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Coffee roasts can be confusing. I know they were for me at first. The seemingly endless choice of types and roast profiles to choose from can leave you feeling a bit overwhelmed. But in the end, there’s really not that much to it.
We put this article together to simplify the understanding. We’ll explain the 4 main types of coffee roasts (with photos for reference), as well as some of the in-between roast profiles, so you can better understand, and purchase, the roast that suits you best.
And just so you know, coffee roasters will usually choose their roast level based upon the quality of the bean. Most often, the better the quality, the lighter the roast (we’ll get into that in a bit).
So what are the different coffee roasts? This comprehensive guide will assist you in choosing a roast that suits your fancy!
Common Roast Profiles: New England, Light-City, Half-City, Cinnamon
Light Roast 385°F (Cinnamon) - Photo by Dan Bollinger - Wikipedia
Roasted the least amount of time, light roasts are the lightest in color in contrast to the other roasts (thank you, Captain Obvious).
Also good to know; being roasted the least amount of time, light roasts are also best at maintaining the original flavor of the bean.
With a light roast, coffee roasters heat the beans up to an internal temperature of around 356°F – 401°F (180°C – 205°C).
When the coffee beans get to around 401°F (205°C), they make a popping sound, termed “first crack” by roasters.
This cracking sound results from the beans expanding and the moisture evaporating. When the internal moisture of the bean heats up enough, it creates steam and forces the bean skin to crack open.
The cracks begin slowly every few seconds and gradually increase in frequency as the other beans begin to crack, much like popcorn in the microwave.
With light roast coffee beans, coffee roasters stop roasting at the very beginning of the first crack stage.
Top-notch light roast coffee not only requires excellent beans but also a thorough understanding of the coffee roasting process. This is because lighter roasts reveal more of the coffee bean’s original flavor profile as opposed to the flavor of the roast.
In essence, the longer a bean is roasted, the more the roasting process will dominate the overall taste.
So if a bean is roasted improperly or is of subpar quality, grassy or other undesirable flavors will shine through. Roasters will often refer to this as an underdeveloped roast.
When done properly, however, lightly roasted beans offer a rich and refreshing experience.
Enthusiasts will often describe light roasted coffee as having light body and high acidity. And just as with wine, acidity is an important factor in determining quality.
Light roasted coffee beans offer many spectrums of taste, much more complex than darker roasts. Light roast coffees offer more unique flavor profiles than their darker counterparts and we definitely think you should try them when exploring your love for coffee.
Medium Roast Coffee Beans
Common Roast Profiles: Regular, Breakfast, City, American
Medium Roast 410°F (American) - Photo by Dan Bollinger - Wikipedia
Medium roast coffee beans are a slightly darker shade of brown. This color change occurs when the natural sugars in the beans begin to caramelize. This also results in a stronger aroma coming from the beans.
Coffee roasters bring the internal temperature of the coffee bean up to between 410°F – 435°F (210°C – 224°C), and roast them halfway through or shortly after “first crack” ends.
As the roasting time increases, even more moisture evaporates from the bean.
This increased roasting time imparts a little more flavor from the roasting process when compared to a light roast. This gives it a slightly deeper flavor and less acidity, richer sweetness, and an increase in body, but the origin of the bean is still very prominent.
Most enthusiasts would agree that light and medium coffee roasts are the two best tasting coffee roasts.
Dark Roast Coffee Beans
Common Roast Profiles: Light French, Light Espresso, Continental, Full City
Coffee beans that are dark roasted have lost their brown color and begin to turn a blacker color. The beans also become shiny at this stage as they begin to secrete their oils.
Dark roasts are brought past second crack, reaching a temperature of between 462°F – 474°F (239°C – 246°C).
All the original flavors and acidity of the bean have been destroyed, and the beans are burnt and charred.
The only remaining taste is the roasted flavor from the roasting process. The coffee takes on a burnt and smokey taste that is intensely bitter.
Coffee is usually roasted dark for one reason: to hide how awful the green coffee tastes because of poor processing. Only the very cheapest, low-grade robusta coffee is usually ever roasted this dark.
Coffee brought up to a temp of 486°F (252°C) could be as much as 25 percent ash.
Roasting coffee past this temperature can also be extremely dangerous. This is because, upon releasing the beans from the coffee roaster, the sudden rush of oxygen can actually cause a fire, so extreme caution has to be taken when dark roasting.
Why Are Coffee Beans Roasted?
It’s not until coffee beans are roasted that they become usable for our favorite beverage.
Green coffee beans that have not been roasted have a very natural and undesirable flavor. Organic notes of grass and hay are ever-present; as well as other unpleasant tastes. Roasting the beans releases their aroma and unlocks new flavors through various chemical reactions.
Roasting the beans also breaks down and dissolves the cellular structure of the beans, making it easier for them to be ground down for brewing.
Types of Coffee Roasts and Subtypes (Profiles)
Most countries categorize types of coffee roasts into light, medium, medium-dark, and dark, while other countries, like the United States, take it even further by breaking the 4 major categories into subcategories, sometimes referred to as subtypes or profiles.
Breaking roast types into these subtypes (or profiles) leads to better communication standards amongst coffee roasters. These different subtypes are determined by their color, a direct result of the internal temperature the beans are roasted to.
We referenced many of the common roast profiles above within their corresponding categories.
What Makes One Roast Better Than Another? Which Coffee Roast Is Best?
Coffee roasters largely base their chosen roast profile on the quality of the raw coffee beans. When they’re of excellent quality, they’ll choose a light or medium roast. When they are of poor or subpar quality, they prefer medium dark to dark roasts. You might be wondering why that is, though.
It comes down to one simple concept. The longer coffee beans are roasted, the more the roasting process alters their natural flavor. Lightly roasting ensures the original flavor profile of the bean is preserved, highlighting its origin.
On the contrary, the darker a coffee is roasted, the more it impacts, changes, and hides the flavor profile of an original blend. This happens because the roasting process imparts its own flavors on the coffee.
Also, a good coffee roaster will adjust his/her roasting profile according to how the beans will be used. For instance, they’ll roast a shade darker for espresso because it makes the beans more soluble in water. This is important because an espresso shot is pulled in such a short time duration (ideally 26-32 seconds), so it’s vital the roast facilitates an easy and brisk extraction.
So whether one roast is better than another merely depends on the type of coffee drinker you are and what you’re used to. Hint: You’re probably accustomed to darker roasts akin to what large coffee chains like Starbucks and Biggby serve on the daily.
However, if you want to explore other exotic flavors you never thought possible with coffee, we suggest checking out some reputable light roasts.
Which Coffee Roast Has More Caffeine?
Although roasted coffee has less caffeine than unroasted green coffee, almost all roasts of coffee contain a near-identical amount of caffeine.
Caffeine is stable to 455°F (235°C), and because few coffee roasters will roast past this temperature because of the adverse effects these temps have on the beans, there is a minimal loss of caffeine during the roasting process.
However, let’s throw a wrench in the caffeine machine.
Yes, bean for bean, the amount of caffeine is virtually the same, regardless of the roast.
But the misconception that darker roasted beans have more caffeine occurs when people measure by weight versus volume.
When coffee beans are roasted, they lose water density through evaporation. Also, the longer they are roasted, the larger in size they become, giving them greater volume.
As a result, when measuring with a scoop (by volume), less of the dark roast beans fit in your scoop than light roasted beans; so less caffeine in this example.
However, let’s say you weigh out 25 grams of beans. In this example, you’ll find that there are more dark beans than light. This is because they’ve lost much of their water weight in the roasting process.
And since dark roast beans essentially have the same caffeine content as a light roast beans, the pile of dark beans is going to have more caffeine, simply because there are more beans!
Find the Roast For You!
Now that you have a better understanding of the different types of coffee roasts, you can begin to explore the wide spectrum of roasts and find the one perfect for you.
To your coffee journey!
From a very young "growth-stunting" age, Clint Doerfler has had a deep-rooted love for coffee. As a result, he founded Coffee Gear Gurus® to share his passion for incredible home brewed coffee with others. When he's not watching true crime shows with family or playing music, he's devoted to helping fellow coffee feins make amazing coffee at home - regardless of their experience.