A great way to think of dark roast coffee is: “Taste the heat, not the sweet.” That’s because the robust, nutty flavor of the roasting overwhelms the fruity, complex flavor of the coffee bean. Dark roasts pair well with milk and cream because they smooth out the robust, sometimes bitter flavor.
FUN FACT: The idea that dark roasts have more caffeine is an urban legend. In fact, dark roast beans have the same amount of caffeine as their lighter counterparts.
If you want to find the best-tasting dark roast coffee, we wrote these in-depth reviews for you. Dark roast coffee is a delicious option, and these brands are the best you can find! We paired them with a quick buyer’s guide at the end to give you an idea of not only what’s good, but why.
Comparison of Our Favorite Brands
|Best Overall||Lifeboost Dark Roast||
|Best Ground Coffee||Volcanica Sumatra Mandheling||
|Best Decaf||Don Pablo Whole Bean||
|AmazonFresh The Bold||
The 10 Best Dark Roast Coffees
1. Lifeboost Dark Roast Coffee – Best Overall
Our favorite dark roast coffee is healthy, sustainable, and — best of all — absolutely delicious. The Lifeboost Dark Roast is made from high-altitude Nicaraguan beans grown without pesticides or chemicals. It’s also shade-grown and bird-friendly.
The flavor is smooth, full-bodied, and dark without being bitter. You’ll be amazed at the powerful aroma! Even better, this coffee is low-acid, making it easy on your stomach.
Lifeboost’s coffee is on the pricey end, though you get quite a bit for your money. And best of all, you can save 50% on your first bag of coffee!
All in all, we think this is the best dark roast coffee brand available in 2021. It never disappoints!
2. Volcanica Dark Roast Sumatra Mandheling – Best Ground Coffee
Volcanica’s Dark Roast Sumatra Mandheling Reserve is one of the best dark roast coffees we reviewed, and it’s tasty whether you prefer pre-ground or whole bean coffee. This famous Indonesian coffee variety is smooth, full-bodied, and perfectly roasted. It’s also organic, with low acidity and notes of brown sugar and dried fruit.
You’ll like the balance and smooth flavor of these coffee beans. There’s a surprising lack of bitterness, and the rich, slightly earthy taste is hard to beat. This strong, complex flavor lasts even if you buy the beans pre-ground, which is why it’s our top pick for ground coffee.
Volcanica Coffee grows all of its beans above 3,000 feet, and you can choose between whole bean or three grind sizes. Even better, you can currently get 10% off these gourmet coffee beans! What’s the downside? These beans have a unique, exotic flavor. If you’re looking for a more familiar variety, scroll down to our next option.
Want to learn more? Read our detailed review of Volcanica Coffee — including the Sumatra Mandheling beans!
3. Don Pablo Whole Bean Dark-Roast Coffee – Best Decaf
Dark roast coffee in general is lower in caffeine than lighter coffees, because the roasting process destroys it. It’s also naturally lower in acid. So, if you’ve got health issues that steer you away from traditional coffees, a decaf dark roast is a good way to go.
Our pick for best dark roast decaf coffee is Don Pablo’s Whole Bean Coffee Medium-Dark Roast. It hits three high points for us. It’s got a great, full flavor because it’s processed with water instead of synthetic chemicals and won’t put a serious hit on your wallet. Most other decafs have a problem, especially with the taste issue.
One thing to note is that it’s not a full dark roast. It’s a medium-dark roast, so it’s not quite the real deal.
4. Mayorga Organics Cafe Cubano Whole Bean Coffee
Pound for pound, Mayorga Organics Cafe Cubano Dark Roast might be the best value of the coffees we looked at. For the same money you might pay for a pound of an upper-end coffee, you get two, and those two punch well above their weight class in what they deliver.
If you love Cuban coffee, this is the one to buy. A fine grind on these whole beans brings out their best, and it makes a great espumita when whipped with sugar. Plus, we always recommend buying whole beans to maintain maximum freshness, and so you have control over how finely you grind beans you’re spending good money for.
Note that if you drink this as a standalone coffee, the flavor isn’t quite the same as other dark roasts. It’s not quite as robust.
5. AmazonFresh Whole Bean Dark Roast Coffee
We are always intrigued by Amazon coffee products. The company is best known for revolutionizing the distribution of goods, and we were curious and then impressed by its line of K-cups. When we got a chance to look at its whole bean coffee, we wasted no time doing it.
When we say that this is an Amazon product, that’s high praise. It uses 100 percent Arabica beans, which, when roasted dark, produce a coffee with some of the lowest acid levels possible. It also puts the Amazon purchasing power to good use in terms of consumer pricing. If you want good coffee on a budget, this is a great option. We also like that it’s sold as whole beans, which means it stays fresh longer and allows you to grind them however you prefer.
The beans have a bit of a burnt flavor, and a fine grind did a better job of pulling out the most from them. If you’re making a cappuccino, that might make these perfect. If you’re into cold brew, not so much. We also have to recognize that while Amazon’s distribution can get you a socket set, new underwear, or a vacuum filter in two days, if you run out of its coffee and need some that minute, you’re out of luck.
6. Community Coffee Signature Blend Dark-Roast
We didn’t hate Community Coffee’s Signature Blend Dark Roast. We just didn’t like it all that much.
There are two compelling reasons you might want to buy it. The first is that because it’s made from 100 percent Arabica beans, it’s naturally low in acid. Roasting it a long time destroys even more of it. If you’re looking for a stomach-friendly coffee, this is a good choice. The other is that it’s a great value. You can get a lot of decent coffee for just a little money.
You’re getting what you’re paying for, however. It isn’t as bold, complex, or full as some dark roasts. We also mark it down as a pre-ground coffee. Ground coffee goes stale faster than whole beans, and if you want to get the most out of your beans, you’re limited in how you can brew it.
7. Death Wish Dark Roast Coffee
Contrary to what the company says, Death Wish Ground Coffee is not the world’s strongest coffee. Much of what people think that entails is that the coffee has a massive amount of caffeine. Caffeine is destroyed in the roasting process, and coffees of the light roast variety are by extension stronger.
We found that this is a pretty good dark roast. It’s got a robust flavor that works on a couple of different levels.
It’s also really expensive. You can get coffee only slightly less flavorful for a lot less money. What you wind up paying for is the right to say you bought the world’s strongest coffee, which it isn’t.
8. Koffee Kult Coffee Beans
There is a whole range of gimmick coffees out there. We already looked at Death Wish, and now we’ve got Koffee Kult, which is a natural play on its addictive qualities. For the most part, we find these brews lacking when it counts. This is one of those cases.
We do think this has a lot of potential for cold brew, which levels out a lot of the bitterness. If you make your coffee that way, this is a pretty good choice. Any other way, you’re contending with reduced flavors that have a burnt quality to them. This one also comes with a plastic zipper on the bag that‘s a nightmare to use.
9. Olde Brooklyn Whole Bean Coffee
In the whole bean coffee market, Olde Brooklyn Dark Roast is in the bargain bin. It’s for people who can’t afford anything better and for people who don’t know any better.
That makes it a very affordable coffee that is separated from the giant tubs sold by major brands by the fact that it’s sold as whole beans, which is a better way to buy coffee than pre-ground.
When it comes to quality, it just isn’t there. It’s got a burnt taste and a pretty mediocre flavor. On a list of pros and cons, that might make it two-to-two, but in reality the weight of the quality is so sizable that it’s really two-to-seven.
10. Peet’s Coffee Major Dickason’s Blend Ground Coffee
Peet’s Coffee has a pretty devoted and vocal customer base, so we’re a bit nervous about giving its Major Dickason’s Blend dark roast our bottom ranking.
We justify it for a couple of reasons. Well, one big reason, which is that the coffee is substandard. Compared to other dark roasts, it’s very mediocre in the flavor department. You’re drinking this as a standalone drink, but if you want to get something more sophisticated, you need to spend the money. It also goes stale pretty quickly. We suspect it sits in a warehouse somewhere while getting processed.
We will allow that it’s pretty affordable. If you want to pay a little more so you don’t have to suffer through a tub of major brand coffee, this is an acceptable choice.
Not sure where to start? Here are our quick tips on choosing the best dark roast coffee beans for your morning cup!
What is Dark Roast Coffee?
Dark roast coffee is some of the most intensely roasted coffee you can find. To reach a dark roast, coffee beans are roasted past the second crack, to between 464°F – 482°F. These beans are very dark in color and typically have a light sheen of oil. They can be brewed using any method but are most common in espresso.
Dark roast coffee has the lowest acidity and is marked by bold, full flavor. You may notice rich flavors of caramel, chocolate, and nuts, and dark roasts go especially well with a splash of milk or cream. With dark roast coffee, you taste the roast, rather than the bean itself, so you’re unlikely to find floral or fruity flavors.
What to Look For in a Dark Roast Coffee?
If you plan to open up a package of coffee and consume it over the course of a few weeks, you must buy whole bean in order to retain the flavors. While ground coffee is vacuum sealed and relatively fresh, you’ve got to use it within 36 to 48 hours of opening the package.
Another thing we should mention about freshness is that coffee, if consumed within only a few days of roasting, will have different flavors. The brew consistency might be a tad off as well. Coffee needs time to gas off the carbon dioxide and other undesirables. This is why you’ll usually see valves on coffee packaging. When it comes to buying your dark roast coffee, you’ve got a few different options. That being said, very fresh is much better than old and stale. But not all options are equal when it comes to determining freshness.
Where to Get the Freshest Coffee Beans?
The first option is in the grocery store or warehouse club (e.g. Costco). It’s convenient. You can pick it up when you’re doing your errands. No big deal. There are also definite drawbacks though. In the supermarket, coffee very often does not show its roast date. This is because grocery chains want to show shelf life. Coffee has an incredibly long shelf life. You can drink it 10 years later and be okay. It’s not going to harm you. But the truth is that even a couple of months after roasting the flavor can be incredibly different than 10 or so days after roast. Supermarkets treat coffee like non-perishable foods! So, what you get in convenience may not make up for the suboptimal quality. But it works in a pinch if you need some quick coffee.
The second option is a coffee house, preferably one that roasts its own beans on-site. Many coffee houses roast beans for their business use. They are constantly roasting. Whatever is sitting in the lobby is likely to be pretty fresh. They will usually list their roast date rather than a supposed expiration date. This way you can ensure freshness from the date.
The third option is to purchase your whole bean coffee online directly from a roaster. When you place your order, the roaster will likely fill your order the same day, not grab something off the shelf from a couple of weeks ago. By the time it gets to you, it will be ready to brew.
Things can be tricky when determining the quality of dark roast beans. The roasting process will cause more oils to come out of the beans than with a lighter roast. But how much is too much oil? What is not enough?
Oily appearance alone is not a good metric for determining the freshness or the quality of your dark roast coffee beans.
During roasting, coffee beans go through a process of “cracking.” The first crack occurs at about 385°F. This would constitute a light roast. However, dark roast gets as hot as 480°F. The second crack occurs at about 435°F. If the second crack is not fully showing, it might be closer to a medium roast. Seeing the second crack is a definitive marker that this is a true dark roast. If you have the opportunity, pick up some of the beans in your hand. If they live a slight residue, they are likely fresh.
For many people who grew up with medium roast that didn’t taste that great, dark roast might be their only consideration. Roasting coffee is a double-edged sword. It removes both undesirable and desirable flavors. So, while some strange tastes might be removed through roasting, the nice floral notes will be as well. But dark roast also affords a different opportunity. Dark roast does tend to be more on the bitter side, but there are degrees. You can get a coffee that is chocolaty, full-bodied, with a smooth mouthfeel. These are some desirable unique qualities of dark roast.
Whether or not a coffee is single origin tends to be less important for dark-roasted beans since a lot of the unique flavors are masked by the roasting process. But it does play a role, nonetheless. It may taste more unique than a blend, but you might not be able to pick out the local characteristics. Our humble opinion is that single origin coffee’s advantage as it pertains to dark roast, or any roast for that matter, is that it will be easier to trace the coffee to an ethical source.
We gave Lifeboost’s Dark Roast our top pick for dark roast coffee beans because it’s delicious, good for you, and good for the environment. If you’re shopping for ground coffee, we recommend Volcanica’s Dark Roast Sumatra Mandheling Reserve, which is richly flavorful and affordable enough for everyday drinking. Finally, Don Pablo’s Whole Bean Coffee Medium-Dark Roast was our choice for best dark roast decaf. It’s lighter than most decafs, but it’s got great flavor.
We hope that our comprehensive reviews and quick buyer’s guide help you find a robust, affordable dark roast coffee. With so many delicious varieties, you can’t go wrong!
Here are some of our other recent reviews:
- Lifeboost Coffee: Is It Worth It?
- What did we think of Glorybrew’s compostable K-Cups?
- JavaPresse Manual Coffee Grinder Review
- Our in-depth review of Rose Bros. Coffee
Table of Contents
- Comparison of Our Favorite Brands
- The 10 Best Dark Roast Coffees
- 1. Lifeboost Dark Roast Coffee – Best Overall
- 2. Volcanica Dark Roast Sumatra Mandheling – Best Ground Coffee
- 3. Don Pablo Whole Bean Dark-Roast Coffee – Best Decaf
- 4. Mayorga Organics Cafe Cubano Whole Bean Coffee
- 5. AmazonFresh Whole Bean Dark Roast Coffee
- 6. Community Coffee Signature Blend Dark-Roast
- 7. Death Wish Dark Roast Coffee
- 8. Koffee Kult Coffee Beans
- 9. Olde Brooklyn Whole Bean Coffee
- 10. Peet’s Coffee Major Dickason’s Blend Ground Coffee
- Buyer’s Guide