After living in the Bay Area for more than half a year, I finally found something to complain about. Sure, California has mountains and sunsets on the ocean and a temperate climate but–
the coffee is terrible. It is Texas terrible, which is my way of saying it is not only bad but the people there think it is good which makes it so much worse. If you walk into a random San Francisco coffeehouse, the coffees of the day will be dark roast, dark roast and french roast. No sensible medium roasts or light roasts. No. They want their coffee burnt. If it was good enough for Alan Ginsberg,..they..think, it is good enough for me.
I seriously doubt Ginsberg drank dark roast. The popularity of dark roast was spread by Starbuck$ which, thankfully, did not have a hold on American coffeedrinkers when the beats were sipping at the Vesuvio in the sixties.
I’m sure many readers are skeptical already, they say, “but Karma, you are not a connoseuir.” No, I’m not a coffee snob* but I lived with two of them, one of whom worked as a barista in an upscale coffeebar for five years. I still willingly drink all kinds of sludge but I have been carefully lectured in the ways of good coffee. Coffee should not cause a physical reaction like cheap scotch. It should be pleasurable. French roast is seldom the latter.
Now my skeptical readers, the history of french roast, the darkest of dark, ze cafe zat makes le merde run like ze Rhine Rhevher.
French roast coffee was born out of wartime rationing. French citizens had to make do with a little bit less of everything. In order to stretch their coffee quantity to the next far away ration, they would burn the coffee beans. You get a bit more coffee that way. They grew accustomed to drinking their brew burnt. French roast is nothing more than nostalgic masochism, the way some like to listen to noisy, crackling vinyl**.
The big coffee chains would have you believe that burnt coffee is more exotic, as if it is peppered with Bridget Bardot’s bikini bits. If it is too difficult to drink, it is because you are not man enough to digest Mediterranean beauties.
And it is difficult to digest. I drink two cups daily and french roast can still make my tummy flip flop. It also has less caffeine then a lighter roast (now who’s hard core?).
Lovers of the more pungent brew believe that there’s more coffee in their coffee, as if those who can’t stomach singed beans aren’t real java drinkers. But the truth is the opposite. One can appreciate a medium roast in the same way they can taste wine: weather and soil conditions give it a flavor that is distinctive to that region. This is why some of the more famous coffee-producing regions brew light roast (Kona, Jamaican Blue Mountain, Kenya). As the beans become darker and more oily, that origin flavor is lost. At the the point of french roast, the coffee tastes primarily of the roasting process. Medium roast has complexity. All french roast tastes the same.
I imagine it is a bit like trying to distinguish between sourdough and rye when you have toasted the bread til it is black. But, oh, that burnt sourdough is so much tougher to eat. Doesn’t it taste rugged and sexy?
The reality is that coffeeshops can make their coffee last longer by roasting the beans longer. This means more money for them. And all these west coast french roast fanatics are the same suckers that smoke Philip Morris and drink crappy scotch.
*You can call yourself a coffee snob if you insist on grinding it yourself. Those who buy their coffee in a can or a bag labeled with the name of your supermarket need not apply.
** I appreciate vinyl as much as the next gal, but some take nicely produced music and digitally add the pops and scratches to make it sound old. Now that’s just silly.