What Is French Roast Coffee?

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There’s a good chance that when you’ve been on the lookout for coffee beans, you’ll notice some packets labeled French roast, but what exactly is French roast coffee?

The obvious answer would be that it must be to do with where the beans are from, but, as we’ll explain, it’s not quite as straightforward as that. Let’s dive into the details.

What Is French Roast Coffee?

It is easy to assume that French roast describes the origin of the coffee beans or a type of drink, but that’s not the case. French roast is actually one of the dark roasts. The term describes the color of the coffee bean after roasting.

An Agtron machine assigns a number to the bean’s color. The lower the number, the darker the roast. French roast coffee beans fall between 28 and 35 (whereas light roasts are in the 50s). How is French roast coffee roasted? People looking to make French roast need to wait for the second crack while roasting, which tells us the internal temperature of the coffee bean has reached a high enough level.

coffee-roast-levels

French Roast Coffee Origin

Around the turn of the 19th Century, color profiles were given names based on the region they were roasted.

So, New England was a very light roast without much oil on the surface. American coffee is usually medium-roast coffee. Slightly darker was Viennese coffee, while Italian coffee was very dark. French roast coffee sits between Vienna roast and Italian roast – a moderately dark brown color with light oil on the surface. They are at the darkest roast level.

coffee-dark-roast

In other words, many types of beans can be roasted to the level of French roast – it doesn’t require a particular type, and they don’t need to have originated in France.

What Does French Roast Coffee Taste Like?

French roast coffee has a robust and bold smoky-sweet flavor typical of other double roast coffee. The coffee is also significantly less acidic than lighter roasts, much like other dark roasts.

dark-oily-french-roast-coffee

Is French roast coffee bitter? Yes, there are often light citrusy aromas, too. You can sometimes expect charred, charcoal-like notes. Meanwhile, the mouthfeel is thinner than some other coffee.

French roast coffee is so intense. The flavors are often far more powerful than the flavors of the particular bean due to the roasting process, meaning you won’t get the natural flavors of the beans coming through. Because of this, coffee roasters seldom bring their high-quality coffee beans to such a roast level. That’s why many coffee connoisseurs avoid French roast coffee. However, you will still get a delicious cup of coffee if you mix it with milk and many people enjoy dark chocolate and its richer flavor.

Is French Roast Coffee Dark?

Yes, French roast coffee is one of the darkest roasts around, falling just behind Italian coffee.

As we mentioned earlier, there is a particular machine – the Agtron machine – that determines the color of the beans. Invented by Carl Staub, the machine reflects light onto a coffee sample to assign it a number, with French roasted coffee having a comparatively low number, denoting its dark color.

starbucks-french-roast-beans
Starbucks French Roast Beans

Is French Roast Coffee Strong?

So is French roast beans stronger than other coffee? French roast coffee is known for its bold, intense, almost overpowering strong smoky flavor. However, perhaps surprisingly, the caffeine content is slightly lower than light roast coffee or medium roast coffee. That’s because when coffee beans are burned, they lose some of their caffeine content.

Don’t be fooled, though – even though dark roast beans have less caffeine than light roast beans, and they don’t weigh as much. Therefore, a cup of light roast coffee will, ultimately, have a similar amount of caffeine as a cup of dark roast coffee, including French roasts.

starbucks-french-roast

French Roast vs. Dark Roast Coffee

There are many different types of dark roast coffee, and French roast is just one of them.

French roast is coffee roasted after the second crack. So, the first crack happens on the release of steam, and the second when the bean’s cell walls break and send oil to the surface. How long you roast beyond the second crack determines the bean’s darkness.

Many people consider French roast the darkest of dark roast coffees, but while it’s certainly on the darker end of the scale, Italian coffee is usually darker. Even darker than that is Spanish roast coffee, which is the darkest available. Espresso roast, is also usually slightly darker than French roasted coffee.

oily-dark-roasted-beans

French Roast vs. Italian Roast Coffee

If French roast is one of the darkest coffees on the market, Italian roast is even darker. That’s because it’s roasted even longer beyond the second crack and at a higher temperature (typically above 455F rather than between 430F and 455F).

As a result, Italian roast coffee also has a heavier body than French roast coffee and even lower acidity. The exterior of the beans will also be oilier. Meanwhile, though French roast can have a smoky and almost chocolaty flavor profile, Italian roast coffee is more bitter.

Should You Try French Roast?

As with many coffee roasts, there are pros and cons with French roast coffee, but whether you should try it or not is largely down to your tastes. If you enjoy intense, bold coffee, there’s a good chance you’ll enjoy French roast coffee. Nevertheless, there are a few key advantages and drawbacks. Let’s take a look at them.

Pros:

  • French roast beans can be used in several brewing methods. It’s good in drip coffee and French press but is particularly good for espresso as an alternative to Italian coffee.
  • As with other dark roasted coffee, there are potential health benefits, including reduced risk of cancer and better brain health.
  • Dark roast coffees have lower acidity than light roast coffees, making them an excellent option for anyone with delicate stomach.
  • It’s readily available. As well as being sold in outlets like Starbucks and most supermarkets, you can also choose from a range of French roast coffees on Amazon.
  • French roast coffee pairs well with milk, perfect for making milk-based espresso drinks.

Cons:

  • The flavor is very intense, and it tends to overwhelm the original flavor of the beans, so French roast coffee is unlikely to suit people who enjoy the natural flavors of the beans.
  • The French roasted beans don’t stay fresh for as long as lighter roasts. The reason is because of the oxidation process and high temperatures needed to roast the beans.
  • Some roasters can blend low-quality beans into French roasts. Many coffee drinkers won’t notice since the charred taste and smoky flavor cover the unpleasant taste.
  • If you often add oily dark roasted beans to your grinder, the burr set needs extra maintenance and cleaning.
oily-beans-in-bean-hopper

Best Ways To Brew French Roast Coffee

Because French roasted coffee can use any type of bean, it can be used for many brewing methods. So, for example, if you like a more robust drip coffee or French press, French roast coffee can make a good alternative to lighter roasts. Similarly, it will work well in cold brew if you like sweeter flavors.

However, French roast coffee really comes into its own with espresso, particularly milk-based espresso drinks, including latte, cappuccino, and flat white, for a slightly less intense beverage than you’d get with Italian coffee.

pull-espresso-shot-with-lelit-bianca

Similarly, you can also try French roasts with a Moka pot, AeroPress, or even make Turkish coffee. Just remember that with each brewing method, ensuring the correct grind size of the coffee grounds is crucial.

As with many things coffee-related, taste preference will determine which brewing method you prefer to use for French roast coffee. Because of this, we recommend experimenting until you find the right method and beverage for you.

Final Thoughts

While French roast coffee is relatively commonplace, not too many people are aware of exactly what it is. Not surprisingly, many people assume the name concerns the origin of the beans. But, as we’ve explained, that’s not the case, and it’s actually all to do with the color determined by the roasting process. Even more surprising is the fact that it can be created using any type of bean.

Of course, that just adds to its versatility, and it can be used across a range of brewing methods, including drip coffee, French press, and espresso. Other advantages include potential health benefits and lower acidity. The fact it’s widely available too means that as an alternative to Italian coffee, it’s well worth trying whatever your preferred brewing method.