The Ultimate Guide to Finding the Best Coffee Roast Darkness in 2023
Are you ready to experience the dark side of coffee? We're about to embark on a journey through time, taking a glimpse into the future of coffee roasting. In this article, we'll unveil the 8 best coffee roasts of 2023, and delve deep into the fascinating world of dark roast coffees. From the origins of these bold flavors to the secrets behind their creation, we'll unravel it all. So grab your favorite mug and get ready to be captivated by the best coffee roast darkness has to offer. Join us as we uncover the rich and intense flavors that await in the world of dark roasts.
The 8 Best Dark Roast Coffees in 2023
Dark roasted coffee beans are known for their toasted aromas and chocolatey flavors, and they have only gotten better over time. Here are eight excellent coffee brands to try this year.
Kona coffee is famous worldwide for its rich and complex flavors, which are enhanced by a darker roast. Koa Coffee is a top supplier of Kona coffee, ensuring that you're getting 100% Kona coffee beans rather than a lower-quality blend.
Estate Kona coffee is more than just a name; it guarantees that all the coffee beans come from a single coffee farm. This allows you to experience the subtle tastes of the Kona beans.
When you first brew it, you can expect aromas of cedar and roasted hazelnuts. The dominant flavor is rich chocolate, accompanied by hazelnuts and honey sweetness. There is also a bright fruit note of strawberry in the finish.
Every bag of this dark roast coffee from Lifeboost starts with impeccably sourced coffee beans. Lifeboost is known for producing some of our favorite coffee. Their single-origin Arabica beans are organically grown in the mountains of Nicaragua, on a small plantation located at 5,700 feet on the slopes of Mt. Kilambe.
The Lifeboost team carefully sources and monitors each batch to ensure the rich flavors of the single-origin shine through. The result is a flavorful low-acid coffee with dominant notes of caramel and chocolate, backed by hints of toasted hazelnut and vanilla. It pairs perfectly with nutty praline or chocolate desserts.
In addition to our full Lifeboost Coffee review, we have also made a video review of Lifeboost coffees and their tasting notes. You can watch it here:
Atlas Coffee Club has long been a favorite subscription service, offering high-quality coffee at affordable prices. Here's how it works: each month they feature a new single-origin coffee, allowing you to trace your coffee to a specific region or even a particular farm. Along with the coffee, you'll receive a postcard packed with information about where and how it was grown, recommended brewing methods, and tasting notes.
When you sign up, you can choose your delivery quantity and frequency. You can also select your preferred roast level. If you're a dark roast lover looking to explore single-origin coffee, this is a great option. Each month, you'll enjoy a new coffee on the darker end of the roast spectrum, introducing you to delicious new coffees you might never have tried.
Volcanica Coffee sources exotic beans from volcanic regions around the world. Their Sumatra Mandheling Reserve is a rare Indonesian coffee grown in the lush volcanic soils of Sumatra. This gives it complex notes.
Sumatra Mandheling dark roast coffee has a full-bodied taste and a smoky aroma with hints of chocolate and spices. The beans are handpicked and roasted longer than regular Sumatra Mandheling beans, resulting in a rich taste profile. This dark roast is perfect for low-acid coffee lovers who want a strong cup.
For a slightly lighter dark roast, check out this exciting option from the young company Coffee Bros. Founded just two years ago by a pair of brothers, Coffee Bros. roasts premium coffees in small batches to ensure the best flavor from every bean.
This dark roast is bold and sweet with a creamy mouthfeel and a heavy body. It's fantastic brewed in a French press or as an espresso shot, and it pairs well with milk or cream. It's a well-crafted blend of beans from Brazil and Indonesia, with the latter contributing an earthy note. You'll taste classic dark roast flavors of dark chocolate, caramel, and maple syrup without losing the character of the origins.
Peet's brand of coffee is known for its signature blends, and their dark House Blend is a long-standing favorite. Crafted by Mr. Peet himself, this blend features beans from Central America that are 100% arabica and high-altitude grown. They are slow-roasted by hand to just beyond the second crack for a bright, balanced, and medium-bodied coffee. The result is a rich and approachable Latin blend with a pleasant spiciness and a crisp, citrus finish.
Many fans of dark-roasted coffee beans love the bold intensity they provide, and Death Wish takes this to the extreme. They claim to offer the world's strongest coffee, with a whopping 728 mg of caffeine in a 12-ounce cup, more than twice as much as an average brew.
To achieve this strength, Death Wish blends arabica and robusta beans. Despite their reputation as lower quality, robusta beans can still contribute balanced flavors to a darker roast. Death Wish sources only organic and Fair Trade varieties, resulting in a smooth coffee that is low in acidity and bitterness. It has a substantial body and a bold roasted flavor with subtle notes of cherry and chocolate.
Kicking Horse Coffee, founded 25 years ago in the Canadian Rocky Mountains, is globally recognized for its high-end coffees. The Grizzly Claw is a blend of 100% arabica shade-grown coffee beans sourced from Central and South America. It has a rich and decadent brew with a substantial body and bold, soothing flavors. You'll taste dark chocolate, cacao nibs, brown sugar, and roasted hazelnuts, enhanced by the aroma of sugar cane and cocoa powder.
Brew these certified organic beans in a French press, drip machine, or pour-over brewer. In the summer, take advantage of their low acidity and rich flavors to make a batch of cold brew.
Comparison of Our Favorite Brands in 2023
|Best Overall|| |
|Lifeboost Dark Roast||Dark and strong without being bitter |
Sustainably grown at high altitude
Full-bodied and smooth
|Best Ground Coffee|| |
|Volcanica Sumatra Mandheling||Full-bodied, complex, and well-roasted |
Organic beans grown above 3,000 feet
Choice of whole bean or three grind sizes
|Best Decaf|| |
|Don Pablo Whole Bean||Affordable |
|Mayorga Organics||Tremendous value |
Whole bean versatility and freshness
|AmazonFresh The Bold||Great value |
Exceptionally low acid
Whole bean versatility
Another Free Brand: Mocha-Java
Mocha Java blends are a special case. They were created by combining the world's first two commercially traded coffees - Yemen shipped through the port of Mokha and Java from the Dutch colony. Over time, this blend has become more of a tradition than a specific recipe. The basic starting point is a natural-processed coffee, inspired by the original Yemen, combined with a wet-processed coffee, inspired by the original Java. Mocha-Java has become a staple in the North American specialty coffee tradition, much like Sumatra. There are many different interpretations of Mocha-Java, including a 92-rated version from Speckled Ax that features four different blend components: three Ethiopias and one washed coffee from Papua New Guinea. Another highly-rated version comes from Peet's Arabian Mocha-Java Dark Roast, which likely includes an Ethiopia and a wet-hulled Indonesian coffee, such as Sumatra.
Dark Roasting and Blends
Blends present a more complex picture than single-origin coffees. Some blends may lack the density and character to withstand dark roasting without losing themselves in a bland and smoky taste. However, there are notable successes among darker-roasted blends. Balmy Day Coffee Office's Black Peach Q Blend is a complex composition of four coffees processed by three different methods, including anaerobic fermentation. This blend maintains its power even with a dark roast, with brightness reminiscent of guava.
The Importance of Origin: Kenya and Sumatra
It's worth noting that all of the highly-rated explicitly dark-roast coffees we mentioned are single-origin Kenyas. Kenyan coffees from the central regions are grown at high altitudes in dry conditions, resulting in dense and tough beans with distinctive aromatic character. These coffees often preserve their character better at a slightly lighter roast style. Traditionally, dark-roasted Sumatras have also been popular in the U.S., being introduced by Alfred Peet in 1966. These coffees, grown in the Mandheling and Aceh regions of Sumatra, are known for their toughness and character, which holds up well to dark roasting.
Taking Dark Seriously
Taiwanese roasters, in particular, have shown great success with explicitly dark roasts. They pay the same attention to dark roasting as they do to lighter roasts, using distinctive high-quality green coffees and careful roasting techniques. This attention to detail has led to the development of quality dark roasts that appeal to their clientele.
Simon Hsieh of GK Coffee in Taiwan roasts all of his coffees medium-dark to dark, and his customers appreciate the rounded acidity, sweetness, and floral character of his coffees. His Kenya AB Athena Plus showcases the savory-sweet depth and complex fruity flavor that Kenya is known for.
Mark Shi of MK Coffee in Taiwan wanted to change the perception of dark-roasted coffee. He noticed that many people viewed dark-roasted coffee as having a smoky and burnt bitter taste. He aimed to add a lively feeling to his dark roasts, making them more enjoyable and unique.
Real Dark Roasts?
There are coffee drinkers who believe that a moderately dark roast isn't a true dark roast. They prefer the straightforward, intense, and chocolaty flavors of a full-on dark roast. When looking at the top-rated samples with clear roast influence, Taiwanese roasters have the edge. This month, four out of the five top-rated explicitly dark-roasted samples were from Taiwan. Taiwanese roasters are putting a conscious effort into developing quality dark roasts and building a taste for them among their clientele.
Two highly-rated coffees that showcase the balance between light and dark roasts are the Hula Daddy SL34 Dark Roast from the U.S. and the GK Coffee's Ethiopia Bench Maji Geisha Lucy Station Dark Roast from Taiwan. These coffees were brought just into the second crack, resulting in a roast that softens and deepens complex flavors without overpowering them with roastiness.
It's interesting to note that GK Coffee's Ethiopia Bench Maji Geisha Lucy Station was tested in two versions: a light roast and a moderately dark roast. Both versions received the same rating, indicating that dark roasts can be just as enjoyable and well-regarded as lighter roasts.
At Coffee Review, we are not biased against dark roasts. In fact, we appreciated the successes of light/dark balance and the skillful execution of dark roasts by Taiwan roasters.
Less Restriction, More Complexity
The divide between dark-roast and light-roast coffee aficionados in North America is starting to blur. Even Starbucks, known for its dark-roasted coffees, now offers "blonde" roasts alongside its traditional dark roasts. Peet's, the pioneer of the contemporary dark-roasting style, has also added "light" roasts to its lineup. At the same time, it seems that many dedicated light-roasting companies are also exploring the world of dark roasting to some extent.
In 2007, Matt Bollinder established Speckled Ax Wood Roasted Coffee with a focus on aggressively lighter roasts and microlot coffees. However, he now admits that the company has become less rigid in its approach. This shift is partly due to changes in the specialty coffee industry, where lighter roasted microlots have become the norm rather than the exception, requiring less education for consumers. Additionally, the emphasis on customer service has contributed to a more flexible mindset. The goal is not to forcefully promote light-roast Yirgacheffe to customers, but rather to make them happy by offering a wide range of options.
One notable example of this compromise between vision and customer satisfaction is the Speckled Ax Map 40 Mokha Java blend, which has received high praise. This blend combines 60 percent washed Ethiopia coffees with other milder coffees, all subjected to complex roasting techniques. The result is a cup of coffee with notes of berries, flowers, cocoa, and a hint of smokiness.
Vermont Artisan's dark-roasted Sumatra also deserves mention, as it was reviewed favorably. Among the five American roasters reviewed, three samples were roasted slightly lighter, just to the point where medium roasts transition into darker roasts. This roasting method allows for the development of deeper flavor notes and a slight charred taste associated with darker roasts, while still preserving some of the sweetness and brightness typically found in lighter roasts.
In terms of color, the Bassline Coffee's Ethiopia Yirgacheffe Dark Roast is technically classified as medium-roasted, only three points darker than a "light-roasted" Peet's Coffee Costa Rica Aurora. However, it offers a subtly deepened flavor profile, with chocolate and cocoa notes complemented by sweet and lush floral undertones.
Revel Coffee also embraces this new, more fluid definition of dark roast with its Sumatra Karo Mandheling. While it makes a slight nod towards roast taste with a smoky hint, the focus is on adding sweetness and depth to the classic Sumatra grapefruit and pipe tobacco flavors.
Light vs. Dark Roast
Light roast coffee beans have a dry surface and exhibit more floral and fruity flavors. They have a tangy acidity and a body similar to that of tea. Dark roast coffee may challenge those who prefer a darker roast, but it rewards those who are curious with bold and inspired flavors.
Our light roast is a blend of coffees from Ethiopia and Colombia. You can try it here!
How to Choose the Best Dark Roast Coffee Beans
The "third wave" coffee movement has rejuvenated the dark roast coffee scene. Now, a well-crafted French or Italian roast can offer a complex and enjoyable coffee experience. Our buyer's guide is designed to help you navigate through the variety of options and find the best dark roast beans.
Please note that this guide specifically focuses on dark roast beans. For information on other roasts, please refer to our guide on the best coffee beans here.
The Flavors of Dark Roast Coffee
The flavor of coffee beans is influenced by the roasting process. When it comes to dark roasts, the primary source of flavor is the roasting technique. Roasting produces hundreds of different aroma compounds, allowing us to determine the taste profile of the coffee.
Due to the unique characteristics of dark roasts, they exhibit a more consistent set of flavors and aromas. However, this doesn't mean they lack complexity. Dark roasts often boast flavors of chocolate, toasted nuts, spices, and dark sugars like molasses and caramel. They may also have earthy, woody, and smoky undertones. These flavors are often balanced with bright, fruity notes such as apples, cherries, and berries.
If you're interested in roasting your own coffee beans, be sure to check out our guide on how to roast coffee (or watch the accompanying video) and our recommendations for the best home coffee roasters.
Exploring Different Levels of Dark Roast
To achieve a dark roast, coffee beans must reach an internal temperature of 464°F. At this point, the oils inside the beans begin to migrate to the surface, resulting in a characteristic sheen. Beyond this temperature, there are various types of dark roasts.
Italian roast is the lightest dark roast, followed by an espresso roast, which is slightly darker. French roast is darker still, with a heavier body and more pronounced toasted flavors. The darkest roast of all is the Spanish roast, which has an almost charred flavor.
It's worth noting that some roasters may use these terms interchangeably, simply referring to a dark roast in general. Therefore, it's important to focus on the flavors you enjoy rather than relying solely on the name of the roast when selecting dark roast beans.
Bean Origin Matters Less
In light roasts, the origin and processing of the beans strongly influence the flavors. However, this is less true with dark roast coffee. The toasty and smoky notes of the roast overshadow the inherent flavors of the green coffee beans.
Remember: When choosing dark roasted coffee beans, the skill of the roaster is just as important as the quality of the beans themselves.
The Role of Robusta Beans
Arabica and Robusta are the two main types of commercially grown coffee beans. In dark roasts, both types of beans are used in equal measures. While Arabica beans are generally considered higher in quality, the dark and earthy tones of Robusta beans can enhance the overall flavor profile of a dark roast blend. Additionally, Robusta beans have higher caffeine content, which appeals to some coffee drinkers.
Brewing Tips to Avoid Bitterness
Dark roasts have a reputation for being bitter or burnt, but this is often a result of the brewing process rather than the beans themselves. It's important to brew different types of coffee roasts differently, regardless of the brewing method.
Dark roast coffee beans are less dense, which means they can absorb water more easily during the brewing process, resulting in over-extraction. To avoid bitterness, consider using a gentler recipe for darker roasts. Adjust your water temperature to a lower setting and either use coarser grounds or reduce the brewing time.
Dark roasts are well-suited for brewing with Moka Pots and espresso machines. They also work well for making Cuban coffee. Remember to adjust your brewing parameters accordingly to achieve the desired flavor profile.
Is Dark Roast Coffee Good Iced?
Dark roast coffee is equally enjoyable when served hot or iced, and we encourage you to try both methods. It particularly shines in cold brew preparations, as the slow, cold-water brewing process brings out the deep earthy, nutty, and chocolate notes characteristic of dark roasts.
There's nothing quite like a freshly brewed cup of dark roast coffee, whether enjoyed hot or cold. It's an experience that creates beautiful and comforting coffee memories.
What Goes Well with Dark Roasts?
Dark roast coffee offers a classic and comforting flavor reminiscent of diner-style coffee. Its low acidity and muted tanginess make it easy to pair with various foods.
We recommend enjoying dark roast coffee with rich and creamy foods, such as chocolate cake, tiramisu, and quiche. It also pairs well with tangy foods like yogurt and cheesecake, and complements the flavors of spicy dishes like curries and cream-based soups. Dark roast coffee is also a great companion for breakfast pastries and other morning treats.
Should My Coffee Beans Look Shiny?
There is a common misconception that shiny coffee beans indicate superior flavor. While there is some truth to this belief—surface oils on coffee beans can indicate a well-developed roast and contribute to a strong aroma—excessive oiliness can actually be a sign of over-roasting. Ideally, most of the oils should remain inside the bean to preserve delicate flavors and prevent contact with oxygen.
Are Dark Roasts Considered "Low-Acid"?
All coffee contains acids that contribute to its flavor profile. However, dark roast coffees are perceived as having lower acidity compared to light roast coffees, making them taste less sour or acidic. This is due to other elements in the coffee, such as natural oils, sugars, and dissolved compounds, that help balance out the acidity and make it less noticeable.
What's the Best Way to Brew Dark Roasts?
Dark roast coffee is incredibly versatile when it comes to brewing. Its consistent flavor, resulting from a uniform roast, allows it to withstand high heat and pressure, making it ideal for making espresso and other concentrated brews.
Our dark roast coffee is specifically roasted to perfection for drip brewing, pour-over methods, and espresso. We achieve a slightly lighter roast to avoid any charred or bitter taste while enhancing the natural flavor notes in the blend.
When brewing dark roast coffee, pay attention to the following factors:
- Grind size: Choose the appropriate grind size for your brewing method.
- Water temperature: Experiment with different temperatures to find the ideal range for your dark roast.
- Contact time: Adjust the brewing time to achieve the desired strength and flavor extraction.
- Freshness: Use the freshest coffee possible to ensure the best flavor.
For more detailed brewing instructions, refer to our coffee brewing guide, which provides insights on how to perfect your recipe.
Does Dark Roast Coffee Have More Caffeine?
Contrary to popular belief, the caffeine content in coffee is not significantly affected by the roast level. The main factor that determines caffeine content is the amount of coffee used for brewing. Using more beans will result in a higher caffeine concentration. For more information on caffeine levels in espresso versus regular coffee, please refer to our article on the subject.
Is Dark Roast Coffee Stronger?
When people refer to coffee as "strong," they are often referring to the boldness of the flavor rather than the actual strength or caffeine content. Dark roast coffee is often perceived as stronger because of its heavy body and rich aroma, which may give the impression of a stronger coffee. However, the concentration and strength of coffee are determined by the brewing method rather than the roast level.
Dark Roast Coffee Flavor Profile: What to Expect
Dark roast coffee is renowned for its classic flavor profile, characterized by a strong aroma, smooth and chocolatey taste, and a hint of bitterness. It's the perfect choice for savoring a cup of coffee at a diner or starting a chilly morning on a comforting note.
- Sweetness: Creamy caramel, maple syrup.
- Nuts: Peanut butter, praline, hazelnut.
- Dark roast body: Thick and creamy, similar to heavy cream.
- Overall flavor: Low acidity, smooth, dense, and well-balanced.
How Dark Roast Coffee is Made
In the past, coffee beans were often roasted over an open flame until the oils on the surface began to smoke, at which point the roasting process was stopped to avoid a fire. However, this resulted in overly dark and burnt coffee. This is how the super dark roasts, like French or Italian roast, originated, and why they had a reputation for being bitter and ashy.
To achieve a smooth and delicious dark roast, it's crucial to move away from extremely dark and oily beans and find a roaster who prioritizes freshness and quality. Fortunately, new roasting techniques and technology allow us to source fresh and flavorful Arabica coffees with the classic attributes of a dark roast. At Coffee Bros, we roast our dark blends to just the right level, ensuring a smooth, full-bodied cup without any bitterness.
The key to enjoying a great cup of dark roast coffee is selecting the right beans. While we have provided a list of ten top dark roast coffee beans for you to try, we highly recommend starting with our personal favorite, Koa Coffee's 100% Kona Estate. This extraordinary coffee offers flavors of chocolate, nuts, and strawberries that are sure to impress.
For those seeking the finest dark roast coffee, we firmly believe that our own selection is among the best. We roast our dark blend using only premium Arabica coffee beans, resulting in the traditional dark roast flavor you crave. Our unique roasting technique enhances the natural flavor notes in the blend and ensures a smooth and enjoyable cup of coffee. You can learn more about our dark roast and try it for yourself by visiting our shop.
In conclusion, when it comes to the best dark roast coffees in 2023, there are certainly some stand-out options. From the bold flavors of Kenyan and Sumatran origins to the complexity of Mocha-Java blends, there is a dark roast coffee out there for every connoisseur. While the debate between light and dark roast continues, it is clear that dark roast coffee offers a unique and robust flavor profile that is worth exploring. So, whether you enjoy it hot or iced, with a shiny appearance or not, one thing is for sure – the rich and intense flavors of dark roast coffee are sure to leave a lasting impression on your taste buds. And if you're looking for the real good stuff, our top recommendation is to embark on a journey of exploration and discover the perfect dark roast coffee that suits your unique preferences.
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