Dark roast coffee tends to get a bit of a bad rep. It’s seen as the typical American diner-style coffee. Bitter enough to make your eyes flutter when you first take a sip.
But dark roasts don’t have to be like that. Read on to find our favorite dark roast coffee beans, what the difference between dark and light roasts is, what’s the best way to brew the best dark roast coffee beans, and how to choose a dark roast to suit your palate.
To keep it simple, our favorite dark roast coffee is the Grizzly Claw by Kicking Horse Coffee! Keep reading to learn why we prefer this product and the other 4 contenders that stack up to it!
Established 25 years ago in the Rocky Mountains, their coffee beans are 100% Certified Organic and Fairtrade. They use Arabica beans from Central and South America.
The Grizzly Claw Dark Roast is rich with dark chocolate and roasted hazelnut flavors and a cocoa powder aroma.
It’s available in either ground or whole bean coffee and has low acidity, making it good for those with sensitive stomachs.
It has a smooth mouthfeel and a nice aftertaste!
Kicking Horse makes coffee with a kick and this dark roast is certainly strong. It is best if you brew their roast by drip, pour-over, or French press. We have also tried it brewing with an espresso machine and it goes well with milky drinks such as lattes or cappuccinos.
With a strong coffee comes a strong price tag. It's expensive and the recent $10 increase for the 1kg bag didn’t help. It may also be difficult to get outside of USA and Canada.
The coffee beans can be quite oily. When beans are oily it is best to avoid using them with automatic espresso machines - especially those that do not allow you to clean the brew unit. The oil can cause damage to your equipment in the long run.
Strongest Dark Roast
This dark roast coffee lives up to its name: the World’s Strongest Coffee!
And Death Wish coffee (don't worry, you don't need to have a death wish to try this coffee), sources high-quality coffee beans from around the world, using a mix of Arabica and Robusta.
Their coffee is actually categorized as a specialty roast or gourmet blend by the Speciality Coffee Association of America (SCAA) because they meet a list of criteria such as uniformity of extraction and uniformity of appearance.
Their small batch roasting process means their coffee has lower acidity and leaves no burnt taste or bitterness in your mouth.
Their packaging, like the name, is eye-catching! It’s black with a white skull and bones, and highlights of red.
Established in 2012 in America, the company uses USDA Organic and Fairtrade Certified beans.
Their dark roast coffee beans are bold with notes of dark chocolate and black cherry. You can get it in grounds or whole bean coffee and it brews double the strength (and caffeine) of a regular cup of coffee. So, if you've been up all night partying and have to be at work at 9 am, then this is the coffee for you.
Their coffee will certainly give you a boost but you may want another cup anyway, just for the taste or maybe you just want to bounce off the walls for a few hours.
They don’t go into a lot of information about the origins of their coffee beans or their processes, and some reviewers have said there was no roast date on their packaging. This is helpful to know because the fresher the beans, the better flavor of your coffee.
Healthiest Dark Roast
Grown in Nicaragua at a high altitude, Lifeboost dark roast coffee emphasizes the healthiness of their coffee. They don’t use any chemicals and they lab test to ensure their coffee beans are free of heavy metals, over 400 toxins, mycotoxins, and pesticides. They also wash them with spring water!
They use a process called TrustPure to create a healthy and tasty stomach-friendly bean.
They let their beans grow to full maturity to get the most nutrients from the coffee bean which helps create low acidity.
They also ensure low acidity by using an artisanal, small-batch roasting process.
They also put emphasis on their sustainability and report that they pay the farmers properly and protect the local wildlife.
The Embolden Dark Roast blend comes in beans or ground coffee and has an earthy tone. It is very smooth - to the point that some users would have preferred a sharper, bolder flavor. However, there is still some room to play with flavors by adjusting your grinder’s settings.
Unfortunately, they don’t ship outside the USA or Canada.
Volcanica is so named because its coffee beans are sourced from volcanic regions around the world.
The mineral-rich soil produces aromatic coffee that is inspired by their homeland, volcanic Costa Rica.
They use single origin 100% Arabica coffee beans that are Kosher Certified. And they work with local coffee farms and cooperatives to be sustainable and reduce their carbon footprint.
Their Espresso Dark Roast coffee beans have a dense caramel sweetness and a spicy aroma. It has low acidity and they even go so far as to give you the pH level, which is 5.4.
PS: Check our tea and coffee acidity article to see how these beans stack up vs other drinks!
Some have complained of a burnt or smoky taste and others that it’s a little bitter. However, this can depend on your extraction technique and on your taste buds.
Some people find this roast a little weak for an espresso. However, these beans can be used with other types of coffee makers or with milk. Experiment and find out what works best for you.
The beans are oily, so they can’t be used in some super-automatic espresso makers.
Best Grind Options
This single-origin coffee comes from the Nossa Senhora de Fatima farm. Owned by a couple, that is concerned about sustainability and has developed social programs for their workers. They also engage in eco-preservation and replant native trees and use organic fertilizers.
Their beans are USDA Organic and Fairtrade with low acidity.
The Organic Dark Roast is reasonably priced and comes in whole bean, drip grind, coarse grind, and fine grind, giving a lot of choices depending on how you like to brew your coffee.
This is great if you don’t have a coffee grinder, but if you do, we always recommend whole beans. Ground coffee will go stale quickly and will not taste as fresh.
The blend creates a sweet coffee with notes of raisins and baked peaches with a hint of woodiness. It has a smooth and thicker mouthfeel.
This blend has more oil than other roast levels and it’s more of a medium roast than a dark roast.
If you need a good kick in the morning, this may not be strong enough for you, but it sure is delicious!
It’s believed that roasting coffee beans started in the 15th Century in the Ottoman Empire (1).
The roasters used thin perforated pans above an open flame to toast the coffee beans. This could only be done in small batches and was pretty inconsistent until the 17th Century and the introduction of roasting drums.
Roasting drums are a cylindrical tool with a hand crank that spins with the coffee beans inside and these are still used today in the production of coffee.
Dark roasts were more popular because it didn’t matter what quality of coffee beans was used because the more a bean is roasted, the more it takes on the flavors of the roasting process. Just like a piece of toast that's been kept too long under the grill.
This means the smoky and bitter roasting process dominates the natural flavors, so it didn’t matter as much if they were fresh or not.
The rise in popularity of specialty milk-based and pour-over coffees has changed the dominance of the dark roast as lighter roast coffee beans are now making their way into specialty coffees (2).
There are four main types of coffee roasts:
The coffee beans take on a color in the roasting process, as the sugars inside them start to caramelize (3). The shorter the roasting process, the lighter the bean.
Light roast means it has been roasted for the least amount of time. This allows the natural flavors to come through.
A light roast coffee bean has a lighter color and is mellower in taste (4). It has no oil on it. The lighter the roast, the lower the temperature the beans are roasted at. By roasting the beans, the heat removes moisture (5).
A dark roast is roasted the longest which means the coffee beans' flavor starts to be dominated by the roasting process which could give a smoky flavor.
A dark roast may lose some of its characteristics (including some caffeine) due to the longer roasting and will be darker in color (6). The coffee beans will be oilier. This can make certain dark roast coffee beans unsuitable for particular espresso machines.
During the roasting process, there are two cracks that can be heard (7). A dark roast is roasted past the “second crack” when most of the oils and flavors come to the surface.
A medium roast is in between a light and dark roast. It is darker in color than a light roast but lighter in color than dark roast coffee beans.
There is no set industry standard for what is light, medium, or dark, however, there is a color meter that some American roasters use called the Agtron scale which scores the beans by their color (8). The Agtron scale can measure whole beans or ground coffee.
There are some other types of roasts; such as Italian roast, French roast, and Viennese roast.
The Viennese roast is the lightest of these three and it is used by Austrians. The Italian roast is darker than the Viennese roast and produces dark, oily beans. An Italian roast can also be called an espresso roast as this is the type of coffee this roast is used for.
The French roast is the darkest roast. It didn’t originate from France, but it is called this because the French drink very dark roasts, and a French roast is the darkest (9).
Coffee beans are green before they are roasted. Green coffee beans don’t lose any quality or taste but as they are roasted, this changes.
During the roasting process, there is a chemical change due to the high temperatures, and then stopping the process and quickly cooling them down (10).
In the roasting process, there is a point called the "first crack" which means you can hear a cracking sound from the coffee beans. This happens as pressure builds in the internal cells and bursts through the rapid expansion of water into steam.
At this point, the temperature is around 400 degrees Fahrenheit and the beans have lost about 5% of their weight (11).
There is also a "second crack" where the oils are pushed to the surface when the temperature is around 446 degrees Fahrenheit. At this point, the most sucrose (sugar) is left to give the sweet but bitter taste. Dark roast coffee beans will be roasted until the second crack.
Once the beans are roasted, they need to be used soon otherwise they will start to go stale.
If a dark roast bean is over-oily then it has been roasted for too long (12).
The type of roast you use will ultimately depend on your taste buds! But you might want to drink dark roast coffees for the following reasons.
If these are not good enough reasons, then we don't know what else would be!
Again, it will depend on your preference.
If you have a sensitive stomach, you will want a dark roast that has low acidity.
Dark roasted coffee beans, like any other roast, will have different flavors depending on:
So, it’s best to experiment with different coffee beans from different places to decide on the flavor profiles you like best.
For choosing coffee beans in general, you may want to check:
Your coffee bean package should say when they were roasted. The shorter this timeframe, the better. Because the fresher the bean is, the better the flavor of your coffee.
This also helps you decide if you need to degas. If your beans are too freshly roasted, they may release too much CO2 during the brewing process, hindering the extraction of flavors.
You may want only single-origin coffee beans, which means they come from one place. The geography of where the coffee bean has been grown infuses flavor into it, which is why coffee beans have their own unique taste.
The type of bean can affect the quality of your coffee (14). There are two types of coffee beans; Arabica and Robusta. Arabica is the higher quality of the two and has less caffeine, while the Robusta has more bitterness and more caffeine.
But, this again will depend on your taste.
You can also get a blend of Arabica and Robusta coffee beans which can balance each other's flavors. Most espressos are a blend of Arabica and Robusta to produce a nice depth of flavor.
You may also want to choose organic coffee or sustainable companies. Increasingly, consumers are choosing products based on the environmental impact of companies.
Most coffee companies are aware of this and will include information on how they are helping to reduce their carbon footprint.
But be aware of "greenwashing" where they use buzzwords or vague statements to mislead consumers into thinking they do more than is the reality.
A dark roast coffee will brew quicker than a light roast. This is because, during the roasting process for dark roast beans, the cellulose within the coffee beans breaks down (which is why you can get oil on dark roast coffee beans), rendering their compounds more soluble (15).
Dark roast coffee beans are more brittle, so they also grind differently. For ideal extraction, the best grind for a dark roast is slightly coarser than for lighter roasts.
A lighter roast can withstand a higher water temperature but dark roasted coffee beans need the water to be a little cooler, around 195 degrees Fahrenheit, which helps minimize the bitter taste.
Letting dark roast coffee off-gas is important as well. If you use freshly roasted dark roast beans, they may release too much CO2, forming bubbles and thus hindering the brewing process.
If you use a pour-over, make sure you bloom the coffee grounds. That means, pouring just enough hot water to wet the ground coffee and then waiting. You will see the ground expand and release bubbles. Then continue to brew your coffee.
Yes and no...
Coffee in general has some excellent health benefits. Moderate coffee consumption of around three cups a day may help protect you against diseases such as Alzheimer’s and diabetes. Coffee may also help in reducing inflammation and contains polyphenols which may help with weight loss.
Dark roast coffees are more effective at reducing body weight and restoring red blood cells, as well as containing vitamins, minerals, and antioxidants (16). Dark roast beans also have a lower level of acrylamide than light roasts.
Light roasts can be higher in antioxidants but have a higher level of acrylamide which isn’t harmful but has been linked to increasing your risk of cancer (17).
All coffee has caffeine which is a stimulant and while this helps when you need a boost of energy, it can lead to headaches and other symptoms if you consume too much of it. The FDA recommends 400mg of caffeine at most a day (18).
Either type, light or dark roast coffee, can be good for you in moderation.
It’s important to store your coffee beans properly otherwise they will become stale or take on other aromas which will affect the flavor of your coffee. There’s no point going out of your way to getting quality coffee beans if you’re not going to treat them right.
Here are our top tips for storing your coffee beans properly:
You can put your coffee beans in the fridge or even freeze batches of them but you must be careful to completely seal them.
Coffee is hygroscopic, which means it absorbs moisture and odors, so ensure it is sealed (19). Any oxygen that sneaks its way into your container while in the freezer could lead to freezer burn.
Any coffee beans can be used to make a dark roast coffee, whether it’s Arabica or Robusta beans, single-source, or whatever.
It used to be that lower-quality coffee beans were used because the roasting process obscured their flavor, so you wouldn’t know whether the coffee beans were any good or not (20). This made it cheaper to use lower quality or old coffee beans and mask their taste.
This isn’t the case anymore as technology has advanced and we can appreciate the nuances of a dark roast.
Yes. A medium or dark roast is usually better for an iced coffee drink or cold brew because it tends to give a more consistent flavor (21).
A dark roast when iced, can bring out the chocolatey or nutty flavors of the coffee bean that makes it pair well with ice or milk.
The grind is more important for an iced coffee or cold brew than the roast. A coarser ground is better to let the water penetrate the grounds to give more flavor; a finer ground could leave clumps.
Light roasts have a slightly higher concentration of caffeine, but the difference is usually insignificant. The type of bean (Arabica vs Robusta) makes a much bigger difference.
Dark roast coffee tends to be more bitter than other roasts because the sugars have caramelized longer like the sugar on a Crème Brulee.
There has been advancement with dark roasts and there are lots of dark roast coffees that don’t have that typical diner-type bitterness.
Dark roasts tend to be less acidic than lighter roasts because the concentration of acids decreases as roasting takes place. Also, other elements such as the oils and sugars balance out the acidic taste more than lighter roasts.
Dark roasts tend to be heavier and bolder which could make them appear as stronger. If by strength you mean caffeine, they actually have a little less caffeine than light roasts.
Dark roast coffee tends to be bolder but simpler and light roasts tend to be more complex. It depends on your taste whether you prefer a dark or lighter roast.
The most recommended way to drink a dark roast coffee is as a drip coffee, a pour-over, a French Press, or as an espresso. Some darker roasts may not be suitable for some coffee machines as they can be too oily and will clog them.
Dark roasts can get a bad rep for being bitter and made with lower-quality coffee beans.
With the advancement in technology, coffee roasters have been able to experiment and create dark roasts with more nuance for dark roast lovers.
Dark roasts can be more suitable for certain coffees, such as espressos, but ultimately the best dark roast coffee will be subjective to you.
Your own personal preference will decide whether you prefer a dark or light roast.
This article is intended for informational purposes only. It is not meant to replace professional medical advice, treatment or diagnosis. Do not consume any type of coffee, tea or herbal infusion if you are allergic to it. The information in this article is not intended to treat serious medical conditions. Please seek professional medical advice before using home remedies.