In Defense of Dark Roasts
I came across this Instagram ad a few weeks back from a company I’m choosing not to name, because the sentiment purveys so much of the specialty coffee industry that it really doesn’t even matter who said it. However here’s the ad with the name cropped out:
Now there are several damned near baseless claims in this ad about dark roast coffee all tasting the same, dark roast coffee being of poor quality, and other completely unfounded statements. I want to work through some of their claims about dark roast coffee without getting too geeky and talk about why I love dark roast coffee so much.
Practice what you preach.
After the immediate visceral reaction to the indignation of the ad, I went to read more about the company. On their FAQ page, they talk about how the “elitist attitude of coffee really bugged the hell out of me,” and that baristas with a “you aren’t worthy” attitude gives specialty coffee a bad name. This is the same company that is openly expressing disgust towards a roasting style of coffee that hundreds of millions of people across the world drink every day.
If you are shitting on dark roast coffee, YOU are the one with the elitist attitude. This ad oozes that “you aren’t worthy” feeling towards coffee drinkers who enjoy a darker roast. Coffee is not just about the flavor, its about the feelings it gives you. So many coffee lovers have good feelings they can associate with dark roast coffee. So even if the flavor is somehow inherently inferior (news flash-its not), to talk down to people who enjoy it is just absurd.
And it hurts me. It hurts me to see this thing I love be appropriated by people who want to package it their way and shove it down our throats as the best and only way to do it. Dark roast coffee kicks ass, especially specialty grade dark roast.
“All dark roast coffee tastes the same.”
“Roasting coffee is not a moral quandary, it’s an aesthetic”–Joe Marroco, Coffee Roasters Guild
There’s been a trend over the last decade in specialty coffee towards extremely light roasted coffees, and there’s nothing inherently wrong with that. But it’s my fear that as this trend continues to shift light, dark roasts are and will continue to be considered inferior. Everyone has their own taste preferences and that’s okay, but dark roast coffee can absolutely be high quality, specialty grade coffee with its own distinct flavor notes.
Just because a coffee is dark, and I mean really dark, doesn’t mean it loses its inherent flavor characteristics. In fact, I think in a lot of cases roasting dark brings out the best in a coffee.
Coffee beans grow on a plant, they are the seeds of a cherry. The way that the cherry is grown makes a massive difference on the taste of the roasted product. Such factors as soil composition, elevation, temperature, and crop diversity all contribute to the flavors you get in the final brewed cup. They are factors that, as a roaster, I take into consideration when crafting blends or single origin dark roasts.
These core attributes guide the taste of the coffee in ALL of the varying roast degrees, even the darkest, most “burnt” coffee you could ever roast. As a roaster I pick specific coffees that I know have high moisture content and good density because I need them to hold their cellular integrity and express certain flavors even at high temperatures.
Where and how the coffee was grown informs the taste profile regardless of how dark the roast is. So to say that all dark roast coffee tastes the same, that it all tastes burnt, is literal disinformation.
According to the Specialty Coffee Association, in 2012 about 37% of the coffee consumed in the US was specialty grade, meaning that an independent group of coffee tasters rated it at an 80 or above on a scale of 100.
I don’t have the stats to back this up but I can promise you the vast majority of coffee falling below that 80 point margin is dark roasted. It might end up as pre ground or even instant coffee, but it is dark. So of the 150 million people in the United States who drink coffee every day, some odd 90 million of them are likely drinking dark roast coffee.
There’s a lot of benefits to drinking specialty coffee. Odds are specialty coffee is going to provide better financial security to the producers at origin. It is less likely to use harmful pesticides, more likely to be free of child labor, and more likely to be better for the environment. Because of the point system it has to perform well in, specialty grade coffee is much more likely to taste better. It’s my opinion that if everyone drank specialty grade coffee, the coffee drinking world would be a dramatically better place from seed to cup.
With that being said, dark roast specialty coffee must exist. It needs to exist and it needs to be the delicious, high quality product that it can be so that those 63% of coffee drinking folks out there can have their own unique experience with the coffee and understand it under their own terms. Meeting people where they’re at is the only way that we can all someday drink sustainably sourced specialty grade coffee.
I started Midnight because I was sick and tired of people trying to dictate how other people enjoy their coffee. I wanted to create a coffee company that roasts coffees that are easy to love, and hard to forget. You don’t need 3 Michelin stars to taste whether or not a coffee is good. You know your own preferences, you tell me if you think its good!
The truth is, I love dark roast coffee. I start every day with a huge cup of it. I love the smokiness, the woody and cedar flavors, the high viscosity and low acidity. So fuck the haters. And buy a bag of BlackBirds Brew.