French Roast appears to be a best seller among coffee enthusiasts. It has a strong, robust flavor with a dense, dark look. Said to “wake the dead,” it brings to mind the demi-tasse of espresso served in France morning, day, and night. Ah, the French, those lovers of exquisite food, melt-in-your-mouth pastries, and earth-blessed wines and champagnes! French-roast coffee must be the best, right?
Not so! Having enjoyed many a coffee with friends across France, I was eager to return the favor. When they came to the United States, I took them to a favorite coffeehouse in Berkeley where they could relax at outdoor tables, sip a French coffee, and watch the students go by. Each ordered French roast, remarking that it would be fabulous to drink a real French coffee after weeks of weak restaurant coffee while they saw the US national parks.
It never occurred to me to have a camera ready. Seven French faces showed expressions of disbelief and disappointment! “Ce n’est pas français! C’est brûlé!” (“This is not French! It is burned!”) An animated discussion followed, with much head shaking and hand signals indicating the injustice being perpetrated upon the American public via a fraudulent reference to France.
What transpired is that the intense, dark, aromatic coffee beloved by the French is created by starting with a large quantity of ground light- or medium-roast coffee beans, then adding the perfect amount of water. For the French press or filter cone, this means a heaping tablespoon of coffee per 6 to 8 ounces of water. For an espresso drink, the French barrista uses enough light-to-medium roasted coffee to create that intense, delightful tablespoon or two of ambrosia. A double shot of espresso is considered one serving.
Who knows where and why “French roast” originated? Was it to create a more economical pot of coffee where less coffee and more water came together to yield a dark, heavy brew? Was it a marketing term? Whatever the reason, it is here to stay.
Back to the coffee preferences of my French friends: they found a light-roasted coffee at Cost Plus that was just right and made their morning cafés au lait at my home. Each morning, someone was sure to say that this was a true French coffee, not “that burned stuff” that was being foisted on the American public.
Try it for yourself. Find a light roast, perhaps from Colombia, and use the heaping tablespoon per eight ounces of water ratio. Add a few ounces of warmed milk for the French version. Please add your comments about what worked and which coffee you liked.
Either way, my French friends will appreciate it if you remember that French Roast is not French.