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  • French Roasts
  • Author avatar
    Erik Johnson
  • Dark RoastsEnvironmentFrench Roastsmaillard reactionRoastingSweetness

French Roasts

The fact that so many customers prefer French Roasts can be hard to accept as a snobby roaster. It's hard to see all the effort and toil put into growing, harvesting and processing amazing coffees and then have the goodness go out the chimney. But the fact remains: People love French Roast.

And once I get over myself, I can understand why people have an affinity for heavy, roasty coffees. It's comforting. It's safe. And why should I discount an entire category of flavors just because I don't like them? The majority of coffee drinkers prefer dark coffee. And if I want people to be open to the nuances and detail of light roasts, I think I should be open to the complexity and boldness of dark roasts. So with that thought in mind, I have begun diving into the world of French Roasts.

I had imagined the first posts of this blog to be about light coffee - the different things I have learned and am experimenting with. But instead, my attention has been drawn to French Roasts for the time being. So that's where I'll begin.

Though this is over-simplification, light and dark coffee offer a similar experience to the drinker: a blend of bitterness and sweetness. In light coffee the bitterness comes from the acidity that naturally occurs in the bean, and as the coffee continues to develop during the roasting process, sweetness enters the picture. But as the roast continues, the natural acidity leaves the bean, the sweetness lingers, and roast flavors begin to come out. Below is a sketch of this progression.

What I've been working on the past couple weeks has been trying to understand the interactions of sweetness with roast time and temp. Specifically what I'm after is getting the bean temp high so I can have a strong roast character, while retaining as much sweetness and body as I can. What I have come to so far is that the two natural tendencies for dark roasting produce the flavors that I don't like.

The first tendency is to make a dark roast longer than a light roast. The second is to plateau the Rate of Rise at the end of a dark roast similar to a light roast. On every batch of coffee that I have tried, both of these techniques result in a worse tasting cup.

Instead, the general approach that has produced more sweetness, body and smooth roasty character has been to keep the dark roast time the same as our lighter coffees and not leveling out the Rate of Rise. For a light coffee I level out the Rate of Rise after First Crack. What I've found success with for our dark roasts has been letting the Rate of Rise continue up to the end temp, not leveling off at all. The total time for both roasts are similar; and both spend a similar time in Maillard Reaction. Here is a sketch of what I'm talking about.

Once I tasted the same differences across multiple different coffees dark roasted, it made so much sense (I am a little embarrassed that I hadn't thought of it sooner). Roasting longer and sustaining high temperatures over a period of time kills the coffee and essentially turns it into charcoal.  But with these adjustments, the difference is unmistakable. Keep the coffee in the roaster for the same amount of time. Let the sweetness and body develop further, but not longer. Let the temp get high. Don't stretch out the time, don't level the temp.

Dark coffees end up having an entirely different character to them. Our French Mexico for example is now as if the coffee has cream and sugar added to it. It's great. And our French Roast Cameroon is rich are sweet, and has a backbone to it that can withstand the high temp. I'm excited to see where else experimenting with dark roasts takes us.

  • Author avatar
    Erik Johnson
  • Dark RoastsEnvironmentFrench Roastsmaillard reactionRoastingSweetness