People who travel to Italy always come back raving about the coffee. But when they try to recreate the Italian roast coffee at home, they can't seem to get it quite right.
And there's a reason—Italian roast coffee probably isn't what you think it is.
“Italian Coffee Beans” on a label can mean many things, including some that aren't so good.
We're going to bust some common myths so you can avoid misleading marketing and find the perfect coffee for your morning ritual.
What Exactly *is* Italian Roast Coffee?
“Italian Roast Coffee” refers to a coffee roasting style that produces very dark, oily beans. This is generally the darkest roast available and is often used to brew espresso.
At this roast level, the beans are roasted past the “second crack”, at which point most of the oils and flavors come to the surface for a robust, sweet-but-charred flavor.
Why so dark? We'll get into that, but consider this:
- Roasting super dark burns out all the flavor. Coffee beans can be old or low quality and you won't notice
- The coffee may have been roasted months ago and you won't notice
- Most coffee in Italy is brewed as espresso. A super dark roast yields the generic “espresso” taste.
- Primitive espresso machines only had one setting and didn't extract much nuance from coffee. This meant less incentive to roast to the flavor potential of the coffee itself.
So where does it fall on the spectrum of coffee roast levels?
Italian Roast Coffee is So Freaking Dark
These days, the most common and easy-to-understand way to describe roast level is by the color of the beans. Similar to a piece of toast, coffee beans start out one color and slowly darken as they are exposed to heat.
- Light roast coffee tends to be fruitier and more acidic, tasting closest to the raw coffee fruit, with a wide range of flavor depending on the coffee variety.
- Medium roast coffee takes on a “toasted” flavor, and varies widely depending on the coffee
- Dark Roast has a “strong” or “bold” flavor, like dark chocolate and toasted nuts. Flavors distinct to the coffee can also be tasted here
- Super, ultra or extra dark roast (like Italian roast) have a distinct “roasted” or “charred” flavor—the burnt toast of coffee
During roasting (or any ‘browning' process) a chemical reaction is occurring called the Maillard Reaction. Amino acids and sugars react to prolonged heat in a way that produces browning and the delicious flavor we associate with dark roast coffee.
Most of what you taste with a super dark roast coffee is the roast, not the coffee itself.
In fact, most of the original flavor of the coffee gets roasted right out—the sugars and acids get burnt up and all that's left is the ashy flavor. Not a big deal if that's what you prefer, but there's a whole world of flavor you're missing out on!
A Quick History of Italian Roast Coffee
Let's bust three myths right away:
- While Italians certainly popularized coffee drinking, especially espresso, coffee doesn't originally come from Italy.
- In terms of origin, there's no such thing as Italian coffee beans. Coffee plants do not naturally grow in Italy's climate and therefore must be sourced elsewhere and roasted in Italy.
(Fun fact: You might be able to grow a potted coffee plant on an Italian windowsill, but it probably wouldn't yield enough fruit to make a single cup of coffee.)
- A coffee claiming to be “Italian Roast” might not even be from Italy. In fact, in Italy, they just call it “coffee”. Looking at you, “French” fries…
When Italians began roasting coffee, it was common to roast together coffee beans from all over the world. Some were definitely old and low-quality.
The easiest way to produce a large amount of a consistent-tasting product using different origins was to roast them so dark you can't taste the difference.
When a company replicates this mass-produced, flat style of roasting, it's kind of like you're getting a giant, flavorless tomato. Sure, it has a purpose, but it's not what you want if you want really good coffee.
Ironically, It actually goes totally against the modern Italian way of eating and drinking, which prioritizes fresh, local, and small-batch/artisan.
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Why Coffee Pros Don't Drink Italian Roast Coffee
Again, Italy popularized espresso. Depending on the company, Italian Roast could be a way of saying “use this coffee for espresso”.
But these days, due to major advances in roasting and espresso brewing technology, you can successfully make espresso with just about any coffee. You can also brew a pour-over using an espresso blend!
So there's really no need to stick to an Italian Roast if what you're really looking for is delicious coffee.
In fact, most coffee professionals would steer away from Italian Roast, due to unknown origin and quality. There's a whole world of delicious coffee out there—but Italian Roast coffees tend to be predictably bleh-tasting.
Here's What to Drink Instead of Italian Roasts
If you've enjoyed Italian Roasts in the past, but want to experience richer, smoother, more nuanced coffee, we have good news.
There are spectacular dark roasts that don't compromise on flavor—and that definitely don't have that burnt or ashy taste.
They're perfectly capable of recalling those flavorful memories of coffee as you watch the Tuscan sunset, or your morning espresso before you explore the Colosseum.
In fact, we sell a couple of them.
- Our Medium Roast coffee is a spectacular middle-of-the-road bean for espresso, with notes hazelnut, brown sugar, and a hint of red fruit 🌰
- Our Dark Roast coffee is rich and bold—a more classic coffee with notes of subtle chocolate, maple, and caramel 🍫
- Our Espresso Roast is perfect for medium-to-light coffee lovers who want to try something with vanilla, strawberry, and sugarcane notes 🍓
Just wait till you taste it!