Is French Roast Dark?

coffee in a french cafe, probably french roast

QUESTION: Is French Roast dark? What does French Roast actually mean? It’s my favorite, and I don’t know how it translates to the light to dark spectrum. — Bobby M. 

ANSWER: French roasts aren’t necessarily from France, although that’s where the roasting technique came from. French roast is one of the roasting styles that falls into the “dark” part of the spectrum. 

In fact, a French roast is the darkest roast of all. Italian roast, or espresso roast, is lighter than French roast (but still considered a dark roast) and Vienna roast falls in between espresso roast and French roast. Coffee beans that have been French roasted are the color of dark chocolate.

The beans used in a French roast do not necessarily come from France. In fact, the beans in a French roast coffee can come from anywhere. You may see French roasts made of African, Central American, or Indonesian beans, for example.  

One way of describing coffee is the Specialty Coffee Association of America’s Agtron Gourmet Scale. Instead of comparing coffee to other foods (like chocolate) to describe the darkness of the roast, the SCAA uses this scale, which goes from 95 at the lightest to 25 at the darkest. French roasts usually rank between 28 and 35, making them some of the darkest coffee there is

Because French roast coffees are roasted so dark, they tend to develop a smoky flavor you can detect in your coffee. This happens because the oils inside the coffee bean rise to the surface, giving each bean a kiss of roasted, smoky flavor. French roasts may also have lighter notes, like berry or citrus, especially as part of the aroma. Indonesian French roasts can have an umami undertone that tastes a bit like mushroom, especially if they come from Sumatra. 

The very oils that we can thank for French roast’s smoky flavor can cause one of the drawbacks of French roast coffee as well. That oil on the outside of the bean goes rancid more quickly than the oils trapped inside the bean. That means that a French roast tends to lose its freshness and go bad more quickly than other, lighter coffees

Fight back against this tendency to lose freshness by buying coffee in small amounts. (Think the amount of whole bean coffee you think you will use up in a week.) You can also invest in a better, more airtight coffee container. The highest quality container available is the one you should go with, especially if you buy ground instead of whole bean coffee.

There you have it: French roast is definitely a dark coffee. In fact, French roast is the darkest of the roast categories. This can be measured using the SCAA’s Agtron Gourmet Scale. You’ve also learned about the smoky flavor French roasts can develop and their tendency to lose freshness quickly. All that’s left is to enjoy another cup of French roast coffee.

Learn More About French Roast Coffee

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