There’s nothing quite like the aroma of freshly roasted coffee beans.
But did you know that the roast of your coffee can greatly impact its flavor?
From light to dark, there are several different types of coffee roasts to choose from, each with its own unique taste profile.
When I first started roasting specialty coffee, I had to learn how different roast levels affect green coffee beans and their flavors.
After roasting and cupping hundreds of coffees over and over again, here is a quick summary of what I’ve gathered about each type of coffee roast.
- Coffee roasts can be categorized into four types: light, medium, medium-dark, and dark.
- Light roast coffee is roasted at a lower temperature and has fruity and floral notes, a light body, and is best served black.
- Medium roast coffee is the most popular type in the United States, and offers a balanced flavor with both sweetness and acidity.
- Medium-dark roasted coffee has a deeper flavor with less acidity and is great for making milk-based drinks and shots of espresso.
- Dark roast coffee is roasted to the highest temperature and usually has smoky flavors, no acidity, and a heavy body.
The 4 Types of Coffee Roasts
For simplicity’s sake, coffee roasts can be divided into four main categories: Light, Medium, Medium-Dark, and Dark. The more time that beans have during the roast to reach higher temperatures, the darker they will get. Makes sense, right?
During the roasting process, coffee beans go through a lot of processes. First, they begin to “dry” by releasing stored moisture.
Next, they go through the Maillard reaction, which is where caramelization starts and complex flavors and aromas are created. The beans turn yellow and then start to brown, getting closer to the roasted coffee beans most people are familiar with.
Light and Medium roasts will go past the “first crack”, which is the audible popping noise that you hear from the pressure within the beans being released, causing the beans to crack open at the surface.
Dark roasts may even reach the “second crack” and beyond, which is when the beans break down even further and release oils. Have you seen a greasy-looking, dark Italian roast… this is why!
Alright, now that you understand the basics of the roasting process and what a coffee bean undergoes, let’s get into the different roast types.
Light roast coffee is roasted to 380-401°F and is pale brown in color. The beans don’t have any visible oils on them. Light roasts go just a bit past the first crack.
They tend to have fruity and floral notes, bright acidities, and light bodies. These roasts might be too light for most regular people, but if you are a true coffee nerd that wants to explore nuanced and delicate flavor profiles, they are worth trying.
I think light roast coffee goes best with a filtered pour-over, such as a Chemex, V60, or Melitta. These brewing methods will bring out the most sweetness and acidity, allowing you to focus on the flavors instead of the mouthfeel.
Remember, light roast coffee is more about appreciating single-origin beans and their unique tasting notes. I recommend drinking this roast type “black” without any added milk or creamer.
There are many different names for a light roast. You may see the words Cinnamon Roast, Blonde Roast, Light City Roast, Half City Roast, or New England Roast on a bag of roasted coffee.
Medium roasts are the most popular type of roast for coffee beans in the United States. A medium roast offers a balanced flavor with both sweetness and acidity.
The beans reach a final temperature between 410-428°F, somewhere in between the first and second crack. They’re medium brown in color and dry without any visible oils.
Because medium roast coffee has a bit more body and sweetness than light roasts, they work great with pour-over and infusion-style brewing methods. Try the French press or AeroPress if you want to highlight more of the body and sweetness, while still getting a bit of pleasant acidity.
Common names for a medium roast include American Roast, City Roast, and Breakfast Roast.
As we enter darker territory, the coffee begins to get a much deeper flavor with lots more body and much less acidity. More caramelization is happening, so expect some flavors from the roasting process, as well as some sweetness turning into bitterness.
With this roast level, it becomes more difficult to distinguish flavors inherent to the bean’s terroir and processing methods.
Medium-dark coffee roasts reach temperatures between 437-446°F from just before the second crack to slightly after. Some beans may have a slight shine from the release of oils during the second crack.
If you like making milk-based drinks such as cappuccinos or flat whites, medium-dark roasted coffee is for you! The chocolatey and nutty flavors that this type of roast has will pair well with milk.
This roast level also makes for a delicious shot of espresso with a rich crema.
Some other names for medium-dark roast coffee are Full City, Continental, Viennese, and Light French.
If you are a fan of “traditional” coffee that is usually more bitter, then you should try dark roast coffee. These coffee beans are roasted beyond the second crack to temperatures greater than 446°F.
At this temperature, the beans become almost black in color and are very oily. Expect smoky flavors, bitterness, no acidity, and a heavy body.
Because of their strong body, dark roast coffees work great as espresso and in milk-based coffee drinks. They create a thicker and richer crema in espresso, which you can enjoy by itself or use to create a latte with your favorite milk.
Some examples of alternate names for dark roast beans include New Orleans, French roast, Italian roast, and Espresso Roast.
Different Coffee Roasts + Caffeine
There’s a myth going around the coffee world that caffeine is “roasted out” during the roasting process. This is simply not true, as caffeine doesn’t begin to decompose until 460°F. (1) Even Italian roasts aren’t reaching that temperature.
If you measure coffee beans by weight, the amount of caffeine in both light and dark roasts is the same. If measured by volume (like with scoops), lighter roasts will have just a bit more caffeine than darker roasts. This is because a coffee bean will lose mass and become less dense when roasted darker.
The amount of caffeine in your final cup of coffee depends much more on the type of coffee bean, the brewing method, and the serving size.
While Robusta coffee beans aren’t generally as complex or high quality as Arabica beans, they do offer almost two times the amount of caffeine. (2)
If you want more caffeine in your morning cup, don’t fall for this marketing gimmick of buying light or dark roasts for more energy. Simply make more coffee, extend your brewing time, or just make a second cup to get you through your day.
Whether you prefer the bright acidity of lightly roasted beans or the bold richness of a dark roast, there’s a coffee out there for everyone.
Frequently Asked Questions
The best type of roast is whichever you personally enjoy drinking the most. Lighter roasts tend to have fruity and floral notes with bright acidity. Medium and medium-dark coffee roasts tend to have more sweetness, a fuller body, less acidity, and notes of chocolate or nuts. Darker roasts tend to taste more bitter.
If measured by weight, the caffeine content in both light and dark-roasted coffee is about the same. If measured by volume (like with scoops), lighter roasts will have just a bit more caffeine than darker roasts. There is a myth that caffeine is “roasted out” during the roast, but that is not true. Dark roasts tend to taste “stronger” as they have a heavier body and more bitterness than light roasts.
While both Italian and French roasts are extremely dark, the Italian roast is darker than the French roast. French roasts reach 465-470°F and Italian roasts reach 470-475°F. For each roast, the surface of the coffee beans is coated with oil, and they are shiny black in color. French and Italian roasts are sometimes used interchangeably.
Light roasts like a Cinnamon roast tend to preserve more acidity in the coffee than dark roasts. This is why roasters will roast lightly when they want to present a unique acidity in the coffee, such as a bright citrusy acidity. As roasts get darker, the coffee beans’ sweetness and body are amplified, getting rid of acidity.
- Roasting and Caffeine Content – https://www.partnerscoffee.com/blogs/news/roasting-and-caffeine-content