Most people who drink coffee will want their beverage to taste perfect when brewed. And, every coffee drinker will have their own personal preferences and tastes when it comes to how they like their coffee. How the coffee beans have been roasted and the coffee roast levels is one of the biggest factors that can help you achieve getting the taste just how you like it.
The Art of Roasting Coffee
Not everybody is a master of roasting coffee, since it is a skill that can take many years of gaining experience and practice over time. Before roasting, raw coffee beans are small and have almost no taste. It’s the process of roasting that gives the beans their taste and aroma that we all know and love. While roasted coffee beans are usually a shade of brown depending on the roast level, they are actually soft and green when picked.
After roasting, there are various factors that will have an impact on how the coffee is going to eventually taste. This can include the age of the coffee beans, how they are ground, the processing method, and how they are brewed. However, no matter what you do with your coffee beans after they have been roasted, the roast level is always going to be the determining factor when it comes to how your final cup of coffee tastes.
Different Coffee Roast Levels Explained
When determining the roast level of a coffee bean, its color will usually be the first thing that you consider to help you determine the type of coffee roasts. Generally, this will range from light to dark. While you can use the color of the coffee beans to find the roast level, the best way to find it is through finding the roasting temperature. This coffee roasting guide will explain more:
As you would expect from the name, light roasts tend to be lighter in color than others. They are mostly light brown. Light roasts are best for when you need to preserve as much flavor and aroma as possible from the coffee beans. Lightly roasted beans tend to be drier compared to other roast levels, with no oil on the surface of the beans due to the shorter time period that they are roasted for. Light roast coffee beans are heated in a temperature of 350-400 degrees Fahrenheit. They come in different categories with popular ones including Half City, Light City, and Cinnamon. These beans are roasted until just before the first crack in the beans appears. There is another category of light roast, known as New England Roast, which roasts for slightly longer, until the first crack has formed.
Medium roast coffee retains the flavor and aroma of the coffee beans to an extent, but less so than light roasts. They are also dry and tend to lack oil on the surface. Compared to light roasts, a medium roast will usually have less caffeine. To achieve a medium roast, the coffee beans are heated at a temperature of between 400-430 degrees Fahrenheit. Roasting will typically continue until the first crack has completed and the second crack is beginning to appear. Medium roasts may sometimes be referred to as Breakfast Roast, Regular Roast, American Roast and City Roast. How to brew medium roast coffee? The good news is that this roast level is very versatile and can be used for almost any brewing method.
The beans will have a darker color and some oil on their surface when they are roasted to a medium-dark level. Compared to lighter and medium roasts, they will also have a heavier body, and have spicier notes. Coffee beans are heated at a temperature of 435-450 degrees Fahrenheit to achieve this roast level. They should be roasted until the beginning or the middle of the second crack appearing in the beans. You may also know them as Vienna Roast, After-Dinner Roast, or Full-City Roast.
By roasting coffee beans to the dark roast level, much of the flavor and natural aroma of the coffee beans will be replaced by the roast. These beans are dark brown in color and tend to have a very oily surface. Dark roast vs medium roast coffee is lower in caffeine and has an ashy, burnt taste. Coffee beans should be heated at a temperature between 465-480 degrees Fahrenheit to reach a dark roast level. They are heated until the second crack in the coffee bean is fully complete, and sometimes for even longer. They are also known as Espresso Roast, French Roast, Italian Roast, or Continental Roast.
How Coffee Beans are Changed by Roasting
The longer a coffee bean is roasted for, the darker they will become and the more of their original flavor and aroma will be lost. As the beans get darker, the levels of caffeine in them will also be reduced, and they will lose density. Because of this, a dark roasted coffee bean will typically weigh less than a light roasted bean. As the beans are roasted for longer, they will also begin to lose their acidity, and oils will begin to appear on the surface of the beans.
How to Choose the Right Roast Level for You
Choosing the right roast level for you can sometimes be tricky as there are many different levels to choose from. Since the aroma and the flavor of the coffee is largely dependent on how much the beans have been roasted, keep the following in mind when choosing the right level for you:
- A light roast will be a better option for you if you like coffee that is high in caffeine with a more natural flavor.
- If you want to avoid high acidity levels in your coffee, but still want a lot of flavor and aroma with a decent amount of caffeine, medium or medium-dark will be ideal for you.
- If you prefer a healthier, low in caffeine option and like your coffee less acidic, darker roast levels may be a good option for you.
Common Myths About Coffee Roast Levels
There is a common myth that the darker a coffee bean is, the stronger it is and the more caffeine it will contain. It’s easy to see why this myth can be believable for those who don’t understand coffee bean roasting, since a dark cup of coffee can usually be expected to be strong. This myth has also led to mistaken beliefs that lightly roasted coffee is weaker or lower in caffeine compared to other roasts. Thankfully, this myth is quickly being debunked as more people try light coffee roasts and they gain more popularity.
Other Factors That Influence the Taste of Your Coffee
While the roast level of the coffee will be the overriding factor that determines how your final cup of coffee is going to taste, it’s important to also consider all the other factors that eventually impact what your coffee tastes like once it is brewed. Once you have chosen the perfect roast level for you, it’s also worth thinking about the other important factors and how they could potentially change up the eventual flavor and aroma of your coffee.
No matter how your coffee beans are roasted, the region in which they have been grown will impact the overall taste. High altitude coffee beans such as Arabica beans tend to have a different taste to low-grown coffee beans, which can often be blander and flatter. The soil composition of the growing area will impact the nutrients that the plant has access to while growing, which can impact both the taste and the overall quality of the coffee.
How you decide to brew your coffee beans will also impact the flavor. Bear in mind that the type of brew that you want to make will also have an impact on the roast level that you eventually choose. Espresso is a popular type of brew that is made by brewing the coffee under pressure in a short time with finely ground beans. It leads to a higher caffeine content and a condensed brew with a heavier body.
On the other hand, another popular option is drip coffee, which is brewed more slowly than espresso and uses a coarser grind. This leads to a more balanced, thinner cup that is less acidic and has more back-end bitter notes that are usually missing in espresso.
How finely or coarsely the coffee is ground will also impact the final taste. Getting the grind level right is almost as important as choosing the right roast level since the size of the grinds is the main factor influencing the extraction of aroma and flavors from the coffee beans. Coffee that is ground too finely is likely to be muddy and bitter, while very coarsely ground coffee beans can lead to a weak and watery cup when using a paper filter since there is not enough bean surface area for the water to come into contact with.
Which coffee roast is your favorite?