Differences Between Light, Medium, and Dark Roast Coffee

A common question I hear concerning coffee is, “What’s the difference between the three main coffee roasts?” There’s a lot of misconception about what the roasts actually mean. So today, we’re going to answer this very important question.

Roast level significantly impacts how coffee tastes. In light roasts, the natural flavors are more distinct and more acidic. Medium roasts will produce a balanced, smooth, and less acidic coffee. Lastly, because dark roasts spend the longest in the roaster, the most intense flavors are tasted.

Let’s dig a little deeper into the different roast and flavor profiles and debunk some of the most common misconceptions about coffee roasts.

How Coffee Beans Start Out

A coffee bean is, in fact, a seed that comes from a particular type of cherry from a plant. Each cherry contains two seeds inside. These seeds or beans start as green and are then sent to a coffee roaster. As the coffee beans are being roasted, their natural sugars are caramelized.

Depending which roast level the roaster wishes to produce will determine how long the coffee beans are in the roaster. This is how we get our different roast levels.

A coffee bean is, in fact, a seed that comes from a certain type of cherry. All coffee beans start out green.

The beans that are in the roaster for the least amount of time will be your lighter roast. Next, your medium roasts are in the roaster for slightly longer, and your dark roast beans are roasted for the longest amount of time.

Light Roast Coffee

As previously mentioned, light roast coffee beans are in the roaster for the least amount of time. As a result, they are the lightest color of brown. They are also the most acidic bean and don’t have any oil on their surface.

Concerning taste, lighter roasts highlight the actual distinct flavor of the coffee bean while having a mellow body.

During the roasting process, aroma and flavor compounds are released. The sugars in the coffee start to caramelize, which increases the coffee’s sweetness and decreases the grassy flavors of the (raw) green coffee. Following caramelization, the ‘first crack’ will happen, where the coffee bean audibly cracks as the moisture inside it vaporizes.

Light roast coffee is your more acidic beans that produces a mellow body with more natural flavors.

Medium Roast Coffee

A medium roast is roasted a bit more than the lighter roasts, producing a more well-rounded and less acidic cup of coffee. The coffee beans are browner in color, and seldomly have an oily surface.

When it comes to taste, medium roasted beans create a more bold and more balanced flavor. While the coffee’s origin’s distinct flavors can still be tasted, you also start to taste more of the deep caramel sweetness and bold flavors that come through as the beans are roasted longer.

Our beans are air roasted by a master roaster instead of traditional drum roasting. Each bean is suspended in air to ensure a nice, even roast. The chaff of the bean is then vacuumed away from the final product, leaving you with a smooth cup of coffee every time.

Medium Roast Coffee produces a more well-rounded and less acidic cup of coffee.

Dark Roast Coffee

Finally, a dark roast is roasted for the most extended time and brews you the most intense and stronger flavor out of all the roast levels. Dark roasted coffee beans will be the darkest brown, like dark chocolate and will most often have an oily surface.

Other characteristics of dark roasts include having the least acidity and the heaviest body compared to the other roast levels discussed. Although you’re going to taste less of the original earthy characteristic, you’ll taste more of the bold roast flavors. You’ll be enjoying more of the chocolaty, caramel, and nutty flavors that come through after roasting.

Dark roasted coffee is often known for having more bitterness to it. Although we discussed in another article how too much bitterness means you may have some issues with the brewing process or bean quality, most dark roasts will have some bitterness to them, but in a good way.

Good coffee bitterness is the result of two things:

  • 15% of the bitterness you taste comes from the caffeine.
  • 85% comes from the roast level.

The more the bean is roasted, the more bitterness the coffee will produce, thus why you would experience more bitterness in dark roasts.

Dark roast coffee produces the most intense flavors with the least acidity and the heaviest body.

Which Coffee Roast is the Healthiest?

Concerning your health, dark roast coffee is the healthiest. According to a study, due to its high levels of antioxidants, drinking dark roast can help reduce cellular damage that has been linked to certain cancers. In addition, dark roasts are more effective at weight management and restoring red blood cells.

Common Misconceptions About Coffee Roast

There are many misconceptions about coffee in general, and I’ll be honest, it can be confusing sometimes with all the different terms. For today, we’ll go over the top myths involving coffee roasts. It might go against everything you’ve thought about roast levels, so read carefully!

Myth #1: Roast level is an indicator of the strength of the coffee.

Unlike popular belief, it’s important to note that coffee roast and coffee strength are two different things. For the most part, all coffee roasts are the same when it comes to strength. What influences the strength of your coffee is the amount of coffee grounds you put in it.

For example, a coffee made with 60g of coffee and 500ml of water will be twice as strong as a coffee made with 30g of coffee and 500ml of water. The roast level has nothing to do with the strength of your cup of coffee.

For a more in-depth article on this concept, check out “Which Coffee Roast is the Strongest?”

Myth #2: Lighter roast coffee contains more caffeine.

The next myth we’ll debunk is that light roast coffees contain more caffeine than dark roast coffee. Interestingly enough, there is an opposing view that darker roasts have more caffeine than lighter roasts. Well, both of these scenarios are incorrect.

The truth is that the majority of coffee beans contain about the same amount of caffeine, regardless of roast level. Let’s dig a bit further to understand why some say that lighter roasts offer more caffeine.

There is some basis for this theory. First, we’ll present you with some coffee facts.

  • Dark roasted coffee beans are less dense and bigger in size.
  • As beans are roasted, they lose moisture, become lighter, and expand and crack, becoming bigger in size.

This is why measuring coffee beans with a scale over a scoop is so essential. Because light roasts have less moisture, they are smaller than your darker roasts. If you are using a scoop to measure your coffee, it will be able to hold more light roast beans than a darker roast, thus making the light roast coffee contain more caffeine.

A single scoop of lightly roasted beans can have 60 mg of caffeine, while a single scoop of dark roasted beans will only have 55 mg. This is where the misconception comes from.

Using a coffee scale, you measure weight (mass), not volume. When weighing your beans, the caffeine content would actually be the same between light, medium, and dark roasts.

If you wanted to use beans with more caffeine, you would want to use Robusta instead of Arabica beans.

Click here to read more on the importance of using a coffee scale and some of our top picks.

Myth #3: Oily coffee beans are the freshest beans.

Our final myth is that oily coffee beans are a sign of fresh beans. You probably know this since we discussed it early in the article, but I’ll touch on it again to clarify.

The oily sheen you see on some beans is not related to freshness. Instead, it has everything to do with the roast. The longer beans are roasted, the more oily they become. The increased temperature causes the beans’ skin to rupture, causing the natural oils to come to the surface.

So, oily coffee beans result from being roasted for longer, which is why you won’t see any on your lighter roasts and will see it on your darker roasts.

Final Thoughts

Hopefully, you better understand the various coffee roasts and what each one has to offer. Lightly roasted coffee is going to have more earthy, natural flavors. Medium roast coffee is the more common roast that offers less of the earthy notes and more of the roasted flavors. And dark roasts will offer the most intense flavors and be full of body.

What Coffee Beans Make the Strongest Coffee?

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