French Roast vs Italian Roast: What’s the Difference?

Third-wave and specialty coffee industry mostly focuses on medium and lighter roasts. But dark roasts have their place, too. They are less acidic, have bolder flavors, and hold up well to the addition of milk for a delicious latte or cappuccino.

Not all dark roasts are created equal. For example, what’s the difference between a French and Italian roast? Keep reading to find out.

French vs Italian Roast

Difference Between French and Italian Roast Coffee

The differences between a French and an Italian roast are hard to tell. After all, they’re both dark roasts. It all comes down to the precise temperature at which they’re roasted. So let’s start with….

A Quick Trip Through the Coffee Roasting Process

Green coffee beans are dense and have little flavor, which is why we roast them. This gradual heating process creates different coffee roast levels. As the beans roast, the heat causes sugars and amino acids to combine, prompting new flavors and a darkening color (1).

Roasters and consumers use the level of color as a parameter of quality and profile.

A coffee bean’s color and physical appearance can tell you a lot about its flavor profile and roast quality.

A light roast is achieved when the roaster hits 385 ℉. The coffee beans showcase their most subtle notes and are best brewed with gentler methods, like pour-over. The cup is frutier and more acidic. At 410 ℉, you enter the realm of medium roasts, which offer a nice balance between the beans’ original flavor profile and the caramelization from the Maillard reaction.

The Darkest Roasts: French vs Italian

Dark roast is achieved at 430 ℉. These coffee beans have a robust, caramelized flavor and oily exterior. French and Italian are both dark roasts, but they differ in the temperature at which each is achieved. 

Between 440 and 455 ℉, you’ll find yourself with a French roast. The beans will be a very dark brown, with a light sheen of oil. The cup profile will have lost its bright acidity and achieved a rich caramelization without becoming overly bitter. You might taste notes of dark chocolate, roasted nuts, and a hint of smoke.

 In most of the world, a French roast is the most popular dark roast.

In Italy, however, people like to go a little darker. An Italian roast is achieved when the roast temperature exceeds 455 ℉. The beans will be darker than the French roast, nearly black, and have an oilier exterior (2). When brewed, the cup will have a fuller body and richer mouthfeel. The flavor is more bitter than the French roast, with tasting notes like smoke, toasted cereals, and dark molasses.

Best Brewing Methods for French and Italian Roasts

When brewing any dark roast, make sure to: 

  • use a coarser grind
  • increase the dose
  • decrease the brew water temperature

For a visual demonstration of this, check out James Hoffmann’s excellent guide on brewing better dark roasts:

A French roast is a versatile roast suitable for many brewing methods, particularly espresso, Moka pot, or French press. The darker Italian roast is best suited for espresso, as you might expect given its Italian origins. The heavy body of Italian roast produces the ideal texture for a crema-topped espresso. And its slightly bitter and robust flavor is the perfect foil for creamy, sweet dairy in traditional milk-based drinks like cappuccinos and lattes.

Final Thoughts

While French and Italian roasts may not be as trendy as their light or medium-roast counterparts, they are a worthy addition to your coffee repertoire. A French roast is a classic and versatile dark roast suitable for many brewing methods and palates. An Italian roast is a darker and more bitter alternative, best for lovers of espresso and milk-based drinks.

How do you enjoy your French or Italian roast coffee? Let us know in the comments.

FAQs

Espresso roast is a term used to describe any roast deemed suitable for espresso. However, espresso is not a roast level but a specific brew method, and you can use any beans you enjoy.

You don’t have to make espresso with a French or Italian roast, though they are traditional. Dark roasts provide the full body and classic dark chocolate flavors typically associated with espresso, and they hold up well to dairy in classic drinks like lattes and cappuccinos.

Yes, there is less caffeine in French and Italian roasts when measured by volume. This is because the longer roasted process means darker roasts are more porous. However, when measured by weight, the caffeine content is equal at all roast levels.

  1. Belchior, V. (2019, March 12). Physical changes coffee beans experience during roasting. Perfect Daily Grind; Perfect Daily Grind. https://perfectdailygrind.com/2019/03/what-happens-during-coffee-roasting-the-physical-changes/
  2. Roast Levels: A Primer. (2022). The Captain’s Coffee. https://thecaptainscoffee.com/pages/roast-levels

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