coffee beans

Dark Roast Coffees:
Ultimate Guide to the Best Beans

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By Matt Woodburn-Simmonds

Welcome to the Dark Side. Home of rich, oily, flavorful coffee beans bursting with toasty-smoky goodness.

Dark roast coffees go by many names: Viennese roast, French roast, Italian roast… Do you sense a theme here? And they are the oldest type of roasted coffee. Historically, the coffee beans were roasted by eye. Then, when the oils were visible, they were pulled out of the fire before burning.

Thankfully the process is somewhat more precise nowadays. And if you are someone who loves a rich, full-bodied, punch-in-the-face kind of brew, dark roasted coffee is King.

Yes, there are coffee snobs who turn their noses up at darker roasts. But, we believe in drinking what you love. And, when the marriage between quality and balance is spot on, dark roast coffees are a thing of beauty. Plus, you can still taste the growing region and processing method.

Here, we’ve picked out some of our favorite dark roast coffee beans for you to try. This will help you choose only the delicious, rich coffees and avoid the overly burnt, ashy flavored ones. So dive in and enjoy the flavors over the dark side.

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Quick Summary: Our Top Dark Roast Picks

Best for French Press: Volcanica, Costa Rica Tarrazú

Volcanica - Costa Rica Original Tarrazu

Roast: Dark

From: Tarrazú, Costa Rica

Flavor: Nuts, honey, chocolate & dried fruit

Luxury Pick: Koa Coffee, 100% Kona Peaberry

Hand holding a bag of Koa Coffee 100% Kona Peaberry (Medium Roast)

Roast: Dark

From: Hawaii

Flavor: Caramel & chocolate

Best for Espresso: Volcanica Espresso Roast

Volcanica - Espresso Blend Dark Roast Coffee

Roast: Dark

From: Blend

Flavor: Dark chocolate, caramel sweetness & nuts

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What Does Dark Roast Coffee Taste Like?

If bold coffee is what you’re after, dark roast coffees are your answer.

When dark roasting, the majority of the flavor comes from the roasting process and not from the coffee bean’s origin. Although some of the natural flavors are still there, what is most noticeable is the full-bodied bitterness. Many would describe it as a classic coffee flavor due to its strength, but that is a matter of personal preference.

The best dark roast coffees have a smooth, chocolatey flavor with toasty-smoky goodness bursting through. Depending on the type of coffee bean, processing method, and place of origin, there may be sweet, spicy, or nutty notes. So, the right choice for you depends on what flavors make your heart sing.

If you get a bad dark roast coffee, you will know about it pretty quickly. It will taste burnt and ashy. So definitely none of those recommended here!

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Best Dark Roast Coffees

Volcanica Costa Rica Dark Roast – Best for French Press

Costa Rica Reserve Tarrazu Coffee Dark Roast by Volcanica

What to Expect:

Source: Tarrazú, Costa Rica

Processing Method: Washed

Tasting notes: Nuts and honey with complex chocolate and dried fruit notes

Important notes: This Rainforest Alliance Certified coffee is 100% pure Arabica Costa Rica Tarrazu gourmet coffee (not easy to find), grown at high altitudes in volcanic soil.

From the superb growing region of Tarrazú in Costa Rica, this whole bean dark roast coffee offers a taste of one of the world’s finest coffee-producing countries. The high altitudes and abundance of volcanic soil make Costa Rica the ideal topography for growing amazing quality Arabica coffee.

Tarrazú is an incredible growing region offering up a bold taste and unusually silky flavors. However, lots of coffees that are allegedly from Tarrazú only actually contain around 5% Tarrazú beans. So, finding a coffee that is 100% Tarrrazú grown, like this one, is really quite special and the difference in quality shows.

Volcanica’s Dark Roasted Costa Rican coffee is also Rainforest Alliance Certified. This works as a kind of organic/ shade-grown combo.

You can expect bright acidity paired with complex nutty, fruit notes and the rich sweetness of a dark roast. Overall, it creates a delicious, complex cup of joe. If you love brewing coffee in a French press, this is a great pick.

Lifeboost Dark Roast – Stomach & Tooth Friendly

Lifeboost Dark Roast Coffees - Low acid so stomach and tooth friendly

What to Expect:

Source: Mt. Kilambé, Nicaragua

Processing Method: Washed

Tasting notes: Rich, silky chocolate and nuts

Important notes: All of Lifeboost’s coffee comes from a single family-run estate in Nicaragua where the coffee is shade-grown, organic, and GMO-free. Their goal is to create low acidity, stomach-friendly coffees

Lifeboost’s website looks a bit like an MLM for a health brand. But don’t let it put you off as their coffee beans are legitimately excellent.

All their coffee is grown at high altitudes on a family-run Nicaraguan coffee farm. Here, it is shade-grown beneath a canopy of guava trees using only organic farming practices. Being GMO-free and regularly tested, Lifeboost’s commitment to health and ensuring there are no nasties in their coffee is second to none.

Whilst some of their practices might be a little excessive, it does all feed into what they’re trying to do: provide the healthiest coffee possible.

The pH of Lifeboost coffee is between 6-7 (most coffee is between 4-6). This makes it much friendlier for those who have issues with acidic foods or get stomach irritation from drinking coffee. The lower acidity gives a rich and very smooth feel to the brewed coffee as well which goes very well with the rich and silky flavors of their dark roast coffee offering.

Koa Peaberry Dark Roast 100% Kona Coffee – Luxury Pick

Koa Peaberry Dark Roast Whole Bean 100% Kona Coffee - Luxury Pick

What to Expect:

Source: Hawaii

Tasting notes: Full-bodied, big aroma with punchy caramel and chocolate notes

Important notes: Dubbed the “Champagne of Coffee”, peaberries are rare – only 5% of all Kona coffee are peaberries and, with demand rising, it is becoming increasingly more difficult to get hold of them

To be classified as Kona coffee, the coffee beans must come from the Kona district on the Big Island, Hawaii. Over time, Kona has built a superb reputation for quality and rarity – Hawaii is not a big place after all.

With Kona Peaberry coffee, you are looking for the rarest of the rare:

Peaberry coffee is when one seed forms in the cherry rather than two facing each other. Due to their uniqueness (and delicious flavors), they are often considered the “Champagne of Coffee Beans”. The single seeds have more complexity and depth of flavor than regular beans.

With only 5% of Kona tree cherries being peaberry, it’s seriously unique stuff. So, if you want to have something special for your espresso then Koa coffee estate dark roast whole bean coffee is the one to have. To really get the best out of these dark roasted coffee beans, they should be enjoyed as an espresso. This allows you to appreciate the full nuance of the Kona Peaberry.

Don’t get us wrong, this isn’t a cheap option. However, considering its rarity and excellent flavor, we can’t complain too much. But maybe one for the luxury espresso to treat yourself rather than every day.

Tiny Footprint Nicaraguan Dark Roast – Budget Pick

Tiny Footprint Fair Trade Organic Nicaragua Segovia Dark Roast, Whole Bean Coffee, USDA Organic, Fair Trade Certified, Carbon Negative

What to Expect:

Source: Nueva Segovia, Nicaragua

Processing Method: Washed

Tasting notes: Smooth chocolate, apricot, fig, and spice

Important notes: Tiny Footprint is the world’s first carbon-negative coffee so every cup is a taste of a better future. Plus, it’s shade-grown and organic certified

If you’re looking for the most environmentally friendly coffee available, then Tiny Footprint has you covered:

They donate a portion of every sale to planting trees in the Mindo cloud forest of Ecuador. Doing so removes huge quantities of CO2 from the atmosphere – so much that they are carbon-negative. Plus, it provides habitats for other plants and animals. Not only this, but Tiny Footprint Nicaraguan dark roast is organic and shade-grown certified. And, most importantly, it tastes great.

Grown in the Nueva Segovia region of Nicaragua, this affordable dark roast coffee has highlights of apricot and fig from the terroir of Nicaragua. Plus rich chocolate and a full body from the dark roasting process.

As well as the environmental pledges, Tiny Footprint also works to improve the living conditions of those in the regions that grow their coffee by improving education and medical care. So, as dark roast coffees go, this is one you can feel really good about drinking.

Volcanica Espresso Blend – Best Espresso Dark Roast Coffee

Espresso Dark Roast Coffee by Volcanica - Best Dark Roast Espresso Coffee Beans

What to Expect:

Source: Blend

Processing Method: Washed

Tasting notes: Dark chocolate, dense caramel sweetness, nuts with a spicy aroma

Important notes: All Volcanica coffee beans are grown in rich volcanic soil at elevations above 3,000ft resulting in complex, rich flavor profiles. Plus, they are Fair Trade and Rainforest Alliance certified

Next on our top dark roast coffee picks is Volcanica Coffee’s Espresso Roast blend. It is the perfect option for espresso lovers looking for something dark, rich, and full-bodied. This blend is unapologetically about the flavors of the roast, rather than the beans.

The chocolate, caramel, and nut flavor profile paired with the spicy aroma work brilliantly for all espresso drinks. Whether you are looking to enjoy your espresso alone or in a latte or cappuccino, you are guaranteed a great time. The addition of milk (animal or plant-based), brings out the sweeter caramelized notes from the roast.

Volcanica does all the right things when it comes to growing their coffee too. So you can be confident your espresso beans have been grown whilst looking after the environment and the people who grow them.

Equator Coffees, Wolf it Down Espresso Blend

Equator Coffees Wolf it Down Espresso Blend

What to Expect:

Source: Peru, Sumatra, Ethiopia blend

Processing Method: Washed

Tasting notes: Almonds, chocolate, and roasted spices

Important notes: For every bag sold, $3 goes to Restaurants Care – an organization that provides financial support to restaurant employees facing an unforeseen hardship. The complex espresso blend combines organic and Fair Trade certified coffees

Equator Coffees use the proceeds from their coffees to engage in a range of charity projects. And their Wolf it Down Espresso Blend gets our vote for best dark roast coffee partly because it’s delicious and partly because the cause is one close to our hearts:

For every bag of Wolf it Down Espresso, Equator Coffees donate $3 to Restaurants Care. This non-profit works with restaurant employees who have fallen on hard times. Since we have both spent the majority of our lives in the restaurant industry, we know many people who would have benefited from such a program. So, to offer support whilst also drinking great coffee is a win-win. 

This espresso blend is a combination of Peruvian, Ethiopian, and Sumatran beans. The complex profile includes the classic chocolate, nuts, and spice that dark roast coffees are renowned for. It really is the perfect match for your espresso-drinking needs.

Equator Coffees are also certified organic and Fair Trade. So you know the right practices are being followed at the farms as well as closer to home.

Death Wish – World’s Strongest Coffee

DEATH WISH COFFEE Whole Bean Dark Roast Coffees, The World's Strongest

What to Expect:

Source: Peru and India

Tasting notes: Intensely strong with dark chocolate and cherry flavor profile

Important notes: As the “World’s Strongest Coffee” there is double the strength of the average cup of coffee, but without bitterness. USDA certified organic and Fair Trade

For many of us, coffee is the elixir that drags us out of bed kicking and screaming into the day. If that sounds like you, Death Wish Coffee has been designed with you in mind – jolting your day to a start rather than gently guiding you.

Made from a blend of Arabica and Robusta coffee beans, Death Wish Coffee is an intense hit but with surprisingly little bitterness. You can expect a combination of dark cherry and chocolate with the deeper, earthier notes of Robusta combined with the fruitier and more delicate aromas of the Arabica beans.

USDA Certified Organic and Fair Trade, Death Wish Coffee ensures its beans are grown the right way. For many caffeine fiends, this is the only option with double the strength of the average cup of coffee. You just need to love your flavors as big and bold as possible.

Koffee Kult Dark Roast Coffee

Koffee Kult Dark Roast Coffee Beans

What to Expect:

Source: Colombia, Guatemala, Sumatra, Brazil

Processing Method: Washed

Tasting notes: Rich, powerful cocoa notes, with fruit and cinnamon flavors

Important notes: Koffee Kult roasts the top 2% of specialty coffee beans sourced from organic farms worldwide

Koffee Kult Dark Roast coffee beans are a bold, punch-in-the-face kind of coffee. From the aroma to the flavor, you can’t miss the rich roastiness.

The company has nailed its quirky branding and grown quickly as fan favorites since launching in 2010. Koffee Kult was born out of the founder’s boredom of average-tasting coffee. So, he decided to turn his hand to roasting his own.

To ensure the greatest-tasting coffee, Koffee Kult sources 100% premium organic Arabica coffee beans hand-picked from the top 2% of specialty coffee farms.

The bold bitterness means these coffee beans are best suited to cold brew to mellow out some of the bigger flavors. But, even with the big notes, this is still an incredibly clean and smooth-tasting coffee.

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So, What Exactly is Dark Roasted Coffee?

Coffee roasting is an essential part of the coffee bean’s journey from the farm to your cup. It’s the process that turns the vegetal-tasting green coffee beans into the delicious brown beans that go into our beloved cup of coffee.

There are several different levels of coffee roast, with dark roast coffees being at the ‘roastiest’ side of the scale.

To achieve a dark roast, the internal roast of the coffee beans must exceed 462ºF (239ºC). And, even with the darkest coffee roasts, the process is stopped when the bean’s internal temperature reaches 474ºF (246ºC). If the coffee roaster kept going, there is a genuine danger of the beans catching fire.

Quality roasters will stop roasting as soon as they hit the 462ºF temperature to preserve as much flavor from the beans as possible. By the time you’re at the upper end of dark roast, you’re really just tasting the roast, not the coffee beans themselves anymore.

When creating dark roasted coffee beans, all the oils from inside the beans are released. This gives a sheen to the outside of the dark brown/ almost black coffee beans.

If you want to learn more about Coffee Roasting and the different Roast Levels, we have put together a complete guide just for you:

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Is Dark Roast Coffee Stronger?

There is a common myth that dark roast coffees have more caffeine than the other types of coffee roasts.

But, in truth, the difference in caffeine content between roasts is pretty negligible. 

Ultimately, the coffee roaster started with the same coffee bean with its own inherent level of caffeine. Subjecting it to heat for longer does not somehow make it stronger.

Where the difference lies is in your brewing method and how many coffee beans you use. As many dark roasted coffee beans are a little smaller than their light roast coffee counterparts, it is possible to use more beans to produce the same amount of coffee. So, a teeny bit more caffeine but not enough to make your day at work seem easier.

Read Next: Why Caffeine Doesn’t Affect Me

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Best Brewing Methods for Dark Roast Coffees

To get the best from your dark roast coffee beans, there are three brewing methods that will deliver the best results:

French press, Moka pot, and Espresso.

Dark roast coffee beans have fully released all the oils from within the seeds and caramelized the sugars. This produces a bold and rich flavored cup of coffee, no matter how you brew it. So it’s really a matter of taste.

French Press

For us, the French press brewing method offers the most complexity from whole bean dark roast coffee. Although, many people aren’t a fan of the oily and slightly silty texture.

Steeping keeps all the stuff that makes the coffee delicious in the cup so you get the full flavor experience. It’s the best way to taste the terroir that your dark roast beans were grown in. This is what makes Volcanica’s dark roast from Tarrazu, Costa Rica a phenomenal choice of coffee beans for French press.

Moka Pot

Espresso and Moka pot will both yield a full-bodied, rich, and darkly flavored coffee. Although the nuance of the coffee bean’s provenance will be harder to discern from these methods compared to the French press.

For home brewing, the Moka pot (e.g. the Bialetti Moka Express or De’Longhi Alicia) is the cheaper and easier option. However, it won’t produce as rich and full-bodied a coffee as an espresso machine. But you will be rewarded with a syrupy, rich brew with the full-frontal profile you’re looking for from dark roast coffees.

Espresso

Many coffee aficionados will tell you that espresso made from dark roast coffee beans is what coffee is supposed to taste like. After all, it’s called “espresso roast” for a reason. The slightly bitter, full-bodied cup of black liquid is the punchy hit needed in the morning or after a meal.

That said, there are many coffee snobs who will sneer at the lack of delicacy presented in such a drink. But life is about doing what makes you happy so if dark roast espresso is your thing, drink on!

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Our Verdict

When done well, dark roast coffees can be a delicious, rich, and flavorful way to enjoy your coffee.

For us, Volcanica Tarrazú Dark Roast comes out on top. The complexity of the growing region shines through and creates an incredible cup of coffee. But, no matter which of the best dark roast coffee beans you opt for, you are in for a treat.

So, why not try them all and expand your dark horizons!

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Matt Woodburn-Simmonds

Matt's coffee obsession started in 2006 when working as a Barista. A tendency to turn up to work hungover kickstarted his coffee journey which quickly turned into a love affair. As he moved on to work as a Restaurant Manager and Sommelier, the obsession continued to grow. Now, his passion is helping others to enjoy better coffee at home.

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