Or – Why Don’t You Have French / Italian / Espresso Roast Coffee?

One of the most common questions we get is “Why don’t you have a French/Italian/espresso roast coffee?”

The short answer is, those roast profiles are way too dark and destroy the unique flavors of each bean. We choose, instead, to roast to bring out the best flavors of each coffee bean and allow the sugars in the bean to provide a sweetness to the coffee.

The longer answer is… well… longer.

S’mores and Coffee Roasting

Have you ever roasted a marshmallow? When my kids were younger, they had more fun making mini-torches out of marshmallows than toasting them. But now that they’re older, they spend the time gently and slowly toasting the marshmallow over the fire until it’s a light brown and melts oh-so-gently over chocolate and graham cracker.

My kids learned that burnt sugar tastes…. well…. burnt.

Coffee roasting is all about sugar. There are many chemical compounds in a coffee bean, but mostly they’re made up of different kinds of sugars. As we roast the beans, those sugars cook just like a marshmallow over a fire. At one point, they’re sweet and caramelly. At another point, they’re dark and burnt.

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A Triumph of Marketing

American marketing has come up with these roasts that they called “French Roast”, “Italian Roast” and “Espresso Roast” which, unfortunately, have only served to confuse the coffee world. If you go to France, you will just as likely drink French Roast coffee as you will eat a French Fry.

When we roast a coffee bean, and it gets darker and darker, you start to taste less and less of the unique flavors in the bean and more and more of what we call the “roast profile”. At a certain point, it doesn’t matter what kind of bean you have, it all tastes the same.

Now – if we were a huge multi-national corporation (likely with a green logo) roasting coffee all around the world and we wanted to be consistent in our taste from country to country, state to state and store to store from year to year and crop to crop, there’s a benefit to that kind of roasting. No matter what happens at the farm, in transit across the ocean, or in the multiple roasting facilities around the world, the coffee they serve will taste the same no matter what. Consistency is key.

Our goal is quite the opposite. We prefer to highlight all of the unique flavors in each bean. When you taste an Ethiopian Yirgacheffe, it should be dramatically different than a Sumatra. That Central American coffee should have different flavors than the Papua New Guinea.

The sugars in coffee should also taste sweet – not bitter and burnt. When sugars get past the point of caramelizing, they start to burn. This is why really dark roast coffee tastes burnt.

Why Do People Like Dark Roast Coffee?

My personal opinion here – absolutely no scientific evidence to back this up. People love to brew coffee in drip coffee pots. Almost every drip coffee pot on the market uses the exact same heating element. Those cheap little heating elements do not get the water hot enough to properly extract all of the coffee goodness from the bean. The result is really weak tasting coffee.

Keurig machines make this even worse because they don’t get the water hot enough and they only brew for a couple of seconds.

In order to compensate for that weak tasting coffee, people started buying dark roasts. During the roasting process, the cellular structure of a dark roast bean is so broken down and ready to fall apart that it very willingly gives up whatever is left in the bean to the water passing through. The water might be extracting burnt tastes, but at least it’s a taste.

So what do I do?

If you’re brewing in one of those drip coffee makers, there is hope for you! Although it’s not ideal, you can still make decent, flavorful and yes, even strong coffee without buying the french / italian / espresso roasted burnt beans.

Step 1 – Buy whole bean coffee and grind it right before you make it. That fantastic smell of ground coffee? That’s all of the oils and tastes in the coffee that we want in our cup escaping into the air. Coffee that was ground in a grocery store 6 months ago has practically no flavor.

Secondly, if you can, grind your coffee a touch finer than you normally would. This will help extract more flavor from the bean than a coarser grind.

Lastly, make sure you buy coffee that has the roast date on the bag. The longer coffee sits after it’s roasted, the more flavor seeps out. See all of those oils on the outside of the bean? That’s wonderful coffee goodness you want in your cup – not lining the inside of the bag.

Espresso Roast Shouldn’t be a Thing.

Allow me the opportunity to destroy another marketing misconception. “Espresso Roast” makes absolutely terrible espresso. Somehow, the term “espresso” has come to mean “dark coffee”. So an “espresso roast”, therefore, is a really dark roast coffee.

Nothing could be further from the truth.

Yes, espresso is stronger and full of more flavors, but it’s definitely not “dark”. It’s more concentrated and any flavor that is subtle in a brewed cup of coffee is greatly enhanced when that bean is brewed as an espresso.

Espresso, ideally, is sweet and caramelly and wonderful. Sometimes it’s even fruity and bright. If you drink an espresso and it tastes burnt, that’s not a good espresso. Our espresso BLEND is, in fact, one of our lighter roast profiles. We roast to that level in order to bring out the sweetness, fruitiness and all of the fantastic flavors in an espresso. An ideal espresso maximizes all of the flavors in a cup of coffee. When one of those flavors is ash, that is less than ideal.

Experience the Difference

If you’d like to experience all of the wonderful differences in coffee flavors, consider joining us for a coffee cupping. Every Friday morning at 9 AM you can come by and try some fantastic freshly roasted coffees and experience all of the flavors and aromas in a not-french-italian-espresso-roast bean.