There's dark roast, and then there's extra dark roast. Like, too dark. Burnt. The kind that tastes rubbery and dirty and looks like an oil spill (“uh, Houston, we have a problem”).
This type of burnt dark roast has turned a lot of people off from darker beans, but a classic, quality dark roast is a thing of beauty.
A good dark roast is all about quality and balance. We want to show you how to avoid dirty, ashy flavor and find a dark roast coffee that is delicious, smooth, and sweet.
This article will cover the basics of good dark roast:
- How is dark roast coffee made?
- Why some dark roast coffees taste so bad
- Our #1 recommended place to find the good stuff
Once we're finished, you'll be able to identify and appreciate a delicious dark roast while avoiding the burnt stuff. Life can be tasty on the dark side!
What Is Dark Roast Coffee?
Coffee roasting is the process of turning green coffee beans into brown ones. The easiest way to tell different roasts apart is by looking at the color and texture of the roasted coffee beans.
Dark roast coffee is dark brown in color with a shiny, oily surface. Dark roast typically has a heavy body and low acid, with deep, sweet flavor notes. These coffees typically have a rich, classic diner-style coffee flavor.
Why Does Dark Roast Coffee Taste Like That?
For most of coffee history, coffee beans were basically just heated over a flame until the oils came to the bean surface. The roasting process was finished just before the oils started smoking, to avoid causing a fire.
Coffee was basically just being burnt! That's too dark.
This is the origin of super dark roast (aka French or Italian roast) and the reason why coffee got that “bitter, burnt, ashy” reputation.
To get a smooth-and-delicious dark roast, you need to steer away from ultra-dark, oily beans and find a roaster who values freshness and quality.
How's Dark Roast Coffee Made? (Hint: It's Not Always Good)
If you've ever burnt something, you know that the flavor is pretty overpowering. Same goes for coffee. A super dark roast overwhelms any natural flavor in the coffee, leaving only the flavor of the roast itself.
So, the darker the roast, the easier it is to hide unsavory flavors.
This is where things get sneaky.
Some roasters will use low quality, mix-match beans (or even a completely different and far more bitter species of coffee, robusta) in their dark roasts blends, hoping you won't taste the difference.
It's also easy to use old, stale coffee beans.
Even if you don't notice the flavor difference, you shouldn't be paying top dollar for burnt, low quality, or old coffee!
The good news is dark roasts don't have to be like this anymore!
- We're discovering new (better) ways to roast. With coffee farmers pursuing higher levels of quality we can now source delicious, fresh coffees with the classic flavor attributes of a dark roast (dark-chocolatey, nutty, thick). And, thanks to new technology, it's getting easier to preserve those uber-delicious, natural flavors.
- Classic dark flavor, without the bitterness. At Coffee Bros, we roast our dark roast blend just enough to get that smooth, full-body cup you think of when you think “black coffee”, without the bitterness.
And we promise it tastes way better than the burnt stuff.
Dark Roast Coffee Flavor: What To Look For
Dark roast has that classic coffee flavor: strong aroma, smooth and chocolatey flavor with just the right amount of bitterness. Perfect for drinking cup after cup at a diner, or starting off a chilly winter morning.
- Creamy caramel
- Maple syrup
- Fresh cola
- Dark chocolate
- Peanut butter
Dark roast body (the texture and weight of a coffee on your palate) is usually pretty thick from all that surface oil. Body can be like heavy cream. Dark roast coffee tastes pretty low-acid and smooth, with an overall dense, balanced flavor.
Is Dark Roast Coffee Stronger?
If you're looking for a bold coffee, you're usually looking for dark roast. The heavy body and luscious, chocolatey aroma seem “stronger” to coffee drinkers than the floral/fruity flavor of light roast.
One possible reason for this myth: espresso is traditionally brewed with dark roast coffee, so people may think if a coffee tastes like espresso, it's automatically strong. That's not exactly true.
The flavor notes of a dark roast might taste stronger, but coffee “strength” has more to do with how concentrated you brew it (more on this in a minute).
Does Dark Roast Coffee Have More Caffeine?
The myth: the strong flavor of dark roast comes from more caffeine
The truth: caffeine difference between roasts is practically insignificant.
Caffeine content has a lot more to do with how you brew your coffee. More beans = more caffeine. See our article about caffeine in espresso vs. coffee here.
What's The Best Way To Brew Dark Roasts?
Dark roast coffee is the most versatile coffee to brew. It has a consistent flavor thanks to a solid, uniform roast and can withstand heat and pressure (that's why it makes great espresso).
Our dark roast coffee is roasted to taste incredible as a drip coffee, pour-over, and espresso. We roast just a little lighter to avoid the charred, bitter taste and to enhance the natural flavor notes in the blend.
As with any coffee you're trying to coax into deliciousness, pay attention to the basics:
- Grind size: ensure you select the right grind size for the brew method you'll be using
- Water temperature: medium roast can be successfully brewed at a variety of temperatures
- Contact time: the length of time you brew the beans affects the coffee extraction and changes the flavor. A pot of coffee can take 6 minutes to brew, while an espresso takes about 25 seconds.
- Freshness: as coffee ages, it oxidizes. Flavors alter considerably after the first few weeks. Use the freshest coffee possible in order to get the best flavor. (Hint: our coffee is always fresh!)
See our coffee brewing guide for more info on how to perfect your recipe.
Are Dark Roasts Considered “Low-Acid”?
All coffee contains acid, it's part of what gives coffee it's delicious flavor!
Dark roast coffees, however, have a lower perceived acid than light roast coffees, meaning they don't taste as sour/acidic. They're not necessarily less acidic overall, but the other elements of the coffee (natural oils, sugars, dissolved compounds, etc) balance out those acids so that they're far less noticeable.
Should My Coffee Look Shiny?
There's some weird coffee information out there. We've heard a rumor that if a bean is shiny, it means it will taste good.
There's a little truth to this—surface oils on a bean mean a well-developed roast, and oils create a strong, lingering aroma. Once brewed, those surface oils cling to your taste buds and you perceive a stronger flavor. So, one might think oils are where the flavor comes from.
However, if a coffee bean is really oily, it likely means it was over-roasted. Ideally, you want most of those oils to stay inside the bean so they don't come in contact with oxygen and start to lose their most delicate flavors.
What Should I Serve With Dark Roasts?
Dark roast coffee offers that classic, comforting flavor of diner-style coffee. This is the easiest coffee to pair, thanks to its low acid and muted acidity.
We think dark roast tastes best alongside rich, creamy foods like chocolate cake, tiramisu and quiche. It contrasts nicely to tangy foods like yogurt and cheesecake, and accentuates spicy dishes like curries and cream-based soups.
You really can't go wrong with breakfast foods/pastries either!
Is Dark Roast Coffee Good Iced?
Dark roast is delicious hot and iced and we encourage you to brew it both ways. It makes an especially rich cold brew, thanks to the deep earthy, nutty, and chocolate notes that come out well in the slow, cold-water brewing process.
There's really nothing quite like a hot, freshly-brewed dark roast coffee. That's the stuff beautiful, cozy coffee memories are made of.
Light vs. Dark Roast
Light roast coffee has no oil on the surface of the bean. Light roast is much more floral and fruity, with tangy acidity and a tea-like body. Light roast coffee may be a challenge for dark roast lovers but rewards curious drinkers with big, inspired flavor.
Our light roast is a blend of coffees from Ethiopia and Colombia. Try it here!
Medium vs. Dark Roast
If you know you like dark roast, but want to experience more of the natural fruity flavor of the coffee bean, we recommend medium roast. It has a lighter body and funkier flavor, while maintaining the smooth and toasty sweetness of dark roast.
Our medium roast is a blend of coffees from Brazil, Ethiopia and Colombia. Try it here!
Our #1 Recommendation For Finding The Real Good Stuff
We happen to think we have some of the best dark roast coffee beans around!
Our dark roast is made from 100% Arabica coffee beans and has the traditional dark roast coffee flavor that you would expect.
We've perfected this blend by roasting lighter to avoid the charred, bitter taste and to enhance the natural flavor notes. We specifically chose this blend and this roasting technique because the taste notes that were achieved this way were phenomenal. More coffee details:
- Region: Minas Gerais, Brazil & Kayu Aro, Indonesia
- Varietals: Yellow Catuai, Red Catuai, Catimor
- Altitude: Mixed (1,000 - 1,600 masl)
- Process: Natural / Wet-Hulled
We would be glad to introduce you to the world of flavorful and smooth dark roast.