What Is French Roast Coffee? Should You Avoid It?

what is French roast coffee?

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French roast coffee has become an increasingly popular dark roast style in recent years. With its inky black beans and strong, smokey flavor, The French roast coffee bean stands out among other roast styles.

However, when talking to people during my travels, I’ve discovered that French roast elicits strong opinions. Some love the bold intensity, while others find it unpleasantly bitter or burnt tasting. I guess it’s a bit like Marmite; some people love it, and others don’t!

In this post, I’ll provide an overview of everything you need to know about French roast coffee. We’ll cover:

  • What defines a French roast, and how it compares to other dark roasts like Italian
  • Flavor profiles and brewing tips to get the best French roast flavor
  • Which types of coffee beans work best for achieving that iconic French roast taste
  • Arguments for and against enjoying French roast coffee
  • And a few frequently asked questions about this divisive roasting style

My goal is to give you a balanced look at French roast so you can determine if it’s a coffee you’d like to explore further. There are absolutely ways to appreciate French roast, especially if you enjoy a smoky, robust cup of coffee.

✔ Quick Answer

French Roast Coffee is a type of coffee that has been roasted until it reaches a dark, rich color, characterized by a bold, smoky flavor with reduced acidity. This roasting style brings out a deep, chocolatey, and caramelized taste, making it popular among those who enjoy a strong, robust cup of coffee.

Let’s dive in!

What Is A French Roast?

French roast refers to the darkest roast level possible, just shy of the beans being completely burnt. During the roasting process, the beans reach an internal temperature of 240°C (464°F) or higher, past the second crack stage.

This extended roasting gives French roast its trademark inky black color. The beans become extremely dark brown, almost like the color of dark chocolate. Oil migrates to the surface, resulting in an oily sheen.

The dark roasting process also lends French roast its robust, smoky flavor profile. As the beans carbonize, they lose much of their origin character, taking on notes of smoke, tobacco, and burnt wood.

The finish has a pronounced bitterness and burnt aftertaste.

French Roast vs Other Dark Roasts

Compared to other dark roasts, French roast is the darkest. Here’s how it stacks up against another popular roast – the Italian roast:

  • Italian roast: Slightly lighter than French roast with more dark brown tones vs black. Still intensely dark but stops short of completely carbonizing the beans.
  • Dark roast: Considerably lighter than French roast with more dark brown hues. Oil just beginning to show on the surface of the bean. Retains some origin flavors like chocolate or nuts.

Let’s take a closer look at the differences with this comparison table below:

French RoastItalian Roast
Typical Roast LevelPast 2nd crack (210°C/410°F and above)Dark brown with moderate oil on the surface
Bean ColorVery dark brown to black, oily sheenDark brown with moderate oil on surface
Flavor ProfileStrong, smoky, burnt notes commonRobust, bittersweet notes common
AcidityTypically very lowTypically low
BodyTypically fullTypically medium-full to full
Origin CharacterMostly undetectableSubtle
Oils on SurfaceHigh oil migrationModerate oil migration
Caffeine ContentUp to 20% reduction vs. light roast (variable)Up to 15% reduction vs. light roast (variable)
Shelf Life1-3 weeks (dependent on storage)2-4 weeks (dependent on storage)
Good for Espresso?YesYes
Good for Pour Over?Not idealOkay

So, in summary, when comparing different coffee roast types, the French roast is the darkest of all roasts, with the Italian roast coming in second.

Dark roast has considerably more light brown tones than these ultra-dark styles.

Brewing French Roast Coffee

Given the intense flavor of French roast, certain brew methods work better than others to avoid bitterness. I recommend using an Espresso machine or French press.

The short extraction time of espresso is ideal for balancing the robustness of French roast without overextracting. An espresso blend with French roast beans can provide a rich crema and strong shot.

For the French press, use a medium-fine grind and a shorter 3-4 minute brew time. This will prevent the over-extraction that can make French roast taste harsh and astringent.

Should You Avoid French Roast Coffee?

French coffee roast has its critics and devotees. On the negative side, some argue that dark roasting destroys the coffee’s complex origin character and freshness. And The heavy bitterness and burnt flavor put off many coffee aficionados.

However, fans of French roast love its intense, smoky flavor. It makes a wonderfully strong, full-bodied cup. The oilier dark roast produces a rich mouthfeel. When sparingly blended with lighter roasts, French roast can add a bold punch.

My advice is to try it and see which camp you fall into!

At the very least, French roast is an interesting coffee to taste once to experience its uniqueness. But it may just become your new favorite dark roast.

You won’t know if you don’t try.

A bag full of French roast coffee beans

French Roast Blends And Origins

Certain types of coffee beans work better than others for achieving an optimal French roast. Beans grown in Central and South America are a popular choice. Their natural robustness and mild acidity complement the intensity of a French roast.

I often detect flavor notes of dark chocolate and caramel in a well-executed French roast, which pair nicely with the smokiness. Adding a touch of spice, like cardamom or anise, can also round out the flavors.

One word of caution when using French roast coffee beans – take care when blending it with lighter roasts.

Because French roast has such dominant smokey, burnt flavors, it can overpower more delicate light roast notes. I’d recommend using it sparingly in a blend, no more than 20-30%.

The best way to learn which beans and flavors you enjoy with a French roast is to experiment!

Try beans from different regions and sample French roast blends from your favorite roasters. Also, try different brewing methods to determine what brings out the best flavors.

Do French Roast Beans Go Stale Faster?

A common concern with dark roasts like French roasts is whether they lose freshness faster than lighter roasts. This is due to two main factors:

  • Oils migrating to the surface – The dark roasting process causes oils to accumulate on the bean’s surface. Exposure to oxygen can cause these surface oils to go rancid faster.
  • Loss of CO2 – Longer roasting drives off more carbon dioxide from the beans. This CO2 is important for maintaining freshness. Dark roasts have less CO2 protecting the beans.

So, in general, yes, French roast will start to go stale sooner than lighter roasts, perhaps losing their peak flavor after 2-3 weeks past the roast date.

To get the freshest French roast flavor, try to consume within 7-10 days of roasting. And store the beans properly in an airtight container out of sunlight and extreme heat or cold.

Despite the shorter shelf life, many French roast devotees feel the tradeoff is worth it for that signature intense, smoky flavor.

With proper coffee storage and timely consumption, you can still enjoy fresh-tasting French dark style roast beans. Check for roast dates when purchasing, and aim to buy beans roasted within the past week.

Key Takeaways

  • French roast is the darkest roast level, resulting in an inky black bean with a robust, smokey flavor. It loses much of the origin character.
  • To best experience French roast flavor, opt for brew methods like espresso and French press. Use a medium-fine grind and shorter brew time to prevent over-extraction.
  • While fans love the intense, full-bodied flavor, French roast isn’t ideal for highlighting single-origin nuances. It’s more about the roast characteristics.
  • Whether you enjoy French roast or not comes down to personal preference. Many find it too burnt and bitter, while others savor the bold, smokey intensity.
  • Try experimenting with beans, grind size, and brew time to find your perfect French roast experience. Taste it on its own and sparingly blended with lighter roasts.

The divisive nature of French roast gives it an allure all its own in the coffee world.  Sip it black to fully experience the powerful flavor of this dark roast coffee profile.


In this article, we’ve taken an in-depth look at French roast coffee – from how it’s defined to brewing tips and which beans to use.

To recap, a true French roast is the darkest possible roast just before the beans burn. This extended roasting gives the beans an oily, inky black appearance and robust, smokey flavor.

French roast fans love this intensity, but it’s certainly not for everyone!

When brewing French roast, opt for methods like espresso and French press to avoid overextracting the bold flavors. And choose naturally bolder beans to complement the roast, like those from Central and South America.

While French roast won’t be highlighting delicate floral notes or fruity acidity, it undoubtedly makes a full-bodied, intense cup. I suggest every coffee lover try French roast at least once to experience its powerful personality. You may just become a convert to these obsidian-colored beans!

I hope this overview dispelled any French roast mysteries and gave you some tips to appreciate.

Now go brew a cup and savor all that intense smokiness!


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