How many times have we heard, “This coffee is much better than the other one I’ve had!” The answer? Too often, especially for us coffee connoisseurs out there. While a coffee enthusiast may chalk a tasty cup of Joe up to the origin of the beans or the brewing process, one aspect that does not get enough credit is the roasting process.
Roasting coffee, simply put, is the process of turning your coffee seeds into aromatic coffee beans. Roasting options have three primary categories: light roast, medium roast, and dark roast. You may have heard these terms from your favorite barista or seen them on the package of your favorite coffee brand, but have you ever wondered what “roasting” actually means?
Contrary to popular belief, a more extended roast level is not synonymous with the caffeine strength of your brew. For example, a darker roast does not necessarily mean a stronger cup of coffee. It’s the opposite; roasting coffee beans for longer periods often burns off some caffeine. Therefore, lighter roasts tend to have slightly more caffeine than their darker counterparts. However, roast type does have an influence over the coffee’s flavor profile, color, smell, and a lot more.
Curious? Let’s dive in and help you to understand it better!
Coffee Roasting Explained:
Turning green coffee seeds, which smell grassy, into the brown, aromatic beans we have come to love—and maybe have become a bit addicted to (Ahem! No judgment here)—is called “coffee roasting.” The meticulous process of drying, roasting, and brewing the coffee bean releases different flavor variations and aromatic compounds. The bean’s origin, as well as the drying process used, plays a big part in the flavor of the coffee. Different roasting levels can produce sweetness, acidity, bitterness, and aroma variations. Different brewing processes can also alter those same flavors and aroma, color, clarity, and the tactile sensation of body or mouthfeel.
Remember the primary roasting categories we mentioned earlier? Each variation, light, medium, or dark, is based on or can be altered by the internal roasting temperatures, time, airflow, flame, batch size, and drum speed. That said, it’s worth adding a caveat: every roaster and brand may vary slightly in how they define their light, medium, and dark roasts. So simply enjoy testing and tasting different brands and roast levels (as well as origins and washes, which we’ll cover in another post) until you find the right roast type, origin, or blend that you connect best with and, above all, “understands you.” Enjoy the exploration journey!
Primary Coffee Roasts:
Roasted until the coffee beans reach an internal temperature of approximately 385 degrees to 410 degrees Fahrenheit. The beans are “ready” after the first crack heard from the seeds, caused by the heating element. Due to its lightly roasted attribute, light roast coffee carries much of the flavor of the original seed. They could even have a grassy undertone if the beans are not roasted long enough. The flavor notes of this roast type are often complex, less bitter, can carry floral and fruity hints, and are much more acidic in nature. The color of this roast is light brown, and the beans have a dry surface. If you’re looking for more caffeine, light roast wins.
Roasted until the coffee beans reach an internal temperature of approximately 400-430 degrees Fahrenheit, the medium roast is the sweet middle ground between light and dark roast. When you can’t choose between light vs dark, this is where you find yourself. The flavor profile of this roast type is often complex, with attributes from both light and dark roast, i.e., sweet, complex flavors with some acidity and fruity aroma, but more balanced with a slightly fuller-bodied. The beans still retain some of their original taste from the seed, so medium roasts can, at times, also have some fruity undertones to them.
This roast type is bold and robust. Roasted until the coffee beans reach internal temperatures between 430 degrees and 440 degrees Fahrenheit. Roasters ensure dark roast beans have the darkest color of the entire lot. Known to be toasty and smoky, this roast has a pronounced bitterness and low acidity and tends to be fuller-bodied. The dark roast also produces a more robust aroma. Unlike the light roast, the beans also have an oily finish, and much of the coffee seed’s original flavors have transformed entirely due to the longer roasting time.