It's a guarantee that most coffee drinkers are familiar with the terms light, medium, and dark roast. On the surface, the terms seem pretty self-explanatory with light roast being the most mellow, medium roast being almost a baseline, and dark roast being the boldest and most intense of them all. But is that the full picture? As a coffee lover, you probably already have a favorite type of roast. But do you really know what it is about your particular roast that makes it so appealing to you? This article below explores the real difference between coffee roasts.
Let’s start with caffeine. Believe it or not, there are plenty of coffee drinkers out there that don't care much for caffeine while there are others who drink coffee for solely for that purpose. It's commonly thought that dark roasts have more caffeine because….well, it looks darker. There's another school of thought that says light roasted beans have higher caffeine content than dark roasts because caffeine is lost during the roasting process. However, both are incorrect and here's why. The amount of caffeine lost during the roasting process is so minimal that laboratory level of equipment is required to observe the differences. Caffeine is very stable through the roasting process so you don't lose out on any caffeinated goodness.
The real difference in caffeine is determined by how much whether you measure your coffee in scoops or weight. Coffee beans lose much of their density and weight during the roasting process. And since darker roasted beans are roasted for a longer period of time, they will weigh less than light roasted beans. If you measure out your coffee in scoops, your light roast will have more caffeine since its denser. However, if you make your light and dark roasted coffee based in scoop weight, a dark roast will have more caffeine. At the end of the day, how you measure your coffee determines caffeine content.
Beyond caffeine, the main difference between coffee roasts will boil down to overall flavor. The term flavor used here encompasses to the general coffee experience which can be directly or indirectly affected by factors such as acidity, body, and taste.
Light Roasted Beans
Lighter roasts tend to be more acidic and you'll experience a brighter flavor. Many have likened the taste of lightly roasted beans to toasted grain and you'll get more of the actual bean flavor unbiased by any extended roasting. A physical characteristic of a lightly roasted bean is the it will be less cracked than medium or dark roasted beans.
Medium Roasted Beans
Medium roasts will naturally have a darker and more brownish color than a light roast. Medium roasted beans take on more of the flavor from the roasting process in addition to retaining its original taste. A medium roast tends to be more balanced with the acidity and will result in a coffee that has fuller body. Overall a medium roast allows you to retain much of the bean flavor while also offering a nice balance with the roast flavor. For many this isn’t a compromise; but rather, the best of both worlds.
Dark Roast Beans
The first and most distinct thing you will notice about a dark roast bean itself is that has sheen to it. This is because the roasting process brings out all of the oils from the bean. Many feel the reason that dark roast has such a robust forward flavor is that the oils actually take on the charred flavor instilled in the roasting process. Sometimes a dark roast will have almost a burnt flavor. The term burnt in any other context would normally be negative. However, millions of coffee lovers desire this quality in their coffee as it adds a potent accent to their coffee experience. Your dark roast will generally be the least acidic. Some coffee roasters will say that dark roasted coffee beans have the tendency to start tasting the same. For those looking to maximize the experience of tasting all the subtleties of a particular coffee bean such as its regional or strain characteristics, medium or light roast will be better options.
Obviously there is no “best roast”. The difference between coffee roasts will be 100% based on the drinker's particular preferences. It all comes down to what you like. No matter your preferences there is a roast out there for you to meet your mood at any given time. If you've always stuck with the same roast (we coffee lovers are admittedly creatures of habit), it might be time to try something new and see if you can appreciate the many options that are part of the coffee experience.
Most coffee lovers don't roast their own coffee so the real difference between coffee roasts isn't so obvious. Knowing these differences can not only help you better decide on which new coffee blends to try, but also help you enjoy your existing coffee even more.
For more details of the roasting process, check out our other article on the differences between coffee roasts.