The 3 Most Common Coffee Roasts
Much like selecting the best grapes to crush for wine, selecting the best coffee beans to roast—and how they’re roasted—is an art form.
How your beans are roasted can make or break the flavor of your morning brew. Beyond the flavor, there’s also that very specific, steamy aroma that adds to the character of what’s in your cup.
Of course, you already know how alluring a freshly roasted coffee is. But do you actually know which roast you’re sipping?
That’s why in this article, we’re going to discuss the three most common coffee roast profiles as well as the coffee bean varieties that enhance your morning.
The Coffee Bean Varieties
Depending on the region and conditions where coffee beans are grown, they’ll vary in shape, size, and even color.
The region and conditions also contribute to the expansive range of unique flavor and aroma profiles, which is precisely what makes selecting and blending coffee beans similar to wine varietals.
Arabica coffee is arguably the more well-known and popular varietal among the two. Arabica coffee beans are typically grown at higher altitudes in climates with more humidity, making them a bit more expensive and challenging to grow.
Arabica coffee beans provide a delicate flavor with low acidity, which is what makes them so popular.
Robusta coffee is in less demand compared to Arabica coffee. However, it contains higher caffeine levels. It’s typically grown at lower altitudes in hotter, dryer climates.
Robusta coffee is also much less challenging to grow, with fewer restrictions, which may be what contributes to its less desirable flavoring. Therefore, it’s sold at a lower price and makes up the bulk of the commercial bean market.
The 3 Most Common Coffee Roast Profiles
Once the coffee beans are ripe for the picking, they’re actually green. To brew them, they must be roasted first—usually with dry heat and agitation to ensure the even distribution of the heat.
Roasted coffee ranges in a variety of coloring, from a light, golden brown to an almost black. The roasting time is what influences the coffee beans’ coloring as well as the flavor and aroma of the finished product.
While there are several levels of roast profiles, including blends, the three most common are categorized as light, medium, and dark roast.
The Light Roast
Light roasts are usually light brown or golden in color. When roasting light roast beans, they’re allowed to reach an internal temperature of 180°C – 205°C (356°F – 401°F). When coffee beans get to 205°C, they start popping and expanding in size.
205°C is referred to as the “first crack,” but light roast coffee beans never make it to a “second crack.”
The result is a more delicate brew that is light in its body with no surface oil (on the beans or in your cup). Flavor-wise, light roast coffee has a toasted taste and prominent acidity, which is what allows the original flavor of the coffee beans to shine through.
The Medium Roast
Medium roast coffee beans are obviously darker in color compared to their light roast counterparts. They can be described as having a chocolatey-brown color and a balanced flavor between sweet and toasty and acidic.
These beans are roasted until they reach an internal temperature between 210°C (410°F) and 220°C (428°F). This temperature range allows the beans to reach the end of that first crack, just before the beginning of the second crack. This is how the beans achieve their dry surface and full-bodied flavor.
Medium roast coffee is probably the most popular roasts on the market today due to its full, balanced flavor and aroma.
The Dark Roast
Dark roasts are essentially roasted until all the sugars in the beans start caramelizing, causing the oils to rise to the surface of the beans. Depending on how dark the beans are roasted, they can appear oily or have a nice sheen.
Dark roast coffee is always at least dark brown in color, much like dark chocolate; sometimes black. To achieve this beautiful level of roast, the beans are roasted until they reach an internal temperature of 240°C (464°F), which is the end of the second crack (or a little while after).
Of course, it’s rare that coffee beans are ever roasted beyond an internal temperature of 250°C (482°F). Roasting the beans beyond this point would produce a charcoal-like burnt flavor.
Dark roasts are characterized by their strong, smokey, sometimes sweet, and sometimes spicy flavor profiles. The amount of caffeine present in a dark roast is significantly reduced due to the extended roasting, and despite having low acidity, they’re often noted to be bitter.
Choose Your Perfect Roast
You’d be surprised at what the right combination of coffee bean varietal by region and roast level can do for your morning cup of coffee. Coffee flavors range from buttery to chocolatey to lemony to earthy—the combinations are almost endless.
If you don’t already have a preferred roast, it’s best to compare the flavor profiles produced with each level.
If you like your coffee light, toasty, and a bit acidic, then the light roast will be your cup. If you like things a bit bolder, sweeter, and aromatic, then you’ll fall in love with the medium roast. For the espresso lovers that like their coffee strong, smoky, and bitter, dark roast is the way to go.
Of course, if you can’t decide, you can always try a nice blend.
You really can’t go wrong with any of the three main roast types, so next time you pop into your local coffee shop, try ordering something new—or ask your barista what they suggest.