While I used to think that all dark roast coffee is the same, that couldn’t be further from the truth.
This becomes obvious when comparing French roast vs Italian roast, two dark roast coffees that have some similarities but also have plenty of differences.
In this comparison guide to French roast vs Italian roast, I’ll cover everything there is to know about each roast type, including flavor profiles, caffeine content, acidity levels, price differences, and more.
French Vs Italian Roast Coffee: What’s The Difference?
At first glance, it's hard to differentiate between French and Italian roast coffee beans.
As you look closer, though, there are some obvious differences, and those differences become even more apparent as you start sipping.
If you’re like me and prefer the bold flavor of dark roast coffee, it’s important to understand the difference between these popular roast styles.
Obviously, one originated in France and the other in Italy, but there’s more to it than just that.
Let’s go into detail on all the key differences between French roast vs Italian roast:
Roasting Temperatures - How Do They Compare?
French and Italian roasts are both dark roasted beans, considered to be two of the darkest options on the roasting scale.
The main difference between French and Italian coffee roasts is that Italian roast coffee is cooked at a higher temperature.
Although the temperature difference isn’t all that significant, even a slight increase changes the look, body, acidity, and flavor of the coffee beans.
With French roast coffee, the beans are roasted between 440 to 455 degrees Fahrenheit, leaving them with a dark brown color and slight smokiness.
The Italians go a bit further with the coffee roasting process by reaching temperatures that exceed 455, which creates darker, fuller-bodied, smokier coffee beans that are almost black in color.
How Different Are The Tasting Notes?
French roast coffee tends to have a smoky flavor with dark chocolate notes. Italian roast, on the other hand, is a bit smokier with a slight bitterness and bolder flavor.
Some people even describe Italian beans as “roasty” because of the higher roasting temperatures.
If you want something flavorful and slightly smokey with notes of bittersweet baking chocolate, I recommend trying out a French roast blend.
If you want to ramp things up even more with smokey, roasty flavors, go for the darker Italian roast.
Coffee & Health states that "sensory experts describe the taste and aroma of coffee in great detail and are able to differentiate between different origins of coffee beans, levels of roast, and preparation methods."
That means that you can differentiate between French roast and Italian roast simply by using your nose!
Coffee enthusiasts are especially good at distinguishing between the two by detecting more hints of chocolate and cocoa in French roast.
To be honest, both of these darker roasts smell fantastic. They share many similarities thanks to their intense flavor.
Still, you're much more likely to smell hints of dark chocolate and sweetness in a French dark-roasted coffee.
Acidity Levels - Which Is Higher?
Italian and French roasts are both lower in acidity compared to lightly roasted coffee.
The general rule of thumb is that the darker the roast, the lower the acidity.
This is because the acidity is burned off while roasting the coffee.
Since Italian dark roast beans reach a higher temperature, they have less acidity than lighter roasts, including French roasted coffee beans.
Don't let that stop you from trying French roast specialty coffee; it has very little acidity compared to light roasts.
Caffeine Levels - Which Is Higher?
Just like acidity, caffeine content decreases during the coffee roasting process.
The higher the temperatures, the less caffeine there will be in your specialty coffee.
The exact caffeine content in milligrams depends on a few more factors, like the type of beans and their origin.
Generally speaking, though, Italian roasted coffee contains less caffeine on average because of the longer roasting time, but it's a minimal difference.
Certifications - Is There A Winner?
As I shop around for my coffee, I always keep an eye out for different certifications on the product labels, like Rainforest Alliance, Fairtrade, and USDA Organic.
The specific certifications of both French and Italian roasts ultimately come down to the brand that produces them.
There’s no clear winner in this category, mostly because it’s easy to find both roast options with all the necessary certifications of good coffee.
Whether you’re buying French or Italian roast coffee beans, the price depends on the brand, quality of beans, and country of origin.
Depending on these factors, you can find budget-friendly coffee beans or pricy beans for both types of dark roasts.
How Is French Roast Made?
The phrase “French roast coffee beans” has to do with the roasting style, not the type of coffee bean used.
Contrary to popular belief, it didn’t actually originate in France; when the name came about, it was created by Americans to describe the common European roasting style used across the entire continent.
In most cases, these Arabica or Robusta beans come from major coffee-producing countries like Indonesia, Nicaragua, or Kenya.
French roasted coffee is cooked to a high temperature of about 455℉. While it’s cooking, the beans produce a cracking noise due to the high heat.
The second round of cracking indicates that the beans are fully roasted to “French” perfection.
After the roasting process, you're left with dark brown beans covered in shiny coffee oils. The dark flavor is perfect for a wide range of coffee drinks, especially those made with steamed milk.
How Is Italian Roast Made?
The process for making Italian dark roasts is similar to the French method.
The beans are cooked at a high temperature, but in this case, that temperature exceeds 455, often reaching about 470℉.
They’re roasted beyond the second crack just before the burning point.
Italian roast coffee beans are considered the darkest roast on the roasting spectrum. They are almost black in color and even shinier and oilier than medium roasts and French roast.
Reaching the perfect Italian roast can be tricky.
If this darker roast is left to cook for even a minute too long, the beans can burn, rendering them useless. For that reason, this dark roast requires constant monitoring.
Best Brewing Methods For French & Italian Roast Beans
Dark roast beans are extremely versatile for brewing a wide range of coffee styles, and that applies to both French and Italian roasts.
The key to brewing with dark roasts is to use a coarser grind, increase the coffee bean dose, and decrease the brewing water temperature.
Keep in mind that this is completely different from light roast blends, which require finely ground coffee beans, a lower dose, and a higher water temperature.
When comparing French roast vs Italian, French is considered to be the more versatile of the two.
I use French-roasted Arabica beans for tons of coffee recipes using an espresso machine, Moka pot, or drip brewer. I tend to use it most for the French press method of brewing.
Because it’s so dark and oily, Italian roast coffee isn’t quite as diverse.
It’s still suitable for plenty of brewing methods, but it’s best for brewing espresso, which is no surprise considering its Italian roots.
You’ll notice that most coffee shops use Italian roast blends for espresso coffee making.
Compared to different coffee roasts, Italian is great for making espresso thanks to its full body, slight bitterness, robust flavor, and smoky taste.
These are all perfect qualities for steamed milk-based drinks like cappuccinos and lattes.
Related French and Italian Roast Questions
Do you have to make espresso with French or Italian roast?
Technically, espresso can be made with any type of roast, but it’s best to choose medium-to-dark roast coffees that are full-bodied and rich in flavor. French and Italian roast beans will both work, although Italian roast is better for making espresso coffee.
Which is stronger, Starbucks Italian or French roast?
Starbucks' Italian roast coffee is stronger than the brand's French roasted coffee. Both Starbucks French and Italian roasts are dark and flavorful, but a cup of coffee made from the Italian roast beans will be slightly stronger, heavier, and smokier in flavor.
Which is darker, French roast or Italian roast?
French roast and Italian roast coffees are both extremely dark, but Italian takes the prize when it comes to which is darker. Italian roasted coffee reaches higher temperatures during the roasting process, giving these beans an almost-black coloring.
What is espresso roast?
When you see “espresso roast” on a coffee label, this means that the product is suitable for brewing espresso shots. Espresso blends don’t necessarily have to be used with an espresso machine; an espresso roast can also be used with a drip brewer, Moka pot, French press, etc.
Is it necessary to roast coffee beans?
Unroasted coffee beans, also called green coffee beans, are extremely dense and have little flavor. This is exactly why it’s necessary that coffee beans undergo the roasting process - to reduce density and increase flavor.
Conclusion – Which Roast Do You Prefer?
To recap, French roast and Italian roast coffee beans are both dark roasts capable of brewing coffee with tons of flavor and body.
What's even better is that both are low in acidity, and both have a signature smoky flavor that many coffee lovers crave.
Because of the higher roasting temperatures, Italian roast coffee is darker, heavier, and lower in acidity.
It’s great for espresso machines, whereas French roast coffee is commonly used for French press, Moka pot, and pour-over brewing methods.