If you’re not too familiar with what the differences between the types of coffee roasts there are, you’re in the right place! Understanding the differences between each kind of roast, can help you make better coffee and even help you when you’re ordering a coffee somewhere.
Before we get into any of that stuff, we need to start at the roasting process for coffee, so we know what’s happening in our coffee.
Coffee beans start out as a green bean. They have none of the characteristics of coffee that all of us enjoy and kind of taste like grass, don’t ask how I know… The green beans are put into a roasting container, which will continuously rotate to give our beans an even roast. Different roast levels will be brought to different heat temperatures and will stay in the roasters longer, the darker the roast gets.
The roasting process is what gives us the toasty and smoky aroma that coffee has. It also draws out different flavors depending on what type of roast whoever is roasting it is trying to get.
Roasting coffee beans is only one part of many that determine the taste of coffee. Other factors that can affect your coffees taste include:
- Country/Region and elevation it’s grown at
- Processing method (wet or dried)
- Brewing method
- Grind size
- Age of the Coffee
Types Of Coffee Roasts
As most of us know, light roasts taste a lot different than dark roasts. We’re going to go over the roasting process, flavor profile, and common names that some of the coffee roasts have.
Light roast is the first stage coffee beans become in the roasting process. The first crack is a term when roasting coffee. It’s used to describe where a coffee bean is during the roasting process. All light roasts are somewhere around the first crack and it usually happens at around 365 to 401 degrees Fahrenheit.
The beans at this stage look dry and pale. They’re very light brown in color and keep a lot of the original flavor of the bean before it has been roasted.
Light roasted coffee is still very aromatic. The flavor profile is fruity, with hints of floral notes. When brewed, the coffee will be very light bodied (watery consistency). Light roast is the most acidic out of all the roasts. A lot of Ethiopian coffees are light roasted to preserve their unique tea like flavors.
Common names that light roast has been given include: Light City, Half City, Cinnamon Roast, and New England Roast.
Medium roasted beans are somewhere between the first and second crack. The beans take on a darker shade of brown. No oils can be visible on a medium roasted bean. The beans are brought up to an internal temperature of 410f and 430f
The flavor profile of medium roast can be described as balanced. It has enough bitterness, aroma, acidity, and a little sweetness. The flavor of medium roast is nutty and smokey.
Names medium roast go by include: Regular Roast, American Roast, City Roast, and Breakfast Roast.
Medium-Dark roasted beans start to take on a deeper and darker brown color. The oil from the coffee beans begin to show on the surface. To get a medium-dark roast, we bring the internal temperatures to 437f – 450f.
Most of the acidity is gone when it’s brewed. The flavor of the coffee has a spicy element and a bittersweet aftertaste. It’s body has a much thicker feel to it than the previous two roasts.
The names medium-dark roast go by are Full City Roast, After Dinner Roast, and Vienna Roast.
This is the last stage of the roasting process and is also known as the second crack. The beans take on a dark chocolate color and sometimes appear black. Oils on the bean can be seen very easily. None of the original flavors of the bean can be tasted in a dark roast. Coffee beans are brought up to an internal temperature of 465f – 480f.
The flavors most noticeable at this roast are bitter, smokey, and burnt notes. It can also be described as charcoal and tar like.
Dark roasts have a variety of names compared to the others. Some popular names include French, Italian, Continental, New Orleans, European, Vietnamese, Spanish, and Espresso roasts. Dark roasts are typically used to make espresso.
A common misconception of coffee is that the more bitter/dark a coffee is, the more caffeine it has. Light roasted coffee per bean does have more caffeine in it. Although it’s such a small amount that it doesn’t make too much of a difference.
The topic does get a little complicated when we get into cups of coffee. What determines if a light or dark roast cup of coffee has more caffeine is how we measure the beans. Coffee beans are usually weighed out in one of two ways, by weight or volume.
Light roasted beans are heavier, but smaller in size compared to dark roasts. They contain more water than dark roasts, because they aren’t exposed to heat as long during the roasting process.
If you were to measure both bean types using the same scoop (volume method), light roast would give us more caffeine per cup of coffee. Light roasted beans are smaller in size compared to the dark roasts, because of the roasting process again. The longer a bean roasts, the more it expands and grows in size. It would take more light roasted beans to fill the scoop, than a darker roast. In short, having more beans equals more caffeine.
Now if we were to measure by weight, dark roasts would give us more caffeine per cup of coffee. Although larger in size, dark roasted beans weigh less. They’ve been exposed to heat longer, so more water has been roasted out of them. We would need more dark roasted beans to match the same weight of the light roasted beans. The same holds true in this situation, more beans equals more caffeine.
Ordering & Picking Out Beans
So you’re probably wondering, “how can all this information help me?” The two easiest ways it can help you is when you’re ordering a drink or you’re brewing your own coffee.
Picking up coffee on from somewhere is just easier sometimes. If you’re trying somewhere new or are trying a new drink, knowing the profiles of each roasts can help you decide if you’re going to like the drink before you even get it. You can ask what kind of beans that café is using in the drink. To give you a reminder: lighter roasts are going to be more acidic, mediums are going to be balanced in flavor, and darker roasts are going to be bitter.
The same thing kind of applies to picking out coffee beans. If you’re not to sure what you like, you can always start somewhere in the middle, which is balanced in flavor. Once you find a roast you like, you can try out coffee from different regions or countries. But if you want to be adventurous try all the roasts, at least you know that they’re not all going to taste the same!
Can You Roast At Home?
Roasting at home is something you can totally do! There are a lot of roasters out there that can help automate a lot of the process for you. If you like being more hands on and in control over the entire roasting process, there are roasters out there like that as well. And if you don’t know where to start I have an article here with a wide range of options for roasters.
You now know the basics of different coffee roasts. Each of the roasts has their own unique characteristics and flavors. Also how roasts have different caffeine levels. So the next time you’re ordering coffee, it should be a little easier!