There is one main difference between French and Italian roast coffee. Both are almost the same, but the roasting process looks a bit different in both.
This difference brings the different flavor profile that is unique to both.
Before we dive into the differences between both roast types, it is paramount to mention that both roasts are very popular in their respective countries.
While French roast is darker than the traditional dark coffee, it is not the darkest coffee you’ll find. It is a dark roast that won’t feel over-roasted, burnt, or on the bitter side. Italian roast is a notch ahead of its French counterpart in the roast time it undergoes, making it acidic and bringing out the burnt taste.
Every coffee shop may have its definition of French vs. Italian roast coffee. There are some characteristics of each roast that are widely accepted.
For example, both are one of the darkest roasts one can find in the market. Also, both undergo an extended roasting period than traditional coffee beans.
This processing difference gives coffee made by these beans an abundant and robust flavor.
So, how are both types roasted?
Well, both types of beans roast to the edge of charring. When coffee beans roast, they produce the sound of a crack. This crack is an indication that the coffee has reached the required roast level.
What Happens When a Coffee Bean Cracks?
The crack that happens when the roaster processes the coffee beans is an indication that the energy has built up inside the coffee bean to a level that it has exploded through the surface of the coffee beans.
Both French and Italian roasts go beyond the first crack. The roasting process continues until the second crack is achieved.
This second crack means that the energy inside the cellular structure of the coffee bean is coming out even more.
Although the second crack is not as dramatic and loud as the first one, the main milestone in the roasting process is performed. What is that milestone?
Well, both French and Italian roasts are medium to dark roasts. When the second crack happens, it suggests that the coffee beans can now be characterized as medium to dark roasts and can be sold as such.
So, coming back to the differences between both. If both roasts achieve the second crack, what is the difference between a French roast and an Italian roast?
The answer lies beyond the second crack. While French roast coffee beans are subject to the roasting process till the second crack, Italian roast beans take a little longer than the second roast.
This is why, while French roasts are dark, Italian roasts are darker.
What Happens to the Structure of French and Italian Roast Beans During the Roasting Process?
A few things happen when coffee beans are roasted to the level of Italian and French roasts.
Firstly, the energy built up inside explodes the coffee beans outside, creating a crack sound. This is due to the expansion of the cell size. This is why the size of a dark roast coffee bean is always bigger than a traditional roast.
The second crack expands the cell size and, consequently, the size of the bean even more.
Note that there is a point where the roasting must stop to avoid the coffee beans from getting burnt altogether.
The oils inside the coffee beans start to seep out on the surface. They cover the surface of the beans. You may have noticed that dark roasts always have a rich, oily look. The oils that cover the surface of coffee beans are the reason.
French roasts are dark, and they have achieved the second crack. Italian roasts remain on the roster for longer than the second crack.
Italian roasts get more time for the oil inside them to come out, resulting in an even richer and oily look.
The people overseeing the roasting process need to be more vigilant than ever at this moment. When the desired structure appears, the roasting process ends. If they roast the beans anymore, they will be burnt, turning into charcoal.
Difference Between the Flavors of French vs. Italian Roasts
Dark roasts usually have a flavor profile of cocoa, dark chocolate, baking chocolate, and caramelized sugar notes. The smell of toasted marshmallows is also one of the dominant ones.
It is these undertones in their coffee that many people prefer dark roasts. Pair a dark roast coffee with a classic biscotti or Italian almond biscuits, and you have a winner combination right there.
Expect an intense and dark coffee with a French roast. Also, the French roast has a thin body. That is why most people who like their coffee smoky and a bit intense prefer to have a dark French roast.
If you want to go a step further, there is the darker Italian roast. Due to the extra roasted beans, the Italian roast brings out a bitter and burnt flavor in coffee. The flavors are solid, while the caffeine content is lower.
Did you know: Coinciding with the name, Italians prefer the Italian roasts in their coffees.
Also, the French roast was very popular across France in the 19th century.
Well, is there a big difference between French and Italian roasts? The answer is – sadly, not much.
Why Would You Want to Go For a Lighter Roast?
Lighter roasts have one thing in common. With lighter roasts, you get to appreciate the true flavor notes native to the area and plantation they’re grown in and the weather they are subject to.
Why is that? Well, just because the roasts are lighter. Lighter roasts tend to retain the natural flavors that come with them.
Lighter roasts give a lot of character to the coffee made with them, for example, the naturally occurring aroma of berries, pineapples, or citrus.
Roasting coffee beans too dark means missing out on all the naturally occurring aromas.
Italian and French roasts have somewhat indistinguishable tastes. If you didn’t know which one was used to make your cup of coffee, you wouldn’t be able to identify which roast it is.
Now, you understand that it is the roasting process that is different in both roasts. It is time to try both!