Often way too influenced by what is written in these posts, I have been doing some taste tests (along with my wife). Both of us are somewhat partial to lighter Northern Italian type roasts. She does not do espresso shots but I do, both of us love a good cappuccino.
Redbird represents, for me, the best of the small independent roasters, Illy the most famous name and reputation for quality (and the most expensive), and Lavazza the least expensive true Italian beans.
Without a doubt I think the Redbird Espresso is the best for shots, but it's a bit mellow to stand up to the milk in a cappuccino. The shots are beautiful and caramel looking with fantastic crema production. The roast is exceptionally fresh with an earthy chocolate flavor. The beans hold up exceptionally well even three weeks after opening. Staying with Redbird, their Blue Jaguar roast is more robust and makes a very good cappuccino while still retaining the organic earthy flavor of the Espresso roast. Redbird pricing is shockingly low when compared to the quality. I like to have pound of the espresso, unopened, stashed in the freezer for special occasions.
Moving on to Lavazza, I find that Top Class produces a great shot with good crema production and a chocolate like aftertaste but with less intensity than Redbird and too mellow to make a great cappuccino, though this is very good coffee and makes a great cup of drip. Lavazza Super Crema likewise with more body than the Top Class and good for those who enjoy a chocolate tasting cappuccino or shot with a hint of acidity. At $23 for 2.2 lbs Lavazza is a standard in our house, and there is always a 2.2 lb bag of Super Crema or Grand Espresso in the pantry. Hard to beat Lavazza when you consider quality and price.
Next is Illy. Famous and expensive and only in cans, I was ready to hate this stuff based on price alone but alas, there is a reason they can charge so much... To date I have yet to find a better roast for cappuccino and it is all my wife wants. She was hooked on Super Crema and loved Blue Jaguar, but since her first Illy Cappuccino (medium roast beans) she has wanted nothing else - she gulps them down. I bought 8.8 oz of beans for $16 online, and then she found 4.4 oz cans of preground for $5 at Marshalls. Argh! You bought preground I said??? but then I found the grind to be perfect for the Pavoni, and it has stayed fresh in the can for three days still producing a decent crema, though less than the other brands mentioned here. I think crema is not as important as many may think when making cappuccinos.
So I have to give the Illy very high marks and it is our coffee of choice. Oddly enough, the best price I have found on it is at our local super market (HEB in Texas) for $11.95 for the 8.8 oz can, while the best online price I could find was around $15 for the same can.