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What is French Roast Coffee? How to Correctly Brew It

french roast

If you are new to the coffee scene in modern times, understanding roasts can seem impossible. Between fancy “house” roasts to high-caffeine blonde roasts, the lines between traditional roasts and “specialty” roasts tend to blur. While there are three main categories of roasts, some within those categories are important to know. One of those is the French roast, which is quite popular in high-end coffee shops. French Roast coffee is very darkly roasted and has a smoky flavor. Let’s break down what a French Roast really is and what sets it apart from others in the same category:

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What is a French Roast?

A French Roast is a type of dark roast that results in the darkest beans possible without burning them, achieving a smoky, bitter, caramel-forward taste with lots of oil and little to no acidity. French roast is often touted as one of the darkest of the dark roast category, roasted to the point of being burned. It takes an experienced roaster to make a good French Roast that doesn’t result in a burnt taste while successfully adding a smoky background. If a French Roast coffee tastes burnt, the beans were possibly burned or on a carafe burner for too long.

The 3 Main Coffee Roasts

While there are plenty of “specialty” and “house” roasts, which each have their unique properties, there are three main roast categories that roasters follow:

Light Roast

Image Credit: RuPhoto, Shutterstock

The light roast is the lightest roast of coffee with no oils on the beans when done roasting. It’s got a lot more caffeine than other roasts, little to no body, and high, bright acidity. Light roast coffee is great with pour-over and drip-brew methods, which help bring out the natural acidity of the roast.

Types of light roast:

  • Cinnamon
  • Blonde
  • New England
  • American (Medium-Light)

Medium Roast

medium roast beans
Image Credit: ExplorerBob, Pixabay

Arguably the most popular roast, medium roasted coffee is neither too dark nor too light, medium acidity, and medium body. There are a lot of “in-betweeners” like medium-light and medium-dark roasts. This roast does well with most brewing methods, making it versatile.

Types of medium roast:

  • City
  • High Roast
  • Full City (Medium-Dark)

Dark Roast

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Popular for its smoky, near-burnt taste, dark roast brings out the caramel-like taste that medium and light roasts can’t. It’s the best roast for iced coffee and cold brew as they’re both dark enough to deal with the ice melting. Dark roast does best in a French Press, both hot and cold-brewed.

Types of Dark Roast:

  • Full City (Medium-Dark)
  • French Roast
  • Italian Roast

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French Roast vs. Dark Roast

French roast is a type of dark roast, so it’s going to be darker than regular dark roast blends. If you’re not used to drinking dark roasts, we recommend trying a medium-dark first to get used to the flavor profile. To new coffee drinkers, French Roast will taste bitter and burnt. Even some experienced coffee enthusiasts will pass on French Roasted coffee because of its in-your-face flavor.

French Roast vs. Italian Roast

French Roast and Italian Roast are both dark roast coffee blends, but ‘Italian Roast’ is even darker than French Roast. While French Roast is on the verge of being burnt, Italian roast is right on the line. If you can handle French roasted coffee, Italian is just one step up.

coffee beans roast-pixabay
Image Credit: nataliaaggiato, Pixabay

French Roast vs. Espresso

The thing about espresso is that it’s more of the process of grinding and brewing that makes it espresso. That said, most espresso blends contain Robusta beans, a type of dark and bitter bean that creates crema. Crema is the soft foam that is crucial to espresso, so Robusta beans are often put in espresso blends. Dark roasts, French included, can pull decent espresso, but many coffee shops are extremely picky about their espresso blends.

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How to Brew French Roast Coffee

French press
Image Credit: Rachel Brenner, Unsplash

Choosing a high-quality French roast coffee is as important as choosing the right brewing method. Brewing French roast correctly will mean the difference between a smoky, strong flavor and mud in a cup. Here are the best brewing methods from best to worst:

  • French Press
  • Cold Brew
  • Pour-over
  • Drip-Brew (tends to burn the most)

Featured Image: athree23, Pixabay


Kate MacDonnell

Kate is a lifelong coffee enthusiast and homebrewer who enjoys writing for coffee websites and sampling every kind of coffee known to man. She’s tried unusual coffees from all over the world and owns an unhealthy amount of coffee gear.

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