Trying to decide between different roasting levels while grocery shopping is quite a challenge. This is especially true when you only have the taste to refer to, as opposed to factual information like health benefits and preparation details.
If you’re a coffee aficionado like I am, I would suggest trying the French Roast coffee (if you haven’t already)
To help make your next grocery trip a bit easier and more informed, see the details below on what separates French roast from other types of coffee.
What Does French Roast Mean in Coffee?
The “French roast” is one of several variations of dark roast coffees available on the market.
Specifically, it is one of eight types of dark roasts coffee, the others being:
- New Orleans
Though some may believe the name is indicative of its place of origin, it simply refers to the cultural inspiration that influences the roasting methods (which stem from European techniques)
So just like French fries, french roast coffee didn’t come from France.
People worldwide make french roast coffee, including countries located in Central America, Africa, and Indonesia. As long as the makers adhere to the appropriate roasting style, the coffee bean will qualify as a “French roast.”
So, if you need a bit of a gentler transition into raising your energy levels for the day, perhaps starting out with a cup of French roast is the best way to kickstart your morning.
People might assume this because the roasting process enhances the flavor. When the beans are heated for a longer period, the flavor profile’s richness increases, and coffee drinkers may equate this with “more caffeine.”
What Separates French Roast from Other Dark Roast Coffees?
What exactly separates the French roasts from other dark roasts?
Firstly, the French roast flavor profile is as follows:
- Bold, intense taste
- Almost a smoky taste, since the beans are roasted to nearly being burnt (this is one of the darkest roasting levels)
- Low acidity
- Very thin body, as opposed to the full-bodied coffees (this creates a very watery mouthfeel)
- Subtle sweetness
The roaster achieves this flavoring by following these standards and guidelines during preparation:
- When roasting, the coffee beans’ internal temperature should reach just about 240°C (464°F). This is practically right at the brink of burning.
- The oils should gradually emerge from the bean and coat the surface, creating the shimmer that French roast beans are known for.
- The beans will emit two cracking sounds. Upon the second crack, the roasting process is complete. Each cracking noise signals a specific phase of the chemical process:
- First crack: The bean is releasing steam.
- Second crack: The bean is now releasing oil since the cell walls have broken down.
Although French roasted coffee beans are nearly burned during preparation, they still linger behind Italian and Spanish roasts concerning the roast’s duration.
One of the best things about the French roast is that it does not require a high-quality or expensive bean to get the job done. Because of how long the roasting process takes, even lower-end coffee beans can turn out to taste fantastic.
Differences in Coffee Roasts
For a deeper understanding of why French roast coffee beans do not contain higher caffeine concentrations, you must understand what happens during the roasting process and how those mechanisms separate the many unique coffee roasts.
Before roasting, the coffee bean is green and soft since it has only recently been harvested from the plant. On the living plant, the seed and the leaves are the primary areas in which the caffeine is naturally stored.
Upon separation from the plant and during heating, the seed’s caffeine concentration begins to fall. This is how light (i.e., Light City, Cinnamon, etc.) and medium roasts (i.e., American, Breakfast, etc.) maintain higher caffeine levels.
The beans have not been exposed to as much heat and have suffered losses of their caffeine concentrations.
Typically, coffee beans should be roasted at temperatures between 200-280°C (392-536°F). The industry lacks standardization in this regard, but you’ll find that most roastmasters stay within these limits.
However, experimental coffee bean roasting has followed the temperatures listed below:
- Light roast: 190°C
- Medium roast: 220°C
- Dark roast: 250°C
All beans were heated for approximately 25 minutes. Under these conditions, the light roast ended up with a caffeine concentration of 6.42 mg/g, the medium had 5.77 mg/g of caffeine, and the dark had 2.63 mg/g.
In short, the more you roast coffee beans, the less caffeine it has. This is why decaf coffee has a really bitter taste as the coffee beans have been exposed to high temperatures for a higher duration.
This illustrates just how drastic the differences in caffeine levels can be between the roasts, which works inversely with the flavor’s intensity.
Is French Roast Stronger than Dark Roast?
Since the French roast is a dark roast, it would not be accurate to say that it can or cannot be stronger than the dark roast.
If you’re wondering whether or not French roast is more robust than most other coffees, then the answer is no. This is illustrated by the relative caffeine levels listed above.
However, if you’re wondering if French roast is the strongest dark roast available on the market, the answer is also no. This is because, as mentioned earlier, the French roast is not the darkest roasting level.
Beans that are prepared using the Italian and Spanish roasting processes are far darker than those exposed to the French method.
However, before you continue, this is another aspect that needs clarification. When determining whether or not French roasts can be stronger than other dark roasts, consider what you mean by “stronger.”
Are you looking for a “stronger” flavor? Or do you want “stronger” caffeine levels? If the former, you may still enjoy the French roast, but try the Italian or Spanish variations for a bolder, more intense flavor profile.
If the latter, you may be disappointed in your experience. The French and other dark roasts are on the low end of the caffeine scale. You might be better off with a light or medium roast instead.
Is Dark Roast Coffee More Bitter?
Dark roast coffee is certainly more bitter than light or medium roasts.
Coffee’s bitterness is the result of a series of chemical reactions that occur throughout the roasting process. Plus, scientists have discovered between 25-30 chemical compounds that contribute to coffee’s bitter taste over the years.
The most common assumption about the bitterness of coffee is that it’s mainly related to the caffeine content. According to Dr. Thomas Hofmann, professor of food chemistry at Germany’s Technical University of Munich, this is false.
In fact, both caffeinated and decaf coffee can be bitter.
In reality, Dr. Hofmann estimates that only about 15% of coffee’s bitterness is related to the caffeine content. The rest has to do with the roasting and how it affects two types of antioxidants, chlorogenic acid lactones, and phenylindanes.
The longer the bean roasts, the more of these compounds are produced. Ultimately, this leads to a more pronounced bitterness in the resulting beverage.
Other factors can still contribute to how bitter your coffee tastes, even if it is a dark roast. These include:
- Brewing method: High-pressure combined with high temperatures is known to produce the highest bitterness levels. This is why espresso is usually much more bitter than other coffee drinks.
- Amount of coffee used: Using more grounds may make the flavor more pronounced on the palate. The more you use, the more you might notice the bitterness.
- Variety of beans used: Coffee beans don’t have any flavor on their own. However, the chemical makeup of certain types may respond differently to the roasting process. Some beans may come out more bitter than others.
- Instant coffee vs. fresh grounds: Instant coffee (made from coffee extract) tends to be less bitter than freshly ground coffee. This is mostly due to the preparation methods and how they degrade the bitter compounds mentioned above.
During one of the coffee tours, I learned that instant coffee is mixed with some other materials (such as chicory) for flavor. Pure coffee would not et sticky the way instant coffee does.
Is French Roast Coffee Healthy?
It is a well-known fact that drinking coffee can be beneficial for your health. Still, you may wonder whether the health advantages rise with a longer roasting period.
If so, this would mean that French roast coffee is healthier than others, right?
So far, scientific research says yes. This is primarily due to the higher concentrations of phenylindanes in darker roasts. Phenylindanes are a specific chemical compound that coffee produces that inhibits the accumulation of harmful proteins in the brain.
These proteins are tau and beta-amyloid – both of which play a central role in the development of Alzheimer’s and Parkinson’s disease. Other vitamins and minerals you can find in your French roast coffee include:
- Riboflavin: A type of B vitamin, critical to energy production
- Pantothenic acid: Another kind of B vitamin, specifically B5, which also helps energy conversion
- Antioxidants: Aside from tau and beta-amyloid, French roasts’ antioxidants can help remove excess free radicals, lower the risk of cancer
- Niacin: Also known as vitamin B3, this vitamin contributes to nervous and digestive system health, energy, and skin health
- Thiamine: As vitamin B1, this helps to turn carbs into energy and is essential in metabolizing glucose
- Potassium: A type of electrolyte that helps maintain the balance of fluid in the body, nervous system signals, and muscle control
- Magnesium: A mineral that plays a multifaceted role in the body, especially bone strength and cardiovascular health
Now that you’re more familiar with what French roast coffee truly is, you’re more prepared to buy exactly what you need at the coffee shop or grocery store.
Keep in mind that while it is a dark roast, this type of coffee is distinguished by its relatively low caffeine concentration, bitterness, and health benefits.
Starting your morning with a cup of French roast coffee may just be the best decision for your energy levels and overall health.