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What is the Difference Between Coffee Roasts?

Updated: May 20, 2021

Coffee roasting is the heat process of cooking raw coffee beans into the dark aroma beans we have come to love. Besides the obvious taste and color differences, the roasting process is what truly sets light, medium, and dark roasts apart. The roasting process starts with raw green beans and the heat causes chemical changes at very high temperatures. Roasting beans is an art and can take years to master, it can only be a matter of seconds from the perfect batch to a ruined coffee roast.

Coffee roasts fall into four general categories, light, medium, medium-dark, and dark. Many customers believe that the rich flavor of darker coffee has a higher level of caffeine, but in fact the darker the roasts, has a minimal loss of caffeine due to volume of the beans and caffeine is stable up to about 392 °F before degradation of caffeine. There are two cracks in the roasting process that roasters listen for. At approximately 385 °F, the coffee will emit a cracking sound. This is called the first crack, marking the start of a very light roast. The first crack a large amount of the coffee's moisture has been evaporated and the beans will begin to increase in size. When the coffee reaches approximately 435 °F, it emits a second crack. The coffee bean becomes brittle and continues to swell and enlarge from internal pressure. If the roast is allowed to cook further, it begins to take on the characteristics of the roasting process and loses the characteristics of the coffee's origin. Coffee roasts come down to personal taste choices. Here is a general breakdown of the roasts. The difference between light and dark coffee roasts is quite dramatic. We recommend trying a light and dark side by side to compare.

Light roasts

Lighter-bodied, higher acidity, no obvious roast flavor. This level of roast is ideal for tasting the full origin character of the coffee. Are used for mild coffee brews. There is no oil on the bean surface and are not cooked long enough for oils to break the surface. They highlight the unique characteristics of the coffee’s origin more than any other roast style. Profiles include Light City, Half City, and Cinnamon.

Medium roasts

The best of both worlds. This roast is medium brown in color and has a stronger flavor and has a non-oily surface. Sugars have been further caramelized, and acidity has been muted. This results in coffee with higher body, but some roast flavor imposed. It’s often know as the American roast because it is generally preferred in the United States. Profiles include City, American, and Breakfast.

Medium dark roasts

Rich, dark color, this roast has some oil on the surface and with a slight bittersweet aftertaste. Has a heavier body compared to light and medium roasts. Full city roasts.

Dark roasts

This roast produces shiny dark brown / black beans with an oily surface. Bittersweet flavors are prominent, aromas and flavors of roast become clearly evident. Little origin character remains. The darker the roast, the less acidity will be found in the coffee. Dark roast coffees are cooked the longest and run from slightly dark to charred. Common profiles include. European, Espresso, Italian, and French. Always check your bean roasts before purchasing.


The lighter coffee roasts will have more of a origin character. The natural flavors created by its variety, processing, altitude, soil content, and weather conditions in the location where it was grown. As the beans darken to a deep brown, the origin flavors of the bean are eclipsed by the flavors created by the roasting process itself. At darker roasts, the roast flavor is so dominant that it can be difficult to distinguish the origin of the beans used in the roast.

"Coffee - the favorite drink of the civilized world." - Thomas Jefferson

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