What Is French Roast Coffee?

A Guide to Buying and Brewing French Roast Coffee

Coffee in all its stages on table

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French roast coffee is a popular style and one that many coffee drinkers prefer. This dark roasted coffee has a smoky sweetness and can often have a charred taste. This has caused some coffee geeks to refer to it as a 'burnt' coffee.

Yet, how does French roast compare to other coffee beans? If you're looking for something a bit lighter or darker, which style should you choose?

French Roast Coffee

French roast coffee is one of many coffee roasts named for a regional roasting style. It was popular throughout much of Europe around the turn of the 19th century. Today, the term is used most often when describing almost any dark-roasted coffee.

Sometimes, French roast coffee is also referred to (colorfully) as Turkish roast, (incorrectly) as Espresso roast, or (simplistically) as Dark roast.

Trivia Time: Other regional roasts include New England roast coffee, Spanish roast coffee, Italian roast coffee, American roast coffee, and Vienna roast coffee.

What Does French Roast Coffee Taste Like?

French roast is considered to be a double roast coffee. This is a category of dark roasted coffee characterized by an intense and smoky-sweet flavor, accompanied by a thin body and mouthfeel.

Compared to lighter roasts (like cinnamon light roast coffee, which is highly acidic), French roast coffee is far less acidic and roasted in flavor. It often has a charred, charcoal-like note.

Dark roasts like French roast completely overpower the flavor and aroma nuances of the coffee beans themselves. That makes it nearly impossible to taste much of the origin or coffee varietal of the beans.

To summarize, the profile of French roast coffee is:

  • Intense and bold
  • Very dark (nearly burnt, often smoky)
  • Somewhat sweet
  • Much less acidic than lighter roasts
  • Thin in body, with a more watery mouthfeel than some coffees

How Is French Roast Coffee Roasted?

During the roasting process, the internal temperature of the coffee beans reaches a whopping 464 F (240 C).

As coffee roasts get "darker", the color of the coffee beans darkens and more coffee oils appear on the surface. In keeping with these characteristics, French roast coffee beans are dark brown and shimmering with oil.

French roast beans are also at the end of what's called the "second crack." This means they are cooked with such intensity that they make two cracking noises during the roasting:

  • One crack comes from the release of steam.
  • Another crack happens when the cell walls break down and release oils to the surface of the beans.

In most roasts, coffee beans only crack once.

Is French Roast Coffee Good Quality?

Since it's difficult to tell what the original coffee beans were like before roasting, many roasters use less than exceptional beans for making their French roasts. Instead, they tend to focus on the quality of the roast itself. If the roast is what's important to you and you like French roast, then quality is subjective and you should just get what you enjoy.

Many people consider French roast coffee to be nearly burnt yet still enjoyable (like grilled meat or dark toasted bread). Some coffee aficionados who prefer the taste of the beans themselves (the terroir) simply consider it to be burnt.

What's Darker Than French Roast Coffee?

You might see 'dark French roast' on some bags of coffee. This is similar to regular French roast but darker and oilier looking. It has a stronger charred flavor than regular French roast. To be sure, dark French roast coffee is a very dark roast, but if you're looking for something that's even darker, choose Spanish roast coffee. It is the darkest roast available.

What's Lighter Than French Roast Coffee?

Espresso roast is just a little lighter than French roast. It is the most popular roast for espresso shots. Lighter than that is the Full roast, a category of roasts that includes High roast, Continental roast, and Vienna roast.

How Should I Brew French Roast Coffee?

French roast beans are traditionally used for drip-brewed coffee. They also make a nice, bold espresso and do well when brewed in a 'French press' (aka a 'plunger pot').