The Difference Between Light and Dark Roast


This is a guest post from A Great Coffee, about the difference between light, medium and dark roasts. 

Think about your favourite coffee type and what is written on the package, or what you order at the café. You will notice that there is a variation between the roast. This is one of the things that often has people new to the world of coffee confused, the difference between roasts.

Before the Cuppa was the Bean

Difference between roasts

Roasting the coffee bean is one of the most important parts to creating your favourite drink. But before ever getting roasted, the bean is a little green orb that has a pleasant earthen scent but hardly any taste. Roasting, however, transforms that flavourless bean into something phenomenal.

Other factors do play into how the beans taste upon being roasted, of course. Some of those influencers include:

  • Country of origin
  • Environment of growth
  • Age of the coffee
  • Grind
  • Processing method
  • Brewing method – cold brew, café press, drip, to name a few

When you consider all these things, the roast is just a sliver of what goes into the flavour of your morning cuppa.

What Roasting Means

The common way roasting is described is by the colour of the bean after the process is complete and ranges from light to dark. The longer a coffee bean is subjected to heat, the darker the colour becomes. This is due to the oils appearing on the skin of the bean as it absorbs the temperature.

Coffee beans before and after roasting.

Here is a breakdown of the roast ranges:

Light Roast

Generally, light roast means that the coffee beans have reached an internal temperature of 180-205 degrees Celsius. After 205 degrees C, coffee beans expand and crack—which is called the “first crack.” Light roasting stops when this happens. These beans thus have a very light brown in colour with little to no oil on the surface. For those who love a high concentration of caffeine, light roasts retain almost all their caffeine content.

Light roasts have a toasted flavour and an acidic tang. With this roast, you can expect to taste the differences in region, and you will be able to note the uniqueness of beans from Ethiopia compared to those of Indonesia or Vietnam, for example.

Medium Roast

A step above light roast is medium roast. To achieve this roast, beans are heated to about 210-220 degrees Celsius. Any hotter than that, and the beans will reach the point of “second crack,” which is not desirable for medium roast.

These beans have a deeper brown colour, but there is still no oil on the surface. Unlike light roast, medium roast as a less grainy flavour and offers more aroma with a better balance of acidity. Though the caffeine content is decreased, it is still more than that of a dark roasts. Usually, breakfast roasts are considered “medium.”

Medium-Dark Roast

Heated between the temperatures 225-230 degrees Celsius brings coffee beans to the medium-dark roast. Oil is beginning to shimmer on the surface of the bean. This is the point where beans reach the start or middle of the second crack; and because of this, the flavours of the coffee become much bolder. Spicier, even. The body of medium-dark roasts is also heavier.

Dark Roast

So dark that these beans nearly look burned, the outside colour may be akin to dark chocolate or even charred black. That is due to the beams reaching an internal temperature of 240-250 degrees Celsius, getting to the end of the second crack.

You will be able to see the sheen of oil on the surface of the bean. Once the dark roast has been brewed, the oil will even shimmer atop of the liquid. Any flavours from the origin will have been diminished at this point, and the dark roast will leave the coffee tasting bitter and even smoky.

Dark roast also has the lowest amount of caffeine of all coffee roasts. Oddly, dark roast is preferred for many espresso types.

So to recap: as the roast darkens, the uniqueness of the bean is decreased, as well as caffeine content. Light and medium roasts are drier, while medium-dark and dark have visible oils.

Now that you know about the roasts, hopefully you realize that choosing just by roast is not going to get you the ideal cuppa! If you love acidity and the flavours of origin, go for light or medium. But if you want a bolder flavour, then maybe medium or medium-dark is going to delight your taste buds more.

Gregory Tumlin is the founder of A Great Coffee. Gregory is a Coffee enthusiast and loves to share what he knows about this field. He is also a husband and father to two young boys as well as a masters student.

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