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A great way to think of dark roast coffee is: “Taste the heat, not the sweet.” It’s called that because out of all the roasting techniques, the beans are left in the oven the longest. That makes them turn dark brown to an almost black with an oily sheen. When you drink it, the robust, nutty flavor of the roasting overwhelms the fruity, complex flavor of the coffee bean. It can have a hard, bitter aftertaste, too.
Dark roasts pair best with milk-based drinks like lattes and cappuccinos because that robust flavor is cut and softened by the milk. You can drink them by themselves, of course. One thing we have to warn you about: the idea that dark roasts have more caffeine is an urban legend. In fact, the roasting process decreases the amount of caffeine in coffee.
If you want to find the best–tasting dark roast coffee, we wrote these reviews for you. We paired them with a quick buyer‘s guide at the end to give you an idea of not only what’s good, but why.
|Kicking Horse Coffee “Grizzly Claw”|
|Starbucks French Roast Ground Coffee|
(Top Ground Coffee Pick)
|Don Pablo Decaf Whole Bean Coffee|
(Top Decaf Pick)
|Mayorga Organics Cafe Cubano||Whole Bean||4.2/5|
|AmazonFresh Whole Bean Coffee||Whole Bean||4.0/5|
Kicking Horse Coffee’s Grizzly Claw beans are the best dark roast coffee beans we reviewed. They‘re reasonably priced. In buying whole beans, you can control how coarsely or finely they’re ground based on your preferred brewing method.
You’ll like the balance and smooth flavor these have. Unlike other dark roasts, there is no bitterness, only a coffee with a flavor so strong it wills you awake, and a hint of chocolate.
That said, when this is brewed for espresso, it loses a little something. It’s like a champion sprinter who, in the last 10 meters, loses a quarter step.
It might be a bit of a surprise that we chose as best dark roast ground coffee the French Roast from Starbucks. It’s pretty fashionable in these things to go with a specialty brand with an edgy name. In this case, going familiar is the same as going gold.
Starbucks French Roast has great flavor and depth, and this coffee delivers it consistently. So many coffees are hit and miss. It also uses the Starbucks buying power to great effect. Most top picks are really expensive. This one is affordable.
One thing we don’t like about this particular coffee is that it’s grounds, not whole beans. That means it’ll lose freshness more quickly than whole beans. You’re also limited in what brewing methods you can use.
Dark roast coffee in general is lower in caffeine than lighter coffees, because the roasting process destroys it. It’s also naturally lower in acid. So, if you’ve got health issues that steer you away from traditional coffees, a decaf dark roast is a good way to go.
Our pick for best dark roast decaf coffee is Don Pablo’s Whole Bean Coffee Medium-Dark Roast. It hits three high points for us. It’s got a great, full flavor because it’s processed with water instead of synthetic chemicals and won’t put a serious hit on your wallet. Most other decafs have a problem, especially with the taste issue.
One thing to note is that it’s not a full dark roast. It’s a medium-dark roast, so it’s not quite the real deal.
Pound for pound, Mayorga Organics Cafe Cubano Dark Roast might be the best value of the coffees we looked at. For the same money you might pay for a pound of an upper-end coffee, you get two, and those two punch well above their weight class in what they deliver.
If you love Cuban coffee, this is the one to buy. A fine grind on these whole beans brings out their best, and it makes a great espumita when whipped with sugar. Plus, we always recommend buying whole beans to maintain maximum freshness, and so you have control over how finely you grind beans you’re spending good money for.
Note that if you drink this as a standalone coffee, the flavor isn’t quite the same as other dark roasts. It’s not quite as robust.
We are always intrigued by Amazon coffee products. The company is best known for revolutionizing the distribution of goods, and we were curious and then impressed by its line of K-cups. When we got a chance to look at its whole bean coffee, we wasted no time doing it.
When we say that this is an Amazon product, that’s high praise. It uses 100 percent Arabica beans, which, when roasted dark, produce a coffee with some of the lowest acid levels possible. It also puts the Amazon purchasing power to good use in terms of consumer pricing. If you want good coffee on a budget, this is a great option. We also like that it’s sold as whole beans, which means it stays fresh longer and allows you to grind them however you prefer.
The beans have a bit of a burnt flavor, and a fine grind did a better job of pulling out the most from them. If you’re making a cappuccino, that might make these perfect. If you’re into cold brew, not so much. We also have to recognize that while Amazon’s distribution can get you a socket set, new underwear, or a vacuum filter in two days, if you run out of its coffee and need some that minute, you’re out of luck.
We didn’t hate Community Coffee’s Signature Blend Dark Roast. We just didn’t like it all that much.
There are two compelling reasons you might want to buy it. The first is that because it’s made from 100 percent Arabica beans, it’s naturally low in acid. Roasting it a long time destroys even more of it. If you’re looking for a stomach-friendly coffee, this is a good choice. The other is that it’s a great value. You can get a lot of decent coffee for just a little money.
You’re getting what you’re paying for, however. It isn’t as bold, complex, or full as some dark roasts. We also mark it down as a pre-ground coffee. Ground coffee goes stale faster than whole beans, and if you want to get the most out of your beans, you’re limited in how you can brew it.
Contrary to what the company says, Death Wish Ground Coffee is not the world’s strongest coffee. Much of what people think that entails is that the coffee has a massive amount of caffeine. Caffeine is destroyed in the roasting process, and coffees of the light roast variety are by extension stronger.
We found that this is a pretty good dark roast. It’s got a robust flavor that works on a couple of different levels.
It’s also really expensive. You can get coffee only slightly less flavorful for a lot less money. What you wind up paying for is the right to say you bought the world’s strongest coffee, which it isn’t.
There is a whole range of gimmick coffees out there. We already looked at Death Wish, and now we’ve got Koffee Kult, which is a natural play on its addictive qualities. For the most part, we find these brews lacking when it counts. This is one of those cases.
We do think this has a lot of potential for cold brew, which levels out a lot of the bitterness. If you make your coffee that way, this is a pretty good choice. Any other way, you’re contending with reduced flavors that have a burnt quality to them. This one also comes with a plastic zipper on the bag that‘s a nightmare to use.
In the whole bean coffee market, Olde Brooklyn Dark Roast is in the bargain bin. It’s for people who can’t afford anything better and for people who don’t know any better.
That makes it a very affordable coffee that is separated from the giant tubs sold by major brands by the fact that it’s sold as whole beans, which is a better way to buy coffee than pre-ground.
When it comes to quality, it just isn’t there. It’s got a burnt taste and a pretty mediocre flavor. On a list of pros and cons, that might make it two-to-two, but in reality the weight of the quality is so sizable that it’s really two-to-seven.
Peet’s Coffee has a pretty devoted and vocal customer base, so we’re a bit nervous about giving its Major Dickason’s Blend dark roast our bottom ranking.
We justify it for a couple of reasons. Well, one big reason, which is that the coffee is substandard. Compared to other dark roasts, it’s very mediocre in the flavor department. You’re drinking this as a standalone drink, but if you want to get something more sophisticated, you need to spend the money. It also goes stale pretty quickly. We suspect it sits in a warehouse somewhere while getting processed.
We will allow that it’s pretty affordable. If you want to pay a little more so you don’t have to suffer through a tub of major brand coffee, this is an acceptable choice.
We gave Kicking Horse Coffee’s Grizzly Claw our top pick for dark roast coffee beans because it does everything well. We like that it’s affordable enough to experiment with, but really like its flavor profile. If you’re looking for pure espresso coffee, however, it loses something in the process. Starbucks French Roast was our favorite ground coffee because for a major brand, it’s consistently great dark roast flavor without any of the bitterness. It’s also competitively priced. It’s ground coffee, however, so it loses its freshness faster and isn’t as versatile for alternative brewing techniques.
Don Pablo’s Whole Bean Coffee Medium-Dark Roast was our choice for best dark roast decaf. It’s lighter than most decafs, but it’s got great flavor. Mayorga Organics Cafe Cubano is an outstanding deal and makes a great cup of Cuban coffee, but as a standalone dark roast its flavor is just a bit different. We found the AmazonFresh Dark Roast Whole Bean a dependable coffee with low acid and great value. Of course, if you need it right away, you can’t go down to the local grocery to get it.
Community Coffee’s Signature Blend Dark Roast is excellent for people on a tight budget, but you get what you pay for, and what you’re paying for is pretty mediocre. Death Wish bills itself as the world’s strongest coffee. It is not. It is, however, a very expensive coffee and what you’re paying for is the marketing. Koffee Kult’s Dark Roast Coffee Beans are okay. The flavor is a bit lacking and burnt. It’s also got a zip closing that we advise you use once, to pour your beans into a different container.
Olde Brooklyn’s Dark Roast comes in whole beans, which sets it apart from the garbage coffee sold in giant plastic tubs by major brands. It’s one of the best bargains you’ll find, but there’s a difference between bargain and value, and in terms of quality this is the Wonder Bread of good coffees. Peet’s Coffee Major Dickason’s Blend dark roast has a good price. It’s pre-ground, which means it’ll go stale faster, but we’re not sure how much you’d notice given the overall starting quality.
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Featured image credit: ppisti12, Pixabay
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