Coffee Roasting: The Difference Between Light, Medium and Dark Roasts

by Symphony Ragan 5 min read

Different coffee roast levels

If you ask us, roasting is one of the most fascinating aspects of the coffee process. While we go around the world in search of the highest quality coffee, we stay close to home when it comes to processing the beans.

The intoxicating, aromatic coffee that goes into Angelino's coffee comes to us as pale green beans with little to no taste. It's our job to bring these beans alive with the perfect roast.

There are three main types of roasts: light roast, medium roast, and dark roast. Getting it right is a complex science that has to do with tweaking temperature and timing to obtain the perfect balance of acidity, sweetness, and bitterness.

In this article, we will be exploring the difference between light, medium, and dark roast coffee, so that next time you're shopping around for new coffee, you know exactly what to look for.


What Happens to Coffee Beans During the Roasting Process?

First things first, however. Let's talk about what happens to the beans during the roasting process.

First of all, they change color. Depending on the coffee beans, they are naturally either pale green or gray - during the roast, they become brown due to the fact that a molecule called chlorophyll breaks down. Secondly, they change their density as all the moisture evaporates and cellulose carbonizes. They also become bitter due to the acids breaking down into lactones and developing flavor.


Types of Roasting

Coffee beans can be roasted as dark or as light as you wish, although there are three main types of coffee roast that you are likely to encounter while shopping for coffee - light roast coffee, medium roast coffee and dark roast coffee.

Light Roast Coffees

Also called Light City, Half City or Cinnamon roast by some. When coffee beans are roasted they produce a crackling sound similar to that of popcorn popping. Light roast refers to the beans that are removed at the first crackling. They are light brown and retain the majority of the bean’s distinct regional flavor. They have a light body and lack an oily surface. They also retain the most caffeine out of all the roasts. This comes as a surprise to many people because it is often assumed that darker roasts carry the most caffeine. 

Medium Roast Coffees

Some people refer to it as American roast, House roast or City roast. Medium roast beans are the beans that are removed after a second crackling and have a medium brown hue. These are slightly more bodied than light beans and have a dry surface. Their taste is described as balanced, lacking the graininess that light roast exhibits.

Dark Roast Coffees

Lastly, we have dark roasts. Dark roast beans clearly exhibit oil on the surface and have a dark brown to black color. They have the least amount of caffeine out of all the other roasts. However, the taste is much more bitter and stronger.

If we were to roast the same beans but with different roast levels, their flavor notes would not be the same. This is because the original flavors roast out during the process.


Difference Between Light, Medium and Dark Roast Coffee - An Overview 

  • Light Roast vs Medium Roast - The most noticeable difference between light and medium roast is that light roast is more acidic and contains more fruity flavors, while medium roast is more chocolatey. Light roast also contains slightly more caffeine. 
  • Medium Roast vs Dark Roast - When it comes to dark roast vs medium roast coffee coffee, dark roast has a richer flavor than medium roast coffee. 


Which Contains the Most Caffeine Content?

Contrary to popular belief, it is not dark roasted coffee that has the most caffeine content - in fact, when it comes to this, it places last. Dark coffees spend the most amount of time being roasted, which is why they are less dense, which affects the caffeine content in each bean.

However, if we were to take into account the amount of caffeine per pound or any other measurement, like grams, then it's understandable where the confusion comes from. Beans of darker roasted coffees weigh less than those of light and medium roasts. This means that while technically, the individual beans contain slightly less caffeine, as a whole, they might have more caffeine.


Are There Roasts Darker than Dark Roast?

You might be wondering - Are there darker roasts than dark roasted coffee beans? The answer is yes, there are, and examples of such roasts include French roast, Continental roast, New Orleans roast, Espresso roast and Italian roast. They are very dark in color, sometimes even look black, and have an oily look, as if they were wet.


Which Coffee Roasting Level Is the Most Popular?

At the moment, medium roast coffee is a beloved choice in the specialty coffee industry. This is simply because they have a perfectly balanced flavor that combines the best of both worlds of light and dark roasts. They are not as acidic or full of fruity flavors as light roasts, nor are they as rich as specialty dark roast coffee. Most people would describe medium roast as having a smooth flavor.


Factors That Influence How Your Coffee Tastes

The roasting process is more complex than one might think - there are several factors that affect how your coffee beans will taste after it, with some being more impactful than others. Below, you will find some of them.

  • Temperature. When roasting coffee beans, it's important to choose the right temperature; if it's too low, the coffee beans can develop a bitter flavor, while if it's too high, they might taste burnt.
  • Time. The more time coffee beans are roasted, the richer their flavor will be. On the other hand, coffee beans that haven't been roasted for that long (light roasts) retain a lot more of their flavor characteristics and acid content.
  • Movement. In order to have an evenly roasted batch of coffee beans, you should stir them regularly.
  • Size. The saying that "size matters" proves to be true even when it comes to roasting beans. The bigger coffee beans are, the longer it will take them to achieve the coffee roast levels you're after.
  • Moisture. The final thing that affects how your coffee will turn out after the roasting process is how much moisture there is in the coffee beans. If they're too dry, they might burn, while if they're too wet, they will probably not roast properly.


Which Roast Is Best for Espresso?


Truthfully, all of the above coffee roast types are a great choice, and all of them will result in different flavor experiences. However, when it comes to which ones are most commonly chosen, then medium and dark roast coffee varieties take the crown.


The Bottom Line

Coffee in itself has a huge influence on the world. It is the second most traded commodity after oil and the second most consumed beverage after water! Not to mention, coffee holds many potential health benefits, including the prevention of Alzheimer's and diabetes, an increase in metabolism, and nutrients such as vitamin B5, Niacin, and Magnesium. All of that with the bonus of alertness and improved concentration that only takes 10 minutes to kick inmakes it easy to understand why there are so many coffee lovers in the world.

When it comes to choosing coffee, the brand is not the only thing you should look at, as even coffees offered by the same company differ drastically from each other.

One criterion you should pay attention to is the roast level. The three most common coffee roast types you can encounter are light roast coffee, medium roast coffee and dark roast coffee. Hopefully, after reading this article you have a better understanding of the difference between coffee roasts, and the next time you're shopping for a new coffee, you will be able to recognize which one suits your preferences the most based on what you learned. Cheers!


What's your coffee roasting preference? Light, dark, medium? Join the conversation @AngelinosCoffee on Facebook or Instagram

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