What’s In A Roast? How To Choose Between A Light, Medium, And Dark Roast Coffee

by | May 4, 2019

I will admit it. I stand confused and bewildered at the sight of the coffee beans in my local market. I really want to make the right choice when choosing my own coffee beans from the endless selection at the market.

I stare at all the bins like a child on Christmas morning who cannot bring themselves to choose a toy. However, I want to be an adult, take command, and make a selection like I have any clue as to what I am about to do.

I want to take the right beans home, grind them fresh, and smell them brewing. Instead, I take the same beans home. I pick a familiar name of the roast. I pick with my eyes and my nose.

I always pick a dark roast coffee. I fill my sack with the shiniest, most glistening dark roast beans, with the deepest, richest smell, and tote them home.

A World Beyond Dark Roast

Recently though, I actually began to wonder what else may be out there. What exists in the coffee world beyond French Roast, Italian Roast, and Espresso? And would I like it?

If you are like me and have never gotten beyond the allure of the oily, rich smell of the far right bins, read on. Maybe we can learn something new together. If not, well, at least we tried!

 

What Is In A Roast?

I was pretty unsure about the basics. I decided to start by learning some basics about roasting.

The only type of roasting I have ever known involved me apologizing to a turkey for inappropriate contact. I was surprised to learn that coffee beans start out pretty raw too.

They are actually roasted while they are squishy and green. They are not already dry and do not resemble the pretty, crunchy, hard bean we know until after the roasting process.

These “green beans” are placed into a roasting machine where the beans are constantly kept moving. This is so they do not burn. The roasting machines maintain a temperature of around 550 degrees Fahrenheit.

To keep the coffee bean roasting temperature in perspective, I thought about the Thanksgiving turkey. The hottest that bird has ever roasted is 425 degrees. That means those coffee beans are roasting ridiculously hot!

 

How Do You Like Your Beans?

Since the beans roast at such a high temperature, it was no surprise to me that coffee bean roasting is a specialty. Coffee bean roasters are a group of craftspeople with a number of variations on coffee roasts.

These variations are so precise, that I admit I got a little lost. Please humor me and allow me to use the three very technical roasting terms I was able to easily grasp:  light, medium, and dark roast.

 

Light Roast Coffee

It is just like it sounds. The bean is roasted the least amount of time and to the lightest color. A light roast bean is a milk chocolate color. The color reminds me of a package of instant cocoa.

What makes light roast special? Light roast beans hold their moisture inside of them. This was kind of counterintuitive to me. I always passed by the light roast coffee bins because the beans looked dry to me. I must rethink this.

Light roast coffee is the least processed. Therefore, it has the most caffeine. On mornings when I need more help, I am grabbing a cup of light roast from now on!

It matters more where light roast coffee comes from and what flavor notes are listed on the bin. Since the bean is roasted the least, it retains more of its original flavor.

A light roast coffee is denser. This helps make the flavors brighter and more complex. A light roast can be bright, fruity, or even have an herbal taste.

I actually feel a lot smarter now. I will have a light roast coffee in the morning for an extra boost. I will pick a flavor that I like because it will matter.

If this sounds tempting to you, some common light roasts are Light City, Half City, and Cinnamon. If you are not sure, look for the lightest, driest looking beans. I am going to try this. I am actually going to try this!

 

Medium Roast Coffee – This One Is Just Right

These were the easiest to familiarize me with. This is the in-between group. It is a bit sweeter than a light roast coffee. It will have more of traditional coffee smell, and more of a balanced flavor.

Even though medium roast coffee is roasted longer than a light roast, it still does not have an oily looking surface. If you are trying to pick out a medium roast bean, look for a medium brown bean. Find a bean the color of a medium brown bear.

Here in the United States, it is not hard to find a medium roast coffee. It is often referred to as the “American roast,” due to its popularity. I am guessing this is the same sort of roast found on my kitchen table growing up.

If you are after a medium roast, look for coffee roasts named City, American, or Breakfast. Personally, since this is an in-between, I am picking up some medium roast coffee for company.

 

Dark Roast Coffee Is Bitter

Finally for my staple, dark roast coffee. I will get to the part where I admit how wrong I was about dark roast coffee. First, we should go over the basics.

Dark roast coffee is so shiny and oily for a very good reason. It is roasted at a high heat long enough for the oil inside the coffee bean to break through its surface.

This causes the dark roast coffee bean to lose the natural tastes of the bean. Instead, the bean takes on the tastes of the roasting process. It is the roasting you smell when picking out or brewing these beans.

Dark roast coffee has less caffeine than the other roasts – so people usually say. This is due to the long, hot roasting. The truth is a bit more complicated though. If you measure by volume, the light roast has indeed more caffeine. However, if measured by weight, the dark roast has more caffeine. This guy can explain it a lot better than me!

There is an upside to losing some of the caffeine. Should you have more of an acid sensitivity, dark roast coffee contains less acid than the lighter roasts. Despite that, it is still very bitter.

While light roast coffee can have many complex flavors, dark roast coffee has more one-note flavors. A cup of dark roast coffee can have a roasted nut flavor or perhaps be reminiscent of caramel.

Dark roast coffee produces a thick cup of coffee with an oily surface. When it is brewed, dark roast coffee gives off the strong scent of coffee so many of us are familiar with.

When picking out a dark roast coffee, look for beans that are shiny and deep black. They will be oily on their surface. Common dark roasts are Espresso, Viennese, French, and Italian.

 

Am I Being Roasted?

Now to roast me. I was wrong about dark roast coffee. I have been picking dark roast coffee for all the wrong reasons all of my life.

I thought because I saw all of the shiny moist oil on the surface of the beans that somehow meant the dark roast coffee was fresher than the others. No.

If not fresher, then surely all of the rich dark colors of the dark roast bean meant it was stronger and higher in caffeine? No.

That the dark roast tasted more like “coffee?” Well, maybe I was right on that last one. That is the taste of coffee to me is the taste of the roasting process.

 

Branching Out

Now the important question. Will being informed about the different coffee roasts change my buying habits at my local market? Will I still buy the same familiar dark roast coffee?

I am going to be honest with you. I will go directly to the dark roast bins, and I will pick up a familiar favorite dark roast and take it home.

Also, I may stop and stare. It will not be because I am clueless. Instead, I will be an informed adult about to make an actual choice!

I am going to choose to take home a new, unfamiliar coffee roast each week. I will do this alongside my familiar staple. I think baby steps count.

I am branching out!

 

A New Brew For You?

I hope this information was as helpful for you as it was for me. I wonder, will it switch up your routine? Will you try another coffee roast?

  Last update on 2019-11-13 / Images from Amazon Product Advertising API.

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