Virtually anyone and everyone who consumes espresso or coffee, whether it be iced or piping hot, has a preference when it comes to light roast versus dark roast versus a roast that is somewhat in between light and dark.
Those people in particular who buy and then grind their own whole espresso beans at home can, even more than those who don’t, appreciate the differences between roasts.
This article has been put together to assist you if you are searching for some specific information regarding the differences between dark, medium, and light roast.
Read on for a rundown of just exactly what these differences are.
Factors that determine the end result of the coffee beans grown
Roasting is the primary baseline factor that determines how your coffee will taste, in other words, the key factor for giving you a good, overall idea of what type of flavor you can expect.
Other factors that can result in varied flavors and strengths of coffee include the location (country) in which the beans were grown and harvested, how long the beans sat both before being roasted and after, how they were processed, how they were ground, and how they were brewed.
What makes some coffee beans light while others are darker?
Prior to being roasted, coffee beans, at the time they are harvested (picked), are very green in color, have a smell similar to green grass, and have little to no flavor whatsoever.
The roasting of coffee beans is the key factor in turning these little green nuggets into one of the most beloved beverages of all time (espresso or coffee). The roasting process not only transforms the green coffee beans into varied shades of brown, it also is the process by which the beans gain that wonderful taste and smell that so many of us know so well.
The lightness or darkness of a coffee bean is determined primarily by the length of time it has been roasted.
During roasting, coffee beans take in (absorb) heat, which causes their color to darken. Then as the temperature in the bean during roasting increases, oils are extracted from inside the beans to the outside of the beans. Dark roast beans, you may have noticed, have a much oilier appearance than do medium or light roast beans. This is because there was more oil extracted from the inside of the beans to the outside.
What causes different coffee beans to taste different from each other?
There are some key factors that come into play in determining what flavor each coffee bean will provide.
- One of these factors is how light or dark the roast is.
- Another is the region/country where the coffee is grown.
- Other factors that can affect the flavor of the coffee include the age of the coffee, the method that was used for processing, the coarseness of the grind, and the method used for brewing the coffee. For example, finely ground coffee used in a drip coffee machine or percolator most definitely has a different flavor than the same finely ground coffee that has been brewed in an espresso maker. This is because the brewing process between these two is so different.
What are the differences in caffeine levels when it comes to light versus dark roast beans?
Most people tend to think that dark roasted coffee beans are more caffeinated than their counterparts, the lighter roasts.
However, note that just the opposite is true…
…Coffee beans that are lighter in color are lighter because they have been roasted (exposed to heat) for a shorter period of time than dark roasted beans, resulting in them retaining a higher level of caffeine than dark-roasted beans.
Comparison of light, medium, and dark roast coffee beans
Light-Roast Coffee Beans
Lighter in color than medium or dark-roast coffee beans, light-roasted beans have virtually no oil on the surface of them. This is because they have been roasted for a less amount of time than darker roasts, and have not had a chance to darken as much.
Additionally, lighter roasts have a more pronounced acidic flavor, and the flavor of the beans is kept much closer to the original flavor they started out with at the time of harvest.
Light-roast coffee beans tend to work much better than dark roasts when they are ground in a coffee grinder, whether it be a grinder contained within an espresso machine or a separate grinder that sits on your counter top. Darker roasts, which have more external oils, tend to “muck up” the burrs of the grinder much more than the lighter roasts.
Some of the lighter roast names that you may have heard before include Light City, Cinnamon Roast, New England Roast, and Half City.
Medium-Roast Coffee Beans
Coffee beans that have been roasted to a medium-brown color have more “body,” balanced flavor, and aroma than do the lighter roasts.
Similar to the light roasts, medium roasts also do not have a collection of oil on the surface of the beans.
With medium roasts, there is less caffeine than the light roasts but still more caffeine than the darker roasts.
Some examples of names of roasts that fall within the light-roast category include American Roast, City Roast, Breakfast Roast, and Regular Roast.
Dark-Roast Coffee Beans
Coffees that are dark roasted are a very dark brown color, to the point of sometimes almost being black. Also you will note with dark roasts is that most of the time they have a coating of oil on the outside of the bean, which can also normally be seen floating on the top of the coffee in a cup which has been brewed using dark-roast beans.
Dark roasts have significantly less caffeine than the lighter roasts. This is due to amount of roasting being greater than lighter roasts, which causes much of the caffeine in the beans to be roasted out.
The choice as to whether to consume light, medium, or dark roast coffees is ultimately yours…most people who consume coffee or espresso have already determined which they prefer. What it boils down to when making this particular choice is your preference regarding flavor, aroma, and possibly the amount of caffeine you want to consume.
Unroasted (also called Green) Coffee Beans
Coffee beans that have not been roasted whatsoever are generally referred to as “green” coffee beans.
Although green coffee beans do not make good coffee and, if brewed like you would brew coffee have basically no coffee aroma but do have a very bitter taste, there has been growing scientific evidence that consuming ground green coffee beans causes substantial weight loss in an incredibly short amount of time.
In the image at the top of this section, the green, unroasted coffee beans are the ones on the outside of the picture on each side.