A Look at the Different Types of Coffee Roasts (from light to medium to dark)
Coffee roasting is not just a masterful craft, it’s an art form which can make or break the taste of your favorite brew. And it’s not just about taste. If you’ve ever had the pleasure to take a sniff of a freshly roasted coffee, you know how alluring it is. But do you know which roast type you are drinking? Is it medium, dark, or maybe light?
In this article, we will focus on different types of coffee roasts to help you pinpoint the one that excites your senses the most. However, you should know that there are only a handful of universal coffee roast standards and that a lot of producers take the liberty to name their roasts as they deem fit.
Some general categorization still applies, though, and that’s what we’ll discuss here.
Light Roast (the first crack)
Better known as a light roast, first crack got its nickname because the beans are in the initial stage of cracking and expansion. In general, the beans look dry and pale and provide a light-bodied coffee. The taste shouldn’t reveal any traces of the roasting and is somewhat more acidic.
This doesn’t mean that first crack provides an inferior flavor profile. Quite the contrary; the end result is a light, yet aromatic roast, with distinct fruity or even floral notes. With light roasts, the beans’ surface shouldn’t be oily. Otherwise, you are looking at a different type of roast.
Color-wise, this roast is light brown and is typically used for mild coffee types. But remember, since it’s not roasted that long, first crack retains a lot of the original beans’ flavors. Coffee varieties that utilize light roast include Cinnamon, Half City, and City.
It’s a raw green bean… There’s nothing you can do with it. It’s only the roasting that puts the flavor into the coffee.” – Matt Wade, Roastmaster
Medium roast beans still look and feel dry, but there is a much sweeter profile. To be exact, the longer roasting brings more flavors to the beans and results in less acidity compared to the first crack variety. You get a fuller body, though the flavor profile tends to be more condensed.
Don’t get things wrong, a condensed flavor profile is not a bad thing. Medium roasts work great for those whose palate craves for distinct bitterness. For many, this roast has the perfect balance of aroma, acidity, and flavors. In fact, this roast is the preferred type for most Americans and the varieties that utilize it include Breakfast, City, and, of course, the American.
As for the looks, the beans are medium brown, they have a stronger smell, but there is still no oil on the surface. This roast is obtained at 428°F and the beans lose about 13% of their weight during the process. At the same time, pyrolysis (thermal decomposition as a result of roasting) affects the beans’ chemical composition and is partly responsible for the stronger flavor. (1)
Medium Dark Roast
Medium dark beans are characterized by a dark brown color and some oil on the surface. When it comes to the flavor profile, the extended roasting destroys all the acidity and allows most of the beans’ aromas to come up on the top.
Overall, the flavors can be described as deep with a touch of bittersweet aftertaste. Some would argue that the medium dark body is heavy. However, it may give a wrong negative connotation to the rich, full profile of the medium dark roast.
If you are wondering about coffee varieties, this roast type is used for Full City.
Second crack or dark roast is something you can recognize from a mile away. The beans are black, shiny, and quite oily, which hints at their unique flavor profile. If you are in for pronounced bitterness, this roast type might be a perfect fit.
On top of the bitterness, you can taste that second crack has been roasted well. The notes are thick and a bit spicy on the tongue. You can also feel traces of oiliness as the coffee oozes down your throat. Generally, dark roasts are not acidic, and the rule of thumb is – the darker the beans, the less acidic they are.
Darker roasts are used for coffee varieties such as New Orleans, Continental, European, Vietnamese, etc.
It’s not uncommon to find French and espresso labeled as a dark roast. Be careful, though, as French might fall into the double roast category with almost charred beans. Also, espresso can be made from both dark and medium-dark roasts – it all depends on your taste. (2)
Coffee roasting has four or five stages. The beans are cleaned, roasted, cooled, and sometimes ground before packaging.
By now, you are well-acquainted with different types of coffee roasts. Chances are your palate is already accustomed to medium dark, as it’s one of the most popular varieties. Why not try to learn how to roast your own beans using one of these home coffee roasters? Try and make each roast type! You never know, what might become your new favorite.
Medium dark has arguably the richest flavor. During the roasting process, the beans reach 450°F which results in a full-bodied flavor profile. There is much less acidity than in lighter types and the coffee has a pleasant bittersweet tang. This is one of the reasons medium dark is often used for espresso. (3)
As a rule, darker roasts tend to be more bitter. However, roasting is not the only thing that affects the bitterness. It is also affected by the unique properties of the soil the coffee is grown in, so the region it comes from also plays an important role.
The types of coffee roasts include light, medium, medium dark, and dark. There is also a double roast where the beans get roasted to the point of being smoked. Of course, each type comes with a unique flavor profile. For example, light roast tends to be the most acidic.
- 2018 World Coffee Roasting Championship. (2018). Retrieved June 30, 2019, from https://www.worldcoffeeroasting.org/
- 9.13.2: Coffee Roasting. AP-42: Compilation of Air Emissions Factors. (1995). Retrieved June 30, 2019, from https://www3.epa.gov/ttn/chief/ap42/ch09/final/c9s13-2.pdf
- Ackerman, K. (2018, April 27). Everything You Need to Know About Coffee Roasts. Retrieved June 30, 2019, from https://foodal.com/drinks-2/coffee/guides-coffee/the-influence-of-roasting-on-flavor-profiles/