

  • The Starbucks espresso had a multi-layered taste.

  • The Kicking Horse espresso was a bit on the bitter side

  • The Safeway brand was flavourful.


We had a tie between the grocery store brand (Safeway) and Starbucks. Because the grocery store brand is significantly less expensive, we choose it as our top pick. However, the flavour of espresso you prefer is up to your personal taste. You may need to try a variety before settling on a favourite.

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