Dark Roast Coffee. Is dark roasting masking poor quality?

These dark, almost black beans with their slick, oily finsih are characteristic of dark roast coffee.

Everywhere we look we see only dark roasted coffee. It seems to be everywhere these days. If you look closely at the bean hoppers in most high street coffee shops, especially the large chains, you’ll see the dark, shiny, slightly oily-looking beans that reveal that the coffee has been roasted within an inch of its life.

Now, dark roasted coffee can be very good, even exquisite sometimes. An expert roaster, given top quality beans, can create a dark roasted blend that is rich in flavour, smooth, satisfying and delightful to the nose and the palate. This is why dark roasted beans were so popular in in the best gourmet roasts from Italy and France in the latter half of the 20th century. Alas, these fine, expert dark roasts have almost disappeared and have been replaced by a different creature altogether, the mass-market, oily, semi-carbonised and frankly, pretty nasty coffee that we see everywhere today.

Coffee beans. Medium roast Arabica beans

Meduim roastes coffee retails its depth, complexity

The fact is that roasting a sub-standard coffee to the point of almost burning it is the easiest way to disguise faults and to mask the most unsavoury elements of the bean with the woody and carbonised primary taste notes that were the the initial impression of the gourmet French and Italian blends of the past. Unfortunately, this first sensation is usually followed by flat, acrid aftertaste and a vague sensation of ashiness on the palate. These are the tell-tale signs of poor coffee being over-roasted to mask its faults. These coffees have no length, no subtlety and none of the elements that transform coffee into something extraordinary that will lift your spirits and improve your day.

We love coffee here at Greenbean and it truly galls us to see how most roasters pass over the amazing, subtle and delicate beans that cost only a few cent more per kilo than the mass-market unremarkable beans that they over-roast into indifferent unsatisfying coffee. We know why they do it, but it is still upsetting. If you’re going to destroy the texture and structure of a bean in the roaster by turning the temperature up after the first bean crack,and if you’re going to run the roaster on as the beans shrink and carbonise, well then it really doesn’t make much difference how you handle the coffee, how you store it and whether you leave it on the shelf for a few weeks before you ship it out. The damage is done at that stage and there’s no going back. It’s cheaper, it’s easier but it’s a total cop-out.

It takes more time, more skill and above all, better beans to make a fine medium roast. Nearly all our coffee is medium roasted; fine, bright beans each variety roasted separately to the exact peak of its perfection and blended with other origins that have been treated in the same way. This takes longer and is more difficult to do but it’s worth it. It’s always worth it. If you want subtle and sophisticated flavours, finish and aroma, it’s the only way it’s possible. We use our skill in buying and blending to select beans that yield that richness, complexity and strength without sacrificing their delicacy and body. It’s a pity more roasters don’t do the same.

Great coffee neeeds great beans

The next time you’re in a coffee shop, look into the bean hopper above the grinder and check the colour of the beans. Over the past 15 years, all the mass-market big bulk roasters have been churning out inferior dark roasts to the extent that it is rare to see properly roasted beans these days. The first thing I look at when I go into a place I’ve never been before is look at the bean hopper. It’s rarer and rarer to spot bright, medium roast beans these days. It’s always a nice surprise because you know that even if it isn’t as good as Greenbean, that at least the beans have been given a chance to retain some of their flavour, their individuality and their magic. Give the beans a chance, that’s all we ask.