The way the coffee beans are roasted is one of the most significant aspects that determine the taste. Before roasting, the green beans are tasteless and have a grassy aroma. The color of the beans changes as it absorbs the heat, the coffee is getting darker and the roasting adds flavor and aroma.
Roasting And Taste
The roasting influences the flavor so much that if you were to taste exactly the same coffee beans, but roasted to a different degree, they would taste completely different.
The roast preference of the coffee is highly subjective and while some people enjoy the brightness and the acidity of the lighter roast, others prefer darker roasts that have a serious kick.
With the rise of specialty coffee, the importance is placed on every aspect of coffee production. We are now aware of how much the roasting affects the flavor of your morning cup. Other factors that influence the taste are the growing origin, the harvesting style, the processing, and eventually, the grind and the brewing method.
What’s the difference between light and dark roasts? How did the dark roasted coffee change throughout the past few years? What is the best dark roast coffee?
Light roasts are light brown in color and their internal temperature when roasting reaches 356-401 F as the beans crack and expand in size, this is known as the first crack. The light roast is not roasted beyond the first crack.
In terms of flavor, the light roast coffee is light in body, with no oil on the surface of the beans. It has a toasted grain taste and pronounced acidity. In recent years, with the rise of specialty coffee, the popularity of the light roast rose significantly. This is because it unlocks more exotic flavors.
Specialty coffees represent 37% of US coffee sold and are considered the highest quality in the world. When drinking single-origin coffee, it’s best to choose the lighter roasts, since it allows you to experience its unique flavors.
For example, the coffee from Guatemala has an apple-like acidity and light milk chocolate tasting notes, while coffee from Panama is extremely floral with a pronounced citrus tang, and the coffee from Ethiopia is fruity with rich blueberry and strawberry flavors.
The lighter roast allows you to experience the interesting flavors but the price is consistency. The coffee roasted this way can vary greatly across different bags and the flavors are not as well-rounded and stable.
The medium roast coffee beans are medium brown color with no oil on the surface of the beans. The internal temperature reaches 410-428 F and they are roasted between the end of the first crack and just before the beginning of the second crack.
The coffee has more body and lacks the grainy taste of the light roast. This results in a more balanced flavor, aroma, and crisp acidity. It still retains the flavor of the origin, but the coffee is more balanced and stable than the light roast.
The intense acids are smoothed down by sweetness, bringing out the notes of caramel, honey, and molasses. It adds a pleasant bitterness to complete the bright acidic notes. That’s why it is usually used for specialty coffee and great for making a filter brew.
The dark roast coffee is dark, almost black in color with a sheen of oil on the surface of the beans. The internal temperature reaches 465-480 F and it is roasted to the second crack or even beyond.
With dark roasted coffee, most of the distinct flavors of the origin fade away which results in less of a flavor diversity. As the coffee gets darker, it loses the original flavors and gets more taste from the roasting process. This is why it can be often characterized as bitter, smoky, and burnt.
The dark roast taste profile has low acidity, mild bitterness, rich chocolate, and nutty aroma, with a heavy body and deep and sweet flavors. Compared to the light roast, it is well-rounded and consistent, which is why it is preferred for brewing espressos. The espresso extraction process works so well with darker roasts because the sugar in coffee has been caramelized, which enhances the flavor.
The dark roast goes after many names, some of the most common ones are the French, Italian, espresso, New Orleans, and Spanish roast.
In some cases, the coffee is roasted even further resulting in beans that are pretty much black and with a heavy layer of oils. This can be a French, Italian, or a Vienna roast.
By this point, the roasted coffee beans have lost all the flavors of their origin. There is no acidity, a ton of bitterness, no significant distinguishable flavor, with profound woody-ness and notes of ash carbon.
Most of the coffee that is used for an extra dark roast is low-grade and low-cost. With specialty coffee interested in the flavors of the origin, this roast doesn’t really have a place since the roasting destroys all of the flavors.
When To Go To The Dark Side?
The way in which the roasting is perceived has changed significantly in recent years. While in the past, the dark roast was the way to go, now, with specialty coffee being a world phenomenon and more coffee connoisseurs exploring the flavors of the different origins, the lighter ones are preferred.
The coffee bean quality is on the rise and the specialty coffee roasters have no need to hide the bad flavors of the low-quality beans. The darker roasts also offer less variety but more consistency.
For this reason, dark roasts are preferred for espresso type of brewing and mostly used by cafes. The espresso roast balances the flavors and rounds the acidity. At the same time, the stronger taste works better with milk since it mellows down the bitterness while still retaining full-body.
Does Darker Mean Stronger?
The dark roast coffee is surrounded by a myth about caffeine content. Traditionally, it was believed that because a darker roast tastes more bitter and is perceived as “stronger”, it must contain more caffeine.
Then there was an opposite tendency with the notion that the caffeine is lost during the roasting process and therefore the lighter roasts have higher jitter content. This is not exactly true either.
The fact is that the levels of caffeine are all about the mass rather than the roast. During the roasting, the coffee bean loses mass, and therefore, if you measure your coffee in scoops, the lighter roast will have more caffeine, simply because it’s denser.
Precisely because of its stronger taste, there are people who prefer the dark roast over the bright and mellow light roast coffee. Luckily, the best dark roast coffee doesn’t mean low-quality beans trying to mask the bad taste and there are many great dark roast coffees available.
What are the best dark roast coffees that we found?
Best Dark Roast Coffee
Kicking Horse Coffee, Kick Ass Dark Roast
The Kick-Ass Dark Roast from Kicking Horse coffee is sweet, smoky, and audacious. It doesn’t have the burnt flavor that is usually associated with dark roast coffee. It is strong but yet flavorful and can be appreciated even by those who usually favor lighter roasts. The common tasting notes are chocolate malt, licorice, molasses, and an earthy lingering finish.
The coffee is sourced sustainably from Indonesia and South America origins as well as 100% Arabica and shade-grown, so you know it’s high quality. Your mind can be at peace since they care about giving back to the farmers, and the coffee is Fairtrade. The roasting process is done in the Canadian Rocky Mountains.
Further tasting notes are cacao nibs, brown sugar, and hazelnuts. It’s perfect for those who prefer coffee with full taste but no acidity.
Peet’s Coffee Major Dickason’s Blend, Dark Roast
This Major Dickason’s Blend dark roasted coffee is full-bodied, smoky, and complex while it also acts as a symbol of the rich, flavorful taste that Peet’s coffee is known for. It is grown and sourced responsibly caring for the communities where the coffee is grown.
Since 1966, Peet’s coffee is only sourcing the finest-quality beans. Then the coffee is roasted in small batches by hand to ensure its maximum freshness. It is suitable for all brewing methods, from French Press to cold brew.
Koffee Kult Coffee Beans Dark Roasted
Koffee Kult is another small-batch roasted coffee that is immediately packed and shipped within hours of roasting in Florida. For making the perfect blend, they’re using organic coffee with origins in Colombia, Guatemala, and Sumatra. The high-quality beans mean that the coffee is bold and strong but smooth and not bitter.
This Koffee Kult coffee stands out from the crowd by its great strong aroma that will fill up the whole room. It is full-flavored, with a heavy body but also smooth with hints of cinnamon, some say that it is like drinking liquid dark chocolate. The long sweet lingering finish makes it a great coffee for your espresso.
Seattle’s Best Coffee Post Alley Blend Dark Roast
Seattle’s Post Alley blend, previously known as Signature blend number 5 is one of the most intense dark roasts. Classified as French roast, it has a smoky flavor but also a wonderfully smooth side. The premium beans are sourced from Latin America.
This brand of coffee focuses on using better blends for a more approachable taste of the dark roast. Even though these dark roasted coffee beans are seriously strong, it has zero bitterness and a consistently great flavor profile.
Death Wish Ground Coffee
Even though we’ve established that the caffeine difference between different roasts is a myth rather than a fact, the coffee brand Death Wish has taken this false notion and made it a reality. They say that the cup of their dark roast coffee contains double the amount of caffeine as the regular one. They are known to be the ‘world’s strongest coffee‘. How do they achieve this?
No, Death Wish doesn’t add any additives that would boost the caffeine content. Firstly, they use a blend of Arabica as well as Robusta, and since Robusta is naturally higher in caffeine, it enhances your clarity and focus.
Further, by using a slow roasting process in the New York headquarters, they naturally produce coffee that is higher in strength than the average cup and the small-batch roasting ensures quality and consistency.
The dark roast is strong but not bitter. The subtle flavors include cherry and chocolate with low acidity. Sustainably sourced, it is also USDA certified organic and Fair Trade. So if it’s energy what you’re after, and you’re not afraid of a serious caffeine hit and jitters, this coffee is for you.
The roast is one of the most significant aspects that affect the flavor of the coffee beans. It is true that the taste depends on the coffee origin, the processing method, the grind, and the brewing but even if you had the same coffee beans roasted to a different level, you would find that they taste totally different.
With the rise of specialty coffee, the medium and light roasts became increasingly popular since their acidity allows the exotic and delicate flavors to come out. Unlike dark roast coffee that doesn’t have such a varied flavor spectrum but in contrast, it is more well-rounded and stable.
In the past, the dark roast coffee was associated with low-quality coffee beans which were roasted dark in order to mask the bad taste. Today, the coffee brands producing dark roast take advantage of the strong mouthfeel but still make the best coffee that is smooth with some delicate flavors.
There is no right or wrong when it comes to the roast of your coffee beans. The choice depends entirely on your preferences. Do you like the bright fruity and floral notes of the light and medium roasts? Or do you prefer a solid not-for-the-faint-hearted caffeine hit from dark roasted coffee?