Best Dark Roast Coffee Beans
Once an ashy excuse to mask sub-par beans, dark roast coffee is coming into its own with more speciality roasters giving it proper attention. The result is a new breed of dark roasts, featuring vibrant, exotic, and sophisticated flavours.
You’re probably here because you appreciate the chocolate, nutty, and toasty flavours of a well-roasted dark bean. Keep reading for some handy buying and brewing tips. Skim through our top ten picks for the best dark roast coffee in 2020.
At A Glance:
How to choose the Best dark roast coffee
The “third wave” coffee movement has revitalised 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.
| ||Colombia Supreme Dark Roast||CLICK TO CHECK PRICE|
| ||Tapantuguste RFA (El Salvador)||CLICK TO CHECK PRICE|
| ||Continental Roast||CLICK TO CHECK PRICE|
| ||Mocha Java Blend No 3||CLICK TO CHECK PRICE|
| ||Sumatra Mandheling Grade 1||CLICK TO CHECK PRICE|
| ||Planalto||CLICK TO CHECK PRICE|
| ||Fairtrade Organic Swiss Water Process Peruvian Decaf Coffee Beans||CLICK TO CHECK PRICE|
| ||After Dark|
| ||Monsoon Malabar Coffee||CLICK TO CHECK PRICE|
| ||Timor Grade 1 Beans||CLICK TO CHECK PRICE|
The flavours of a dark roast coffee
Sure, the roasting process affects the flavour of coffee beans. But, in the case of dark roasts, the flavour 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 flavour 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 flavours. The darkest roast, which has an almost charred flavour, 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 flavours you enjoy than to trace the name of the roast.
Bean origin matter less
With light roasts, flavours 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 flavours 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 Coffee 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 coffee beans, with their dark and earthy tones, can find a place in a dark roast blend.
They add a depth of flavour, 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 flavours. 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 beans are less dense, making it easier for water from entering them and extracting those delicious soluble compounds. That means you can pull more flavour 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 flavours, 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 flavours, dark roasted coffee beans are what many of us associate with coffee, and these days, they are better than ever. Here are ten great coffee brands to try this year.
Like many great British coffee roasters, H. R. Higgins started in the late 1800s as an importer of teas and coffees from all around the world. The best of them have adapted to the changing times and managed to hold their own in the emergence of third-wave coffee companies.
The advantage of an established brand such as H. R. Higgins is that they have long-standing relationships with individual farms and coffee collectives – often spanning decades. This allows them to ensure a sustainable living for multiple generations of farmers, as well as helping contribute to growing high-quality coffee beans.
These single-origin Colombian coffee beans are among the company’s best sellers. When given a dark roast, they develop deep fruit flavours of blackcurrant and passionfruit, with a bittersweet dark chocolate aftertaste.
Once ranked fourth in the world, El Salvador is no longer one of the big coffee producers, sitting at number 19 on the list. But what they’ve lost in quantity, they’ve made up for in quality, with a reputation for speciality coffee beans.
John Watt has sourced these Rainforest Alliance beans from the Juayua area, part of the famed Apaneca-Lllamatepec coffee-growing region. As in most of the country, beans here are grown under full shade. The Tapantuguste farm enjoys rich volcanic soil and good rainfall, at an altitude of 4100-4800 feet.
These coffee beans have been given a “restrained” dark roast that reflects the care given to the coffee’s harvesting. Upon brewing, you’ll release aromas of salted caramel, while in the cup you’ll get flavours of almond and orange coming through.
Historically, Honduras was known for producing unremarkable beans in vast quantities. But now the potential of speciality coffees is being recognised, in part thanks to government investment in infrastructure and education. The flavour profile of the country’s beans varies from region to region, ranging from nutty to fruity, soft to bold.
These beans fall just short of the country’s top grade of strictly high grown (SHG), harvested at 1300 meters rather than the 1350 required. The Continental Roast goes through a long, slow process, resulting in some of the company’s darkest beans. This creates a full-bodied, heavy coffee, with the flavours of burnt caramel and smoke that only a dark roast can achieve.
Don’t let the discount-style packaging put you off. Apparently, it’s part of Rave’s campaign to provide speciality coffee to consumers at thoroughly reasonable prices. Rave sources from all around the world, with their primary focus being on quality raw materials. They set minimum requirements of 84 on the SCA scale for their single-origin beans, and 82 for blends.
Mocha Java is considered the brand’s breakfast blend, but don’t expect a slow start to the day. This rich and full-bodied coffee will give you the kickstart that most of us need first thing in the morning. If you take your coffee black, you’ll get flavours of hazelnut, baking chocolate and preserved lemon. Add milk and the flavours tend more towards cocoa and spice.
Sumatra Mandheling is known for its complex and intriguing taste, not found in other parts of the world. The flavours of the beans come from the rich volcanic soil and low altitudes of the region, but also the unique processing method used here. Known as giling basah, or wet-hulled, it left the beans with 50% of their moisture content, rather than the usual 10-12%.
These particular beans are rated Grade 1, hand sorted three times to ensure only the best beans get through. Dark roast is traditional for beans from this area, as it helps to bring out some sweetness to balance the earthy tones. Redbur’s selection is true to type, with an earthy aroma and low acidity. It’s a full-bodied, syrupy cup, with flavours of spice and chocolate, and woody notes.
Pact source all their beans using the Direct Trade model. This means that they skip the supply chain and form a direct relationship with farmers, paying them an average of 55% over Fairtrade prices. The farmer in this instance is Sergio Mantovannini, who runs the Planalto estate in South Minas Gerais. Here among 250 acres of native forest, he grows Mundo Novo and Red and Yellow Catuaí varietals.
South Minas produces around 30% of Brazil’s coffee and is usually known for citrus and fruity flavours in the cup. These beans have been treated with a dark roast that highlights some of the tastes of the Catuai bean, resulting in chocolate and malt with a rich sweetness.
- Tasting notes: Peanut, chocolate, mild citrus
- Varietal: Arabica – Tipica, Caturra
- Certifications: Fairtrade
- Ground or whole bean: Whole bean
Clumsy Goat has made a commitment to supporting everyone involved in the coffee industry (including their namesake animal). This means buying bean through the Fairtrade program and in this case, through the Cenrfocafe cooperative. This is a group of 2,000 small-scale farmers in the Cajamarca region, set high in the Andes in the north of the country.
These beans have the milk chocolate flavours that Cajamarca is known for, along with peanut and mild notes of citrus. They’re small-batch roasted to ensure freshness and decaffeinated with a 100% chemical-free process. The low acidity makes the coffee a great choice to enjoy as an espresso or AeroPress brew.
What you want out of a cup of coffee at the end of the day is probably a lot different from your morning brew. Rather than a breakfast blend, this one has been created specifically for the evening. It has a rich body with a smooth chocolate finish and a sweetness that comes from brown sugar notes. It’s rated a “5” for dark roast, but be aware that the Taylor’s scale does go up to 7.
All Taylors of Harrogate products are carbon neutral and many also Rainforest Alliance, UTZ or Fairtrade certified. The company is also involved in a number of sustainability projects including supporting women in the tea and coffee industry, planting trees in vulnerable environments, and providing food, water and education to farming communities.
The Monsoon Malabar processing was one of those accidents that ended up being an important discovery. It was first created when beans shipped from India to Europe were flooded by monsoon rains, giving them a unique swollen shape, and a flavour that’s big on sweetness and low acidity. Nowadays this process has protected status and is done by leaving the beans exposed to the elements during the monsoon season.
These particular beans come from the Karnataka region, at the north end of the Malabar Coast. Monsooned beans can often develop an earthy taste, which is apparent here in notes of Brazil nuts. This is balanced by sweet, spicy flavours of red wine in a medium-bodied cup. Whittard’s recommend serving this coffee as an AeroPress latte, but it’d work well as a cold brew too.
The tiny sovereign state of East Timor is quite the newcomer to the coffee scene. The country only gained independence in 2002, after centuries of colonisation by Portugal and neighbouring Indonesia. The move meant reclaiming control over their coffee, which was produced as an export since the 1800s. Government investment has seen both quality and quantity rise, with coffee now accounting for 80% of exports.
Grade 1 beans mean they have been hand-selected to be free of defects, with consistent-sized cherries for even roasting. East Timorese beans range in flavour but are usually low in acidity with a full body. These particular beans have been given a dark roast to highlight rich cocoa flavours and the sweetness of dates.
All you need are the right coffee beans.
We gave you ten best dark roast beans to try. However, we recommend starting with our overall favourite, Colombia Supreme Dark Roast, which is sure to wow you with its flavours 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/