French Roast vs Italian Roast

Both French roast and Italian roast are words we are used to seeing on coffee packages, alongside roast levels that are more commonly known, such as medium and light roast. Since their names don’t give anything away in terms of the actual roast level unless you’re familiar with the terms, it’s not exactly easy to make the right roast level choice.

We understand that learning the coffee vocabulary can be a bit of a chore for newcomers with plenty of terms that don’t really do much to convey their actual meaning, prompting people to take a guess a lot of the time.

Since the roast level is definitely not something you should leave down to luck due to the substantial impact it has on your coffee, it’s time to learn what a French roast is, what an Italian roast is, and how they compare to each other.

In a nutshell, Italian roast and French roast are the darkest roast levels possible, with Italian roast being slightly darker than French roast. These roast levels are known for their smoky flavor notes, lack of the original flavor of the coffee bean, and their shiny look due to the surfacing of coffee oils.

What is Italian Roast?

First of all, let’s get down to what Italian roast is in detail.

Italian roast, also known as Dark French roast or espresso (mostly for marketing purposes) roast, is the darkest roast level possible, where coffee beans are roasted to a temperature of 473 degrees Fahrenheit.

Coffee beans that are roasted to this level have a color that is closer to black than brown and a thin layer of oil that makes them look shiny. The reason behind the shine is high temperatures causing the coffee oils that are contained inside the bean to escape to the surface.

In terms of taste, Italian roast coffee beans have almost nothing left of their original flavor, with smoky flavors that come from the roasting process dominating the flavor profile for the most part. This flavor profile is often referred to as bittersweet due to the combination of the burnt flavor that comes from roasting and the caramel flavor that comes from the caramelization of the sugars of a coffee bean.

With the acidity of the coffee eliminated, Italian roast coffee beans are a good choice for those who don’t enjoy sourness in their cup of coffee.

What is French Roast?

Next up is French roast.

French roast is right below Italian roast on the roast level scale, where coffee beans are roasted to a temperature of 464 degrees Fahrenheit. Even though coffee beans that are marketed as espresso roast are often Italian roast, it’s also possible to find French roast beans being marketed this way.

Just like Italian roast coffee beans, it’s also possible to see a layer of oil coating the coffee beans in the case of French roast as the temperature is enough to bring the coffee oils to the surface of the bean. In terms of color, French roast coffee beans are somewhere between brown and black.

When it comes to taste, a bittersweet flavor profile is dominant. The taste can be described as burnt with caramel undertones, with virtually no acidity. The origin flavor of the coffee beans is lost for the most part, and the flavors of the roast take over.

Due to how similar French roast is to Italian roast in terms of flavor, both of these roast levels are commonly used for brewing espresso as they can provide the strong taste we associate with a shot of espresso.

Differences Between French Roast and Italian Roast

Considering how similar these two roast levels are to each other, there is nothing but slight differences to tell one from another.

With a temperature difference of roughly 10 degrees Fahrenheit between these two roast levels, the most noticeable thing to tell these two roast levels apart is the color of the coffee beans. While Italian roast beans are almost black, French roast beans are closer to a brown color.

When it comes to flavor, it may be possible to taste some of the original flavors of the coffee bean in the case of French roast, whereas it’s pretty much impossible when it comes to an Italian roast. That being said, depending on factors such as the brewing method, it may very well be impossible to tell the difference between these two roast levels.

In fact, it would most likely take someone who is a coffee expert to actually distinguish French roast from Italian roast by solely drinking cups of coffee that are brewed with both of these coffee beans.

At the end of the day, you can feel free to use coffee beans of these roast levels interchangeably without worrying too much.

Is French Roast Stronger than Dark Roast?

Since strength is a broad term in the world of coffee, let’s divide the subject into two pieces where we talk about strength in terms of caffeine content and strength in terms of flavor.

Before diving into this, let’s quickly describe what dark roast actually means as well. Dark roast is actually an umbrella term that includes all of the roast levels that are achieved after the second crack. These roast levels are Full City roast, Vienna Roast, French Roast, and Italian Roast.

That being said, it’s possible to find coffee packages that are labeled as dark roast, which is kind of vague. We found out that coffee beans that are labeled as dark roast are usually around the Full City level, which is the lightest roast level in the dark roast category.

When it comes to caffeine content, there is no difference between a French roast and a dark roast, regardless of the roast level that falls into the dark roast category. 

In terms of the strength of the flavor, a French roast has a flavor profile that is mostly defined by the smokiness of the roasting process, whereas a Full City roast still contains a considerable part of the original flavor of the coffee bean. For this reason, the flavor of French Roast would be considered to be stronger.

Is Italian Roast Coffee Stronger than French Roast?

Just as we mentioned earlier, you won’t find a difference in caffeine content between Italian Roast and French Roast.

When it comes to flavor, even though Italian roast has a flavor that is considered to be stronger, it’s not exactly possible to distinguish the flavor between Italian roast and French roast for the most part.

Is Italian Roast the Same as Espresso?

Due to Italian roast beans being marketed as espresso beans or espresso roast beans, there is a lot of confusion surrounding this subject. 

Espresso is not a bean type or a roast level, but a brewing method. You can brew espresso with any type of coffee beans that are roasted to any level.

On the other hand, Italian roast is merely the roast level of the coffee beans and has no impact on the brewing method you will be using.

The reason behind Italian roast beans being marketed as espresso beans is that they are the most preferred roast level for brewing espresso. As espresso is an Italian drink, it makes sense that it has been brewed with Italian roast coffee beans throughout history.

At the end of the day, calling Italian roast beans espresso beans is nothing more than a marketing gimmick to make people believe that they can only brew espresso with said coffee beans.

Conclusion

While terms such as French roast and Italian roast can be confusing at first, they are quite simple things to remember once you go deeper into their characteristics and how they differ from each other. 

Even though there aren’t a whole lot of differences between these two dark roast levels, we feel like it’s important to be knowledgeable about the subtle differences to be able to create the best coffee experience possible for yourself.

Have a great day, and enjoy your coffee!