What’s the difference between coffee roasts? How do you tell them apart? What the heck does “roast” even mean?
Fear not dear reader. When I started drinking coffee I didn’t have a clue about the different roasts. Over the years, I did a ton of research and learned all I needed to learn. To save you the time, I’ve summarized that research into this article.
My aim is to answer all of the above questions so you never feel out of place in a coffee shop again.
Here’s the main answer:
In a nutshell, different coffee roasts are “roasted” at different temperatures and for different lengths of time. These variations lead to different caffeine levels, acidity, and oil on the surface of the bean. All of this affects the taste.
Lighter roasts are roasted for less time and at lower temperatures. They contain more caffeine, higher acidity, and less oil. Darker roasts are roasted for longer and at higher temperatures – they have more oil, less caffeine, and less acidity.
That’s OK – the rest of this article will go into more detail. I’ll help you understand what the roasting process is and then I’ll talk about the difference between coffee roasts.
And check out the helpful visual below if you want a quick summary.
What exactly is coffee “roast”?
Roasting coffee means heating unprocessed, green coffee beans. The process develops the beans’ distinctive taste and scent.
“Roast” refers to the specific duration and temperature of the roasting procedure, which can vary depending on the type of coffee. Coffee roasters aim to roast the beans for an optimal duration and temperature to bring out the desired characteristics.
Now for the technical bit:
Coffee beans are roasted up to temperatures of about 482°F (250°C). The process proceeds through two “cracks”, so called because of their audible cracking sound. The first crack happens at 401°F (205°C) and the second crack happens at 437°F (225°C). The beans are never heated past 482°F (250°C) because they burn.
Knowing the roast is important as it affects the caffeine levels and acidity of your coffee.
Difference Between Coffee Roasts
So now that you know what the roasting process is, let’s outline the types of roast.
The three most common roasts are light, medium, and dark. But some sources list up to 5 roasts, which include gold, blonde, light, medium, and dark.
Let’s dive into each of these, starting with gold roast.
Gold roast is coffee that has been roasted only very slightly. It’s the lightest roast, and it’s heated at a lower temperature than darker roasts. So it has certain characteristics that make it suitable for people who don’t like the harsh taste of stronger coffees.
Pioneered by Golden Ratio Coffee, it doesn’t have the harsh acidic notes of other coffees because creamer is added, so it’s easier on your stomach.
The downside is it’s relatively new. So it may be hard to find depending on where you live.
Blonde roast coffee is a distinct coffee roast that stands out from the rest. It’s a lighter roast that’s removed from the roasting process after the first crack at 401°F (205°C).
Because it’s roasted for less time and at lower temperatures, it has more acidity and a “brighter” flavor. Known for its smoothness, it’s a favorite among people who prefer a more subtle coffee flavor. And since it’s not roasted for as long, the natural flavor of the coffee beans come through more easily.
A light roast has higher acidity levels and caffeine content than a medium or dark roast. Many newbie coffee drinkers will drink light roast because of its mild flavor. But it’s still stronger than a blonde roast, as it’s heated for longer.
Light roasted coffee beans are removed from the roasting process after the first “crack” 401°F (205°C).
Considered the Goldilocks of the coffee world (not too strong, not too weak), a medium roast is characterized by a more flavorful taste from a longer roasting process. It also has less caffeine than a light roast, but more caffeine than a dark roast. And the beans are a darker brown when compared to a light roast.
Oil starts to appear on the surface of the bean with a medium roast. Why? Well, the longer and hotter roasting process causes chemical changes to occur, which produce the oil.
Medium roast coffee is probably the most popular in households around the world. Sometimes, you’ll even hear it referred to as “breakfast blend”.
Medium roasts are roasted beyond the first crack, but not as far as the second crack.
Dark roasts have the least amount of caffeine of all the roasts – the long roasting process “cooks” the caffeine out of the bean. The beans themselves are roasted up to the second crack, maybe even beyond (about 450°F).
The beans also have a dark brown chocolate color… and produce a strong, intense taste with minimal acidity. Oil glosses the surface of the bean, giving them a shiny look.
Italian roast and French roast are other names for dark roast – you’ll often see these labels in supermarkets.
So many roasts… so little time
So now that you know about the difference between coffee roasts, do you feel better? Or do you feel more overwhelmed with all the options?
While it does help to be familiar with coffee roasts so you know what to expect (at least in terms of taste), it’s not necessary to remember all of this to enjoy a hot cup of Java. So relax.
On the other hand, if you’re feeling bold, why not check out our last article on the different types of coffee drinks. Combine this with your new knowledge of coffee roasts, and you’ll definitely impress your friends and family next time you see them ;).
And remember that helpful image at the start of the article? Download it here for future reference.
Is blonde roast the same as light roast?
Blonde roast is a type of light roast. Sometimes it’s listed as a distinct roast that has been roasted for less time and at lower temperatures than a light, medium, or dark roast.
How many different roasts are there?
The main roasts are light, medium, and dark. But some sources list up to 5 roasts, including gold, blonde, light, medium, and dark.
Which roast has the most caffeine?
Lighter roasts have more caffeine. So light roast has more caffeine than a medium roast. And a medium roast has more caffeine than a dark roast.