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Which Types of Wood Look Best with Espresso Stain?

Apr 25, 2018 | by Carrie

Any wood can be stained, but that doesn't mean that any wood will take a stain well. So, if you find a stain you like for your kitchen cabinets, the next step is to find the wood species that will do the best job at showing that stain off to its fullest glory.

Espresso Stain Kitchen

If you love the rich look of espresso stained cabinets, it's important to choose a hardwood species that will preserve the stain's luxurious integrity.

Factors That Affect How Your Wood Cabinets Accept Stain

The bottom line is that wood is unpredictable. Before it was harvested, that wood lived in a tree that was grown, formed and shaped in accordance to moisture availability, the soil's nutrient content and seasonal weather patterns. The wood was exposed to pests and diseases and the tree's immune system was activated to battle these forces.

As a result, the development of its wood grains changed a bit from season-to-season and year-to-year. Knots and other abnormalities may have formed as well. Strong winds bent it this way and that, which further altered the finished product.

Dark Stained Kitchen Cabinets

Once wood is harvested, milled and cured (typically using a kiln dried method), there are several factors and characteristics that affect how a wood species takes a stain.


The color of the wood itself makes a difference. Lighter woods will typically take a stain much quicker and take in more of the stain than darker wood. And that makes sense, right? It's like dying hair - dying blond hair black will make a much more dramatic statement than dying black hair black.


Wood has pores. We often write about how porous countertops are prone to staining, and porous woods are more prone to staining too. Larger, more open pores will stain darker than smaller, tighter pores.


Although wood is typically dried until its internal humidity levels are between 6% and 8%, that can change according to how it is stored and the humidity levels where you live. As you can imagine, dryer wood soaks a stain right up while more saturated wood will result in a lighter stain.

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Choosing the Best Wood Type for Dark Stain

Kitchen cabinets can be crafted from several different species of wood. We are going to focus on three that are popular choices for darker wood stains among our clients: cherry, hard maple, and red oak.

Kitchen with Dark Stain Cabinets

Based on the factors we explained above, let's see how these three popular cabinet wood candidates look with a deep, dark stain like espresso.


Cherry is quite dark on it's own. As the below swatch illustrates, the espresso stain almost dulls cherry's inherent luminosity, and makes for a more plain-Jane finish, not exactly what cherry cabinets are known for.

If you're looking for a dark wood cabinet finish that doesn't have too much visible grain, cherry would be a good option for you. Some designers will seek this type of look out for their modern kitchen designs.

Cherry Cabinet with Espresso
Cherry wood with espresso stain

Red Oak

Red oak has a similar effect to cherry, in that the natural vibrance get's a little dulled by the stain. On the other hand, the grain is still visible, and serves to provide a textural look that many homeowners and designers covet. As indicated by it's name, red oak will result in brown espresso with red overtones.

The main downside to oak in this respect is, even though it's generally a good candidate for stain, it doesn't take the stain in as well as the option we'll cover next.

Red Oak with Espresso Stain
Red oak wood with espresso stain

Hard Maple

We've found that Hard Maple is the best choice for optimizing the look of espresso stain. It has just the right color and fiber density to soak the espresso stain up, optimizing those rich, dark brown hues. As we mentioned, lighter toned woods will be more accepting of the stain, which gives maple a leg-up on the competition here.

Hard Maple with Espresso Stain
Hard maple wood with espresso stain

To get an idea of how different woods take different stains, check out our Wood Cabinet Doors page, and scroll down to the Wood Door Colors section.

If you'd like to see samples of different espresso and other dark stained, hardwood species, schedule an appointment for a free in-home consultation with one of our expert design consultants.

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