For something as simple as bean color, the French Roast is actually a pretty hot, complex topic in the world of coffee. Some delight in the burnt undertones while others completely denounce it.
So what’s really going on with this roast? Whether you want to learn more about the taste, or whether or not it’s worth the money, read on for the scoop on French roast coffee.
What Is French Roast?
Well, for one thing, it’s not necessarily from France. French roast coffee doesn’t refer to the location of origin per se, but it refers to the level of roasting the coffee. Confused? Don’t worry. Let’s break it down.
First off, we have to address the way roast labeling is done in the coffee industry. For the most part, that labeling system lacks a standard altogether. Individual companies/roasteries tend to have a chart or ranking system that their beans are judged by. But other than a few basic rules of thumb, there is no global standardization for roasts.
So for the French roast, part of the contention is that different people have different ideas about where exactly the French roast falls within the range of roasting stages. Here are the simplified stages of roasting:
- Green: Beans stay green at the beginning of the roasting process as they are introduced to heat.
- Yellow: The beans will then become yellowish and emit a grassy odor.
- Steam: Next, steam will rise from the beans as water evaporates.
- First Crack: A cracking sound is heard as the beans expand and sugars caramelize. During the first crack, beans darken covering medium to some dark roast classifications.
- Second Crack*: The second more violent crack signals the classification of even darker roasts. Most roasters only offer beans removed at the onset of this stage if they’re offered at all (eg. Full City+, Vienna).
*The general consensus for French roast is that the beans are removed from the roaster sometime near or at the end of the second crack.
For some roasters, the internal temperature for a French roast begins to push 464°F, which is the highest end of the recommended roast temperatures. Beyond that, beans begin to burn and present a fire hazard.
A French roast can be identified by its very dark brown (almost black), oily appearance. If using the Agtron Gourmet Scale (the tool used by the Specialty Coffee Association of America), a French roast will score between 28 and 35. For reference, 25 is the lowest (darkest) score and 95 is the highest (lightest). Most people prefer to stay away from either extreme.
At the beginning of the second crack, a coffee’s roast tends to overpower the flavor of the beans. A French roast can fall anyway from the middle to end of the second crack. Consequently, you likely won’t taste any flavors to hint at the origin of beans.
So, your favorite medium roast Costa Rican coffee might have lovely plum, honey, and citrus notes or a go-to, dark Sumatran may by distinctly earthy and herbal. However, if both of them were French roasts, they would probably taste exactly the same.
The Finest French Roast Coffees
Now that you know how delicious and savory French roast coffee is, you can start shopping around to try it out for yourself! Here are some of the most flavor-filled French roast options offered today.
Volcanica French Roast Coffee
The darkest roast that Volcanica sells, this French roast has been a favorite of many because of the notes or deep smoky flavor. It’s roasted with a slightly different method than Volcanica’s other dark blends, accenting the unique notes of flavor within the beans.
Furthermore, this roast has a visible layer of oil on the beans. Though this may cause some hesitation to those who are new to the coffee bean scene, these oils consist of enzymes that create that delicious “coffee” flavor and aroma that people love so much about coffee. The longer that coffee is roasted for, the more that the inner flavors and oils are coaxed out of the beans, creating that rich flavor that makes French roast a favorite for many.
As far as growing conditions are concerned, Volcanica coffee takes care to grow all of its beans above 3,000 feet in elevation. This ensures that all of their beans are healthy, full of flavor, and have the lowest risk of deformity.
Community Coffee French Roast
Nobody does a fantastic French roast like New Orleans. Community Coffee is a Louisiana-based company that has been implementing Cajun-inspired flavors into its French roast coffee since 1919. Roasting coffee for over a century, Community Coffee has been implementing Louisiana flavors and traditions into their coffee for over a century, making it some of the most robust, vibrant French roast blends on the market today.
Using only 100% Arabica beans, Community Coffee only uses the highest quality beans in order to thoroughly enhance the flavor of the coffee. It’s deep and full in body, and well-balanced in acidity. Due to this, it makes it a great option for those who may have sensitive stomachs who need something savory, yet easy on the stomach to drink.
Not only does Community Coffee create delicious coffee, but it also consistently creates delicious coffee. Since the French roast is full of savory flavor, you can enjoy it during the morning to help you wake up, or for a tasty afternoon pick-me-up.
Solimo French Roast Coffee Pods
Need something efficient and simple to maneuver in the morning before work? Solimo French Roast Coffee Pods have you covered. Compatible with both 1.0 and 2.0 k-cup brewing machines, these Solimo French Roast k-cups will result in a delicious cup of smoky French roast at the push of a button.
However, this French roast isn’t as dark as some other roasts are. The Solimo French Roast is a medium roast, meaning that the beans aren’t roasted as long as possible, thus running the risk of accidentally burning.
Stumptown French Roast Coffee
Coming straight out of Portland, Oregon, AKA “Hipster Coffee Headquarters,” Stumptown French Roast Coffee is an organic dark roast blend that encompasses deep tones of flavor without the burnt aftertaste. Roasted with notes of clove and bittersweet chocolate, this French roast also has a spiciness that sticks in each sip.
After the beans are roasted, Stumptown packages each batch in their innovative bags in order to keep all of their coffee fresh for about 3 months if left unopened. Stumptown labels all of its bags with the date to signify the roasting date, as well as the “best by” date.
Stumptown has been perfecting their French roast coffee blend for the last 20 years, and throughout this time they’ve strived to create a consistent flavor. In addition, they’ve also established strong customer relationships, assuring that you can sip your coffee with ease of mind.
Bulletproof French Kick Coffee
Bulletproof will give you a kick of flavor with each batch of its darkly roasted French Kick Coffee. The flavors in this French roast coffee are clean and bright, but it’s also well-balanced coffee with a full body and undertones of sweet chocolate and caramel.
All of Bulletproof’s beans are all hand-picked organic beans harvested from Central America, meaning that every batch is carefully sorted through and examined the overall quality of the beans. By doing this, Bulletproof can provide a savory, defect-free batch of French roast coffee for every customer.
One of the darkest roasts that Bulletproof offers, this is a smooth and sweet combination with chocolate notes of flavor that’s medium-bodied and well-balanced. In addition to this, the beans are roasted in small batches under very strict conditions, which helps minimize the presence of toxins and impurities that taint the roasting process.
Starbucks Dark French Roast
One of the most well-recognized coffee brands on the global market today, Starbucks Dark French Roast is enjoyed by coffee lovers everywhere. Whether you need a large bag of coffee grounds to fuel you for the long-haul, or a pack of k-cups to give you a quick caffeine fix, the French roast comes in both to keep you satisfied no matter your brewing methods.
With a full body and an explosive flavor, the French roast is roasted to perfection and has a layer of oil on them that gives the coffee its flavor. It has a nice round sweetness, making it a great option for those who need a rich, robust burst of flavor.
Compared to Other Roasts
Full City or Full City+ are the roasts that are generally defined as the next definable roast on the lighter side of French roasts. They may have some visible spots of oil on the surface but are decidedly separate from the very oily surface of a French roast.
If you are looking for something that’s on the darker side of dark, but don’t want the smoky/burnt flavors, these roasts are worth looking into.
There is some disagreement on how the “espresso” roast compares to the French roast. Some roasters claim that it’s slightly lighter than a French roast. However, for the most part, they are essentially the same roast. Both have very dark brown, shiny surface with burnt undertones.
While most people believe that the French or espresso roast the darkest one available, that isn’t necessarily true. The Spanish or Italian roast is actually darker, distinguishable by the nearly black color and the slick, oily surface. In addition, the flavor of these two roasts is flat with hints of charcoal. The roasting process also tends to present a fire hazard to the roasters, so it’s not a very popular offering.
Things To Look Out For Before Buying
Though we obviously adore a well-crafted French roast, it is easy for some large coffee roasters and sellers to overlook the quality of their coffee to just make as much profit as possible. So before you buy, it’s best to consider the size of the coffee brand/roaster, as well as the company’s reputation for sourcing and filtering through the beans. Here are a few things to look out for when deciding which French roast coffee is best for you.
French roasts have very distinct, oily surfaces. As a result, they tend to spoil or and turn stale or rancid much faster than lighter roasts. You can mitigate this issue by only purchasing the amount you’ll need for the week and using a good, air-tight container.
However, many people prefer to buy in bulk, and some companies only offer larger sized bags. Plus, if you aren’t drinking a cup or two a day, having a coffee that spoils in a week and a half is completely unfeasible.
While many people seek out specific bean origins for the unique flavors, this practice is impossible with French roasts. The darkness of the roast completely overpowers even some of the more prominent tasting notes in the beans. As a result, no matter where the beans are from, they’re going to taste almost exactly the same: burnt.
Because the darkness of the roast essentially erases any hints of the original flavor, many companies use lower-quality beans for their French roasts. The aim is to mask the poor-quality coffee flavor with the overpowering roasted flavor.
The result is pretty abhorrent coffee. You can somewhat avoid this issue by buying from brands you trust, especially those who take care to only roast healthy, flavorful beans that are closely observed during the roasting process.
Unsustainably or Unethical
Because roasters can use cheap, low-quality beans for French roasts, they are often unethically sourced. In cases like this, farmers are exploited for the sake of profit and are often forced into cheap, environmentally unsustainable practices.
To avoid this in French roasts and coffee in general, look for a Fair Trade label or research the company to see how transparent they are about their sourcing and sustainability.
As with some other dark roasts, French roast beans have a tendency to taste bitter. This is due to the carbonization of fibers within the beans. For some dark roasts, this makes for a nice smoky/charcoal flavor that people enjoy. But for French roasts, it often makes for an overpowering bitterness and burnt undertones.
For French roasts that are on the light side, using a coarser grind and a French press can help bring out the sweeter flavors. However, for French roasts that push the limit on the roast scale, this likely won’t help much.
Also, you can try adding salt to your grounds to mitigate this issue and perhaps address the freshness problems (as salt may remove some of the moisture).
This may be a lesser concern for those of you using other brewing methods, but oilier beans do mean more frequent cleaning of grinders and machines. This is especially an issue if you are using these beans in an espresso machine, particularly if the grinder is built-in. The oils tend to clog the machine, and if these oils are lefts uncleaned and unattended they could eventually damage the machine.
In our opinion, coffee has much more to offer in the flavor department than the ashen, burnt profile most frequently presented by a French roast. But if you’re set on buying one, we recommend going for one that leans lighter, for the sake of storage and the potential to get some sweetness out of a French pressed brew.
Furthermore, if you’re simply interested in exploring darker roasts, look towards a Full City or Vienna Roast from a reputable company. These roasts can be heavy and rich with smokier rather than charred flavors.