French Roast vs Italian Roast: What is the Difference?

French and Italian roasts are well known for their strong, robust flavors. However, there are several differences between the two roasts. Read on to learn all about what sets these roasts apart from one another.

Despite their namesake, French roast vs Italian roast coffees are not known for their origin. Instead, the titles French roast vs Italian roast are referring to the actual method that is used to roast these dark and delicious beans.

Want to try some now? See our top picks for French and Italian Roasts:

  1. Starbucks Dark and Italian Roast Coffee
  2. Peet’s Organic French Roast Coffee

Today we explore the difference between French roast vs Italian roast while sharing a little bit of coffee history with you along the way. Read on to learn more!

The History of the Dark Roast

Starbucks was a primary influencing factor in the popularity of dark roast coffee.
Starbucks was a primary influencing factor in the popularity of dark roast coffee.

Before 1990, the landscape of coffee drinking in the United States looked very different than it does today. The 90s were a time of massive upheaval in American culture, as the dot com boom and burgeoning globalism led many to warn of a Y2K that would wipe out culture as we knew it. Coffee transformed, too, and we can mostly narrow it down to one name: Starbucks.

You are probably wondering what Starbucks has to do with French Roast vs Italian Roasts? French roast and Italian roast are both dark roasts. One of the ways Starbucks first differentiated itself from its competitors was by selling coffee made of extremely dark-roasted beans. 

In America up to that point, brewed coffee was primarily weak, and lovers of a more robust flavor would have to go for an espresso beverage.

Starbucks changed all that, and we can point to the growing popularity of dark roasts throughout coffee shops in America and the world over as part of the proof of Starbucks’ success. 

All this means is that dark roasts are a big part of coffee culture today, and in a discussion about dark roasts French and Italian roasts are the kings!

Is French Roast or Italian Roast Stronger?

Italian roasts are typically a darker roast then French Roasts.
Italian roasts are typically a darker roast then French Roasts.

French roasts and Italians roast are classified as a dark roast. As a matter of fact, the Spanish roast is the only roast that is darker.

The roasting time of a coffee bean has several impacts on the taste of your coffee. Dark roasted batches are roasted for a longer period of time allowing the bean to reach a very hot internal temperature. As a result, the heat in the bean rises becoming darker and releasing the bean’s natural oils.

The roasting process effects the flavor of the coffee bean. The taste of a dark roast coffee bean comes from the roasting process versus the bean itself. Roasting coffee beans changes the properties of green coffee beans into roasted coffee. The roasting process is what produces the characteristic flavor of coffee by causing the green coffee beans to change in taste.

A French roast is where green coffee bean are roasted to a dark brown and roasting is typically completed after the second crack. This roasting process cuts back on many of the bean’s natural flavors, leaving the tastes of acidity inherent in the coffee bean quite muted.

Italian roasts are a stronger roast than French. Italian beans roast well past the second crack causing them to be closer to a black color than dark brown. This cooking process kills nearly all the natural flavors of the coffee bean, and the taste is much more bitter, with burnt and charred tones.

Is French Roast or Italian Roast Better?

However, when speaking of caffeine content most agree that French roast is the winner. The general conception is that the more you bake a coffee bean, the less caffeine remains; therefore, your strongest roasts might taste like they’d do more for your energy when in reality, they might be doing less. This is not a verified fact, though, as this study points out.

A Coffee Named French Roast

French roast is the roast favored by the French. Somehow or other, the name stuck to them. This doesn’t mean that French roasts are grown in France (as is the case with wines). In fact, most coffee is grown in “the bean belt,” which includes countries like Ethiopia and Guatemala near the equator.

A Coffee Named Italian Roast

As it is the case with french roast, Italian roast is preferred in Italy. In Italy, people typically drink espresso, and Italian Roast is the world’s roast of choice for preparing espresso (more on that later).

Do French Roast and Italian Roast Taste Different?

French and Italian Roast have distinct differences in their flavors.
French and Italian Roast have distinct differences in their flavors.

French roast and Italian roast do taste slightly different from one another. The flavor of the resulting coffee and the color of the beans are the two most important factors that distinguish Italian from French roasts.

Italian roasts are one of the strongest roasts you can find. Italian roasts tend to have a darker and bitter sometimes burnt taste with minimal acidity. The beans are near-black and shiny.

French roast’s beans are closer to dark brown, are on the upper end of dark roasts and have a matte finish. You can expect a somewhat sweet and mild flavoring.

Italian roast is often referred too as a “Dark French”, an indication that it is a much stronger brew than its cousin the french roast.

Is Espresso Different?

Contrary to popular opinion, espresso doesn’t describe the roast used but rather the fineness of the grind and the method of brewing. All roasts can be used to make espresso, but the most popular roasts for making espresso are darker roasts. 

French roast and Italian roast, then, are very natural choices for brewing espresso.

Drinks For Dark Roast Coffees?

Dark roast coffee beans are a great choice when making an espresso drink.
Dark roast coffee beans are a great choice when making an espresso drink.

Dark roast coffees, as we mention above, are excellent for making espresso drinks. The flavor is exceptionally bold in espresso made from dark roasts. Many ways of preparing espresso drinks count on this boldness of flavor to play against the creamy and sweet flavors of the added ingredients. Here are some of the best drinks for dark roast coffees:

  • Espresso: The classic espresso is made by grinding coffee beans very fine and shooting hot water through them at high pressure. The resultant beverage is measured in shots of 1 fluid ounce each. This beverage is thick and robust, with the viscosity of honey. Not for sipping: Italians drink it quick.
  • Latte: A favorite at coffee shops the world over, a Latte takes the bold flavor of espresso and calms it down with several ounces of hot milk. A latte is distinguished from a cappuccino because a latte has a higher proportion of steamed milk to espresso and a layer of foam on top. In contrast, a cappuccino has an even distribution of steamed milk, foamed milk, and espresso.
  • Americano: For a drink named after us, I don’t know many people who drink it, as Americans tend to prefer drip coffee to Americanos. An Americano is an espresso diluted with hot water.
  • Affogato: We have no clue why this drink isn’t more well known. Ice cream and espresso, all in one convenient-to-consume cup. Need I say more?

How Are They Made?

Coffee is made using a specific growing and roasting process.
Coffee is made using a specific growing and roasting process.

We’ve mentioned that Italian and French roasts have different flavors due to their roasting time. But what does the roasting process entail? What’s the nature of the journey from the Andes to your cup?

Long story short, coffee begins as a cherry on plants of the genus Coffea. The beans, as we call them, are actually the seeds of this cherry. For the complete story, however, visit our friends at the National Coffee Association

Through a process called milling, coffee beans are cleaned and sometimes polished until they look just like the beans we recognize. These beans are green, however, because they haven’t yet been roasted. 

Many coffee breweries roast their own coffee, so the beans travel around the world in their green form. Most machines roast coffee beans at about 550 degrees Fahrenheit. The roasting process gives the coffee its brown color and, along with other factors, is what gives the beans their distinctive flavor.

Beans are cooled by either air or water once roasted to the desired color. These beans can lose their flavor; as such, they must reach the consumer quickly.

Making A Cup At Home

When making a cup of coffee at home, there are many options available to you. If you have an espresso machine, you might make yourself any one of the beverages we’ve listed above. If you’re not willing to drop the cash required for a machine, there are plenty of other ways to make coffee at home.

Try a drip machine, a Keurig, a pour-over, a French press, or another of the multitudinous ways this lovely beverage can be prepared.

Are There Differences In Nutritional Value?

According to none other than WebMD, coffee has many health benefits enthusiasts can assuage their worries with. These benefits include lowering your cancer risk, improving brain and liver health, and helping your body process amino acids.

As far as nutritional value differences, we’re left with inconclusive information. This study finds that darker roasts help more with aiding weight loss and with red blood cell function. At the same time, claims via a Journal of Medicinal Food study that lighter roasts are better for reducing inflammation as well as protecting cells against oxidation.

Cozy’s Bottom Line

Coffee tastes great, and it’s great for you. I think we can all agree that we should keep drinking coffee!

Which roast you favor comes down to personal taste. If you enjoy a bitter brew with minimal acidity, Italian roast may be the one for you. However, if you prefer a dark roast with more acidity, you may find that French roast suits your palate better. Whichever dark roast you try, both are sure to provide a robust sipping experience.

Wishing you a dark, happy cheers!

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