Best Dark Roast Coffee Beans (Best Tasting Brands)
Once an ashy excuse to mask sub-par beans, dark roast coffee is coming into its own with more specialty roasters giving it proper attention. The result is a new breed of dark roasts, featuring vibrant, exotic, and sophisticated flavors.
You’re probably here because you appreciate the chocolate, nutty, and toasty flavors of a well-roasted dark bean. Keep reading for some handy buying and brewing tips. Skim through our top eight picks for the best dark roast coffee in 2020.
Koa Coffee Estate 100% Kona
Koa Coffee’s Estate beans are 100% Kona coffee beans, sourced from a single farm, and never blended. The dark roast offers aromas of cedar and roasted hazelnuts accompanied by flavors of rich chocolate, toasted nuts, and a bright strawberry finish.
How to choose the Best dark roast coffee Beans
The “third wave” coffee movement has revitalized dark roast coffees (1). Now a good French or Italian roast can offer no shortage of complexity. Our buyer’s guide is here to help you distinguish the best from the rest.
Please note that this guide will cover dark roast beans exclusively. For other roasts, read our guide to the best coffee beans here.
||Koa Coffee Estate 100% Kona||
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||Lifeboost Coffee Organic Dark Roast||
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||Peet’s House Blend||
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||Death Wish Coffee||
||Revelator Pale Rider||
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||Kicking Horse Coffee Grizzly Claw||
||Caffe Vita Peru Rancho Sabancaya||
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The flavors of a dark roast coffee
Sure, the roasting process affects the flavor of coffee beans. But, in the case of dark roasts, the flavor is defined by roasting (2).
The roast process creates 800 to 1,000 different aroma compounds, and roast profiling allows us to determine the flavor of the coffee.
Because darker roasts get so much of their flavor from the roasting process, they have a more uniform set of tastes and aromas. However, they are far from bland. Dark roasts usually taste like chocolate, toasted nuts, spices, and dark sugar, such as molasses and caramel, coupled with more substantial notes described as earthy, woody, and smoky. Great dark roasts often have to balance bright, fruity tones, including apples, cherries, and berries.
There are different levels of dark roast
To achieve a dark roast, coffee beans must reach an internal temperature of 464 ℉. This is a moment when the oils inside the coffee begin to migrate to the outside and give dark roasted beans their characteristic sheen. But beyond 464 ℉ there are different types of dark roasts.
The lightest dark roast is known as an Italian roast. Roasting to slightly darker than an Italian roast yields an espresso roast, though other dark roasts are often used for espresso. Darker still is a French roast, which has a heavier body and more toasted flavors. The darkest roast, which has an almost charred flavor, is a Spanish roast.
Unfortunately, many roasters use these terms interchangeably simply to mean dark roast. Thus, you can’t always count on all French or Italian roasts to be created equal. In conclusion, when shopping for dark roast beans, it will be more useful to look for flavors you enjoy than to trace the name of the roast.
Bean origin matter less
With the best light roast coffee, flavors are strongly influenced by where and how the bean was grown and processed. But this is less true of a dark roast coffee. With a darker roast, the toasted and smoky notes overshadow the flavors inherent in the green coffee bean.
Remember: when it comes to selecting dark roasted coffee beans, roaster’s skills are just as important as the quality of the coffee beans.
Robusta beans can play more of a role
There are two commercially grown coffee bean types around the world, Arabica, and Robusta. When it comes to darker roasts, producers use both equally.
While Arabicas are regarded as higher quality, Robusta beans, with their dark and earthy tones, can find a place in a dark roast blend.
They add a depth of flavor, but they offer double the caffeine, which is an appealing quality for some coffee drinkers.
Brew properly to avoid bitterness
Dark roasts have a reputation for bitter or burnt flavors. Still, in many cases, this is a result of the brewing process, not the beans. You should brew different types of coffee roasts differently, regardless of the brewing method.
Dark roast coffee beans are less dense, making it easier for water from entering them and extracting those delicious soluble compounds. That means you can pull more flavor from a dark roast, but you’re also at higher risk for over-extraction (3).
Dark roast tends to be more bitter in flavour to begin with, so a longer contact time between water and coffee would result in over extraction.
Generally, dark roasts make great coffee for Moka Pots (like some of these) and espresso machines. To avoid bitter flavors, use a gentler recipe for darker roasts. Opt for lower water temperature and either coarser grounds or a shorter brew time.
The 8 best dark roast coffees in 2020
With their toasted aromas and chocolatey flavors, dark roasted coffee beans are what many of us associate with coffee, and these days, they are better than ever. Here are eight great coffee brands to try this year.
Kona coffee is world-renowned for its rich and complex flavors, many of which are naturally enhanced by a darker roast. Koa Coffee is one of the foremost purveyors of Kona coffee, so you can be confident you’re getting 100% Kona coffee beans rather than a lower-quality blend.
Estate Kona coffee is more than just a name; it’s a specific term that guarantees all the coffee beans come from a single coffee farm.
This is single-origin coffee taken to its extreme, and it allows you to experience the classic subtle tastes of the Kona beans.
Upon first brewing, expect heady aromas of cedar and roasted hazelnuts. The dominant tasting note is rich chocolate, accompanied by hazelnuts and honey sweetness. A surprisingly bright fruit note of strawberry lingers on the finish.
Every bag of this dark roast coffee from Lifeboost begins with impeccably sourced coffee beans, which is why they produce some of our favorite coffee. Their single-origin Arabica beans are organically grown in Nicaragua mountains, on a small plantation located at 5,700 feet on the slopes of Mt. Kilambe.
The Lifeboost team source each batch by hand and monitor them carefully to ensure the rich flavors of the single-origin don’t get lost in the processing. The result is a flavorful low-acid coffee with dominant notes of caramel and chocolate, backed by hints of toasted hazelnut and vanilla. It’s the perfect partner for a nutty praline or chocolate dessert.
We’ve also made a video review of Lifeboost coffees and their tasting notes. Watch it here:
Peet’s brand of coffee is well known for its signature blends, which they craft with more considerable attention to detail than any others at this price point. Their dark House Blend is their longest-standing offering, first crafted by Mr. Peet himself, and has remained a top seller through the decades.
It features a mix of beans from across Central America, all 100% arabica 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 lively, sweet, and comforting Latin blend. It’s rich and approachable, with a pleasant spiciness and a crisp, citrus finish.
Many dark roasted coffee beans fans love the bold intensity of the coffee, and Death Wish has taken this to the extreme, claiming to offer the world’s strongest coffee. A 12-ounce cup has a whopping 728 mg of caffeine, more than twice as much as an average brew.
They achieve this strength by using a blend of arabica and robusta beans, as the latter has significantly more caffeine. Despite their reputation as lower quality, the robusta beans can still contribute balanced flavors to a darker roast, and Death Wish sources only organic and Fair Trade varieties.
The result is a smooth coffee, low in acidity, and without a hint of bitterness. It has a substantial body and bold roasted flavor with more subtle notes of cherry and chocolate.
Founded in the Canadian Rocky Mountains 25 years ago, Kicking Horse Coffee has become globally recognized for its high-end coffees.
The Grizzly Claw is a blend of 100% arabica shade-grown coffee beans sourced from across Central and South America. It’s a rich and decadent brew with a substantial body and bold, soothing flavors. Expect to taste dark chocolate, cacao nibs, brown sugar, and roasted hazelnuts in the cup, enhanced by sugar cane and cocoa powder’s aroma.
Brew this certified organic beans in a French press, drip machine, or pour-over brewer. Or, in the summer, take advantage of its low acidity and rich flavors, and whip up a batch of cold brew.
Revelator is a specialty coffee roaster that also operates a series of cafes, so they have the product chain covered, forming equally strong partnerships with farmers and coffee drinkers. They source new coffee frequently, ensuring it is at its seasonal best.
Their Pale Rider decaf is a blend of Colombian Arabica beans of the Bourbon, Castillo, and Caturra varieties. It changes seasonally, but always features wet-processed Colombian beans with similar flavor profiles. The result is a balanced brew that is sweet, clean, and easy-drinking. It features brighter than average flavor notes, including milk chocolate, caramel, and a red apple.
The single-origin Peru Rancho Sabancaya from Caffe Vita offers the brightness and complexity a cold brew demands. They source it from northern Peru in the sub-region of San Martin, where the beans are grown at high elevations of 3,600 to 5,500 feet. It is slightly lighter than a typical dark roast, with a medium body and moderate acidity.
This roast is a classic expression of Peru, with notes of spice and toastiness. You will detect aromas of chocolate, blackberry, cigar box, and caramel, and experience flavors of dark chocolate, tobacco, cedar, and sun-dried berries. The finish is sweet, with subtle notes of maple and nougat.
Koffee Kult is the rare artisan roaster that has managed to expand without sacrificing quality. Their dark roast is their most popular blend, yielding a robust and bold coffee that still manages to be smooth and clean tasting. They source specialty grade beans from Guatemala, Colombia, and Sumatra, for a mix that nicely balances the bright flavors of South and Central America with the traditionally fruity and earthy Sumatran beans.
They slow roast the beans to just beyond the second crack, for a rich and flavorful brew. It has a surprisingly bright cinnamon character, balanced with more typical dark chocolate and nut tones.
All you need are the right coffee beans.
We gave you eight best dark roast beans to try. However, we recommend starting with our overall favorite, Koa Coffee’s 100% Kona Estate, which is sure to wow you with its flavors of chocolate, nuts, and strawberries.
No, dark roast coffee is not stronger than light roast. It is a common misconception that roast level impacts caffeine content. If you want to make your coffee stronger, simply use more grounds when you are brewing.
No, dark roast coffee is not inherently healthier than light roast. It is often lower in acid than a light roast, however, so you may feel better drinking it if you have acid sensitivity.
The best way to avoid bitter coffee is to buy good quality beans and brew them properly. Bitterness is usually a result of over-roasting or over-extracting. You can also try adding a pinch of salt to your grounds or adding milk, cream, or sugar to your mug.
- Oksnevad, D. (2019, May 17). The Differences Between 1st, 2nd, and 3rd Wave Coffee. Retrieved from https://www.drivencoffee.com/blog/coffee-waves-explained/
- Saladino, E. (n.d.). The Differences Between Light and Dark Roast Coffee Are Complex, Chemical, and Surprisingly Easy to Understand. Retrieved from https://vinepair.com/articles/best-dark-roast-coffee-light/
- Riportella, K. (2019, October 9). How to Adjust Your Brewing Recipe for Coffee Roast Level. Retrieved from https://perfectdailygrind.com/2019/10/how-to-adjust-your-brewing-recipe-for-coffee-roast-level/