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Italian roast coffee is named after the dark roasted blends commonly found in Italy that were first made in the 1500s. At that time, Turkey was the main producer and exporter of coffee. This roast certainly exhibits Turkish influence in its dark color and strong flavor.
Coffee roasted in this way, and espresso, so beloved in Italy and in the US, usually both derive from the same roasting styles. The difference between Italian roast and coffee used for espresso is mainly in the grind of the beans. For espresso, you use a very finely ground coffee, but for coffee for drip coffee makers, a medium grind is preferred.
Many people enjoy Italian roast because though the blend is dark, it tends to have a sweeter and less acidic taste than other dark roasts like French Roast. Contrary to popular belief, dark roasted coffee like Italian or French roast is not any stronger than lighter roasts. In fact, the opposite is true. A longer roasting time depletes the natural caffeine sources in the beans and results in a coffee that contains less caffeine, though this difference can be marginal.
Still, serving an Italian roast over a Colombian or Kona roast might ensure that your guests can still get to sleep that night. Lightly roasted coffee on the other hand might make for a jittery and not so enchanted evening for your guests. You can also find decaffeinated Italian roast at stores that sell whole beans.
While you may be able to find an Italian roast or two at a local grocery store, the best versions will be whole bean varieties you can buy at coffee shops. For coffee connoisseurs, purchasing the whole bean is a must since it makes for fresher tasting coffee and allows you to employ different grinds, like a finer grind for espresso and a drip grind for your regular coffee maker.
The key to making the perfect Italian roast, according to Dr. Ernesto Illy of Illy® Coffee is a finely perfected roasting technique. You may have tasted coffee in the past that almost has a burnt flavor and is too bitter. If you over-roast the coffee, according to Dr. Illy, you will end up with bitter coffee and ruin the flavor. Illy® also uses a pressurized packing method, which guarantees the freshness of their coffee for up to two years.
If you do want to enjoy an Italian roast blend, consider drinking it as the Italians do, without milk. While cappuccino may be a common morning way to serve coffee in Italy, most coffee drunk in the latter part of the day is espresso. If espresso seems too strong, try it with a cube of sugar, or try a simple drip version of coffee.