Ah, the "dark roast"... one of the most shamed phrases in the Specialty Coffee world. But why, and should the dark roast continue to be shunned in the Specialty Coffee industry?
With the release of our newest coffee line - the Night Rider dark roast, we explore the complicated relationship of dark roasted coffee with Third Wave coffee shops and try to chart a new path for the future of Specialty Coffee.
First of all, if you don't see any problems with a Specialty Coffee/Third Wave Shop serving a dark roast, then sweet! You probably don't have to read this... however you may have been told by a coffee shop in the past, "We don't do dark roast." If you continue reading, you'll find out why some companies have seen it as the enemy.
* For the purpose of this article, dark roast is defined as a coffee that has entered second crack during roasting. A light roast (or for the purpose of this article, any coffee not a dark roast) is defined as a coffee roasted not to the point of the onset of second crack.
Most Third Wave Roasters: Dark roast is just a way to pass cheap, low quality coffees to consumers for a profit.
Our response: What if we used a high quality single farm coffee bought directly from a farmer... the same coffee we roast lighter and sell alongside of all our other coffees and in doing so filled a need in the Specialty Coffee market for those looking for a coffee they are used to?
As illustrated above, if you ask most companies that don't roast/serve a dark roast, many will tell you their disdain lies in the fact that many large corporate roasting companies simply dark roast cheaper beans to hide defective flavor. Furthermore, many Specialty Roasters see this as disingenuous because these big companies sell a ton of dark roast and make good money on it. Yes, true to a degree. You can certainly hide poor quality in flavor behind enough smokiness in roast. And yes, I as a coffee professional tend to enjoy the unique and delicate flavors in lighter roasted coffee and can more clearly taste defects in low quality light roasts - however, I would start to disagree with the first line of thinking when it comes to perceived quality. Here, most Specialty Coffee roasters would argue that if you took the same coffee (let's say it scored 86 on the SCAA cupping form) and roasted it dark and light, that the dark roast would be of lesser "quality." And, though I understand this line of thinking, I disagree in that quality is a more relative term... especially when you compare trained coffee tasters and the general consumer. A dark roast is considered to be quality coffee by the majority of the world's population. So why should a select group of trained tasters be the only authority to appropriate quality? What I believe is that if someone is willing to pay hard earned dollars for something they thoroughly enjoy, then it is of high perceived quality to them. What I can do as a coffee professional and roaster is continue to add to that perceived quality by providing a high quality bean as defined by trained tasters with great trade transparency. To continue, I would also add that for most of the general consumers that enjoy dark roasted coffee, it is because they are used to it. So if the goal of the Specialty Coffee industry is to increase our market share and bring more people into enjoying "high quality" coffee, then why would we forfeit a way of introduction to new consumers? Offering a dark roast invites customers in... it brings them into our shop time and time again, maybe as they feel comfortable they will explore other coffees and eventually taste a light roast. Maybe they'll love it and find themselves wondering why they used to like dark roasted coffee... maybe they'll hate light roast and stick to their usual. So, whatever the case, it can start with offering a dark roast, and offering one with integrity and transparency to the farm.
Most Third Wave Roasters: Dark roasted coffee hides the regional taste characteristics of different coffee origins so that all dark roasted coffee tastes the same.
Our response: A proper dark roast, one not taken to complete oil and carbonization, still maintains some great regional taste characteristics, especially in body and flavors produced by sugar browning.
The first thing I would ask a Specialty Roaster claiming the first way of thinking is, "have you done a full cupping of dark roasted coffees from a variety of regions?" If they had, I believe they would be able to taste some distinct differences. In fact, we dark roasted all of our offerings in order to choose one we were willing to offer as the Night Rider and we noticed some pretty huge differences between the Guatemala, PNG, and Kenya. So, to say all dark roasts taste exactly the same is inaccurate. Yes, they all will have roasty flavors but the body and acidity can still be quite distinctly different when you let the sugars really develop with a dark roast.
So, hopefully the above arguments help explain why VDCC is excited to release the Night Rider. Not only do we think people will love it - but we also believe we can start a trend in the Specialty Coffee world. The whole goal in offering this is to make consumers feel comfortable and above all to bring more people into the Specialty Coffee market!