Most recent trends in specialty coffee frown on dark roasts, especially the darkest ones, like French roast coffee.
If you've been exploring different roasts and are looking for the best ones, you may have come across French roast coffee.
You might have heard that a French roast is a wrong choice, or maybe you've read some articles condemning it to hell and calling all the roasters who sell it murderers of good coffee.
What's going on? Is French roast that terrible?
Let's clear this thing out!
What is French Roast Coffee?
These coffee beans display an oily surface and have a very dark color, nearly black. In short, French roast coffee is the darkest roast available. It's an all-time favorite among more traditional coffee lovers who love black coffee.
Big chains like Starbucks, Tim Hortons, and Peets are famous for their dark roasts. To some extent, many people claim that Starbucks uses French roast to brew their drinks most of the time. Furthermore, if you ask why Starbucks coffee is so strong, it used to be due to their dark roasts.
It might have been confirmed for a long time, but more recently, it looks like most coffee shops are exploring with different roasts.
Good dark roasts are possible thanks to recent developments in roasting technology, along with more strict quality controls. That said, dark roasts tend to have a bad reputation inside the specialty coffee community. Although it's for a good reason, it isn't always the case.
Now, if you want to learn more about the specifics of this roast type, you can check our previous article about French Roast Coffee.
Let's dig deeper into the facts of French roast coffee and if you should avoid it.
Reasons To Avoid French Roast Coffee
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Although French roast coffee can produce an enjoyable drink, some negative traits make it less than ideal. Here are some of them:
French roast stale faster
Few things are as crucial for coffee aroma and taste as freshness—the fresher the coffee, the more intense, complex, and pleasant that it will be.
As you may know, when you get ground coffee, it loses its aroma a lot quicker than whole coffee beans. Degradation starts as soon as we open the bag, and even with airtight containers, ground coffee can only be at its best for a few minutes.
Coffee beans can last at their peak for days or even weeks. Even more, some coffee beans develop their best taste between two and four weeks after roasting.
However, freshness doesn't last the same for whole beans for every roast. One of the main reasons for that is that the oils are exposed and start to degrade as soon as we open the bag. Dark roasts, for that matter, tend to display their best aromatic profiles in a couple of days and then stale quickly.
As coffee compounds start to oxidize, nasty stuff happens: a rancid oil smell dominates the aromatic profile, bitterness becomes the most notorious coffee-related taste, and all the subtle complexities get lost in a pond of muddy, flat, and bitter flavors.
In other words, if you plan to get a good-tasting cup of coffee with French roast coffee beans, buy small packs that you can consume in a few days.
Inferior quality coffee beans (most of the time)
Dark roasts are great for blends because they help obtain more consistent results. High bitterness, low acidity, and a heavy body become the most evident characteristics in a dark roast.
In turn, some companies favor the French roast because it helps them to mask coffee beans' defects. Low-quality coffee is poorly picked and selected. For this reason, every sack of this kind of coffee costs less for the importers, and they can pay very little to farmers.
Buying cheap coffee to produce dark roasts and obtain profitable margins was usual for centuries. As a result, we're used to paying very little for coffee, although it implies a vast amount of skilled work.
Specialty coffee roasters pay attention to roast dates, processing methods, and origins. Currently, some companies sell high-quality dark roasts, and you can easily discern them by checking the coffee label. However, it's more common to buy French roasts from large companies, used to sell low-quality coffee beans.
Masks most unique flavors in coffee
Coffee is a natural product, and it's hard to obtain a reliable taste and aroma from it. The easiest way to do it is to roast it very darkly, which causes coffee beans to lose most of their aromatic compounds.
Medium roasts retain more of those flavors to enjoy a wider variety of tastes and smells. Depending on many factors like origin, processing method, and varietal, coffee beans can display fruity, nutty, or floral notes. Dark roasts make all those nice features disappear.
French roast, as the darkest one available, is the flattest too.
Due to the roast degree and high temperatures, coffee beans start losing their sweet taste as well as acidity, brightness, and fruitiness.
An excellent dark roast has some flavors and aromas that make it more distinguishable. The characteristics are delicate acidity, heavy body, rich mouthfeel, strong scent, and mild bitterness.
Roasted coffee is naturally bitter thanks to caffeine, responsible for most of the pleasant bitterness we find in coffee.
French roasts tend to be more bitter than other roasts for two reasons. Mostly because coffee beans are burnt, and as a result, they develop a charred, smokey taste.
The second reason refers to low-quality coffee beans. Some defective coffee beans get in the roast when roasters pay less attention to selection and quality controls. Then, these defects become noticeable when you brew your coffee, displaying an intense, unpleasant bitterness.
Dark roasts vs. light roasts: Which is healthier?
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Roasts are very different in terms of aroma and taste. But when it comes to health, they're slightly different.
According to most scientific research, the differences between roasts are negligible regarding health-promoting features.
It's a surprising fact, but we couldn't find any evidence to support a significant difference between roasts and crucial characteristics in coffee like:
- Caffeine content: many people believe dark roasts have more caffeine because they're more bitter. The truth is that all roasts show similar caffeine concentrations. Most differences depend on coffee plant species (Arabica vs. Robusta) and brewing methods, not roasts.
- Antioxidants: surprisingly, antioxidants can survive even in dark roasts, and we couldn't find a scientific study that shows significant differences between light, medium, and dark roasts. For that matter, freshly ground coffee and espresso have the highest antioxidant content.
- Acidity: Although French roast coffee tastes less acidic, it can produce stomach discomfort like other roasts. Coffee that's easier on the stomach doesn't depend on the roast, but the beans' quality, origin, and processing methods.
When it comes to your taste preferences, you can choose the type of roast that tastes best for you.
According to several studies on the matter, despite some minor differences in aroma and health-promoting features, dark roasts aren't either worse or better than light roasts.
However, a high-quality French roast is intense, full-bodied, and intense bitterness.
While taste is a subjective matter, there's one crucial thing that can help you identify a delicious French roast from a mediocre one: the price. If the coffee beans are cheap, they're probably low-quality and display their deficiencies when brewed as a French roast. Additionally, traceability and information about coffee are essential to learning more about coffee beans' quality before tasting them.