Dark roasted coffees sometimes get a bad reputation. Though they are often overroasted, charred to crisp, and lacking any flavors that resemble actual coffee, they certainly don’t have to be this way. A dark roasted coffee can be rich, have a decent acidity, and most of all, be sweet. But how can you be sure that the coffee in the bag will exhibit these good traits of dark roasted coffee, rather than the negative ones? Let’s dive into the world of dark roasted coffee!
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What Is a Dark Roast Coffee
When a sack of coffee arrives at a coffee roastery, it is a green seed. It doesn’t look a whole lot like coffee and smells more like hay and straw than it makes the coffee that we’re used to. It isn’t until the roaster applies heat to this seed that it becomes the brown, delicious coffee beans we all know and are obsessed with.
Once the roaster applies heat to these seeds, they essentially begin to cook. And much like anything else you might cook, hundreds of changes are happening both on the surface, and at a molecular level, deep within the walls of the coffee seed. The hotter the roaster runs their roasting machine, and the longer they leave the seeds in, the darker the coffee will be roasted.
The roaster uses a few different things to decide when to remove the roasted coffee from the roasting machine.
One such thing a roaster can use is the color of the bean. A light roasted coffee will be visually light, just as a dark roasted coffee will be visually dark. It does take some practice to determine how dark is dark and how light is light. But it is possible to get a fairly accurate idea of the level of roast using the color of the beans.
Another thing a roaster might use to decide when the beans are done is the temperature. Coffee that is light roasted might have an end temperature of around 205°C. A dark roasted coffee, on the other hand, will be closer to 225°C or higher.
Most good coffee roasters will use a combination of the two to decide when the coffee beans are finished roasting.
Benefits of Drinking Dark Roast Coffee
There are many lovers of dark roasted coffee all over the world. These people usually love dark roasted coffee for a few specific reasons.
Dark Roasted Coffee Tastes Stronger
As humans, we associate bitterness in coffee with its strength. This is why dark roasted coffee tastes stronger— because it is more bitter.
Because bitterness in coffee usually develops toward the end of the roast, getting increasingly stronger the longer a roast continues, a dark roasted coffee tastes much stronger. While this may not actually be the case— it is likely a similar strength to a light roasted coffee, a dark roast is perceived as the stronger coffee. Though dark roasts taste super strong, even a dark coffee can make you tired if you’re tolerant to caffeine.
Great for Milk-Based Drinks
This point is somewhat linked with the previous point on strength. Because of the strong taste of dark roasted coffee, its flavors cut through milk better, allowing for a nice, strong flat white or cafe latte. The milk adds sweetness to the otherwise bitter coffee— the two balancing each other perfectly.
Most cafes use a darker roast for their espresso-based coffees. This is not only because a dark roasted coffee goes well with milk, but because a darker roasted coffee is more soluble than a light roasted coffee. This will allow the barista to extract more of the coffee’s flavor.
When coffee is roasted, it goes through several different stages. As the roast progresses, certain flavors and aromas are highlighted. There are points during a roast when the sweetness of coffee peaks. There are other points where the aroma of a coffee will be at its most intense. And there is also a point during the roast where a coffee’s acidity will be at its peak.
After each peak passes, that particular flavor or aroma will begin to decrease and become less intense.
Why not just roast the coffee until all the elements are at their peak! Of course, it would be ideal to have these three things peak at the same time. But unfortunately, it doesn’t work like that!
Dark roasted coffee has usually been roasted past the point of having crisp acidity. If that roasted bag of Costa Rican coffee has been roasted dark, it is unlikely to have that fresh green apple acidity that Costa Rican coffee is known for. This can be a good thing for people who don’t like acidity in coffee or suffer from acid reflux.
How Does Dark Roast Coffee Work
Whether using a $100,000 commercial roaster or a premium home coffee roaster, a dark roast is achieved in the same way. Apply heat to coffee beans until they become dark and reach your desired end temperature and color. Of course, to simplify the craft of coffee roasting in this way is a complete and total oversimplification. But in essence, this is what is happening. Roasting delicious tasting dark coffee is another beast entirely!
When a coffee roaster is doing their thing, they have many different variables to control. Two of those variables are heat and time. Heat refers to the amount of heat in the roasting machine applied to the coffee beans. Time refers to the amount of time the coffee beans spend in the roaster. Using these factors, among many others, a roaster can decide how dark their coffee will be.
A light roasted coffee might be achieved using moderate heat for 10 minutes, ending at 205°C. However, a dark roast could be achieved by using low heat for 20 minutes or even a high heat for 15, both ending at 220°C or higher. There are so many different combinations that can result in a dark roasted coffee. Some might be delicious, others not so much.
As coffee is roasted, C02 builds up within the coffee bean. Eventually, this pressure becomes so great for the little coffee bean that it literally pops, similar to popcorn, in the event that we call the first crack.
A coffee roaster aiming for a light roast will usually remove their coffee shortly after the first crack. As the roasting continues, the coffee, getting darker and darker, will experience a similar event known as a second crack. Dark roasted coffee is often roasted beyond the second crack.
To summarise, dark roasts are usually in the roasting machine for longer and have a higher-end temperature than light roasts.
Pros and Cons of Dark Roast Coffee
- Goes well with milk and sugar.
- Can be good for those who don’t like acidic coffees.
- Great for cold brew coffee.
- The bitter ‘roasty’ taste can be overwhelming. Ethiopian coffee beans are like no other, but when roasted dark, they often lose most of their unique flavors.
- Because of the fairly generic coffee flavors that result, some coffee roasters will choose poor quality coffee for dark roasts.
- Dark roasts often lack the sweetness and almost always lack acidity. For this reason, the world’s best black coffee is probably not a dark roast.
Types of Dark Roast Coffee
If you’ve been into cafes or shopped online for roasted coffee, you will most certainly have come across the following phrases; Italian roast, city roast, full city roast, French roast. To be completely honest, these are useless terms that are often used to indicate how dark coffee is roasted. They differ greatly from roaster to roaster.
They don’t tell you the coffee’s end temperature, nor do they tell you how long the coffee beans have spent inside the roasting machine.
Let’s look at a few of the different roast levels and what they generally will mean. Again, this will change from shop to shop and roaster to roaster, but this will give you a good idea of what a shop means when it says ‘Italian roast.’
Full City roasts are the lightest of the dark roasts. Unlike French and Italian roasts, full city roasts are pushed past the first crack but don’t quite reach the second. Visually, full city roasts are deep brown with an oily surface. At a full city level, the coffee will have some of those generic ‘roasty’ notes, though not nearly as many French roasts. A well done full city roast should be rich and full of chocolatey and earthy notes with a heavy body.
At one step past the full city roast, we have the Viennese roast. With a Viennese roast, we can expect slightly more oil on the surface of the beans and a darker color. The coffee at this point will depart from the earthy, chocolatey flavors and begin to taste ashy and tar-like.
In contrast to the other dark roasts on the list, an espresso roast doesn’t necessarily imply that that coffee must be roasted past the second crack. In fact, an espresso roast might still be roasted fairly light. An espresso roast is essentially what the particular roaster has decided will work well brewed with an espresso machine.
Because espresso machines brew coffee quickly, they work better with coffee that is darker and more soluble. While you can certainly brew a tasty espresso using a light roast, it can be tricky to get the right extraction. Darker ‘espresso’ roasts make it a lot easier to brew a well-extracted shot of espresso.
A cortado is an espresso-based coffee that is delicious when brewed with coffee beans that have been roasted for espresso.
The term Spanish roast might refer to one of two things. The first being a very dark roast, similar to a French level, often darker.
The other is a version where the coffee roaster adds sugar in with the coffee beans during the roasting process. As the roast progresses, the sugar burns and sticks to the beans.
While one might be tempted to think that Spanish roasts result in sweet coffee, this is certainly not the case. The sugar and coffee are essentially cooked until they are near-black, resulting in ash and charcoal notes in the cup.
Like Italian roasts, French roasts are very dark and oily and have been roasted past the second crack. Some people love the strong flavor and smell of French roast coffee. It has a smokey, burned caramel and often woody vibe to it. French roast coffee is usually a little lighter than Italian roasts.
French roasts can retain an element of sweetness, probably better described as bittersweet, in a similar way to dark chocolate.
The Italian roast is the darkest of all. The coffee is roasted past the second crack and is visually oily and a very dark brown color.
Italian roasts are quite rare in specialty coffee because no matter what coffee you choose to roast, an Italian roast will pretty much always taste the same. It will taste burned and charred, with possible light caramel, chocolate, and tobacco flavors. Little of this flavor is from the coffee beans themselves, but rather from roasting the beans and the sugars caramelizing.
Opposed to popular belief, Italian roasts don’t actually have anything to do with Italy. They don’t need to have been grown or roasted there. It is simply a style of roasting that has been very common in Italy.
How to Choose the Best Dark Roast Coffee
Dark roasted coffee doesn’t absolutely have to taste like ash and burned wood. When purchased from a dedicated craftsperson it is possible for a bag of dark roasted coffee to be sweet, with deep berry fruit notes and dark chocolate. But this can be a tall order and a difficult task.
Let’s take a look at how to improve those odds of buying a delicious bag of dark roasted coffee.
Acidity and Bitterness
Acidity is certainly not a flavor note that is associated with dark roasted coffee. Bitterness, however, is.
If you see a bag of coffee that mentions acidity, this is a good sign. Because acidity is a flavor note inherited from the raw coffee, the mention of acidity might mean that the roaster was able to keep some of the bean’s inherent flavors intact. This can only be a good sign.
Bitterness, on the other hand, is a generic flavor often associated with roasting. Absolutely any raw green coffee that you can find, whether it was $2 per pound or $100, will end up with this same bitter ‘roasty’ taste if roasted long enough. That’s not to say that all bitterness is bad. Some bitterness can certainly be a good thing. But too much of it and it’ll overtake and overpower everything else that coffee has to offer.
Single Origin vs Blend
When you buy a bag of coffee, the beans inside have either come from a single place or are a blend of beans from two or more places. The former is known as a single-origin coffee, and the latter— a blend.
While single-origin might sound like the coffee has all come from the same farmer on a single plot of land— one single origin, this is often not the case. Single-origin can refer to coffees that have all come from the same region and are processed and packed together. It may even refer to coffee that has simply come from the same country.
This is where buying high-quality coffee comes in. Roasters buying a high quality, specialty grade green coffee want to know exactly where the coffee has come from. If it’s a blend of coffees from a single region or a single coffee from a single plot of land, they want to know about it. And they are willing to pay for that information.
The closer a coffee is from one single plot of land, the more specific coffee will taste. Rather than the plum notes from this farmer’s coffee and the strawberry notes of the other farmers, we’ll end up with just one. Big jammy strawberry notes! Big juicy plum vibes! This is not to say that single-origin coffee always tastes better. Their tasting notes are just more specific.
On the other hand, a blend is a mix of different coffees that the coffee roaster has chosen, usually to complement one another. The chocolate notes of a Brazillian coffee blended with the fruity notes of a naturally processed Ethiopian coffee can be absolutely delicious.
Blends are, more often than not, used for espresso-based drinks. The reason for that is the roaster can make the coffee taste full and rich. If the roaster wants to use a fruity coffee, but that particular coffee lacks a backbone, the roaster can throw a heavier coffee into the mix, creating the perfect blend of sweet and fruity, rich and bitter.
Every bag of coffee has flavor notes. Some of these notes are more specific than others. While one bag might mention that its contents taste fruity and chocolatey, others might be so specific to mention kyoho grapes, marzipan, and Dr. Pepper!
The writer of these notes usually means that this coffee has flavors that remind them of these things. While you might not taste the exact note that they’re talking about, you might be able to taste something similar. Maybe the roaster mentions nectarines, but you think it tastes like a plum— these are both stone fruit flavors.
Having said that, some coffees do taste astoundingly like their tasting notes, with pronounced notes of mango, pineapple, or red apple. Sometimes Kenyan coffees can be so flavor specific that you’ll swear you are drinking warm cranberry juice!
Try to buy dark coffee that was roasted 1 week before purchase. As the coffee continues to degas and settle, you will get to taste the way the coffee changes over the coming days and weeks. Roasted coffee will often be more flavourful two weeks post-roast. This depends on the coffee, and everyone’s individual taste, of course.
Depending on the country you are in, you will probably be used to either 250 gram (8 ounces), or 350 gram (12 ounces) coffee bags.
If you are brewing espresso or large batches of drip coffee, larger bags might be better. This is because some coffees take some adjusting to brew the perfect cup.
Grind size, water temperature, and dose all affect the way a cup of coffee tastes. If you are brewing espresso, you might go through most of the 250g bag before you’ve even dialed in your shots the way you want them. A larger bag gives you a little more room for experimentation.
Many coffees come with certain certifications. Some are certified organic, while others are fairtrade or rainforest alliance certified. While these certifications are good to have, it doesn’t mean that coffees without them are failing miserably in these departments.
Most of these certifications cost coffee producers money. A lot of money. And when they are already running on thin profit margins, these costs are simply unaffordable. This doesn’t mean the coffee farm isn’t following organic practices or treating their workers who pick the coffee fairly.
If you are buying high-quality, specialty coffee from a good reputable roaster, there is a high chance that the coffee you are getting is already organic and traded directly. Speak with your roaster directly to learn about their coffees.
The brew method will probably be the biggest factor when choosing a bag of dark roasted coffee.
Most good coffee roasters will offer espresso roasts and filter roasts.
Espresso roasts have been chosen and roasted with espresso brewing in mind. They are often roasted darker than their filter counterparts and work much better if making milk-based coffees like lattes and cappuccinos.
Espresso roasted coffee can still work well for filter brewing, especially if you like a slightly darker roast.
Filter roasts are often lighter than espresso roasts and are chosen for their clean flavor profile.
How to Brew Dark Roast Coffee
Dark roasted coffee can taste great using any coffee brewer— you just need to know how to handle it! If we treat a dark roast in the same way we treat a light one, we’ll end up with an incredibly bitter and possibly undrinkable coffee in the cup.
So let’s learn how to brew some dark coffee! If you’re camping and want to save gas and time by using a travel coffee maker, these same tips will still apply!
For this recipe, we’re going to use a V60 to brew coffee for two people. We’ll use a fairly coarse grind size. This coarse grind will reduce the bitterness in the cup while bringing out the other flavors of the coffee.
If you are in the backcountry and want to brew some cowboy-style coffee that doesn’t require filtration, this coarse grind size will work well. Fewer coffee grinds in your teeth is always a good thing!
- Size 02 Hario V60 coffee maker
- Paper filters
- 40 grams of dark roasted specialty grade coffee
- Hot water
- 2 mugs
- Carafe that can hold 600ml of coffee
- Burr grinder (optional)
- Gooseneck kettle (optional)
Step 1 — Boil the water
First, put some water on to boil. Next, place a paper filter into the Hario V60, and place the V60 onto your carafe.
Step 2 — Grind the coffee
Using the scales, weigh out 40 grams of coffee beans. If you don’t have scales, no problem— go for around 8 tablespoons. Grind your coffee at a coarse setting, something close to what you’d do for a French press. This may seem extremely coarse for filter coffee, but it will all make sense soon!
Step 3 — Rinse the V60
Once the kettle has boiled, pour some of the water through the V60. This will not only rinse the filter of any papery taste, but it will preheat the V60, too. Discard the rinse water.
Step 4 — Get ready to brew
Place the carafe and V60 onto the scales. Transfer the ground coffee to the V60, then press tare in the scales. Get the timer ready to go. By now, the temperature of the water in the kettle should have cooled a little. That is a good thing. We want the water to hit 93°C, perfect for brewing dark roasted coffee.
Step 5 — Bloom
Press start on the timer and quickly pour 120g of water over the coffee. Try to pour the water evenly over the entire coffee bed. We want to do this first pour aggressively to ensure the coffee is mixed with the water. Wait 30 seconds.
Step 6 — Pour
When the timer reads 0:40, pour another 120g of water, bringing the total up to 240g. We will follow this pouring pattern for the entirety of the brew. Pouring 120g, every 30 seconds. The pouring pattern is this:
- @1:10 pour to 360g
- @1:40 pour to 480g
- @2:10 pour to 600g
Step 7 — Stir and serve
Let the coffee drain into the carafe, then remove the carafe from the scales. Lift the V60 and stir the brewed liquid coffee in the carafe with a spoon. Pour the coffee into your cups, let it cool a little, and enjoy!
Does More Spending Mean More Quality
Short answer— yes. But not always.
In the world of specialty coffee, higher-quality coffee will always cost more.
This is because perfect coffee is rare and expensive to produce. It requires a lot of care every step of the way on its journey from seed to cup. From planting and growing to picking, processing, and drying.
Does that mean an expensive coffee will always be a delicious one? Well, no.
This is where trusting your coffee roaster comes in. If you are buying your coffee from a certain well-known coffee giant with a green and white logo, the bag of coffee will be expensive. But it probably won’t taste very nice.
You have a much higher chance of buying a delicious coffee from your local coffee roaster, or at least a smaller, quality-oriented company. There will be a higher chance that the price you are paying is for the quality of the coffee itself and not the logo and brand written on the bag.
When it comes to price vs quality, coffee beans are much like coffee machines. Is there any guarantee of quality if you buy an expensive USA produced coffee machine? No. But the odds are certainly in your favor!
Do’s and Don’ts With Dark Roast Coffee
- Do choose high-quality coffee roasted by a reputable roaster.
- Do grind your dark roasted coffee a little coarser than you would light or medium roast.
- Do brew dark roasted coffee at a cooler temperature. Around 93°C for filter coffee is perfect. This will help reduce the bitterness.
- Do try drinking dark roasted coffee with milk or make delicious coffee creamer to add to it.
- Do use dark roasted coffee for cold brew.
- Don’t grind dark roasted coffee too fine.
- Don’t brew dark roasts with water that is too hot.
- Don’t be afraid to experiment with different roasts. If you buy a too roasted coffee too dark for your liking, just use it for cold brew!
FAQ About Dark Roast Coffee
How do I make my coffee less bitter?
Dark roasted coffee is always going to be a little bitter, especially if you drink it black. But there are a few ways to curb this bitterness and make it more of a good thing, rather than overpowering.
Try grinding your coffee coarser and brewing with cooler water. The finer a coffee is ground; the more easily water can extract flavor from it. And when brewing coffee, bitterness tends to come out towards the end of the extraction. Grinding coarser will minimize the possibility of over-extraction, one of the causes of bitterness in coffee.
A similar thing happens with the water, too. The hotter the brewing water, the more easily the water can dissolve and extract the coffee. If we reduce the temperature of the brewing water down to around 93°C, we can reduce how much of the coffee will be extracted.
Another sure-fire way of reducing your dark roasts’ bitterness is by adding sugar and/or milk! The sweetness of the chocolate in a mocha compliments the bitter coffee perfectly. A delicious homemade mocha coffee will boost your mood, too!
Do dark coffee roasts have more caffeine?
Technically, yes. Dark roasts do have slightly more caffeine.
This isn’t because caffeine increases during roasting. It is because caffeine doesn’t decrease during the roast. When coffee is roasted, it loses much of its water content but none of its caffeine. The longer a coffee is roasted, the more weight it will lose.
If we take 2kg of the same coffee and roast it two different ways— one batch light, one batch dark, the darker roasted batch will come out weighing less. But it will have the same caffeine content as it did before it was roasted. So if we have a 250g bag of dark roasted coffee, there will be more coffee beans in that bag than light roasted coffee, denser.
Because there will be more coffee beans in the dark roast bag, there will also be slightly more caffeine.
Is dark roast coffee good for losing weight?
Coffee, in general, can do a few things to help you lose weight. It can boost your metabolism and help you control your appetite— both of which will aid weight loss. It can also give you a nice boost of energy for your workout, allowing you to work out harder and longer periods.
There is no conclusive evidence suggesting that dark roasted coffee specifically is better than light roasted coffee when it comes to losing weight.
Can I roast coffee beans to make them darker?
Though the results almost certainly won’t taste very good, you absolutely can give it a try! You can roast coffee at home using an oven, or even better, use a frying pan. A frying pan will let you agitate the coffee to prevent the coffee beans from burning.
Dark roasted coffee can be super tasty. It can be vibrant, full, and sweet. You just need to know what you are doing. Be thoughtful about the coffee you choose and the way you brew it. Follow this guide on how to buy dark roasted coffee, and use the brewing tips for a better-tasting cup of dark roasted coffee!
Photos from: VictoriaBee / depositphotos.com, leolintang / depositphotos.com, juliannafunk / depositphotos.com, bioraven / depositphotos.com and VadimVasenin / depositphotos.com.