Espresso Report | Darkish Roast Espresso Evaluations



Espresso crops rising at Finca Cruz Loma in Ecuador. Courtesy of Simon Hsieh.


Each few years, we at Espresso Evaluation prefer to survey the darkish roast panorama. Darkish-roasted espresso is a every day staple for some espresso drinkers and anathema to others. However there seems to be a candy spot that appeals to a variety of coffee-drinking kinds that’s not too mild and never too darkish, making equal area for many who drink their espresso black and those that physician it with dairy, nut and oat milks, coconut cream, and so forth. As with all the things we eat, private desire guidelines, and it was good to study, by means of cupping for this month’s report, that there’s a substantial amount of vary provided by at this time’s darker-roasted espresso profiles.

Of the 14 coffees we overview for this month’s report, 4 have been bought as benchmarks for the darker-roasted class. They embrace two extensively accessible coffees roasted by Starbucks, and two by Peet’s. Peet’s originated the apply of dark-roasting all coffees, Starbucks unfold it worldwide, and each proceed to dominate the class within the U.S. As benchmarks, we selected a pair of long-popular dark-roasted old-school blends, Peet’s Main Dickason’s Mix and Starbucks’ Pike Place Mix, and two dark-roasted single-origin coffees, Peet’s Kenya Public sale Lot and Starbucks’ Sumatra Darkish. Our effort right here was to overview widespread large-roaster parallels to the darker roasted blends and single-origins we anticipated to obtain from smaller roasters. (Nevertheless, all 4 of the Peets/Starbucks benchmarks are fairly dark-roasted in comparison with half of the highest-scoring coffees, which fall into the medium-dark vary. Extra on that under.)

The remaining 10 coffees we overview right here fall into two primary camps: basic blends roasted to both medium-dark or darkish, and single-origin coffees roasted to both medium-dark or darkish. We additionally requested roasters to mirror briefly on their philosophies about darkish roasts and their prospects’ roast preferences.

What Does “Darkish Roast” Actually Imply?

What constitutes a “darkish roast” espresso, anyway? On the Espresso Evaluation lab, we use an Agtron near-infrared spectrophotometer, an instrument that identifies diploma or darkness of roast pretty exactly and with good consistency. We use the M-Fundamental “Connoisseur” Agtron scale and, for every espresso reviewed, we point out values for complete beans (the quantity previous the slash) and floor beans (the quantity after the slash). So, a studying of 46/60 would describe a espresso with an exterior, whole-bean M-Fundamental studying of 46, and a floor studying of 60. You may learn extra here, however the next chart offers sense of the vary of roast ranges we see among the many darker-roasted coffees reviewed this month, which vary in whole-bean Agtron from 32 to 47.

Roast Agtron Traits
Mild > 70 Mild brown to cinnamon colour
Lightish physique, typically muted, typically delicately recent in taste; inexperienced espresso distinctions are clear
No oil on floor of bean
Medium – Mild 61 – 70 Reasonably mild brown colour
Vibrant, candy acidity, inexperienced espresso distinctions clear
Floor of bean stays dry
Medium 51 – 60 Medium brown colour
Balanced acidity, fuller physique, inexperienced espresso distinctions nonetheless obvious
Usually dry bean floor
Medium – Darkish 41 – 50 Wealthy brown colour
Droplets of oil could seem on bean floor
Fruit turns chocolaty, hints of roasty bittersweetness could emerge
Inexperienced espresso distinctions are muted and remodeled however often nonetheless readable
Considerably muted acidity, typically heavier physique
Darkish 35 – 40 Deep brownish/black colour
Spots of oil to shiny floor
Richly to sharply bittersweet, scorched-wood roast notes distinguished
Acidity muted
Very Darkish 25 – 34 Black floor coated brightly with oil
Bitter/bittersweet tones dominate
Physique thins, inexperienced espresso distinctions are absolutely muted
Excessive – Darkish < 25 Black, shiny floor
Burned bitter tones dominate


In fact, many small roasters can’t afford costly Agtron machines. Some could use colour charts to roughly gauge roast degree by the exterior colour of the espresso beans. However extra importantly, roasters are skilled in monitoring the important thing phases within the roasting course of that mirror the event or darkness of the roast.

Darker Than What?

For this month’s report, by which we overview “darker-roasted” coffees, the instant query to contemplate is: darker than what? We named our inquiry deliberately to honor the relativity of what “darkish” subjectively means to completely different folks. For some, solely a shiny-beaned French roast is really darkish, whereas for others, a espresso that comes inside a hair of what roasters name “second crack” is darkish, i.e., darker than the lighter-roast kinds widespread within the third-wave espresso scene.

We needed to take a look at the widest vary of attainable interpretations of “darker-roasted” coffees, however we additionally wanted some parameters to restrict scope, so we requested roasters to submit coffees that have been roasted to second crack, or past. First crack is the stage of the roasting course of at which inexperienced espresso begins to sound like popcorn popping within the roaster, and it marks the earliest growth stage at which espresso will be floor and consumed. After a interval of silence, second crack begins, a spherical of popping sounds softer and gentler than first crack. That is when the mobile matrix of the espresso begins to interrupt down and, ultimately, cellulose begins to flippantly char. It’s at second crack that the majority coffees start to develop traits we affiliate with darker roasts,  together with deepening caramelization of sugars and notes of overt roastiness like toasted nuts, scorched fragrant wooden, and even smoke — all of which will be nice or disagreeable relying on one’s style. When it comes to whole-bean Agtron numbers as measured by our instrument, second crack often begins someplace round 47. The connection of a given espresso to second crack is a superb dividing line amongst roasters, with “second-wave” roasters like Peet’s and Starbucks nearly all the time going previous it, and “third-wave” roasters, like most of the small specialty roasters lively at this time, nearly by no means letting roasts go that darkish, arguing that one dangers obscuring the character of the inexperienced espresso, together with any origin or varietal distinctions.

New Wave Nuance

A minimum of, that’s the stereotype. And like many stereotypes, it’s not essentially true. In truth, a lot of third-wave roasters provide coffees on the lighter finish of the “darker” roast vary, coffees that the chart above would characterize as “ medium-dark.” So, when it comes to our central report query, “darker than what?” they’re simply barely darker than a typical medium roast. Of the coffees we overview right here, these embrace Hula Daddy’s Pointu Laurina (95; whole-bean Agtron 46), Mostra’s Indonesia Sumatra Kerinci Valley (94; whole-bean Agtron 47), Rusty’s Ka’u (94; whole-bean Agtron 47), Theory’s Dark Side of the Bloom (93; whole-bean Agtron 46), and Red Rock’s Black Magic Blend (92; whole-bean Agtron 46) — that’s precisely half of the coffees we overview this month, not counting benchmarks (see under).

We requested these roasters to clarify their curiosity in dabbling round that second-crack demarcation level, the gateway to darkness, they usually every had considerate causes to share.

A flowering espresso tree at Hula Daddy’s Kona Farm. Courtesy of Hula Daddy.

Laura Ross, Hula Daddy’s head roaster, says that 30 p.c of their gross sales are medium-dark roasts, and she or he was eager about creating the favored Pointu Laurina selection, grown on the Hula Daddy Kona farm, to see if she might embolden the mouthfeel. After experimenting with many alternative profiles, she settled on this medium-dark roast that preserves the character of this uncommon selection whereas deepening the mouthfeel. We’ve tasted this uncommon, naturally low-caffeine selection earlier than as a medium-light roast. This darker-roasted model is rife with distinct notes of darkish chocolate, goji berry, gardenia and hazelnut butter, and each bit as worthy as its lighter-roasted counterpart, which we discovered extra citrusy and berry-driven. The side-by aspect is lots like evaluating 100% Chardonnay from Napa (the darker roast) with a 100% Chardonnay from Chablis (the lighter roast).

Mostra’s head roaster, Nick Berardi, who studies that gross sales of darkish roasts hover between 20 and 30 p.c, knew that this Kerinci Valley Sumatra was candidate for taking darker. He says, “The cup traits of the pattern roasts led me to discover modulating the Maillard stage [a roaster’s term for the early browning stage of the roast] fairly extensively and mix just a few concepts in nearly a reverse-sear form of factor. It doesn’t work for all darkish roasts, simply the hardier beans.” His roasting philosophy, typically, echoes this strategy: “Be adaptive and pull from related experiences and sources. If a espresso performs nicely as each medium and darkish, for instance, we all know that provides us extra to play with in a darkish roast.” Mostra’s Sumatra is richly chocolaty and sweetly earth-toned with notes of sandalwood, dried black cherry, freesia, marjoram and recent humus.

Joan Obra, of Rusty’s Hawaiian, says, “The Ka’u Basic Darkish Roast is our bestseller in Hawai’i. That’s no shock as a result of we examined and adjusted its roast profile based mostly on suggestions at farmers markets and tastings at native shops. Our objective: to create a lighter profile than locals are used to in a darkish roast. We performed with completely different roasts round second crack, till prospects would do this espresso with no milk or sugar and say issues like, ‘That’s actually easy. It’s darkish roast, however not too darkish!’” Our personal cupping notes embrace nectarine, brown sugar, wisteria, baking chocolate and fresh-cut oak.

Roaster Joel Lohner, of Theory Coffee Roasters, says, “Darkish Facet of The Bloom is our tribute to darkish roast. We roast and mix 4 coffees collectively to attain the perfect of each worlds. On the darkish aspect, you’ll expertise a wealthy, full-bodied espresso with a touch of smoke. On the sunshine aspect, you’ll expertise all the complexity that we love in lighter roast coffees. We’re actually excited and happy with how this mix walks the road.” It represents about 20% of the corporate’s complete gross sales. The mix is richly sweet-tart and sweetly herbaceous with notes of baking chocolate, tangerine, sage, peach and pipe tobacco.

Rachel and Nancy Langer of Crimson Rock Roasters in Albuquerque, New Mexico. Courtesy of Crimson Rock Roasters.

Rachel Langer, co-founder of New Mexico-based Red Rock, says of the Black Magic Mix, “About half of our prospects select a darkish roast. We hear feedback about desire for ‘boldness’ and ‘robust espresso’ and a whole lot of favorable comparisons to Starbucks for not being burnt. The opposite day, a brand new wholesale shopper had an extended vent about how a lot he hates bitter, grassy espresso. My private philosophy as a roaster is that my job is to create sweetness and improve aromatics with out veering too far into both of these extremes. Typically we are saying we’re portray with a small paintbrush right here as a result of we don’t roast tremendous mild and we don’t transcend second crack. Black Magic, our darkest roast, continues a rolling second crack because it hits the cooling pan.”

Langer provides that, as wholesale roaster, she has to contemplate coffees that go nicely with meals. She says, “Regardless that I’ve a private desire for lighter roasts, from a culinary perspective, I discover that darker roasts usually pair higher with meals, whether or not breakfast burritos or crème brûlée, due to the stronger darkish chocolate ‘hey, I’m espresso’ indicators coming from the cup — and since consuming meals impairs the taster’s potential to understand nuance in mild roasts.” Black Magic is gently roasty, richly chocolaty and nut-toned with notes of darkish chocolate, kumquat, roasted walnut, peach and magnolia.

4 Acquainted Benchmarks

We embrace these benchmark coffees as reference factors on this dialog about “darker-roasted” coffees, as they’re extensively accessible and acquainted to many espresso drinkers and supply a way of how far the opposite 10 high-scoring coffees from smaller “third wave” roasters have deviated from the darker-roasted “norm” established by firms like Peet’s and Starbucks. Scores and notes are as follows:

Peet’s Major Dickason’s Blend: We rated this longtime Peet’s mix at 87 (whole-bean Agtron, 38) and located this instance to be candy and in addition fairly dry, with notes of scorched fir, cocoa powder, lily and raisin.

Starbucks Pike’s Place Blend: Pike’s Place Mix scored 84 (whole-bean Agtron, 34), is briskly dry in construction with a vegetal sweetness bordering on composty (from poor high quality inexperienced coffees?) and lingering burnt wooden flavors. It’s partly saved by a pleasing carob-like throughline.

Peet’s Kenya Auction Lot: This single-origin Kenya could be very dark-roasted (whole-bean Agtron, 38), however nonetheless rated 92 for its nonetheless discernible and engaging Kenya character — it’s somewhat like a really ripe California Cabernet Sauvignon that may take a whole lot of oak.

Starbucks Sumatra: The darkest-roasted espresso we overview right here (Agtron, 32), this Sumatra scored 90 for its earthy sweetness and full, creamy mouthfeel.

If these coffees are any barometer of the chances of darkish roasts, then dense single-origin beans that may face up to a lot of warmth (and are roasted deftly) will be taken fairly darkish with out forgoing origin and varietal character altogether, whereas including roast-related notes that many individuals take pleasure in, particularly those that drink their espresso in methods apart from black. These two single origins would each fare higher on the cupping desk if a bit lighter-roasted, however pushing them darker has not destroyed them.

Basic Darkish Roasts: 4 S.O.s & One Mix

5 coffees from small roasters with whole-bean Agtrons of round 40 (the sting between darkish and medium-dark) additionally did nicely in our cupping, ranging in rating from 91-95. 4 single origins high this group. The very best scorer general, Simon Hsieh’s Ecuador Finca Cruz Loma (95), is a decadently wealthy, resonantly chocolaty darkish dream, with sufficient fruit subtlety and floral finesse to please a variety of espresso drinkers, and even perhaps shatter some preconceived notions about darkish roast coffees for these usually not inclined towards them.

Sorting cherries at Ecuador’s Finca Cruz Loma. Courtesy of Simon Hsieh.

Hsieh has been digging into darker roasts for 12 years, on the course of his finicky, acid-sensitive abdomen. Hsieh’s abdomen is happier now that he mutes acidity by roasting darker, and he has grow to be a veritable grasp of the dark-roast profile. He says, “Solely the perfect inexperienced coffees can survive in greater temperatures whereas nonetheless hold tons of fantastic flavors. This one gained the Ecuador Taza Dorada championship over a number of natural- and honey-processed Geishas on the desk. It’s nice materials for darker roasts.”

Likewise, Paradise Roasters’ Aged Sumatra Semiga (94), a uniquely composed espresso that’s anaerobically processed and elegantly funky, is a inexperienced espresso that proves it might probably take a darker roast degree. It yields a cup redolent of pipe tobacco, scorched clove, darkish chocolate and ripe banana. Proprietor Miguel Meza says, “We like utilizing aged coffees for darkish roasts. Whereas the perfect ones additionally make wonderful mild roasts, at a darker roast, they’ve a really viscous, oily mouthfeel and delicate acidity, traits I feel customers take pleasure in in darker roasts that these coffees can take to extremes whereas nonetheless being at a roast degree mild sufficient to not style charred.”

General, about 25% of the coffees Paradise sells are darker roasts. Meza says these coffees are actually most popular by prospects who like so as to add cream or milk to their espresso, in addition to customers who don’t benefit from the extra intense acidity of lighter roasts.

Paradise roaster Sam LaTendre provides that she’s roasted many different aged Sumatras however says this one is completely different: “I dropped the cost temperature to assist lengthen the size of the drying somewhat bit. After which I reduce the warmth means sooner after first crack. Usually for a darker-roasted espresso, I hold the warmth on for fairly some time after first crack.  However on this espresso, I needed to reduce the warmth nearly instantly after first crack, nearly as if it have been a lightweight roast, in order that it could coast somewhat longer in growth.”

Green Stone Coffee’s Jlove99 Kenya (93) shows notes of lavender, pink currant, gently scorched cedar, baking chocolate and lemon zest deftly developed by a stable darkish profile. Proprietor and roaster Kelly Wang, whose darkish roasts comprise round 40% of complete gross sales, says she first selects a high-quality inexperienced espresso with excessive density and good moisture degree, which regularly leads her to Africa’s excessive mountain rising areas. She needs her darkish roasts to go nicely with milk in order that the fats and sweetness stability the richly bitter tendencies of the espresso.

North Carolina-based Chaos Coffee’s Odin’s Viking Brew (93) is a deep-roasted Sumatra with notes of wealthy darkish chocolate, date, singed cedar, Bing cherry and savory-sweet undertones of saltwater taffy. This mix was a labor of affection for brand new roasters Laura Dearing and her husband, whose son Odin died of a uncommon type of most cancers. Dearing says, “We named this espresso after him to all the time keep in mind how daring, robust, brave, and spicy he was.”

Laura Dearing and her son Odin, for whom Chaos Espresso’s Odin’s Viking Brew was named. Courtesy of Chaos Espresso.

Rounding out the highest scorers of the darkest-roasted coffees is Colorado-based Desert Sun’s Dark Canyon (91), a mix of Peru, Honduras and Mexico coffees that’s sweetly smoky and crisply chocolaty, redolent of a sweet apple. Head roaster Brian Gaddy says, “Our roasting philosophy has all the time leaned towards lighter roasts, so we developed Darkish Canyon to be a darkish roast that’s not too darkish. It’s full bodied with out being over-roasted, burned or charred. We use mild testing to confirm the roast degree of all our coffees, and it is likely one of the keys to sustaining a constant high quality espresso. Darkish Canyon complete bean ought to learn proper round 40 on the Agtron [M-Basic] scale.”

Head roaster Brian Gaddy of Desert Solar Roasters in Durango, Colorado. Courtesy of Desert Solar.

He provides, “I feel some folks like darker roasts as a result of that’s what they’re used to, they usually have some nostalgia round them, like, ‘That is what espresso is meant to style like.’ Some folks don’t need their espresso to be mild and brilliant; some folks need a full-bodied, deep, darkish espresso expertise, and we now have one thing actually fantastic for these folks.”

We have been delighted to seek out that the darker-roasted coffees of at this time are in no way homogenous however fairly wide-ranging of their sensory attraction. In case you’re often a light-roast drinker, take a few of these coffees for a spin, and tell us what you assume. Glad exploring!


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