What Is French Roast Coffee? (And Best Coffee Beans for French Roast)
Coffee roasting is a crucial step in the coffee-making process but it is easy to overlook its importance given that many coffee lovers will often buy pre-roasted coffee beans and only need to choose their preferred roast.
But whether you are buying pre-roasted coffee beans or prefer to roast your own at home, you need to know what roasts works well for your preferred coffee type or brew method. And one of the roasts you are likely to encounter is the French roast.
French roast coffee is quite common, and it is one of the most preferred by both professional baristas and regular coffee lovers. However, as common as it might be, many people including coffee lovers know little about it. But in this piece, we aim to change this by highlighting some key things you need to know about the French roast.
What is the French Roast?
French roast is a dark roasted coffee that is often characterized by a smoky sweetness and will in some instances also have a charred taste which is why some coffee aficionados like to refer to it as the "burnt coffee".
The beans are darker than most other roasts and will typically have a dark chocolate color. Although this roasting style originated in France in the 1800s there are many other coffee growing and drinking countries where it has been popular for way longer than this.
The espresso roast and Italian roasts are also almost as dark as the French roast and in some instances, they will even be used to describe the French roast. But, the French roast always seems to take the title of being one of the darkest if not the darkest roast acceptable for coffee-making.
What Does French Roast Coffee Taste Like?
Giving coffee beans the dark French roast is not for nothing as it is designed to bring out some distinctive flavors that are highly sought after by many coffee lovers.
And while the actual flavor that you get when using French roast coffee will still depend on various other factors such as brew time and method, certain flavor profiles are characteristic of this roast.
Generally, the French roast will have an intense and a sweeter smoky flavor and will also have a thinner mouthfeel and body. Given the longer roasting time (typically around 12 minutes depending on the roasting method), the French roast will also be relatively less acidic when compared to the lighter roasts.
Dark roasts like the French roast will also easily overpower or cover up the natural aromas and flavor nuances in the coffee beans and their distinctive charred notes are hard to miss.
All in all, with the French roast, you can expect to get a flavor profile that can be summarized as somewhat sweet, intense, bold, nearly burnt and often smoky and is also characterized by a thin body and a little more watery mouthfeel when compared to other roasts.
Does French Roast Have More Caffeine?
The caffeine question always comes up for most coffee lovers when deciding different things from the type of the bean to buy to the roast and even the brewing method to use. Hence, most will also want to know the caffeine levels on the French roast before trying it out.
And although it is hard to come up with specific numbers on the caffeine level that you will get with this roasts given the differences in the beans used and even the roasting method, French roast coffee will typically have less caffeine than lighter roasts.
This is even though many people often assume that dark roasts like the French roast will have more caffeine than lighter ones when the opposite is true. And this is because the longer roasting time means that more of the caffeine molecules are broken down resulting in less caffeine. Hence, if you are looking to reduce your caffeine intake, the French roast is a great choice.
Best Coffee Beans for French Roast
Most coffee beans will take any roast well, and so there is a wide variety of beans that you can use for the French roast. And this is even so because the longer roast time and darker roasting will mean that the beans you use make little difference since most of the coffee's distinctive flavor notes will be burnt out during roasting.
However, given that it is easy to mess up things with the French roast and end up with coffee beans you cannot use, many coffee lovers will opt not to use their expensive beans for this roast because even cheap ones work just fine.
Most coffee roasters will often use African coffee beans such as those from Ethiopia and Uganda, Central American beans and Indonesian beans for their French roast. Also, given the higher caffeine content in Vietnamese Robusta coffee beans, they can work well for the French roast since they will still retain a good amount of caffeine after roasting.
How French Roast Coffee is Roasted
French roast coffee is quite dark but achieving this roast takes more time and good technique as you can easily over-roast the coffee beans and render them unusable.
While you will be better off buying pre-roasted French coffee beans, if you know how to roast coffee beans at home, you can still achieve this roast with a little practice.
The trick to achieving this roast is to wait for that second crack when roasting. Many other roasts such as the light and medium roasts will only have one crack before they are ready.
The increased cooking intensity is what results in the second crack which often signifies the breakdown of cell walls to release the oils from inside the coffee. The first crack, on the other hand, occurs when the bans release steam.
Also, another important aspect of this roast to keep in mind is that the internal temperature of the coffee beans will need to reach around 464 degrees Fahrenheit which is higher than most other coffee roasts.
And as the coffee beans get darker, more oils appear on their surface, and so a dark brown color and shimmering oils on the surface are what you need to look for in the French roast.
How to Enjoy French Roast Coffee
You can use your coffee beans to make coffee anyhow you like it provided they brew coffee well and give you some nice flavors. The French roast also seems to taste great for almost any brewing method, and so it is not very restrictive.
However, the French roast has been traditionally used to make drip coffee because with this method there is a lower risk of over-extraction which can mean you end up with more of the unfavorable charred flavors than you desire.
But, there is still a group of coffee lovers that believe nothing beats the French press when making coffee with French roast, and this is more so those that prefer taking stronger coffee.
If you have an automatic espresso machine, you can still enjoy some nice lattes and cappuccinos made from French roast beans as the extra roasting can give these beverages some distinctive flavors.
A Few Notable French Roast Drawbacks
As popular as the French roast might be, like everything else it also comes with some drawbacks which you should know if you are thinking of making it your new favorite coffee. These shortcomings include the following three.
1. It Overwhelms the Good Coffee Flavors
Because the French roast is super dark, it will cover up most of the distinct coffee flavors while some are completely roasted away.
With this roast, it will be super hard to tell different coffee types apart as the diverse flavors are lost and hence resulting in coffee beans that taste the same regardless of their origin.
2. This Roast Fuels Undesirable Coffee Growing Practices
Most coffee roasters will prefer to use lower quality coffee beans to make the French roast because using high-quality ones will not make any significant difference for the taste.
Doing this fuels undesirable coffee growing practices because the lower quality beans still have a market despite their inferior quality, and so their producers will not see any need to improve their farming practices for better coffee quality.
3. The Beans Go Stale Fast
While roasted coffee is already prone to going stale, the darker French roast will go stale even faster since the longer roasting and higher temperatures cause the cell walls in the beans to rapture.
The rapturing causes the aromatic oils from the beans to come up to the surface where they have nothing covering them and hence will start decaying immediately you open the pack with the beans.
The French roast is loved and loathed almost in equal proportions because almost every coffee lover seems to have an opinion about this popular coffee roast.
But, hate it or love it, the fact is that this is still one of the most popular coffee beans roasts, and when roasted correctly, it can still provide some highly flavorful java. Better yet, it will be way less acidic than the lighter roast.
However, the French roast takes a little more effort and time to get right and you can easily over-roast your beans. Hence, if you are into this coffee roast, the wise idea is always to buy pre-roasted French roast coffee beans.
- What is French Roast Coffee? - The Spruce Eats