What's the Difference between Light Roast Coffee and Dark Roast Coffee?
Every coffee has its own distinct flavor. While some coffees may taste and smell fruity, others may have a strong nutty taste to them. The reasoning behind such diversity has to do with the way the coffee bean is roasted. The three main ways coffee beans are roasted are light roast, medium roast, and dark roast and each coffee roast brings out the best in each coffee bean.
The most common way to describe coffee roast levels is by the color of the roasted coffee beans, ranging from light to dark (or extra dark). Because coffee beans vary, color is not an especially accurate way of judging a coffee roast. Before roasting, green coffee beans are soft, with a fresh grassy earthy smell and little or no taste. The Master Coffee Roaster uses different roasts for different coffee beans for many reasons, and a lot goes on in the transformation from light to medium to dark. The coffee roasting process transforms these raw green coffee beans into the distinctively aromatic, flavorful, crunchy beans that we recognize as roasted coffee.
Other factors, of course, enter into the complex equation that determines your coffee’s taste; coffee bean origin, age of the coffee, processing method, and so on, but having a basic understanding of the coffee roast will give you an idea of what type of flavor profile to expect.
LIGHT ROASTED COFFEE
The light roasted coffee bean receives less heat than a dark roasted coffee bean. Light roasted coffee beans generally reach an internal temperature of 180°C – 205°C (356°F – 401°F). They are light brown, tan, in color, with a light body and no oil on the surface because the beans have not been roasted long enough for the natural oils to break through to the surface.
When the temperature gets close to 205°C, the green coffee beans pop or crack and expand in size. This is known as the “first crack” (for the “second crack,” see below). So, a light coffee roast generally means a coffee bean that has not been roasted beyond the first crack.
Light roasted coffee beans also contain higher levels of caffeine, due to a larger retention rate of moisture. The more moisture they contain the denser they become, allowing them to have the highest acidity and brightness of the three roast levels.
The characteristics of different coffee origins are most pronounced in light coffee roasts, as are the qualities of the individual coffee. If a goal is to highlight a specific bean, then this is where a lighter coffee roast makes the most sense, because it accentuates the unique qualities of the coffee, and you’ll be able to taste floral notes, strong berry flavors, clove or chocolate. Often coffees that are light roasted don’t taste balanced (meaning equal amounts of body, acidity, and fruitiness) because light roasted coffee can taste extreme. "Too much citrus." "Too much floral." Lighter roasts may require some adventurous coffee drinking.
MEDIUM ROASTED COFFEE
Medium roast coffee starts from the end of the first crack to just the beginning of the second crack. Internal temperatures reach between 210°C – 220°C (410°F – 428°F). The medium roast coffee is the most common coffee roast being served in the United States. Medium roasted coffee is a compromise that often brings out the best flavors in coffees that have begun caramelization but have no chocolatey darkness to the roasted coffee bean.
Medium roasted coffee contains a balance of the coffee beans' natural flavor without much acidity. You will still be able to taste the original flavor profile of the coffee, but the coffee beans' brightness will be complemented with the fuller body that is introduced through the roasting process. Medium roasted coffee lacks the grainy bitter acidity taste of the light roasts, exhibiting a more balanced flavor, aroma, and acidity. Medium roasted coffee beans also share in the dry and non-oily texture of the light roast.
MEDIUM DARK ROASTED COFFEE
Medium-dark roasted coffee beans are heated to a temperature of between (437°F – 446°F) from the beginning or middle of the second crack. The rich flavors and aromas of the coffee roasting process become more noticeable, and the taste and flavor profile of the coffee may be somewhat spicy.
Coffee beans roasted to medium-dark roast have a light coating of oil and a rich deep brown color. A medium-dark roasted coffee bean has a richer body in comparison with the lighter or medium roasted coffees. The medium-dark roasted coffee beans are characterized by a heavier body than the lighter roasts and caramel flavor with muted acidity.
DARK ROASTED COFFEE
Properly roasted delicious dark roasted coffee beans reach an internal temperature of (465°F – 485°F). They are heated to the end of the second crack and beyond. Oils can be seen on the surface of the beans, which are now dark brown in color, sometimes almost black. The level of oil correlates to how far the coffee bean is taken past the second crack.
This dark roasted coffee bean contains the least caffeine; however, dark roasted coffee will give you the most amazing flavors, bold bodies, richer taste, and smooth darkness. The overall taste profile meets near chocolaty darkness. When drinking a dark roast, you almost exclusively taste notes from the roast, and there is little in the way of floral, berry, fruit, citrus. Because the original coffee’s qualities are mostly lost at this roast level, it’s difficult to pick out the characteristics of a specific coffee’s origin or lot. Those flavors have been overshadowed by the flavor of full caramelization. In unskilled hands or with inexpensive green beans it can give you a charred, acrid or burnt flavor, so it is important to know who is roasting your coffee beans and their roasting background and experience.
Some common roast names for dark roasted coffee are French Roast Organic, Full City, Italian, Viennese, French, Continental, New Orleans, European and Espresso.
Light roasted coffee is fruitier, composed of softer flavors but with bright acidity almost tart flavor. Dark roasted coffee is bolder with stronger more smoky aromas and chocolate finishes. Depending on the origin or blending of the coffees by the Master Coffee Roaster each roast is unique and brings with it many wonderful flavors.
When buying coffee instead of ordering by looking at the coffee roast as a color, coffee drinkers must think about their favorite flavor profiles, such as full-bodied, rich, nutty, crisp or bright, and learn about the Master Coffee Roaster behind the coffee. There is a big difference buying coffee from a trained Master Coffee Roaster with forty-years’ experience who actually stands at a coffee roasting machine and controls your coffee beans as they roast into perfection, then buying a mass-produced coffee product from a huge conglomerate.