The degree to which coffee beans are roasted is one of the most important factors that determine the taste of the coffee in the cup. Before roasting, green coffee beans are soft, with a fresh “grassy” smell and little or no taste. The coffee roasting process transforms these raw beans into the distinctively aromatic, flavorful, crunchy beans that we recognize as coffee. 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.
- Light Coffee Roast
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. 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.
- Medium Coffee Roast
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.
- Medium-Dark Coffee Roast
These roasts have a richer, darker color with some oil beginning to appear on the surface of the beans. The flavors and aromas of the roasting process become apparent, and the taste of the coffee may be somewhat bittersweet or spicy.
- Dark Coffee Roast
Dark roasts are shiny and oily on the surface and dark brown in color, sometimes almost black. 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.
You may prefer a lighter roast in the morning (with more caffeine) and a darker one later in the day. Coffee, including the optimal roast level, is a personal preference. What’s yours?