French roast vs. Italian roast: what's the difference?

When it comes to coffee, the complexities are in the details. From the soil where the beans grow to the brewing method, every step brings a new subtlety to the final beverage.


Among these details lies a popular dilemma: the debate of French roast vs. Italian roast. While the definition of what makes a roast French or Italian is largely subjective to each roaster, there are some common characteristics to note. The distinction most often lies in their depth of roasting, with French offering dark, and Italian offering darker.

But just how different can two dark roasts be? What coffee brewing method works better with one over the other? And which roast is the best one for you? Join us as we delve deeper and discover which roast will become your new morning ritual.

What is French roast?

What is French roast coffee? French roast, distinguished by its dark chocolate color, represents a specific coffee roasting technique rather than a bean type or origin. In this method, the beans are subjected to high temperatures until they have a glistening sheen of oil on their exterior, indicating an intense roast level. 

The result is a flavor profile that is notably smoky and rich—perfect to enjoy on its own as espresso, cold brew, or classic drip brew.

Key characteristics of French roast

French roast beans are typically taken just beyond the "second crack" during roasting. This is a distinctive phase where the beans emit a cracking sound, signaling the release of rich oils concealed within. 

Here's a closer look at the hallmarks of a French roast:

● Low acidity, making the coffee smoother and less sour

● Full-bodied, offering a substantial mouthfeel

● Dominant roasted flavors, with the bean's origin flavors (such as floral, fruity, or nutty notes) often taking a backseat due to the intense roasting

The French roast method produces a coffee that highlights a roaster’s artful technique more than the flavors of the original coffee bean. This generally calls smoky, earthy flavors to the final cup.

What is Italian roast?

Italian roast is usually an even darker roast than French roast. The beans undergo such an intense roasting that they adopt an almost black hue, gleaming with surface oils. This results in a dark roasted coffee characterized by robustness, punctuated with hints of complexity and charred essence.

Italian roast is an ideal counterpoint to sweet frappes, mochas, and lattes—or to be savored in its pure form.

Key characteristics of Italian roast

Most Italian roasts push the boundaries, taking the beans to roasting extremes. It requires meticulous attention to avoid over-roasting. But when properly executed, it brings out attributes that are unmistakably unique to this profile:

● Minimal to no coffee acidity, making it one of the smoothest options

● Deeply full-bodied, extracting the most natural oils of any roast

● Paramount roasted notes, with the intrinsic flavors of the beans being more subtle

The intense heat employed in achieving an Italian roast often results in a buildup of smoke within the roaster. This process infuses a charcoal quality into the flavor—resulting in a cup that's deeply intense and robust, albeit with a complexity more pronounced than in other roasts.

How do they differ?

Before we dig into the differences between French roast vs. Italian roast, it’s important to clarify that there are no universally regulated standards for coffee roast levels. 

While categorizations like French or Italian roast provide a general roadmap, the actual roasting temperature, duration, and process can vary significantly among roasters. In many ways, this is to be expected—as each unique batch of coffee beans demands its own tailored care during the roasting process. 

With that context, let's delve into some general distinctions between French and Italian roasts:

● Roasting level – The most apparent difference between the two is the level of roasting. While both are dark roasts, Italian roast is notably darker than French roast.

● Taste – French roast has a smoky, rich taste with less complexity compared to the somewhat complex and charred undercurrents prevalent in Italian roasts.

● Appearance – French roasted beans are dark brown with a sheen of oil, while Italian roasted beans are almost black and glossier due to the higher oil content.

● Flavor profile – Both varieties have dominant roasted flavors, but the Italian roast often has a more pronounced charred character than the French roast.

● Acidity – French roast coffee has low acidity, whereas Italian roast contains almost none.

Even within the narrow distinctions between French roast vs. Italian roast, coffee lovers and enthusiasts find a world of difference. Each one has carved its own niche, resonating with distinct groups of coffee drinkers. 

Which roast is right for you?

Choosing between French and Italian roast really boils (or brews) down to personal preference. Both offer a darker complexion than most other roasts, like blonde or medium-dark. They both also contain a less concentrated caffeine content since most of the caffeine molecules burn off in the more lengthy roasting process.

If you find yourself on the fence between these deep-roasted contenders, here's a quick guide to help steer your decision:

● For espresso lovers – If you lean towards intense and impactful espressos, the Italian roast is the classic choice.

● For a smoother taste – Do you enjoy less caffeine and acidity, but prefer a silkier, less overpowering profile? Then, the French roast might be perfect for you.

● For adventurous palates – For those who want to experience the deepest roast levels, give Italian roast a try.

● For those who like balance – If you're looking for something dark but find the Italian roast too overwhelming, the French roast strikes a nice balance.

Of course, the level of roast is just one factor of many when it comes to crafting the perfect cup. Another determining factor—especially as a home barista—is your preferred brewing technique and choice of coffee creations. Perhaps you’re looking for creative ways to brew a delectable cup in your coffee maker.

To better navigate the French roast vs. Italian roast debate, let’s work backward from the final cup to see how different brew methods blend with this crucial choice:

● Espresso – While Italian roasts typically dominate the espresso scene, those seeking a slightly sweeter or earthier tone to compliment their cappuccino may prefer a French roast for added depth. For latte lovers, the profound character of the Italian roast offers an ideal flavor contrast between the espresso and milk.

● French press – Both Italian and French roast are excellent choices for a French press. The coarser ground and open mesh allow for a richer extraction of oils, giving the coffee a sumptuous mouthfeel.

● Pour-over – The traditional paper filter of pour-over coffee cuts more of the oils from the dark roast grounds. This could make for a cleaner cup of French roast coffee. It can also dampen overall intensity, resulting in a leaner, ashier Italian roast.

● Cold brew – The extended soaking period of cold brew makes for a very concentrated cup when using darker roasts. Since there's no carbon release in this method, both French and Italian roasts gracefully enhance a cold brew’s profile. To temper its concentrated nature, a splash of water or milk can be added.

Introducing French or Italian roasts into your coffee repertoire opens up many potential options. Imagine the deep, slightly complex notes of an Italian roast perfectly cradling vanilla ice cream in an espresso affogato. Or consider a mellowed French roast latte, sweetened with a dash of your favorite plant-based milk. 

With a mastery of the dark roast arts, the possibilities are endless.

Tips on brewing French roast and Italian roast coffee

Crafting the perfect cup with darker roasts like French and Italian requires a slightly different approach, balancing various elements to draw out their distinct flavors. Here are a few quick tips to guide you:

● Opt for fresh, high-quality, and single-origin Arabica beans. Blends, while not a bad option, may not offer a consistent dark roast brewing experience due to the variety of coffee beans utilized.

● Aim to grind your chosen beans a little coarser than usual. This can help to prevent an overly ashy taste. Also, keep in mind that your grinder may need additional cleaning since dark roasts are coated in more oils.

● A shorter brew time is often ideal for darker roasts, ensuring optimal coffee extraction to achieve those prized nutty, toasty, and chocolatey flavors.

● Darker roasts tend to flourish with water that's slightly cooler than what's used for light roasts. Aim for temperatures at the lower end of the Specialty Coffee Association's recommended range of 195-205°F.

● Lastly, enjoy the process of experimentation! Play around with different variables—from grind size to brew duration—to tailor that just-right cup for you.

With a bit of patience and creativity, you’ll soon be sipping on the perfect dark roast coffee of your dreams.

Delve into dark roasts with Breville

Both French and Italian roasts offer unique flavor profiles that cater to different tastes. It's all about finding what resonates with your palate. Experiment with both, and you might discover a new favorite—or find joy in switching between the two depending on your mood. 

Remember, the best coffee is the one you like the most.

Whether you're brewing a smoky French roast or an intense Italian espresso, Breville ensures precision and perfection in every cup. After all, when it comes to coffee, every detail counts—and Breville ensures you don’t miss a single one.




1. CNet. What are the best beans to use for cold brew coffee?

2. The Coffee Compass. How to Brew Dark Roast Coffee.

3. Homegrounds. French Roast Vs Italian Roast: What’s The Difference?

4. Latte Love Brew. Italian Roast Vs French Roast – A Tale Of Two Roasts.

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