How to Make Black Coffee Taste Good

Graduating from McDonalds and Starbucks lattes to something less decidedly sweet is step one, but where do you go now that you don’t regularly need (or want) all of that excess sugar and cream? Is it possible to learn how to make black coffee taste good?

The best tasting coffee to drink black will ultimately depend on your preferred coffee flavor profiles and the quality of the beans you buy. Keep reading as we nerd out on black coffee taste—what to think about, where to find the right beans for your preferences, plus our take on the best coffee brand to drink black.

What is the best tasting coffee to drink black?

We have to give the award for best tasting coffees to drink black to light roasts. Don’t get us wrong, there is a time and place for a dark roast. But, unless you enjoy ultra-bitter, almost “burned flavored” coffee that shows no signs of its origin, you’re probably gonna wanna add a little cream and/or sugar to that French roast.

You can avoid the ashy, IMO harsh flavors of black as night roasts by opting for its lighter cousins instead.

This is especially true if you’re searching for black coffee for beginners. Lighter roasts are less bitter and brighter overall. They retain their tasting notes more clearly, so you can get a sense of how the beans were processed (natural or washed?), where they’re from, and other flavor characteristics. Generally speaking, lighter roasts are more acidic, but have less body.

“The amount and duration of heat applied to [coffee] can be the difference between something that’s lightly browned, caramelized, and flavorful, and something that’s a smoking, burnt mess.”

Hiline Coffee

Think of it this way: Once you roast your beans past a certain point, they all roughly taste the same. Lighter roasts = less roasting = more flavor variety = tastier coffee to drink black.

Dark Roasts

Dark roasted coffee beans have a lot of different names. Here are some of the more common ways to describe dark coffee:

  • French roast
  • Italian roast
  • Continental roast
  • Espresso roast
  • New Orleans
  • Viennese
  • European

Again, you might like to drink these coffees black (I won’t yuck your yum). But if you want to learn how to discern flavor profiles or appreciate the terroir of coffee grown in different regions, you’ll want to avoid dark roasts.

Medium-Roast Coffees

If you like more oily coffee with body and actually enjoy a more “roasty flavor,” medium and medium-dark blends will be your jam. Look for:

  • Full city
  • American
  • Breakfast
  • “Regular”

We think medium coffees have a lot of redeeming qualities so we’ll add them to our coffee lineup from time to time.

Light Roasts

You can find plenty of light coffee roasts that are absolutely delicious to drink black. Look for words like…

  • First crack
  • Half city
  • Cinnamon roast
  • Light city

Full disclosure: We’re pretty obsessed with light roasts in our house and rarely drink any other roast-levels. ¯\_(ツ)_/¯

LIFE HACK for how to make black coffee taste good: Buy recently roasted light-to medium roast coffee. Ta-da!

As Will & Co. Coffee says: “Though coffee beans last and can taste okay for a year from the roast date if left unopened, they still lose their flavor and freshness over time and will begin to go stale. We always recommend only buying what you need so you know your coffee will taste fresh with each brew.”

The best coffee brands to drink black we’ve found

We drink a lot of black coffee in the Foxlee household, so we have a LOT of opinions about the best black coffee brand. There’s no way around it: Learning how to enjoy drinking coffee black requires you invest in higher-quality coffee beans from the get-go, like…

10. Foxtail Coffee Roasters – Orlando, FL

Honestly, Foxtail Coffee’s natural-processed black cold brew blew our minds the first time we tried it. It was so sweet and fruity, it tasted how we wish juice tasted all of the time!

Foxtail’s cold brew coffee flight availability makes it one of the best black coffee for beginners—you can get a feel for how different coffee beans can yield different flavor profiles.

Foxlee Favorites:

9. Counter Culture – Durham, NC

counter culture coffee north carolina lkcs

Counter Culture’s Hologram blend was one of the first coffee drinking experiences that made me go wide-eyed. They pay careful attention to their sourcing, yielding coffees that are both fruit-forward AND chocolatey? How do they do it?!

I’m not sure, but I’m glad they did.

Pro tip: They just announced a Coffee Subscription partnership with NPR!

Foxlee Favorites

8. Dagger Mountain Roasters – Valparaiso, IN

dagger mountain roasters in valparaiso, in
All visitors to Dagger Mountain Roaster have to drink their coffee black!

Dagger Mountain Roasters not only offers an incredible space, their coffees are a good entry-level tasting experience for those new to drinking coffee black. Don’t even try to get away with sneaking some Half n Half into your brew—there’s no creamer available on the premises!

It’s a great spot to jump into the deep end. Or simply buy their coffee online and take baby steps to building your black coffee taste…

7. Forest Coffee Trading Company – Denver, CO *(No longer in business, sad face)

Forest Coffee Trading has definitely figured out how to make black coffee taste good. I get so damn excited every time I find it in the grocery store or when I’m out and about. It’s even available at Denver’s airport, which is the perfect-little-pick-me-up before boarding the plane (or after a long flight home).

Their bottled cold brew coffee can be bought in multiple flavors, including mint, cacao, and cinnamon (haven’t tried all of these yet), but I honestly obsess over their Original Cold Brew flavor. It is more earthy and grainy than other cold brew coffees I’ve tried, but it remains incredibly refreshing and bright, too. AND HOW ABOUT THAT DESIGN?? *Swoon*

6. Madcap Coffee Roasters – Grand Rapids, MI

Another midwest favorite of ours is Madcap Coffee. One of the perks of a roastery like Madcap is that they always have tons of different options on hand for coffee drinkers. So, no matter your preferred flavor profile—fruity, citrusy, chocolatey, caramely?—you’re likely going to find an option (or two) at their roastery or on their website.

If you’re feeling fancy and adventurous, try their Cascara product and take your “coffee tasting” to a whole new level!

Foxlee Favorites:

5. Huckleberry Roasters – Denver, CO

We love Huckleberry Roasters for its accessibility in Denver, given that they can be found in two of our favorite neighborhoods (the Highlands & LoDi). If we’re looking for a solid black coffee to drink while strolling around, they’re a sure-fire hit.

Similar to Madcap, it’s not uncommon to find handfuls of coffee options when you visit their site or their stores. We have the Tilahun Natural roast pictured, but we’ve also loved their Sipi Falls Natural from Uganda.

4. Color Coffee – Eagle, CO

Color Coffee Roasters in the mountains of Colorado provide a great respite for anyone traveling long hours along I-70. Luckily for us, we can find their beans regularly in Fort Collins at Everyday Joe’s Coffee House.

Get a helpful introduction to their black coffee taste through their Single Origin taster pack. You never know what you’re going to get; their “coffee jedis” make off-the-cuff suggestions based on what’s tasting best!

Foxlee Favorites

3. Harbinger Coffee – Fort Collins, CO

It’d be wrong to write a list of the best coffee brands to drink black without including a shout out to our FoCo favorite. Jonathan behind Harbinger Coffee knows his stuff—and by “stuff,” we mean how to roast, how to engage customers, and how to create all-around delightful coffee moments for regular joe’s like us.

Their Chele Chele roast (pictured above) is only available about once a year, but to get us through the off-times, we like to arm our coffee station with their Yabitu Koba Forest blend. Colorado locals: If you haven’t visited a Harbinger Coffee yet, hop to it!

Foxlee Favorites:

2. Sweetbloom Coffee – Lakewood, CO

When we heard Andy Sprenger started a coffee shop in the greater Denver metro, we jumped on the chance to check them out. We always keep our eyes. on their website for new natural-processed offerings—sometimes even Geishas—but typically end up adding their Hometown Blend is their best tasting coffee to drink black.

You can drink their coffee in Lakewood at their roaster, in Arvada where they merged spaces with Two Rivers Coffee, or at their tasting room called “Sapor” in Denver’s Highlands. Or just order online (free shipping after $50 spend)! You’ll be drinking delicious black coffee in no time.

Foxlee Favorites:

1. Blue Bottle – Oakland, CA

My first snobby coffee love, I always have to give a hat-tip to Blue Bottle. They have done for third wave coffee what Starbucks did for second wave. I know this photo pictures coffee with cream in it, but they remain the best black coffee brand from my (admittedly limited) coffee journeys.

I just love their minimalist design and the consistent quality from coast to coast. I’ve tried their light roast coffees black in NYC and Oakland and it always rocks my socks.

We drank an “exceeding rare” specialty-roast, Costa Rica Tarrazú La Lia Black Honey Anaerobic, from Blue Bottle Coffee black the first day of our marriage. To that end, it continues to hold a special place in my lil’ Foxlee heart.

Foxlee Favorites:

It’s easy to love the black coffee taste when you’re drinking with your boo!

The black coffee starter kit

If you’re interested in brewing delicious black coffee at home, here are our go-to tools.

  • A great bag of beans. See above ^^.
  • A burr grinder. These vary significantly in quality. For us, it mattered to have more precision grinding so that we could use the same grinder for, say, French Press (coarser grind size) to AeroPress (finer grind size). That’s why we opted for the Baratza Encore. Here’s our full review.
  • A trusty kettle. We upgraded our Bonavita Gooseneck Electric Kettle recently to the Fellow Stagg Kettle. After 5 years of near-daily use, it died on us. We jumped on the opportunity to try a new brand, but we were honestly really happy with the Bonavita (an in-depth review of the Fellow Stagg Kettle will be coming soon!). Oh, and a quick TL;DR on kettle selection — an electric gooseneck kettle is preferred to other types of kettles, as the electric allows you to control temps. And why gooseneck? The design allows you to better control water flow rates.
  • A coffee maker. We make pour over with a Kalita Wave everyday (it is easier than it sounds). You can choose a Chemex, a French Press, a different pour over system, heck — even a traditional coffee maker (we love our Bonavita 8C for when we have company).

How to train yourself to drink black coffee

Finding the best black coffee for beginners takes baby steps. If you’re ready to train yourself to drink black coffee, start here:

  • Throw out the cream and sugar. Out of sight, out of mind!
  • Start with flights. If you have the ability to taste-test multiple types of coffee side-by-side, you’ll begin to appreciate flavor nuances and zero-in on which coffees you like to drink black. If you can attend a cupping, that’s even better. (Pro tip for FoCo locals: Harbinger does free coffee cuppings on Saturdays at 2p [on hiatus for obvious reasons]).
  • Pay attention. If you’re not consciously consuming your coffee, you’re not going to be able to discern patterns in your flavor preferences. Take notes if you’re nerdy, and be sure to mark down where it was grown, the process type, whether its a blend or single-origin, and of course, where you got it!
  • Once you find a coffee bean you enjoy, try it multiple ways. We think brewing coffee at home is a fun game, even more so when you can try coffee black made with a pour over vs. cold brew vs. French press, for instance.

Voila! You like coffee black. You are closer to knowing the types of coffee beans you love (essential for transitioning to the no-cream-no-sugar world) and even how to brew your coffee beans to get the most pleasing flavor for your palette. Woot!

RE: THE SALT TRICK. While researching this article, I found a lot of videos and content related to adding a bit of salt to your black coffee to take out the bitterness. I’m not sure if this is a valid tactic but I’m curious to test it, so I’ll report back soon!!

You now know how to drink black coffee without sugar or cream!

low key coffee snobs

Welcome to the Big Kids Black Coffee Club. It’s great to have you!

All photos from our best coffee brand to drink black series are my own. Fun, huh? If you have creative ideas for how I can take more interesting still lifes of my coffee, please reach out :-)

2 Replies to “How to Make Black Coffee Taste Good”

  1. For sure wanna try some local Colorado spots you mentioned! I wanted to order from Harbinger but wasn’t sure which roast tongo for some I’m gonna try your suggestions. I love black coffee but need it either real hot or real cold (iced) – no in-between. I sometime put a little cinnamon in my hot coffee, totally helps with the bitterness but now I want to try the salt trick! Cheers snobs, thanks for the tips 😘

    1. You can’t go wrong with Harbinger, their Guatemala is an awesome first-choice. I agree on either hot hot or cold cold!! :) I am going to find you Cinnamon Cold Brew to try soon!!! I also love it!!

Leave a Reply

Your email address will not be published. Required fields are marked *