The Real Reason Coffee Shops Burn Their Coffee Beans

To quote the great Jackie Chan, "Coffee is a language in itself" (via Coffee Museum). And if coffee is a language in itself, going to a coffee shop should be like reading a love letter or listening to your favorite podcast on a lazy Sunday morning. It shouldn't feel like someone cussing you out. If it does, that may be because more and more coffee chains are burning their coffee beans

Coffee giants in both Europe and the United States had begun to request lower and lower quality coffee beans from their producers (via Mugged: Poverty in Your Coffee Cup). They weren't just buying the more bitter, less refined robusta beans instead of the smoother, richer arabica ones. No. Oxfam warned us that they had even started buying black, under-ripe beans. These beans were so low in quality that coffee producers in Uruguay, who had previously thrown them away, had to get special permission from the government to export them. What's the problem with under-ripe beans? In a nutshell, they can end up tasting like rotten fish (via Espresso Coffee: The Science of Quality).  

That's why coffee chains offer dark, or overly-roasted (read: burnt), brews. High-quality coffee beans contain over 800 aromatic and flavor compounds that you can enjoy in a light roast (via Atlas Coffee Club). Dark roasts, in turn, mask the rotten-fish flavors of lower quality beans, leaving you with a bitterness that we've, unfortunately, come to accept as normal (via Atlas Coffee Club and Coffee Informer).    

Which coffee chains like to use over-roasted beans?

If you want a light roast, stay away from Starbucks. To be fair, the company insists that it uses only higher quality, arabica beans. You can choose to believe them. Or, you can choose to believe Coffee Informer, who suspects that Starbucks brews robusta. No matter who you place your faith in, the chain is undeniably notorious for "roast[ing] their beans a bit darker than most other coffee places," even according to admissions of a Starbucks barista (via Consumer Reports). SFist will tell you that that's because Starbucks once bought its beans from Peet's, a company known for its "signature burn-the-crap-out-of-it dark roast." 

If not Starbucks, then where should you go for your morning fix? McDonald's might be an option. In 2007, it's low-cost coffee famously beat Starbucks in a blind taste test (via Seattle Times). But considering how filthy McDonald's coffee machines can be, maybe it's better to stay away. 

Then again, you might opt for Dunkin'. Dunkin' claims to use 100 percent Arabica beans that the Rainforest Alliance has certified as having been grown using sustainable practices. They also consistently beat out Starbucks in taste tests and customer satisfaction (via Business Insider and Forbes). We'd recommend their classic, medium roast, original blend. It's no-nonsense, smooth, and unpretentious.