What do Coffee Roasts Really Mean
How your coffee is roasted will influence its taste and smell. However, with dozens of names in use to describe different roasts, it’s easy to get confused over what each one means.
Understanding these names will show you what characteristics to expect from your coffee. It will also help you better understand the coffee you enjoy and discover new ones that you might also like.
Light, Medium, or Dark?
Roast levels are broadly grouped into three colour categories: light, medium, and dark.
It’s often said that darker roasts have a higher percentage of caffeine. However, lighter roasts actually have a higher concentration of caffeine per bean – but those beans also typically weigh more, so there’s no real difference in the amount of caffeine that ends up in your brew.
Light roasts are light brown with a matte finish. They also have no surface oil, as they haven’t been roasted long enough for it to break through. These roasts are somewhat smooth with visible dark lines and have been roasted up to the beginning of first crack.
First crack refers to the popping noise that occurs at around 205°C/401°F. As the heat increases, the bean expands. The increasing heat causes moisture in the bean to evaporate into steam. This creates pressure, forcing the bean to pop open.
Light roasts typically have a delicate, acidic flavour, retaining more of a bean’s original flavour than dark roasts. Lightly roasted coffee can be clean, bright, and full of delicate floral and fruit notes with great acidity. They’ll have a lighter body. It’s in light roasts that the natural characteristics of the coffee can be tasted.
However, while light roasts can reveal a coffee’s natural flavours, it can also result in “under-developed flavours” if not roasted sufficiently.
Light roasts come with dozens of different names. Here are some of the most common ones.
Light City/Half City: these are lighter than Medium City roasts.
Cinnamon: this refers to the colour of the beans and not the spice’s aroma or flavour.
Blond: as the word Cinnamon created confusion amongst customers, this term was popularised by Starbucks to reference the roasted bean’s colour.
Having been roasted at a higher temperature for longer, medium roasts are darker than light roasts but still unlikely to have an oily surface. The bean have a smoother appearance to the lighter roasts. They have been roasted through first crack with time for more development to occur.
At this stage, the bean will only display the signs that second crack is imminent. Here, the coffee’s natural qualities and brightness is complemented by a fuller body that’s introduced with roasting, creating a balance between acidity and body.
This roast can bring together a balance of acidity, sweetness and body. The increased caramelisation of sugars results in deeper fruit flavours and can be chocolatey and nutty.
Coffees on the medium side of light roast can show off the natural flavours and sweetness of the coffee, while avoiding under-developed flavours that can sometimes be found on the lighter side of roasting.
Common names for medium roasts can include:
American: this roast is traditionally associated with the USA.
Breakfast/After Dinner: while both are medium roasts, After Dinner is the darker of the two.
City+: this is slightly more developed than a City roast.
Full City: this is a medium-dark roast that has almost reached second crack.
Dark roasts can range from medium brown to a shiny charcoal black in colour. The darker the roast, the more oil there’s likely to be on the surface. These roasts have been taken up to and through second crack, which occurs at around 230°C/446°F.
These types of roasts will experience more moisture loss. As a result, it’ll be less dense, as most of its more complex flavours will be disguised by the flavours that come about from intense roasting. This means that it will have less subtle characteristics, with a deeper flavour that’s low in acidity and high in body.
Dark roasts retain little of the original flavour of its beans, with most of its flavour coming from roasting. Dark Roasts will have little acidity or sweetness and notes of dark chocolate. These roasts can taste smoky and bitter. Flavours associated with dark roasts are “spice and bitterness”.
Here a few names associated with dark roasts:
Viennese: this is a medium-dark roast that is roasted to mid-second crack, and is traditionally popular in Austria’s capital.
New Orleans: this US city is known for its typically dark roasts.
French: this is a roast that’s progressed well beyond second crack.
Italian: this roast is darker than a French roast.
Neapolitan/Spanish: these types of roasts are usually considered the darkest roasts.
Which Roast is Best?
Choosing a roast depends on your personal taste! While there are no best roasts, very dark roasts have had a poor reputation in the specialty coffee community. This is because they tend to be bitter, with strong roasted flavours that can obscure the notes inherent to a particular origin, variety, or processing method. However, this can often be influenced by controlling extraction, grind size, and water temperature.
WHY NOT ALL MEDIUM ROASTS TASTE THE SAME Most roasts have distinct flavours. However, this doesn’t mean that you can expect the same flavours from coffees with the same name.There are many ways to manipulate these variables.