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French Roast vs. Italian Roast - Which Is Best For Espresso?

People can often get confused by all the different options when it comes to coffee beans - especially if they're relatively new to the world of home espresso. It's hard enough to pick out the right espresso machine, now you have to choose a bean to go along with it!

Many people simply run to the store and grab the first bag they see that's labeled "espresso roast" and miss out on all the different wonderful flavors and varieties that are out there.

One area that definitely confuses people, and confused me too when I first started making espresso, is the difference between French Roast and Italian Roast, and that's what I want to talk about today.

Before we go into that, I want to clarify something about roasting in general. A bean is a bean is a bean. It really doesn't matter what type of bean it is, or where it's from. It could be a Robusta bean, or it could be an Arabica bean; it could be from South America or it could be From Africa or the Middle East. None of that matters. How the bean is roasted determines whether it is considered French Roast or Italian Roast, nothing else.

What Is French Roast?

French roast is very often used for espresso because it's a very dark roast. French roast beans are roasted at anywhere from 370 to 540 degrees Fahrenheit. The length of time that they're roasted is important too. Listen for a cracking or popping noise from the beans. You'll hear a first set of "pops". After the beans have gone through a second set of "pops" or "cracks" they are considered French Roasted.

Ok, that's nice but not all that helpful I suppose; since you probably won't be roasting the beans yourself (though a lot of people do!). What does French Roast taste like?

French roast beans are very dark. They're smokey in flavor. You'll also notice that the beans have a lot of oil, also good for espresso. One of the downsides to this type of roast is that sometimes the beans are roasted so long that the flavor of the bean itself gets covered up by the (I don't want to call it burnt taste) uh, smokey-ness or bitterness of the roast.

What Is Italian Roast?

Italian Roast, on the other hand, is generally considered a little more mild. Espresso is generally considered an Italian creation... Italian Roast...see where I'm going here?

With Italian roast, beans are generally not roasted quite as long as with French Roast. You're going to get more of the flavor of the bean itself and less of the smokey or bitter taste.

Which Is Better?

It's impossible to say which is better because everyone has different tastes. Personally I like Italian Roast better (I love Illy Coffee!). But I have drank quite a bit of French roast in the past; especially when I first started making espresso.

The point is, don't just buy a bag of beans that says "Espresso Roast". Experiment! Try lots of different roasts from lots of different companies. That's really most of the fun of drinking espresso! I know that people get into habits when it comes to espresso, but try to break out of your own habits from time to time and try something new. You'll be glad you did, and what have you got to lose?

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