Your Quick Guide to French Roast Coffee

Your Quick Guide to French Roast Coffee


For many years, French roast coffee has been among the most popular types of coffee around.  We certainly sell plenty of it!  But the funny thing is, not too many people outside the coffee industry know what French roast coffee actually is.  In fact, strictly speaking, “French” roast coffee isn’t even French!

So, what is French roast?  The answer might surprise you.

What Is French Roast Coffee?

Most people assume that “French roast” refers to a type of bean, or perhaps a specific roasting process.  At the least, they’d assume it comes from France.

However, the truth is this:  “French roast” only describes the color of the bean!

Basically, coffee-roasters back in the 18th and 19th century created a chart that coded coffees based on their color and, to a lesser extent, how oily the surface was.  This chart used fairly arbitrary names to describe the color of coffee beans.  For example, a “New England” bean was very light with a dry shell, whereas “Italian” was extremely dark and oily.

Then “French” was on the dark side of the middle of the chart.

These were based on a broad generalization of the colors typically seen in a nation’s coffee but did not refer to any specific type of bean or preparation method.  So, “French roast” was basically just a medium-dark brew.

Today, coffee color ratings are done with precise analysis, as defined by the Specialty Coffee Association of America.  Using a spectrographic system called an Agtron meter, they measure the color profile of roasted beans, on a scale that runs from 0-100 where lower is darker.  Based on their definitions, a “French roast” bean has an Agtron rating between 28-35.

That’s honestly it.  In theory, any bean coming out of any roasting method could be called “French roast.”  It merely has to be the right color to get that 28-35 Agtron rating.

Bonus Fun Fact!

While we’re on the topic of (not) “French” coffees, “French vanilla” isn’t actually a thing either.  When talking about ice cream, “French vanilla” refers to a specific recipe involving egg yolks.  But when talking about coffee, there’s no standard.  Any vanilla-flavored coffee could be called “French vanilla.”

Café Don Pedro Knows Coffee

For over 35 years, we’ve been searching the world for the best coffees – and we use Certified Organic farms to ensure top-quality at all times.  To explore our wide range of amazing brews, just click here.