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What Is French Roast Coffee? – Everything You Need to Know in 2020

“For a seed to achieve its greatest expression, it must come completely undone. The shell cracks, its insides come out and everything changes”. – Cynthia Occelli.

What if the seeds crack twice? The ones that have been carefully harvested from shrubs in Ethiopia, Indonesia or Central America?

They form a roast that can create a storm in your coffee cup. You call them French roasts and trust me when I say this, you don’t really need to grow them or roast them in France.

Why are they called ‘French roasts’ then? What is French Roast Coffee?

Let’s dip into the world of this intense and smoky-sweet coffee variety to find out!

What Is French Roast Coffee?

When we come across the term ‘French roast’, most of us imagine dark and shiny coffee beans that have probably come from a French coffee plantation. The first part is correct while the second part is a figment of human imagination.

French roast merely refers to the roasting style developed in France during the 1800s. It has nothing to do with the origin or quality of the crops!

Coffee beans from anywhere on Earth can be made into a French roast through this specific roasting technique. They have the color of dark chocolate and give a smoky taste when brewed.

The French roasting technique causes the coffee beans to crack twice, releasing the oils contained inside each bean. This is precisely what makes French roasts unique, contrary to most other roasting techniques that make the beans crack only once.

The resultant beans are popular for creating delightful brews with a burnt undertone that many of us coffee addicts adore.

However, these beans did not adopt a single name. They also go by the names ‘espresso roasts’ and ‘Turkish roasts’, both of which are misnomers and in reality, mean different things.

French roast is also loosely called dark roast coffee. Although, strictly speaking, this is just one category among several categories of dark roasts.

What Does French Roast Coffee Taste Like?

French roast coffee is charred, intense and bold with a somewhat smoky undertone. It is light and gives you a watery mouthfeel. It is sweet, which contrasts as well as complements its bold nature.

Compared to its light roasted counterparts, it is less acidic.

With French roast coffee, it is the roast that dictates the taste and aroma, rather than the beans used. Hence, the origin and variety of beans are not that important. They lose most of their original flavor profile during the roasting process, anyway.

Even then, certain beans, especially the ones that come from Indonesia are well known for retaining their earthy umami flavor that can add a new dimension to your coffee experience.

In short, the French roast coffee is:

  • Dark and intense
  • Sweet
  • With a thin mouthfeel
  • And a burnt undertone

A select few will offer an earthy, umami taste.

Coffee Myth Debunked

If you have grown to believe that the darker your coffee is, the more caffeine it contains, you are in for a surprise. It is rather the opposite!

The longer your coffee is roasted the more caffeine is burnt away, leaving the darkest coffee beans with the lowest caffeine content.

Types of French Coffee

There are different shades or subtypes of almost every type of coffee roast. French roasts also offer a few shades from which you can choose from.

Although, to be honest, there isn’t a strict demarcation between the different coffee roasts and their subtypes.

In the spectrum spanning from light to dark roasted coffee beans, the features of one always seem to merge with the features of its neighbor. For instance, there is basically no difference between a Full City and a Light French Roast.

Even then, you will notice certain differences among the shades of French coffee roasts. You already know what to expect from a regular French roast. These are dark brown with a shiny surface.

On the lighter end, there is the ‘Light French Roast’. These beans are medium-dark brown in color and you will find tiny patches of oil on their surface. These beans retain their acidity and flavor more successfully than their cousins.

Then there is the ‘Dark French Roast’ on the opposite end. This is basically a darker and oilier version of French roast that promises a stronger burnt undertone.

French Roast Coffee: Dark or Light?

By now, there is no doubt that French roast coffee is a dark roast coffee. We often compare the color of our beans with dark chocolate, which works fine.

A better way is to refer to the Agtron Gourmet Color scale developed by the Specialty Coffee Association of America.

It scores different coffee roasts on a scale of 25 (darkest) to 95 (lightest). French roast varieties lie within the range of  28 to 35. Ergo, it needn’t be said aloud how dark your French roast coffee beans are.

The Neighbors in the Spectrum:

So, what is just a notch darker and just a notch lighter than a French roast?

Well, on the darker side, you’ll surely find the Spanish roast. You can rest assured, coffee doesn’t go darker than this.

On the lighter side, there is the Espresso roast and Full roast. Espresso roast is one variety of Italian roast beans and is the most popular choice for perfect espresso shots.

Lighter than this is the Full roast which represents a cocktail of roast types such as the Continental and Vienna roast.

What is the Deal with Italian Roasts Then?

Although espresso roasts are considered a bit lighter than French roasts, it does not necessarily mean that Italian roasts are overall, lighter. Espresso roast is just one Italian roast after all.

Italian roasts are allowed a longer roasting time and are popular for being darker and shinier.

Loosely, you can place Italian roasts on both sides of French roasts in the coffee roast spectrum that you are currently drawing in your head.

French Roast vs Italian Roast Coffee

Around the time French roast was being developed and perfected, other regions all over Europe were formulating their own styles of roasting coffee beans. It was during the 1800s when people were head over heels for dark roasted coffee. Ergo, most of these roasting techniques left us with a whole range of the dark spectrum coffee.

Eventually, these became known for the places they were developed in. Hence we have the names Spanish roast, Italian roast and so on.

The Italian roast, just like the French one, does not come from Italian plantations and are not necessarily roasted in Italy anymore. Despite that, Italians tend to love it more than all other roasts put together.

Which one is better though? I’ll leave that to your judgment.

How do they compare? I can highlight subtleties.

The Similarities of French and Italian Roasts:

  • Both are dark.
  • Both are oily.
  • Both are taken to the hottest and darkest roasting levels.
  • Both have an oily surface.
  • Both have a robust flavor profile.
  • Both will taste charred to you.

The Subtle Differences between French and Italian Roasts:

Color of Beans:

The Italian roast is darker. French roast is a notch lighter than its Italian counterpart.

The Surface of Beans:

The Italian roast has an oilier sheen than the French roast.

Internal Bean Temperature:

Italian roast reaches an internal bean temperature of 225 degrees C ( 473 degrees F ).Here, French roast surpasses it at 240 degrees C ( 464 degrees F ).

Roasting time:

Italian roast is allowed more roasting time than French roast.

Flavor Profile:

While the flavor of French roast can be anywhere between berry to citrus, Italian roast is more charred and robust.

Caffeine Content:

French roast has a lower caffeine content than light and medium roasts. Italian roast has an even lower level of caffeine in it.

Is French Roast Coffee Bad for You?

Well, French roast coffee may not be bad for you in particular, but there are reasons to believe that it is bad for the coffee farmers and sustainable farming practices. Also, there are a few personal reasons why you may want to consider switching to lighter coffee roasts.

French Roasts vs Sustainable Farming:

Since dark roasting and double cracking the coffee beans leave none of the original flavors of the beans used, many manufacturers opt to use cheap coffee beans from unethical sources.

These beans come from malnourished plants grown in climates that are not suitable for coffee plantation. This may harm the coffee farmers and economic sustainability in the long run.

French Roasts Tend to Get Stale Faster:

Roasting makes beans more volatile. With French roasts, this is more so.

It makes the beans crack 2 times, releasing its aromatic oils onto its surface. While this is what we like about French roasts in the first place, this also makes it easier for these aromatic oils to evaporate or simply, escape.

The sugar and acids inside dark roast coffee beans decay fast, making it rancid.

What You Can Do to Prevent French Roast Beans Getting Stale:

Avoid bulk purchases. Buy them in small amounts at a time and store them in air-tight jars.

You are Missing Out on Coffee Flavors:

If you are a French roast addict and are not trying out lighter roasts that often, you are missing out on a lot of delightful flavor-bursting coffee experiences!

Every variety of coffee bean comes with its very own flavor and taste profile. With French roasts, you don’t get to taste them. Be it from Costa Rica, Ethiopia or anywhere else, after a double cracking roast, all becomes charcoal!

Your Automatic Espresso Machine May Disapprove of French Roasts:

Dark, oily roasts are not good for espresso machines, especially if they are super-automatic and come with a built-in grinder. Cleaning up becomes a really painful issue if you know what I mean.

Is French Roast Coffee Good for You?

There is nothing particularly good or bad about French roasts. The deal with French roasts is more about the taste and the coffee experience that some find themselves fond of.

French Roast Will Get You Hooked!:

French roast coffee has an appeal similar to that of grilled meat or dark toasted bread. This is something that many can’t pass and get hooked on for life.

French roast is traditionally used for drip-brewed coffee. This doesn’t mean you cannot enjoy it in other ways. These beans are guaranteed to make bold espresso shots.

If you are prepared to give your automatic espresso machine proper regular clean-ups (which you have to anyway), it just cannot disagree with your dark French roasts. And you are guaranteed a bold shot of espresso every time.

Great if You are Looking to Cut Down Your Caffeine Intake:

French roasts will directly benefit you if you are looking to cut down on your caffeine intake. As you know by now, the darker the coffee the less is the caffeine content.

The best part is, with the strong taste profile of French roast, you won’t even know that you are taking less caffeine!

Reviews of the Top 5 Best French Roast Coffee

Now that you have brushed your knowledge on French roasts, the coffee aficionado in you deserves to taste it.

If you are going to try French roast for the first time, or don’t have a favorite brand yet, take a pick from our 5 most favorite French roast coffee packs.

On the other hand, if you are already loyal to a particular brand of French roast, skim through and find out if your coffee brand has made it to this list!

If it hasn’t, let me lure you into trying our top 5 best French roast coffee brands.

01. Starbucks French Roast Dark Roast Ground Coffee

Starbucks never ceases to amaze us with its universal appeal. Starbucks French Roast Ground Coffee is one of the most celebrated labels of Starbucks.

Put these together and you have a winner.

The ultimate French roast coffee, in my opinion, is the one offered by Starbucks. It comes from 100% Arabica beans cultivated in the Asia Pacific and Latin America.

With this one in your cup you are guaranteed to smell and taste the smokiness, an ideal French roast must offer.

It is intense, just the way you would expect your French roast to be. But the most interesting thing about Starbucks French Roast Coffee is that it surprisingly retains much of the aroma the beans have to offer. This is not something that we generally expect from a French Roast.

There are a couple of added advantages. The obvious one: It is convenient to prepare ground coffee than whole beans. The less obvious one- it comes in a small 20 oz pack that is likely to run out before the coffee gets stale!

Remember, I recommended not to purchase French roast coffee in bulk amount?

There are a few things about Starbucks French Roast Coffee that we are not thrilled about though. It is a bit expensive compared to its counterparts. Not having a ‘fair trade’ label on this particular Starbucks coffee variety is another issue I am not fond of.

Pros:

  • A popular label of Starbucks
  • 20 oz compact pack
  • Ground coffee makes it convenient to brew
  • Bold but not bitter
  • Offers an earthy umami tone

Cons:

  • Relatively expensive
  • Not for light roast coffee lovers
  • Not  ‘Fair Trade’ certified

Why I Recommend Starbucks French Roast Dark Roast Coffee:

Simply put, I recommend this brand for the coffee experience. This one is robust and smooth at the same time and makes you feel an earthy smell all around you.

02. Amazon Brand – Solimo Dark Roast Coffee Pods, French Roast

Solimo French Roast Coffee Pods leaves its buyers chirping, “Half the price, but not half the quality.”

With Solimo, you can safely look forward to a dark and smooth coffee. In contrast to Starbucks French roast, Solimo is a bit more bitter and a bit less smoky. But chances are, you won’t often notice this difference.

Even then, keep in mind that it will not serve you the complex coffee experience of French roasts that many coffee geeks crave for.

With Solimo, there is zero chance of your highly volatile French roast to go stale. Solimo pods are vacuum-sealed, which means you can be assured of a fresh cup of dark French coffee every time.

There have been a few rare reports of defective pods. You don’t have to worry about that though, as Amazon offers a satisfaction guarantee for this brand.

Solimo is compatible with Keurig coffee makers. So, if you are a Keurig owner, this is another reason why you should give Solimo French Roast Coffee a go!

It comes in a large, 100 pod pack, which is a blessing for people who have already tried and liked it but presents a dilemma for the first time buyers. To be honest, it’s worth the risk. Each pod costs you $0.34 only and there is a fat chance you won’t be disappointed.

The beans are 100% Arabica and come from plantations in Latin America, Africa, and Indonesia. It does not come with a ‘fair trade’ label though. However, they use 100% recyclable plastic for their pods, which is quite commendable.

Pros:

  • Super affordable
  • Compatible with Keurig 1.0 and 2.0
  • Freshness guaranteed by vacuum-sealed pods
  • Impressive taste
  • No bad aftertaste
  • Amazon satisfaction guarantee

Cons:

  • Not quite as robust or flavorful
  • A large pack of 100 K cups is not preferred by the first time buyers
  • Not ‘fair trade’ certified

Why I Recommend Solimo French Roast Dark Roast Coffee Pods:

Value for money. This is the strongest feature of Solimo: Good quality French roast coffee at a very reasonable price.

03. Bestpresso Coffee, French Roast Single-Serve K-Cup

In recent years Bestpresso has become quite famous for coming up with a variety of flavors and aromas.

Their coffee beans are 100% organic. They take pride in their coffee and quite rightly so as they contain no preservatives, no added sugar, and no added flavoring. This means that you are guaranteed a natural aroma.

The pods are Keurig 2.0 compatible.  These are made with 100% recyclable plastic. So it seems they are doing their bit for the environment with recyclable plastic and sustainable organic farming.

Bestpresso is also Kosher certified.

The only thing that I found lacking in Bestpresso French Roast coffee is the boldness that one would expect from a dark French roast.

Pros:

  • Affordable
  • Balanced flavor with a rich undertone
  • Natural aroma
  • 100% organic
  • 60 days satisfaction guarantee

Cons:

  • Lacks boldness

Why I Recommend Bestpresso Coffee, French Roast Pods:

Bestpresso is like a less expensive Starbucks. It truly is great value for money. It tastes great. It is full-bodied with a balanced flavor, rich undertone, and a clean aftertaste.

04. Tully’s Coffee, French Roast, Single-Serve Keurig K-Cup Pods

When it comes to the art science behind French roasts, Tully’s takes great pride in their roasters. Quite rightly so, I think.

Another thing that they should be proud of is the pleasing aroma that comes out.

From each and every K-cup Pod by Tully’s, the aroma itself is enough to blow your mind!

Moving on to the other aspects of taste, Tully’s French Roast Coffee has a light body with a bold and intense feel. It is just the right level of bitter; not too much but not absent.

You will sense sweetness in the background. It has a balanced burnt undertone and a smokey aftertaste, but it is less likely to linger on your tastebuds for a long time.

Again these pods are Keurig compatible, so Keurig users are welcome to give Tully’s a try. The brand is also Kosher certified.

What Tully’s needs to work on is their packaging though. There have been several reports of improperly sealed cups blowing up in the middle of a brew. That’s messy.

Pros:

  • Pleasing aroma
  • Impressive taste
  • Bold but not too bitter
  • Ideal base for different coffee drinks
  • Kosher certified

Cons:

  • Several reports of improperly sealed pods
  • Not ‘fair trade’ certified

Why I Recommend Tully’s Coffee, French Roast Pods:

It is caffeinated. Hence, the dark French roast lovers, who don’t like the idea of most of the caffeine getting lost during the roasting process, can indulge in Tully’s French roasts.

It also acts as a good base for all sorts of coffee recipes.

05. Trader Joe’s Fair Trade Organic French Roast Dark Roast Whole Coffee Beans

I really like the idea of beginning my day with a strong cup of French roast coffee beans grown in the slopes of the Tajumulco volcano. In case you are wondering where Tajumulco is, it is in Guatemala and the condition in those slopes is just perfect for growing coffee plants.

Trader Joe harvests these high-quality beans, prepares delicate French roasts out of them and renders them ready for your kitchen.

Sounds great, right?

That is not all, these beans are 100% organic, so rest assured of the absence of harmful chemicals.

In terms of taste, the coffee you brew out of Trader Joe’s Organic French Roast coffee beans is sure to be bold with a bright finish. The aroma is quite pleasant.

It is not as smoky as many of its counterparts and certainly not the best of French roasts, but you can expect an impressive cup of coffee.

Pros:

Cons:

  • Not exactly the best of Trader Joe

Why I Recommend Trader Joe’s Organic French Roast Coffee, Whole Beans:

Trader Joe makes sure to harvest the finest coffee beans from the most sustainable plantations.

At the same time, it is committed to participating in fair trade with the growers so that you can enjoy a guilt-free cup of French roast coffee, knowing that you are doing the world a good.

That is why I like to call Trader Joe “Fair Joe” in my mind!

Terminé

No, this isn’t another French roast coffee. This is just a French word for ‘Finished’ that I dug up from the web.

Now that you know that I am wrapping it up, here is an extra shot, just for you!

Extra Shot- Coffee Myth Debunked:

Myth: Your coffee can’t be too hot!

Truth: Of course it can! For an optimum coffee experience, your coffee should be between 155°-175°F.

Above this range, it will start getting more and more bitter. Once it crosses 205°F, what was supposed to be a flavorful coffee turns to char.

So, don’t drink your coffee too hot and have a pleasant coffee day!

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