Colombian vs. French Roast: What Is The Difference Of Both?

For coffee lovers of all ages, the difference between what type of coffee is consumed might not matter due to their love of all caffeine. There is, however, a big difference between two of the most commonly purchased coffees in the world, Columbian Coffee and French Roast. From frappuccinos and creamy lattes to americanos and strong espresso shots, the type of coffee used in your beverage has the potential to change its flavor and alter its aftertaste, especially when using either Colombian or French Roast coffee.

The main difference between Colombian and French Roast coffee is that Colombian coffee is not a roast. It is a type of bean grown in a specific region. On the other hand, French Roast is how coffee beans are roasted, rather than where they are grown.

More differences between Colombian and French Roast coffee include where the beans used for each originate, the tastes that come from each one, and what beverages the coffees should be used in once brewed. To learn more about the intricate differences between Colombian and French Roast coffee, continue to read on below.

The Origin of Colombian Coffee

During the early 1700s, coffee was originally brought to Colombia by Spanish people and Jesuit priests relocating to the region’s Northeast part. The Jesuit priests, who viewed coffee as holy and used it for rituals, planted it where small family farms later harvested it before becoming an internationally sought-after big cash crop.

The first shipments of green coffee beans from Colombia to France, Germany, and the United States in the early 1800s marked the coffee trade. However, it wasn’t until the 1900s that Colombia’s government began creating farm estates that could grow and produce hundreds of thousands of Colombian coffee bags for export. Through the 1920s and 1930s, Colombia’s coffee growers even established the National Federation of Coffee Growers of Colombia in an attempt to unionize their coffee production.

Coffee landscape on a hacienda near Manizales, Colombia

The Special Colombian Climate

The reason that such large amounts of coffee can be grown and harvested in Colombia is due, in part, to the climate. The climate and the natural surroundings, including bugs and animals, are part of what makes Colombian coffee so uniquely special. With a yearly rainfall of anywhere from 40 inches to 70 inches and annual temperatures sitting high above 72 degrees each year, coffee thrives in the Colombian climate while getting many nutrients from the local ecosystem.

Colombian Coffee is an Origin, Not a Roast

When buying coffee in a grocery store or supermarket, it is important to realize that the most significant difference between Colombian and French Roast coffee is that Colombian coffee is the origin of a bean and not a type of roast. Colombian coffee is coffee both grown and harvested in Colombia. While Colombia technically does also grow and sell Arabica beans, these beans will be labeled separately as Arabica beans from Colombia.

On the other hand, French Roast is a way of roasting the coffee bean after being grown and harvested. Any bean can technically be roasted as a French Roast, and sometimes Colombian coffee is roasted this way and mislabeled as French coffee. Knowing the difference between Colombian coffee, French Roast, and actual French coffee will help you get the flavor profile you desire when purchasing coffee at a store.

The Rich and Citrusy Taste of Colombian

While most Colombian coffee can easily be described as rich, citrusy, and deep, over 20 departments within the Colombia coffee-growing system each produce their unique flavor. Coffee professionals often describe Colombian coffee as:

  • Acidic, having a high acidity that can leave an aftertaste
  • Citrusy, with tasting notes of oranges, lemons, limes, and grapefruit
  • Deep, filling the entire mouth with a warm sensation and flavor
  • Rich, with a taste that travels to the back of the mouth
  • Striking, meaning surprising or sudden
  • Medium-bodied, meaning tasting strong without being very strong
  • Mild, which can translate to being easy to drink

Colombian Coffee from the North

When people think about the Northern region of any given country, they typically imagine mountains and snowy peaks. This, although, is not the case in Colombia. Santa Marta and Santander’s northern Colombian regions, where some of Colombia’s coffee is grown, rest at a low altitude with warm climates.

With the elevation at around only 49 feet or 15 meters, the north of Colombia has proved to be an excellent place for coffee growing, producing a fuller-bodied taste and with lots of dark notes and deep flavors in addition to its trademark citrus tones.

Nariño, Cauca, and Huila

In the South, specifically the regions of Nariño, Cauca, and Huila in Colombia, the coffee ends up being far more acidic due to its high growing elevations. With a flavor palette full of complexity and floral hints, the South-growing Colombian coffee tends to be lighter and more fragrant than other Colombian beans.

Colombia’s Famous “Coffee Belt”

In the world-renowned “coffee belt” of central Colombia, coffee is grown throughout the  Antioquia, Caldas, and Quindio regions. The coffee grown here tends to be nuttier in flavor with subtle chocolate hints, creating the rich Colombian coffee taste that many prefer. Along with the nuttiness, central Colombia’s temperature and climate result in sweetness and acidity that lingers on the tongue long after drinking.

if you want to try single-origin Colombian coffee, we suggest the following options:

All About French Roast Coffee

French Roast coffee, unlike Colombian coffee beans, is a roasting method. While Colombian coffee is a type of coffee bean grown and harvested in one of the three main coffee-growing regions of Colombia, to French Roast, a coffee bean means to roast it to the darkest roast possible. A French Roast can frequently be identified simply by looking at a bean’s color before tasting it or even smelling it and can be done to almost any kind of bean from anywhere in the world.

First gaining popularity during the 1900s when it began to be drunk by wealthy people, aristocrats, and even royalty, French Roast coffee is thought to have acquired its name in America after being brought to the United States by European sea merchants.

Even though many coffee drinkers and lifelong caffeine aficionados make the common mistake of thinking that French Roast coffee is a type of coffee bean in itself, French Roast is just a measurement of the roasting or heating of the bean, according to the Specialty Coffee Association of America. The measure, following a scale from light roast to dark roast, also has varying methods, which all include the following steps:

Step 1: The coffee drying step. This step is where a newly harvested coffee bean has roughly 10% of moisture taken out of it with a series of drum rotations lasting anywhere from four to eight minutes. The drum’s heat, reaching over 320 degrees Fahrenheit, dries out the bean to create the familiar shape and textures that most of us are used to seeing and purchasing in stores.

Step 2: The coffee browning step. The coffee beans’ drying process continues in the browning step even though the beans are no longer in the rotating drum. The browning stage is where sugars and acids are removed from the bean, giving it a distinct flavor and aroma. It is also when each bean gets its signature split or crack down the middle.

Step 3: The development step. The coffee development step is also known as the roasting step. The roasting step is where the coffee bean’s processing slows down to allow the beans time to rest. If the beans do not rest and therefore continue drying and cracking, they will develop a too strong and overpoweringly smokey taste. The coffee is roasted to its desired degree in the roasting step, where its unique flavors and aroma notes can be exemplified.

A collage of coffee beans showing various stages of roasting from raw through to Italian roast

The Three Different Roasts

When any coffee, including Colombian coffee, is going through its drying, browning, and development steps, it is then roasted to a particular degree depending on what’s popular at the time and what company is doing the roasting. While some people love light coffee, others swear that it isn’t as strong and delicious as dark coffees available today. The three following levels of coffee roasting include:

  • Dark Roast Coffees: Dark roast coffees are coffees that have been roasted until they become incredibly dark in color and smokey in the aroma. French Roast coffee is an excellent example of a popular dark roast. When coffee is roasted to the darkest level, it is typically for a reason. Many believe that roasting coffee beans until they are extra dark helps keep some of the coffee’s flavor and uniqueness grown in a certain region. In other words, dark roasting helps highlight a coffee’s origin. Vienna Roast is a popular type of dark roast coffee.
  • Light Roast Coffees: Light roast coffees are on the other end of the spectrum from dark roast coffees. As their name suggests, they are typically soft and retain many subtle hints of flavor and aroma, such as tartness, crispness, or even juiciness. Light roast coffee is becoming more and more popular due to its fruitiness and diversity when creating different flavor profiles.
  • Medium Roast Coffees: Medium roast coffee is when the coffee beans are roasted exactly half-way between a light roast and a dark roast. Perfect for anyone who loves medium acidity and average body, medium roast coffee is typically sweet with an oily outer coating. Medium coffee is also sometimes referred to as regular or American roast.

French Roast’s Bold, Intense Flavor

Since French Roast is a dark type of coffee roast, where the beans are roasted to the top of the roasting chart levels, the flavors can be described as any of the following by coffee roasters and professionals:

  • Bold, where the flavor takes up the whole palate
  • Burnt, where you feel the sensation on the back of the tongue
  • Dark, otherwise known as strong
  • Intense, otherwise known as strong
  • Less acidic, with a smooth flow of flavor
  • Smokey, in the sides of the mouth
  • Strong, meaning a vibrant and noticeable taste
  • Sweet, felt in the front of the mouth
  • Thin-bodied, meaning having less of an aftertaste
  • Watery, having more water content or less of an aftertaste

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While some of these coffee descriptors may sound negative, they are not disparaging the coffee flavor at all. Words like watery or thin-bodied, rather than meaning flavorless, even refer to the amount of coffee left on your palate after swallowing a gulp. It also refers to how much moisture is felt within the actual coffee once brewed into a beverage.

Unlike Colombian coffee, which is typically filled with caramel notes and nutty tones, French Roast coffee is much lighter in flavor.

Beans Used for French Roasting

Rather than a type of coffee bean, like Colombian coffee, French Roast is a complicated and in-depth process in which the coffee beans are roasted. French Roast, contrary to popular belief, is not a specific bean grown and harvested in France.

The beans used to make a French Roast coffee can come from anywhere in Central America, Africa, or Indonesia.

Perfect Pairings

Most coffee can be paired with a specific type of meal, pasty, or other food to bring out the best of the coffee’s flavor profile and tasting notes. While there are professionals who pair coffee with flavors of foods for a living, you can also easily create a cohesive coffee pairing from the comfort of your own home.

Carrot Cake and Colombian Coffee

Due to its nuttiness and beautiful swirls of caramel flavor, Colombian Coffee pairs incredibly well with carrot cake. Its citrus flavors counteract the sweetness of the yummy carrot dessert to supply a pairing that brings out both the carrot flavor of the cake and the unique flavors of the Colombian’s origins.

Other foods that pair exceptionally well with Colombian coffee are:

  • Banana bread
  • Chocolate pastries
  • Chocolate truffles
  • Honey nut tart
  • Mediterranean Baklava
  • Pecans and walnuts
  • Pesto sandwiches
  • Rye or wheat bread
  • Zucchini bread
  • And more

French Roast and a Slice of Cheesecake

Since French Roast is a dark roast coffee, it can pair very well with creamy foods like cheese, milk-based soups, and cheesecake. The French Roast’s low-acidity compliments the dairy’s smoothness, while the cheese flavor helps bring its fruity qualities to the top of your tongue for tasting. Other foods that tend to be great pairs for French Roast coffee include:

  • Cornbread
  • Creme brulee
  • Bagels and cream cheese
  • Blue cheese croissants
  • Israeli Bourekas
  • Lemon or lime bars
  • Omelets
  • Swedish Strudel
  • Tortellini pasta
  • Turkish Kunefe
  • And more

Colombian Coffee Production

According to the Federacion Nacionales de Cafeteros de Colombia, Colombian coffee growers could increase their exports by 7% in 2019 alone. While the numbers for the current year still have not been released, this 7% increase shows a large jump in Colombia’s coffee production. While 7% might not sound like a lot to some, it represents a massive amount of Colombian coffee. 13.7 million total bags of green coffee, or coffee that has yet to be dried and roasted, were exported out of Colombia during 2019.

While these numbers show that demand and exportation of Colombian coffee are up, Colombian coffee production has increased as well. In 2019, Colombian coffee growers produced 9% more coffee than in previous years, translating to 14.8 million green coffee beans bags.

The way that the Colombian coffee is produced, especially in these large quantities, is vital to understand when weighing the differences between Colombian coffee and French Roast coffee. After the Colombian coffee has been planted, grown, and harvested, it goes through a specific production process.

The steps to this process include:

Step 1: The coffee is picked by hand by the Colombian coffee harvesters.

Step 2: The outer pulp and protective skin of the fruit, known as the green coffee bean’s coffee cherry, is taken off. This is also usually done by hand but can also sometimes be done with a machine.

Step 3: The skinless coffee beans are then stored for between 12 to 24 hours, where they are also fermenting during that time.

Step 4: After the coffee beans have fermented, they are either sun-dried in large batches outside or placed into initial drying machines in factory warehouses, depending on what company is drying them.

Step 5: The beans are transported to their next destination to go through the three-step roasting process. While the beans are transported by vehicle or even plane nowadays, some farmers still use mules to move their coffee beans from one point to another.

How French Roast Coffee is Made

Since French Roast coffee is not a type of coffee bean, making French Roast is different from the Colombian coffee production process. Rather than operating within a finely tuned farming system, French Roast coffee depends far more on temperature and control of the roast than it does about skinning and preparing the bean for shipment.

French Roast coffee is made by pouring the green, skinless coffee beans whose coffee cherries have been removed into large drying hoppers. Though they are already sundried, coffee roasting essentially picks up where coffee harvesting leaves off, drying the coffee beans once again. After the beans are extra dry, they are browned and then roasted.

French Roast coffee is considered special and looks darker than any other coffee due to its time spent in the roaster. To be called French Roast coffee, the beans are required to roast until they have the following qualities:

  • Crunchy and snap easily when they are bitten into
  • Dry to the touch
  • Extra dark coloring
  • Oily top texture
  • Smell flagrantly of the quintessential coffee smell
  • And a few others

Once the French Roast is dried and roasted to its ideal darkened form, it is then ready to be packaged and shipped from whichever small roaster or coffee roasting facility that prepared it.

Since French Roast has had much success as a popular coffee choice over the last few decades, these facilities have gradually increased their production in a short amount of time. In 2019, around 41% of coffee drinkers in the United States opted for dark French Roast coffee over light roast coffee or medium roast coffee alternatives.

How to Prepare Your Coffee

While the differences between Colombian coffee and French Roast coffee are vast, one significant similarity is how the coffees should be prepared when making them at home. Coffee preparation depends significantly on the preferences of the coffee drinker. There are, however, superior and inferior ways to make coffee, according to coffee experts. Some of the most common coffee brewing methods include:

  • Decoction, this process is otherwise known as boiling the coffee grounds to release coffee. This brewing coffee method was and still is the most common way to make coffee in the Middle East and the Mediterranean. It became popular during the 1930s and is most successful if the boiling water temperature is precisely 205 degrees Fahrenheit before being poured directly onto the ground coffee beans. The tools needed for decoction are simply a tea kettle, heating water to boiling temperatures, and a mug or vessel to contain the coffee.
  • Gravitational brewing, which can be accomplished using percolators or drip brewers. When gravitationally brewing your coffee, you use one of the most common and widely known coffee-making methods. With electric and analog gravitational brewing systems on the market, you can easily make either cold or hot coffee with the myriad of gravitational brewing coffee makers available today.
  • Infusion, or steeping the coffee grounds, is done similarly to how you would steep tea. This is done when the coffee grounds are placed into a special coffee steeper called a French press, and boiling water is then filtered through it by pushing down a plunger after letting the coffee steep for a couple of minutes. Though the machine has the word French, this coffee brewing method isn’t only reserved for French Roast coffee.
  • Pressurized percolation, mostly used for pulling espresso shots, happens when very hot water is pushed or forced through very tightly compressed or packed coffee grounds. While specific espresso beans are often produced, for this reason, any time of coffee beans can be ground and used with pressurized percolation. Make sure to be prepared for a super thick release of coffee liquid if you decide to go this route, and boil your water to 204 degrees Fahrenheit if possible.

Whether you choose to use decoction or infusion for your coffee grounds, the choice is entirely up to you. Colombian coffee and French Roast coffee can both be brewed using any of these methods.

The Best Coffee for Your Beverage

Suppose plainly brewed coffee is not your cup of tea, and you would rather have a slightly fancier and more complicated beverage with which to consume your morning dose of caffeine. In that case, there are a wide variety of different drinks that use coffee. Some of the drinks that are made with either coffee or espresso are:

  • A Creamy Latte: made best when using a nutty bean-like Colombian coffee
  • A Delicious Macchiato: made best when using a low-acid coffee like a French Roast
  • A Straight Americano: which tends to be delicious when using a caramel flavored Colombian coffee
  • A Strong Espresso: made best with French Roast due to its intense flavor
  • A Yummy Affogato: which can go well with either Colombian coffee or a French Roast depending on what type of ice cream you are using
  • Cafe Au Lait: made best with a nutty Colombian coffee
  • Straight Cold Brew: made best with Colombian coffee due to its citrusy complexities
  • Foamy Cappuccino: made best with a nutty Colombian coffee

The Difference in Caffeine Amount

Although French Roast coffee technically tastes stronger and darker than Colombian coffee to most coffee drinkers, there is no discernable difference between the amount of caffeine each one contains.

A top-notch Colombian coffee of any variation can include around 200 milligrams of caffeine in an 8-ounce serving or a cup of coffee. Like Colombian coffee, a French Roast can contain anywhere from 95 to 200 milligrams of caffeine per 8-ounce serving. This means that the caffeine content of both French Roast variety coffees and Colombian-grown coffee beans is essentially the same, and it is best to choose your coffee of the day based on flavor rather than caffeine intake.

Two Very Different Coffees

Colombian coffee and French Roast coffee are two very unique and individual types of coffee, with many differences from each other, including origin, name, and processing methods. While Colombian coffee refers to coffee bean origin grown and harvested in Colombia and French Roast coffee refers to the saturation of coffee roasting on a particular scale, their similarities include brewing methods and caffeine content.

Coffee lovers everywhere continue to enjoy both with equal enthusiasm.

Charlie McFarlane

Specialty Coffee Enthusiast. Hungry for knowledge in the art and science behind specialty coffee and decided to document my journey, while sharing it with the public. More than 10 baristas were interviewed; over 21 farms were visited across 5 countries. Almost 100 Coffee Shops. Bean of choice: Pacamara. Preferred coffee country: Panama. Preferred Brewing Method: Aeropress. Facebook | Instagram | Twitter

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