Coffee is a remarkably complex substance. It can consist of over 800 different flavors and aroma-imparting elements. To put that in perspective, wine has only 200. One factor that plays a significant role in determining how a cup of coffee tastes is the degree to which the coffee beans are heated or roasted. Thankfully, coffee lovers don’t have to master the characteristics of hundreds of different types of coffee roasts. Although roast names and descriptions are not standardized in the coffee industry, there really are only four main roast types: Light, Medium, Medium-Dark, and Dark.
When first picked, raw coffee beans are green and have little to no taste. It is the roasting process that changes their color and unleashes the remarkable flavors and aromas that have engulfed our senses and enhanced our lives since the 16th century.
Like many valuable things we consume in life, roast level preferences are subjective. One thing is for certain: the more you know, the more control you will have over your coffee experiences.
The color of roasted beans is the easiest and most common way to identify different roast levels. As the name suggests, light roasts absorb heat for the shortest period of time and appear light brown in color. The beans pop or crack and expand anywhere between 350 °F – 400 °F, a phenomenon known as the “first crack”. Light roasts generally have not been roasted beyond the first crack. They have little to no oil on the surface of the beans and their taste is earthy, grainy and acidic. The roasting process actually burns off caffeine, so it may surprise you to know that light roasts will give you more of a jolt than any other type of roast. Some common roast names within the Light Roast category are Light City, Half City, Cinnamon Roast (roasted to just before first crack), and New England Roast.
Medium roasts are heated from 410 °F - 430 °F, just before the beginning of the “second crack”. They are medium brown in color and have more body than light roasts. They also don’t have oil on the surface of the beans but their taste is more balanced and less acidic. They contain less caffeine than light roasts but more than dark roasts. Common names are Regular Roast, American Roast (the traditional roast in the eastern United States, roasted to the end of the first crack), City Roast (medium brown, a typical roast throughout the US), and Breakfast Roast.
Medium - Dark Roast
These roasts have a richer, darker color with some oil beginning to appear on the surface of the beans. The beans are heated from 435°F – 445°F, to the beginning or middle of the second crack. The flavors and aromas of the roasting process become apparent, and the taste of the coffee may be somewhat bittersweet or spicy. Some common names are Full-City Roast (roasted to the beginning of the second crack), After Dinner Roast, and Vienna Roast (roasted to the middle of the second crack, sometimes characterized as a dark roast).
Dark roasts are shiny and oily on the surface and dark brown in color, sometimes almost black. In order to reach the level of a dark roast, the beans are heated from 465°F – 485°F, to the end of the second crack and beyond. Having spent the most time roasting, this bean contains the least caffeine among all types. The coffee tastes bitter, smoky, sometimes burnt and is characterized by flavors of tar and charcoal. Many dark roasts are used for espresso blends and go by the names of French Roast, Italian Roast, Espresso Roast, Continental Roast, New Orleans Roast, and Spanish Roast.
To see the coffee bean roasting process, click here:
- The lighter the roast, the more caffeine and acidity
- The darker the roast, the less caffeine and acidity, and the more oil on the surface of the beans
- The more oily the coffee, the dirtier the machine
Although choosing which type of roast to use when brewing your coffee plays a significant role in how it will taste, many other variables are part of the complex formula that ultimately determines the taste of a cup of joe, including: age of the coffee, country of origin, processing method, grind, and brewing method. An often overlooked but crucial factor that contributes to the taste of coffee is the cleanliness of the machine from which it is brewed. Dark roasts are very popular these days. The oils from these dark beans will leave a residue on your machine if left uncleaned, resulting in a bitter brew. Neither soap and water nor vinegar will remove these coffee oils, so you will need specialty cleaning products designed specifically for coffee equipment to do the job. Read more here about why it’s important to have a clean machine to get the best tasting coffee.
You are now armed with powerful knowledge regarding different types of coffee roasts that will enable you to better command your daily coffee experiences. You may prefer a lighter roast in the morning to start your day, a medium roast after lunch to keep the momentum going and a dark roast in the evening after dinner as a delicious digestif. Whether you are new to the coffee world, an experienced avid enthusiast, or somewhere in the middle, we invite you to continue to experiment with the seemingly endless varieties of tastes and aromas that the gift of coffee has to offer. Urnex will always be here to ensure that your brewer is clean on your journey and you consistently get the most from your roast.
The Best Tasting Coffee Comes from Clean Coffee Makers