Dark roast coffees have more to offer than just a strong, bitter inky cup of coffee. The best dark roast coffees have a bold, cocoa-sweet, balanced flavor and a classic, diner-style appeal.
But, finding a deliciously rich and flavorful dark roast means avoiding the burnt and ashy-tasting super dark roast and picking up a bag of specialty dark roast instead.
In this guide, you’ll discover how to choose a great-tasting specialty dark roast while avoiding the super dark roast varieties.
- Why specialty dark roast coffee has more to offer (it’s not just bold and bitter!)
- The toasty sweet flavors you’ll find in a good cup of dark roast
- Answers to your biggest dark roast coffee questions (does it have more caffeine?)
- 7 of the best dark roast coffees worth trying in your next brew
By the end, you’ll know exactly what to look for when you’re buying specialty dark roast coffee beans, and you’ll be on your way to a glorious and rich cup of dark roast coffee.
Dark Roast Coffee in a Jiffy
Dark roast coffee has been the go-to roast for most of coffee’s history; roasters didn’t have the equipment or high-quality beans needed to produce nuanced lighter roasts until recently. But that doesn’t necessarily mean that lighter roasts are better; dark roasts can be just as satisfying when they’re given the specialty roast treatment.
What you need to know:
- Dark roast beans are roasted for longer than light or medium roast, though beans range from deliciously dark to super dark (a.k.a. burnt!).
- They taste bold, balanced, and rich with a mild bitterness, heavy body, and flavors of dark chocolate, spice, maple, and toasted nuts.
- Dark roast beans don’t preserve their unique origin flavors as much as light or medium roast beans, and they taste less acidic.
- They produce a classic, comforting, easy-to-drink, diner-style cup of jo (if you use good beans!).
If you love a rich, dark, thick cup of coffee but want to leave the burnt-tasting beans behind, look no further than a specialty dark roast.
🏆 Our Top Dark Roast: JavaPresse Power Hour
Rich and bold with a thick body and notes of dark chocolate, toasted marshmallow, and caramelized sugar, Power Hour will give you the jolt you need to start your day. It features a blend of Guatemalan and Colombian beans, carefully roasted until they’re at just the right level of darkness to bring out the chocolatey, sweet flavors without burning them. This is a deeply-flavored, strong, yet balanced blend that showcases the power of a specialty dark roast.
Power Hour demonstrates that careful discipline and craftsmanship can transform any mundane activity into a vibrant, rewarding moment that defies expectation.
What is Dark Roast Coffee?
Dark roast beans have been the roasting standard for most of coffee’s history; they typically have a heavy body and a rich, bold, classic flavor. The beans are roasted to 465°F or until the second crack.
What you need to know about dark roast:
- Dark roast beans are a dark brown color and have a light coating of oil on the surface. If they’re too oily or appear black, it means they’ve been over-roasted and may taste burnt and dull.
- Roasting the beans until they’re dark means the nuanced flavors of the bean are mostly lost. Though if quality beans are roasted until they’re just dark, you’ll be rewarded with an easy-to-drink, sweet and chocolatey, toasty-tasting brew.
- Specialty dark roasts can be seriously delicious. But watch out for super dark roasts like the French, Italian, and Vienna varieties. They’re over-roasted, taste like ash, and it’s a sneaky way for roasters to hide the flavor of poor-quality beans.
- Dark roast beans have that classic, nostalgic coffee flavor we know and love. You’re sitting in a diner, sipping at a mug of rich black coffee that coats your tongue like heavy cream, with a piece of chocolate cake on the side. It’s all so smooth and easy. That’s the power of a good dark roast.
Dark roast beans are a classic for a reason — there’s a lot to love when they’re roasted the right way.
The Different Levels of Dark Roast Coffee
The difference between specialty dark roast and super dark roast (like the French, Italian, and Vienna varieties) is huge in terms of bean quality and flavor profile. Here’s what you need to know:
- Specialty dark roast is made with high-quality beans that have a flavor profile suited to dark roast. The beans are then roasted until they’re just dark enough to bring out the chocolatey, sweet, rich, and nutty flavors naturally present in the bean without burning them. The flavor is rounded, smooth, mildly bitter, and balanced with a touch of smokiness from the longer roasting process. Specialty dark roasts are possible thanks to modern roasting technology and better bean-growing practices.
- Super dark roast styles like French, Italian, and Vienna often use low-quality beans and are roasted to a crisp and taste burnt. All super dark roasts taste the same: like carbon, ash, wood, and a whole lot of bitterness. This style of roasting is generally used to cover the flavor of poor-quality, low-cost beans. They’re super oily and black, and unless you love the taste of charred coals, we suggest avoiding them in favor of the specialty dark roast.
Find a bag of specialty dark roast, and avoid the disappointment of super dark roast if you’re looking for a rich cup that offers more than just bitterness.
What Does Dark Roast Coffee Taste Like?
Good dark roasts taste rich, smooth, and rounded with notes of dark chocolate, toasted nuts, spice, and caramelized sugar. They have a pleasant, mild bitterness, low acidity, and a heavy body.
Specialty dark roast coffee flavor notes to look out for:
- Nutty — roasted hazelnut, peanut butter, praline
- Sugar — smooth dark chocolate, toasted marshmallow, caramel, maple syrup, molasses
- Spice — cinnamon, nutmeg, anise
These flavors are subtle notes that give the regular earthiness of your coffee a little pizazz.
What to Look For in Dark Roast Beans
You’re sold on trying a bag of dark roast, but how do you choose the best dark roast coffee for you?
- The fresher the roast, the better the beans. The sweet spot for brewing is 2-10 days after roasting. At JavaPresse, we ship our beans within 2 hours of roasting, so you’re guaranteed super fresh coffee.
- Always purchase whole beans and grind just before brewing. After just 10 minutes post-grinding, your coffee will have lost a noticeable amount of flavor. So, buying whole beans and grinding them fresh is a must. Need a grinder? Try our award-winning burr grinder!
- Look for good flavor notes. The more descriptive the flavor profile listed on the packaging, the higher quality your coffee will be. This means the roaster knows their coffee and has taken the time to find the ideal dark roast profile. It also makes it easier to choose flavors that suit your taste buds (and that mesh with your morning cinnamon french toast!).
- Bean origin transparency is important. Ask yourself: where did those beans come from? Was it a single farm or multiple farms? Were they grown with care? Were they grown by farmers who are being paid a fair wage? If the brand you’re buying from isn’t transparent with these details, it’s best to look elsewhere to make sure you’re getting high-quality beans.
Every brand has its own unique dark roast, so it all comes down to personal flavor preference.
7 of the Best Dark Roast Coffees to Try
We’ve rounded up seven of the best dark roast coffee beans on offer, so you can avoid the burnt-tasting beans and enjoy the deep, rich flavor of a specialty dark roast.
At JavaPresse, we believe your morning coffee ritual is a gateway to an extraordinary daily experience filled with joy (and caffeine). We produce high-quality, seriously delicious coffee while supporting communities and empowering farmers.
Our rich and bold dark roast coffee, Power Hour, is all giving you a jolt of energy to kick-start your day. With notes of dark chocolate, toasted marshmallow, and caramelized sugar, this coffee is a deeply flavored, balanced, and smooth blend. It features Guatemalan and Colombian beans, carefully roasted until they’re at just the right level of darkness to bring out the chocolatey, sweet flavors without burning them.
- Tastes like: Dark chocolate, caramelized sugar, toasted marshmallow
- Origin: Guatemala + Colombia
We’re also really proud to support the farmers behind this coffee in Guatemala and Colombia who work to bring joy and stability to their communities. Power Hour unites the flavors of two inspiring origins to create a memorable, dark roast coffee.
This easy-drinking yet complex coffee from Onyx Coffee Lab is a top pick. It’s the perfect, approachable all-rounder: delicious served black or with milk and sure to please most coffee drinkers.
- Tastes like: Milk chocolate, plum, candied walnuts, juicy citrus finish
- Origin: Columbia, Ethiopia
This bold-but-not-bitter coffee from Greater Goods Coffee Co. will give you a serious morning boost. With its rich flavors, dense mouthfeel, and smooth finish it’s a truly classic dark blend.
- Tastes like: Semisweet chocolate, molasses, heavy-bodied
- Origin: Columbia and Nicaragua
Colombia The Manta is a bold and nutty dark roast made with quality beans from the Valle de Tenza region of Colombia; there’s nothing to hide here, just deliciously bold coffee.
- Tastes like: Chocolate, hazelnut, cinnamon
- Origin: Colombia
This sweet and balanced coffee blend from Stumptown Coffee has a flavor profile that shines no matter how you brew it. It’s a dark and satisfying, crowd-pleasing coffee.
- Tastes like: Citrus, dark chocolate, raisin
- Origin: Latin America, Indonesia, Africa
Espresso Romantico is a traditional, medium–full-bodied, rich blend ideal for a milky espresso coffee. The increased roast temperature and caramelization leave only bittersweet, lingering, and intensely robust flavors in the cup.
- Tastes like: Rich, intense, lingering
- Origin: Central America, South America, Indonesia
Common Questions About Buying Dark Roast Coffee Beans
We answer all of your dark roast coffee questions!
Is Dark Roast Coffee Acidic?
All coffee is acidic. Coffee has a pH value of 4.85-5.10, which is slightly acidic, though not as acidic as other beverages like beer, orange juice, or soda.
When we talk about acidity in coffee, though, we aren’t referring to its pH. We’re referring to its perceived acidity or how sour it tastes when it hits your tongue. Acidity in coffee is desirable. It’s a flavor note — more acidity means more complexity and ‘brightness’.
So, is dark roast coffee higher or lower in acidic flavor than light or medium roast? It’s lower.
- The longer roasting time leads to less perceived acid. The roasting process breaks down some of the acidic flavors present in green coffee beans; this is why darker beans are lower in perceived acidity.
- Dark roasts lose the harsher tasting acids, though also lose some of the pleasant acids present in lighter roasts. The trade-off is a rich, bold, and easy-to-drink coffee that has darkly sweet, smoky cocoa flavors. Specialty dark roasts preserve some of the ‘good’ acids, while super dark roasts leave them all behind.
- Your brewing method will affect the level of perceived acidity. Hot water reacts with coffee bean oils to release acidity. Lower water temperatures and a shorter extraction time will reduce the amount of acidity in your brew. Your grind size can also be tweaked to change the level of perceived acidity.
Stick with the acidity level you prefer (or try different roast levels to work out your preference!). Dark roasts tend to have low acidity and a rounded flavor profile with less nuance.
Is Dark Roast Coffee Bitter?
It can be, but bitterness can be good or bad. Ideally, we want the good kind in our dark roast coffee! The amount of bitterness in a cup of coffee comes down to two key things:
- The roasting process. When coffees are roasted until they’re too dark, bitter-tasting compounds are formed. Specialty dark roasts have a pleasing, mild bitterness, or sometimes no bitterness at all. Specialty roasters produce dark roasts that are just dark enough without being bitter. Super dark roasts, however, taste very bitter because they’ve been roasted way too long.
- The brewing process. Freshly roasted beans are important. If they’re old, the beans will degrade and taste bitter. The right grind size for the brew method, correct water temperature, and correct brew time all come into play here as well. If one of these is off, the coffee may end up tasting bitter and burnt due to over-extraction.
A little bit of bitterness is part of coffee’s dark allure; it just needs to be balanced and purposeful.
Also Read: How To Taste Coffee: Bitterness
Is Dark Roast Coffee Strong?
‘Strong’ is a bit of a meaningless word when it comes to coffee. Are we talking about caffeine content, flavor, concentration, aroma, or just whether it’s thick and black? Let’s dig a little deeper:
- Flavor — the heavy body and dark, bold, toasty flavors of dark roast coffee may taste stronger than fruitier, lighter roast coffees.
- Aroma — dark roast coffees tend to have a rich smell because the flavorful, aromatic coffee bean oils have been pulled out of the bean during the longer roasting process.
- Nuance — dark roasts have far less nuance than lighter roasts; in this sense, they may seem less strong and more smooth and rounded.
- Concentration — the brew method and how much coffee is used per brew will determine the concentration ‘strength’: a shot of espresso will always taste stronger than a French Press regardless of the roast type.
- Bitterness — dark roasts may taste more bitter than light roasts, as the longer roasting process can produce bitter compounds.
- Acidity — dark roast is lower in acidity than light and medium roasts, so it may taste less strong if you aren’t a fan of acidic-tasting coffees.
The ‘strength’ of coffee depends on what you consider to be strong, which is why it’s better to ask more specific questions; so you end up with a coffee that suits your preference!
How Much Caffeine Is In Dark Roast Coffee?
People often think dark roast coffees have more caffeine because of their more intense, dark, and rich flavor.
This is false.
The caffeine difference between light, medium, and dark roasts is negligible.
However, light and medium roast beans are denser and smaller than dark roast beans because they hold more of their water content, and dark roast beans are bigger because they expand in size as they roast.
How you measure and brew your coffee will determine the caffeine content of your brew:
- If you scoop your beans, you’ll end up with slightly less caffeine per scoop of dark roast beans than light or medium roast beans because of the lower density and larger size.
- If you weigh your beans, you’ll end up with the same mass and thus the same amount of caffeine regardless of whether you use dark roast or light/medium roast. Weighing your beans is always a more precise and consistent way to measure.
- More coffee beans per brew equals more caffeine. Espresso-style coffee uses more beans for a condensed, strong, and intense shot. So, your espresso will have you buzzing a little more than say, a French press.
Regardless of your measuring and brewing methods, you’re unlikely to notice the caffeine difference between light, medium, and dark roast beans.
Dark vs Medium Roast Coffee
Medium roast coffees have a medium-full body and are sweet and fruity with smooth, toasted nut flavors. The beans are roasted until they reach a temperature of 400°-–430°F, after the ‘first crack’, but before the ‘second crack’. They have a medium brown color and a non-oily appearance.
Quick medium roast facts:
- They have a complex yet well-rounded flavor. They taste sweet, fruity, and nutty and are fairly nuanced. They have a balanced acidity and a light and creamy body.
- Medium roast preserves the flavors of the bean’s origin. While smoothing out some of the harsher flavors and adding a little toasty goodness.
- The medium roast bean was the first foray into lighter, brighter styles of coffee. It’s relatively new and modern, though keeps some of the classic, dark flavors we associate with coffee.
If you like some fruity notes and a little extra complexity in your coffee, a medium roast might be for you. Though if you want something bold, classic, thick, and rich, a specialty dark roast is going to be right up your alley.
Dark vs Medium Roast Coffee at a Glance
Medium Roast Coffee
Dark Roast Coffee
Chocolate cookie, dark fruits, brown sugar
Deep, chocolate, nutty, caramel, bitter-ish
Sweet and toasty
Rich and classic
Well-rounded, balanced flavor
Light vs Dark Roast Coffee
Light roast coffees are the new kid on the coffee scene. They’re light-bodied and taste fruity and unique, with different blends and roasts creating huge variations in their flavor profiles. The beans are only roasted until they reach a temperature of 350-400°F, or until the first ‘crack’. They’re light brown and have a non-oily appearance.
Light roast beans:
- Have a crisp acidity and a light, mellow body. The reduced roasting time and lower roasting temperature mean lightly roasted beans taste brighter and fruitier than their darkly roasted counterparts, and they’re higher in perceived acidity.
- Produce a cup full of nuance. Light roast coffees taste individual and complex, with notes of tropical fruits and stone fruits, citrus, berries, honey, florals, and lightly toasted nuts.
- Light roast coffee preserves the character of the bean’s origin region. It’s all about honoring and exploring the true flavor of the bean and its growing region.
Some people find light roasts too acidic, so if you love that rich, smooth, chocolatey flavor of a darker roast, you might feel as though you’re drinking a completely different beverage.
Dark roast beans lose most of their delicate fruitiness to the longer roasting process, though the toasty, dark chocolate richness gained from the longer roasting time can be worth the trade depending on your tastes. Dark roasts are classic and reliable; light roasts are the playful young sibling.
Light Roast vs Dark Roast Coffee at a Glance
Light Roast Coffee
Dark Roast Coffee
Light, fruity, floral, sweet
Deep, chocolate, nutty, caramel, bitter-ish
Bright and vibrant
Rich and classic
Tons of nuance
Try Our Signature Dark Roast!
Our signature dark roast beans, Power Hour, will give you a jolt of energy to start your day off on the right foot. Awaken your mind and senses with the rich and bold caramelized sugar, toasted marshmallow, and dark chocolate flavors. This is an easy-to-love blend that creates a classic, smooth cup of coffee.
Our dark roast coffee is grown in Guatemala and Columbia by farmers dedicated to producing exceptional beans and who work tirelessly to bring joy and stability to their communities. Power Hour is a coffee that unites the flavors of two inspiring origins to create a memorable coffee.