What’s the Difference Between Light vs. Dark Roast Coffee?
If we are going to make the best cup of coffee we can, we need to learn the difference between light vs dark roast and everything in between.
Generally speaking, the lighter roasts have more natural flavors. The darker roasts mean you are tasting the roast, bit not the bean.
Coffee beans begin as a green bean, soft and spongy. They are brought to high temperatures very quickly and cooled very quickly in order to get the desired roast type.
The amount of caffeine changes based on the coffee roasts.
From light to dark, here are the elements that make up each roast type.
Which is stronger – light or dark roast coffee?
The darker the roast, the stronger the coffee. When you roast the bean, it pulls out the a lighter flavor. You don’t usually find light roast coffee in the mainstream. You’ll usually find medium to dark roast.
What tastes better, light or dark roast?
Neither. Medium roast is the most common coffee roast in most cafes and restaurants. Dark roast is a close second, but it’s much stronger than medium roast, so not everyone likes it.
Some big coffee chains, like Tim Horton’s only recently started carrying dark roast coffee. You don’t often see light roasts in many cafes.
Is light or dark roast coffee more bitter?
As the roast gets darker, it becomes more bitter. When you’re used to medium roast coffee and suddenly find yourself in a restaurant that serves a darker roast, you’ll know it. You’ll be reaching for the sugar to soften the bitter flavor.
Lighter roast beans
Green coffee beans are lightly roasted to produce light roast coffee beans.
Light roast beans have:
- Higher acidity
- Higher caffeine content
- Not very oily
- Light in color
Light Roast Common Names
- Often named Light City, Half City, Cinnamon Roast and New England Roast
- Often referred to as “roasted to first crack”
Light Roast Flavor Characteristics
- Tend to retain more of their original flavor/unique elements
- More complex flavors the lighter you go
- Could reveal traces of sweetness, fruit tanginess, or even subtle floral aroma
- Lighter in body due to not being roasted long enough to produce caramelized sugars or oils
- Often have a toasted grain taste
Light Roast Roasting Temperature
- Generally reach internal temperature of 180°C – 205°C (356°F – 401°F)
- At 205°C the beans pop or crack and expand, known as the “first crack”
Medium roast coffee to medium-dark
The darker roast coffee beans are roasted at higher temperatures and have less caffeine.
I find the coffee tastes best at medium roast and most coffee drinkers feel the same way. This is one of the most common roasts sold for this reason. It has the nicest flavor profile of all the roasts, in my opinion.
- Oil may be visible on the bean for medium and medium-dark
- Darker in color than light roast
Medium to Medium-Dark Flavor Characteristics
- Balance of acidity and body
- Origins of flavor tend to be a bit lost to the roasting process
- Some may be a bit spicy
- Fuller body than light roast
Medium to Medium-Dark Common Names
- Medium often referred to as Regular Roast, American Roast, City Roast, or Breakfast Roast.
- Medium-dark is often referred to as Full-City Roast, After Dinner Roast, and Vienna or Viennese Roast
- 210°C (410°F) and 220°C (428°F) for medium roast. To end of first crack and just before beginning of second crack
- 225°C (437°F) or 230°C (446°F) for medium-dark at which point they get to the beginning or middle of the “second crack”
My favorite medium roast coffee is by Kicking Horse Coffee.
Dark Roast Coffee Beans
Dark roast coffee has a dark brown color and are roasted at a higher temperature.
Dark roast beans are usually:
- Surface of the beans is oilier
- Oil can be seen in the cup when brewed
- Dark brown, almost black in color
- Often look like chocolate
Dark Roast Flavor Characteristics
- Original flavors are mostly overshadowed by the flavors of the roasting process
- Depending on the roasting process, can become sweet and rich
- Bold and rich, filled with texture and body
- Origins of the bean flavor almost completely gone, you are tasting the roast
- Difficult to pick up on the origin of the coffee
- Sometimes tastes bitter and smoky, burnt taste
- Oilier, resulting in toastier taste or bittersweet, even decadent chocolate type flavor
Dark Roast Common Names
- Often referred to as Continental Roast, Italian Roast, French Roast or Spanish Roast due to popularity European areas
- Popular names are also Espresso Roast, New Orleans Roast
- Espresso roasts usually dark roasts
- 240°C (464°F) for end of second crack
- Not typically roasted past 250°C (482°F)
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Light vs dark roast – what we’ve learned
It seems the darker the roast, the bolder the flavor. Now we know we need to buy some different roast types and test out what we like in order to figure out how to make the best cup of coffee we can…for personal preference.
The different coffee roast levels have a big impact on the final cup, but the best way to get a balanced flavor is to match the bean you like with the brewing methods you like best. In my opinion, the medium roast been paired with a french press is the best way to go.
Different coffee drinkers will have different opinions.
We’ve also learned the following:
- It seems the most common type of coffee is the medium roast
- The oilier the bean, the darker the roast
- The most common names for the types of coffee
- The different roasts have different caffeine levels
It’s time to order some coffee and try out some different bean types. Light vs dark roast, which do you prefer?
Wait, one more thing…
Check out this really cool video of a go pro inside a coffee roaster.
A film by Gabor Laczko and Attila Zerczi.