I don’t know about you, but for me, coffee isn’t just about waking up in the morning. It’s about engaging and indulging the senses, and exploring the plethora of options that the humble coffee bean has to offer.
But the different types of coffee roasts can be somewhat bewildering to those who aren’t already in the know.
So if you are looking for a guide with all the different coffee roasts explained, you have come to the right place.
In this coffee roasts guide we will step you through all the coffee roast types – from light and medium roasts through to full and dark roasts. We even cover double roasts and espresso.
We also bring you up to speed on the jargon, since each style of coffee roast are often referred to by different names. And of course we’ll describe how to brew each different roast of coffee to best effect.
In addition, we will try to give you a flavor profile of each type of roast. But just to give you a heads-up, the real flavor profile depends on a whole host of factors, such as the country of origin of the coffee beans.
And that’s not all we have here for you (this is the Ultimate guide to coffee roasts after all). We also answer some of your most frequently asked questions on the subject of coffee roast levels.
And now that we’ve brewed, let’s get straight to it.
Introduction to the Coffee Roasting Process
First let’s quickly cover off the basics of the coffee roasting process – that is after all the start of the journey for all roasted coffee beans!
Once the coffee beans have been harvested and processed, they are then ready for roasting.
Coffee beans arrive to be processed in a state entirely different to how they leave. On arrival, they are green, soft and spongy.
When they are moved from the hopper for storage to the roaster, the roasting process and transformation can begin.
First the beans absorb heat and expand, and at 347 degrees Fahrenheit the beans start to give off heat.
While they heat and expand they also double in size. But because of the water lost during the roasting process, they lose between 15 and 18 percent of their mass.
The changes in heat bring about chemical reactions in the coffee bean that affect the color, size, and taste of the coffee bean.
It is these chemical reactions that differentiate a light roast vs dark roast.
Those who are roasting coffee listen out for two main events. The first event is the “first crack” where basically, at 385 degrees Fahrenheit there will be a cracking sound.
At this point much of the coffee’s moisture has evaporated, and you have reached the beginnings of the light roast.
As the beans continue to roast, they are moved through from the light roast stage to the medium roast stage, and then the beans become darker still.
Beans that are cooled down at this stage in the roasting process are known as medium roasts and medium to dark roasts.
If however the roasting process continues, and the coffee beans manage to reach an internal temperature of 435 degrees Fahrenheit, there is a “second crack”.
Once the coffee beans get to the second crack stage they are now considered dark or full roasts. These coffee beans are much darker than they previously were and more brittle.
When the beans have reached their desired color, they are quickly cooled down before being packaged and transported to their destination.
So that is a very high level explanation of the coffee bean roasting process.
If you are interested in roasting your own coffee beans, see our in-depth home coffee roasting guide.
What Are The Different Types Of Coffee Roasts?
Simply put, coffee roasts exist on a spectrum and this spectrum describes the coffee bean roast level by the color of the roasted coffee beans, ranging from light brown to very dark brown.
On this spectrum, you also get medium roasts and light to medium roasts. Then there’s some that are a little different, namely the double roast and the espresso roast.
We’re going to be talking about each of these coffee roasting profiles in turn, list what type of coffee maker suits the roast best so that by the end of this article you will feel like an expert!
Light roast coffee beans are the lightest in color, and sometimes they’re actually more of a beige than a brown. They often have a subtle sweet or floral scent.
Fact: Many people assume that the darker roast the higher the level of caffeine. However this is quite a misconception, and in fact lighter roasts can actually have a slightly higher concentration of caffeine compared to their darker counterparts.
Other Common Names for Light Roasts
- Light City Roast
- Half City Roast
- Cinnamon Roast
- New England Roast
- Moderate-Light Roast
Flavor Profile of Light Roasts
Light roast coffees are much lighter in body than their counterparts. The flavors are far more subtle, and present a great way to gradually introduce someone to coffee who may not take well to the stronger richer flavors of the darker roasts.
You can get traces of sweetness and fruit tanginess, but this is subtle, since the coffee bean hasn’t been roasted enough to produce any caramelized sugars.
This level of roast is ideal for tasting the full origin character of the coffee.
Light roasts are also the most acidic beans of the bunch, while on the other end of the scale, the darker coffee beans are much more bittersweet and less acidic. Many great light roasts are sourced from Africa as they are typically grown at high elevation.
If you want to try a lightly roasted coffee, this one by Coffee Bros is an excellent example to try.
When Does The Roasting Process Stop for Light Roasts?
Light roast coffee beans have only just managed to reach the first crack referred to earlier, and are cooled down almost as soon as the first crack has occurred.
Best Brewing Methods for Light Roasts
This involves pouring hot water through the coffee grounds in a filter. As the water drains through, the coffee is filtered to leave you with the perfect light roast brew.
You should use a high water temperature, ideally between 206 and 208 degrees Fahrenheit.
This high temperature serves to penetrate the bean’s dense cell structure and extract the sugars, so that the resulting brew isn’t too acidic, which is something to watch out for with light roasts.
While machines can be used to filter your coffee, most light coffee roast connoisseurs prefer their coffee brewed by hand, since it is thought that this gives the brewer more control of extraction of the all the coffee solubles that dissolve in the water.
Medium roasts are brown in color, and are a little darker than light roasts, though not as dark as dark or full roasts.
They have a very balanced aroma, with their acidity being somewhat more levelled off compared to their much more acidic predecessor light roasts.
Other Common Names for Medium Roasts
- City Roast
- Regular Roast
- American Roast
- Breakfast Roast
- After Dinner Roast
- City+ Roast
- Full City Roast
- Light French Roast
Flavor Profile of Medium Roasts
When you taste a medium roast, you get a far greater taste of the effect of the roasting process compared to light roasts.
Yet they still manage to maintain much of the character of the bean’s country of origin, although this does not come through as cleanly as it does with light roast coffee.
Instead of the rather delicate taste of light roast you get something that’s a little more robust. It has a more balanced and well rounded flavor profile.
The roasting process also allows the medium roast beans to reach into the deep caramel sweetness thanks to a longer roast.
If you are looking for a good example of a medium roast coffee, this one by Volcanica Coffee is excellent.
When Does The Roasting Process Stop for Medium Roasts?
Medium roasts are achieved between the first and the second crack of the roasting process.
Best Brewing Methods for Medium Roasts
Medium roast coffees are one of the most popular choices as they suit a range of brewing methods.
Many people like to brew their medium roast coffee in much the same way as the drip or pour over method that we described in our earlier section on best brewing methods for light roasts.
To make a cold brew, simply immerse the coffee grounds in a jar, french press or coffee maker, and let it stew for 12 to 24 hours.
Then simply strain the coffee grounds to serve.
Dark or Full Roasts
Dark and fully roasts are significantly different from their less roasted counterparts…
When comparing medium roast vs dark roast, the dark roasted beans are not only considerably darker, they are also shiny.
The further the coffee is taken past the second crack, the shinier the coffee bean becomes. This is due to the release of oils from the beans to the surface.
The oiliness of dark roast beans is often an issue when used in automatic espresso machines with integrated grinders, as the oil tends to build up on the grinder and brew head. For this reason, super-automatic machine owners are best to use medium roast beans.
Other Common Names for Dark/Full Roasts
Specialty coffee roasters use a range of different terms for dark roasts including:
- Full City+ Roast
- Second Crack Roast
- Viennese Roast
- New Orleans Roast
- French Roast
- Italian Roast
- Neapolitan/Spanish Roast
Flavor Profile of Dark/Full Roasts
By the time the coffee beans reach the full roast stage, the vestigial acidity of the beans has been neutralized, and the flavor is dominated by that induced by the roasting process. And sadly, little origin character remains.
However the benefit of taking beans this far is that dark roasts are bolder, richer, and more full bodied. They are often found to have particularly bittersweet or toasty (sometimes smoky) taste.
If you are looking for a good example of a dark roast coffee, this one by Koffee Kult has a huge following and is worth a try.
When Does The Roasting Process Stop for Dark or Full Roasts?
For a dark or full roast, the roasting process comes to halt just as the second crack is underway, smack on 428 degrees Fahrenheit.
Best Brewing Methods for Dark/Full Roasts
We would argue that the best way to brew a dark or full roast is with an espresso machine or by way of an aeropress. They are also pretty good in a cold brew.
An aeropress is a piston-style brewer that forces coffee through a thin paper filter directly into a cup. This action gives the coffee a much cleaner taste with more clearly defined flavor notes.
Moreover, the paper filter stops any oil and sediment from getting in the cup.
Some baristas and roasters like to dabble in double roasting. And as the name suggests, the coffee beans are roasted not once but twice.
Strangely however, double roasted coffee beans are not necessarily any darker than dark or full roasts. They can even be lighter than some medium roast beans.
Other Common Names for Double Roasts
- French Roast
- Spanish Roast
- Turkish Roast
Flavor Profile of Double Roasts
Double roasting effectively eliminates the characteristics of a lighter roast, and seems to add a somewhat smoky flavor. And you also tend to get a slighter sweeter flavor than dark roasts.
Roast Method for Double Roasting
There are two main techniques in double roasting. You can either take beans that have already been roasted, and then roast them again, or you can use the Swiss method.
The latter method was designed to create very low acid roasts.
Basically, the beans are roasted to the first crack, then left to cool down, and then reroasted until you get your desired color. But before the second crack.
Best Brewing Methods for Double Roasts
It’s hard to select one optimum brewing method for double roasts because it all depends on how dark the beans are, and what sort of flavor you looking for, acidic and delicate or more richer and bittersweet.
Our advice would be to brew according to your personal tastes.
An espresso roast is basically a way of roasting any green coffee beans with the intention of using it to brew an espresso.
Technically any roast of coffee can be used to make an espresso, but some roasts can work much better than others.
It is a strongly held belief amongst many baristas that the best roasts for making espressos is medium-dark.
Thus espresso roasts are usually roasted a little longer and a little hotter than medium roasts, to increase the body and decrease the acidity.
If you love to make espresso at home, try this espresso roast by specialty roasters, Kicking Horse.
Flavor Profile of Espresso Roasts
The traditional flavor profile of an espresso coffee is chocolate, nutty and sweet. But you can also get some that have fruity undertones.
Best Brewing Methods for Espresso Roasts
As you may well have gathered by now, an espresso roast is best brewed as an espresso.
A favorite option for making espressos is with a dedicated espresso maker. Espresso makers basically serve to amplify the taste of the coffee grounds, and create a strong, highly concentrated and smooth shot of coffee.
To make an espresso with an espresso machine all you have to do is press finely ground coffee into a porta-filter and attach it to the espresso maker. Then press the button and your espresso will be ready in as little as 30 seconds.
Most Frequently Asked Questions
Which coffee roast has the most flavor?
Now, this is quite a tricky question to answer…
Because on the one hand darker roasts have a bolder, more full bodied and bittersweet taste. But in contrast, light roasted beans on the other hand allow you to taste the character of where the coffee beans originate from…
Lighter roasts may have more delicate flavor, but they also allow you to taste the difference between coffees of different countries, regions and even specific farms!
The lighter the roast, the more complex and multilayered the flavor. You can get traces of fruity tanginess, sweetness, or even floral flavors.
How do you choose a coffee roast?
The best advice we can give you to choose a coffee roast is to try out several different ones and decide which is your favorite.
But bear in mind that flavors differ from brand to brand, and also according to where the coffee beans originated from and how you brew your coffee.
You could try medium roasts to begin with, and if you find that too bitter, opt for a lighter roast. Or if you really love the taste imbued by the roasting process, then why not go for a darker fuller roast?
The key thing to remember is that lighter roasts are more acidic and better portray the country of origin. Whereas coffee that is roasted longer and is darker will be less acidic and more bittersweet, and it loses the delicate flavors that depict country of origin.
What roast of coffee is the smoothest?
Medium roasts typically make for the smoothest brew. Being mid range in the roasting process, they incorporate the best of both worlds, and a balance between acidity and bitterness.
As we mentioned earlier (but bears repeating here) medium roasts are known by many other names, such as City Roast, Regular Roast, and American Roast.
This is one of the most preferred go-to roasts in America and has the most conventional taste.
What coffee roast is least bitter?
Light roasts are the least bitter tasting beans.
They’re also better able to retain the character of their country of origin in their aroma and taste. But on the flip side they are the most acidic of the roasts.
Which coffee roast is healthiest?
Although all coffee roasts have similar health benefits and health drawbacks, it certainly seems that darker roasts are healthier on the whole.
Dark roast coffee is a top source of antioxidants that can help fight against the free radicals that are linked to body cell damage and cancer, and drinking coffee is thought to lower your risk of cancer.
Dark roasts are also an excellent source of certain nutrients, namely riboflavin, niacin, thiamine, potassium, vitamin B5, and magnesium.
Coffee & Weight Loss
Black coffee is a known catalyst for weight loss. It has no calories, fat or cholesterol.
It can help you to reduce weight stored as water, and with it’s boosting of your metabolism, you are more energized, and as such are able to exercise that much harder and for longer.
But that’s not all, one scientific study has shown that drinking just one cup of coffee can increase your metabolic rate, possibly leading to fat burning and weight loss.
The best coffee roast for weight loss is thought to be dark roasts.
What coffee roast is most acidic?
Light roasts are the most acidic, and as the roasting process continues, the coffee beans get increasingly less acidic and instead become more bitter.
What is full city roast?
Full city roast is basically just another name for medium roast. A full city roasts’ flavor profile kinda strikes a balance between retaining the character of the beans’ country of origin and the taste generated from the roasting process.
Full city roasts are darker than city roasts and half city roasts, but not as dark as full city+ roasts.
What does a coffee roast number mean?
These days you often see coffee beans being sold with not just a description of the roast profile, but also by way of a numerical rating.
The lower numbers represent lighter roasts, while higher numbers are used to describe darker roasts.
Here’s a typical numerical roast guide:
- Light to medium roast
- Medium roast
- Medium to dark roast
- Dark roast
- Very dark roast
As you move through the numbers and the different degrees of roasting, the coffee beans become less acidic and more bittersweet.
What is Slimroast coffee?
SlimRoast coffee, was made famous by its manufacturer Valentus, is a coffee that’s designed to help it’s drinkers with weight loss.
It is made from a mixture of Italian dark roast coffee beans, and is designed to work on the cellular level, turning your stored body fat into energy. And at the same time, it is also an appetite suppressant, meaning it will control your cravings for food.
However, Medsafe has declared this coffee roast as unsafe to consume. In some countries some of the ingredients in SlimRoast coffee are classed as illegal drugs, namely methylhexanamine and phenethylamine.
So that rounds out our guide to the different coffee bean roasts. Want to know more? Watch the video below for a more in depth explanation of the roasting process.
More coffee bean articles
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