“Do you have a dark roast?” is a common question at Chazzano Coffee Roasters. One reason is that many of the coffee lovers have grown up on Starbucks Coffee which are almost always dark roasted. There is also a myth that dark roasted coffee is stronger than lighter roasted coffee. What makes a particular coffee bold or strong? There are many variables- flavor profile (various flavor notes), mouthfeel, body, and complexity. Even the ratio of coffee to water and the fineness of grind contributes to the strength of the coffee. Boldness and strength are truly relative. Ethiopia Harrar is often considered bold because it has great complexity of flavor notes- blueberry, cherry, pipe tobacco, orange marmalade with a red wine finish. Yemen Mocca Sanani is bold even though it is a very light roast because it has an earthy mouthfeel and notes of pepper. Pepper notes tend to add body to a coffee selection. The rich mouthfeel of the Malawi Mindali Estate also creates boldness because of the chewy combination of blackberry, boysenberry, and juniper berry notes. Finally, the Nicaragua Jinotega as a true dark roast, a Vienna Roast, tastes strong because of the nutty notes and earthy mouthfeel that seems to cling to your entire palate.
So, the strength of the coffee is not related to dark roasts. However, there are some coffees that are suitable dark roasts. Why? High grown coffees are best suited for darker roasts. The reason is that high grown coffees have greater complexity because of the longer time it takes to develop at higher altitudes. In addition, that longer period of growth increases the density of the bean. The combination of denser bean, the longer period that the coffee develops the sugars of the fruit surrounding it, and therefore the greater complexity, allows the coffee bean to be roasted at higher temperatures. Roasting coffee at Vienna Roast (dark with no oil on the bean), French Roast (darker with some flavor oils on the bean), or Italian Roast (very dark, very oily), burns off the various preferred notes that are inherent in that single origin coffee. When I roast Kenya AA coffee accidentally to a dark roast, it is truly unusable. It loses all of the notes that make Kenya AA special- apricots, caramel, and apple. It will taste bitterish and astringent. However, when I roast the Nicaragua Jinotega Las Camelias to a Vienna or French Roast, there is little loss of flavor, and there is great sweetness that is created with the dark roast.
A few years ago, Chazzano coffee sold some Nicaragua Maragojipe coffee beans that were absolutely huge in size. Maragojipe is actually a natural mutant of the typica coffee varietal. I used to roast this coffee to a French Roast. I’m usually embarrassed to sell coffee that is oily looking- it shows a lack of knowledge of roasting. The usual reason to roast coffee extremely dark is to hide the taints of old, low quality, or stale coffee. This French Roast Nicaragua Marogipe was exquisite. It had notes of strawberry, rhubarb, almonds, with a bold syrupy mouthfeel. Of course, the Maragojipe was grown over 4500 feet above sea level. So, when you ask for a dark roasted coffee from Chazzano Coffee Roasters, you will receive a specialty coffee that was grown at over 4500 feet above sea level and has the complexity and density to overcome the intense higher temperatures in the roaster.