What is French Roast Coffee?

oily coffee beans

With all the different names used to describe coffee, French roast is just another one you've probably heard about or run across in your quest for the perfect coffee.

And you, just like so many others, upon hearing its name, also probably wondered if or assumed that it was harvested or grown in France; hence, its name, and maybe even thought it was for more refined tastes. However, neither of these is the case.

In fact, French roast coffee is just another name to describe another type of dark roast coffee, and it has a more pronounced taste that many casual coffee drinkers love.

About French Roast Coffee

Like light roast, dark roast, and medium roast coffee, French roast is also used to describe the color of coffee beans after they have been roasted, as opposed to the region from which it was sourced.

In fact, for lovers of dark roast coffee, French roast is just another type of dark roast coffee; however, it is roasted in the proud tradition of 19th century Europe coffee roasters, which emerged as a result of increased demand for dark roasted coffee during that time, and at one point even eventually surpassed all other regional roasts as the darkest roast of them all, hence the honor.

During the roasting process, the fresh, green-colored coffee beans are introduced to heat. As the beans continue to heat, they will begin to turn yellow and give off a grass-like smell.

As the heat continues to roast the beans even more, it eventually causes the water inside the bean to slowly evaporate, thus releasing steam from inside the bean, creating a crack in the bean, also known as the first crack. During this stage of roasting, the beans also begin to expand as the sugars from the beans are released and begin to caramelize, causing the beans to progressively darken until they become dark brown.

Meanwhile, as the beans are left to roast even longer, the beans' cell walls will begin to collapse, resulting in a second crack in the bean, also known as the second crack, which releases the oils on the exterior of the beans, resulting in almost black colored beans with a shiny coating.

Once the internal temperature of the beans reaches 240 C or 465 F, they are then removed from the heat, as any more exposure to heat past this point will result in burnt beans.

Coffee beans from anywhere in the world can be roasted using the French roast style, resulting in some of the darkest coffee beans on the market.

Because French roast coffee beans have very oily surfaces, they can go bad much faster than lighter coffee, so be sure to store them in a nontransparent airtight container to ensure prolonged freshness and flavor. You might also consider purchasing them in smaller quantities to help preserve their freshness.

How French Roast Coffee Compares to Other Dark Roast Coffee

Dark roast coffees have different variations of darkness; therefore, you will notice that some dark roast coffees are a bit lighter or darker than other dark roasts.

French roast coffee is heated until it is almost black with an oily sheen on the exterior, similar to espresso roast coffee, so they share a similar color and burnt undertones; however, Italian roast is slightly oilier than French roast.

oily coffee beans

Because of their dark, almost black color, they are both also considered to be the darkest roasts; however, Italian roast and Spanish roast, which also get their names from their roasting process and not the origin in which the coffee was grown, produce even darker coffee beans. In fact, both methods roast the beans to dangerously high levels, which poses a fire risk to the roaster, so they are not as popular as other dark roasts. These coffees also tend to have a more bland, smoky flavor.

However, there is also dark French roast coffee, which is similar to French roast coffee, but it is roasted until it is darker, and it also contains more oil on the outside than traditional French roast coffee. It also has a stronger charred flavor.

Continental roast and New Orleans roast are also known to produce darker beans than other dark roasts.

The Taste of French Roast Coffee

French roast coffees vary in taste, depending on the type of beans used, the internal temperature the beans are allowed to reach during roasting, as well as how soon after the second crack the beans are removed from the heat.

However, the basic overall flavor of French roast coffee is described as a thin, almost watery, coffee with a bold roasted, smoky or charcoal-like flavor. It can also have a bittersweet taste due to the browning of the sugars, as well as the carbon reaction within the fibers of the beans.

Unlike traditional coffee, where the emphasis is on bringing out the flavor of the bean itself, French roast is all about the flavor of the roast, rather than the characteristics of the bean, which is what makes it unique.

In fact, as the beans become scorched, whatever quality the beans had is cooked out during the process, which means any notes of flavor are no longer present, so all you are left with is the strong smoky flavor or the roast, which some liken to the taste of barbecued meat or blackened toast, while others simply describe it as a burnt taste. However, some French roast varieties also have light hints of citrus or berries in lieu of the fact that they are dark roasted.

French Roast Coffee and Caffeine

Like all dark roasted coffees, the longer the coffee beans are exposed to heat, the more the caffeine content in the beans is cooked off during the process, resulting in a lower caffeine coffee. Therefore, French roast coffee is naturally low in caffeine due to its roasting process as compared to light and medium roasts that still have most of the caffeine molecules intact.

It is also less acidic than light roast coffee because, also like all dark roasts, during roasting, the coffee beans produce a compound called N methylpyridinium (NMP) that has been shown to help inhibit the production of acids in the stomach, which makes it gentler on the stomach.

Roasting Coffee Beans for French Roast Coffee at Home

Roasting your own coffee beans at home is one of the best ways to ensure fresh French roast coffee each time, and it can also be done using various methods. However, roasting your own coffee beans will take some practice to develop the right color, which helps you control the flavor, as well as the right skills to prevent the beans from burning, which can also cause a fire. Depending on your chosen method, you could also incorporate a thermometer to help keep an eye on the temperature for safe roasting.

Start with Green Coffee Beans

To begin, you will need green coffee beans (see Amazon).

When coffee begins, it is part of the small red fruit found on the coffee plant. During harvesting, the fruit is removed, and then the outer layer of the fruit, as well as the inner skin and pulp, are removed, exposing two green seed halves, also known as coffee beans.

The green coffee beans are removed and then dried, after which time they are then shipped to various locations across the globe to be roasted, which helps develop the bean's color, flavor, and scent. Otherwise, simply brewing the green coffee beans would make for a very bitter, highly acidic coffee that would not be fit to drink.

Once the green coffee beans are dried, they have a long shelf life, and then once they are roasted, they will become fresh again during the process.

To obtain green coffee beans, contact any coffee roasters in your area to see if they sell raw coffee beans or check with your local coffee shop for unroasted beans.

Roasting Raw Coffee Beans

In order to successfully roast the raw beans, the heat must remain between 370 degrees F (187.7C) and 540 degrees F (282.2 C).

The beans also need to remain in constant motion throughout the roasting process to ensure they cook evenly.

Roasting coffee beans also produces lots of smoke, which will cause your home to become smoke-filled in a matter of seconds to just a few minutes, so be sure to properly ventilate your home prior to roasting.

There are many different methods to roast coffee beans on your own, including roasting them in a coffee roaster, placing them in a pan and then baking them in the oven or grilling them over a hot grill, and roasting them in the skillet or a lidded pot on the stove-top; however, a hot air popcorn popper is the easiest method for roasting coffee beans, and it is also the most recommended method for beginners.

Roasting Raw Coffee Beans Using A Hot Air Popcorn Popper

  • Allow enough space on your on the counter to fit the air popper, a bowl for catching the shedded skins of the beans, and a baking sheet to cool the beans once they are done roasting.
  • Plug in the air popper, and allow it about 30 seconds to fully heat up.
  • Add 1/2 cup of green coffee beans to the hot air popcorn popper, and allow them to roast. From this point, do not leave the beans unattended until they are finished roasting, so you can monitor the temperature of the beans to keep them from burning, as well as the roast to determine the flavor. It takes only about 5 minutes for the first stages of color to occur.
  • Once your beans have reached the desired color, turn off the air popper and then add the beans to a baking sheet. Spread the hot coffee beans evenly across the baking sheet to allow them to cool. If you'd like, you can shake the beans on the baking sheet periodically throughout the cooling process to help them cool quicker.

Storing the Freshly Roasted Coffee Beans

Allow the beans up to 24 hours to cool before storing them to allow the CO2 gasses in the beans to fully evaporate before storing, which can also affect the taste.

Once the beans are completely cooled, store them in an opaque, airtight container, such as a tinted jar or container, which will help prevent light from damaging the coffee. The container should also be stored in a dark, cool place to help keep the roasted coffee beans fresh.

Once you are ready to make coffee using your home French roasted coffee beans, simply grind the beans to the size you want, brew the ground coffee as usual, and enjoy.

Related Questions

What is the Best Way to Brew French Roast Coffee?

French roast coffee is traditionally made using a drip coffee maker; however, the coffee can also be placed in an espresso machine and used to make espresso. Just be sure, if you are roasting your own whole bean French roast coffee, or you have purchased whole bean French roast coffee from a retailer, you finely ground the beans, so they are compatible for use with espresso makers.

Some people also prefer to use a French press to brew French roast coffee, which helps stir up aromatic oils and tiny particles in the coffee responsible for flavor. It also creates a crema or foam on top of the coffee, which also gives it a fuller flavor and lingering aftertaste.

French roast coffee can also be enjoyed with sweetener and milk or frothed milk to improve the taste.

Related Article: WHY ARE SOME COFFEE BEANS OILY?

What is the Best Type of Beans to Use for French Roast Coffee?

All coffee beans are either robusta, arabica, or a combination of both robusta and arabica.

Arabica beans have a soft, sweet taste with subtle hints of berries, fruit, and sugar, which tends to make it the best tasting coffee; however, it also costs more. On the other hand, robusta beans produce a more sharp, pungent coffee with grain tasting overtones and a lingering nutty taste, and they also tend to be of a lesser quality than Arabica beans.

Both coffee bean types are cultivated around the world, which contributes to their distinct taste, and they are both also used to make French roast coffee. However, during French roasting, since most of the flavor of the coffee bean is burnt out during the long roasting process, you may consider using a good quality robusta bean as opposed to Arabica beans, which have an inferior taste and is less costly.

Related Article: IS IT CHEAPER TO GRIND YOUR OWN COFFEE BEANS?

Does Bean Quality Matter With French Roast Coffee?

Because the objective of French roast coffee is to showcase the quality of the dark roast and not the bean's actual flavor, it essentially means that most of, if not all of, the bean's essence is erased during the roasting process; therefore, many companies use poor-quality coffee beans for their French roasts.

However, when it comes to using low-quality beans, some beans are unethically sourced or farmed in environmentally unsustainable areas; therefore, just be sure to look for French roast coffees that are fair trade certified to ensure they support ethical practices.