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Guide To Different Coffee Roast Types: Light, Medium and Dark

Updated: Apr 30, 2023

You've probably heard of the most common coffee roast types – light, medium and dark – and can maybe even taste the difference between them. But have you ever stopped to think what exactly makes these roast types different? Keep reading to learn about how the roasting process produces different types of coffee roasts.

In order to understand the three common types of coffee roasts, first you must understand the roasting process itself. Coffee beans are not actually beans – they’re seeds found inside the coffee cherry fruit. The roasting process transforms these green fruit seeds into the brown coffee beans we’re all familiar with. The time and degree of roasting each bean are both factors in determining which type of the three roasts it will become.

Light Roasts

Light roasts are described as having a mild, fruity taste, are more acidic and lighter in color than the other roasts. They also marginally contain the most caffeine out of the three roasts (even though most people believe the exact opposite) due to the shortened roasting process. The longer you roast the bean, the more caffeine that is extracted (we will get more into depth on caffeine in a later post). Light roast coffees showcase the flavors of the region in which they are grown. Light roasts are often associated with fruity flavors because the amount of an organic compound, 5-hydroxymethylfurfural, is high. The amount of this compound decreases with longer roasting times. Light roasts are taken out of the roaster after the “first crack,” or the first popping sound.

Medium Roasts

Medium roasts are the preferred American taste. Medium roasts achieve their brown color, balanced flavor and medium amount of caffeine with a longer roasting time than the light roasts, but not quite as long as dark roasts. Removing the beans just before the second crack gives them that balanced flavor that medium roasts are known for. That balanced flavor is often associated with caramel, milk chocolate or even some nutty flavors.

Dark Roasts

The bold, smoky taste of dark roasts is reached with the longest time spent in the roasting process, being removed after the second crack. Some popular dark roasts include French, Vienna and Italian roasts. French is one of the darkest roasts. The roasted beans have a brown-black color and a shiny finish to them. Often, there will not be fruity or floral flavors present in dark roasts. Instead, you will taste notes of bittersweet chocolate and dry nuts. Roasting a dark roast is a very particular process that can result in a smokey, charred taste that may overpower the flavors of the bean. Here at River Blend we pride ourselves on maintaining the coffee bean’s flavors of origin, so we take our beans out around 440 degrees in the roasting process to achieve our dark roasts perfectly.

How To Choose The Best Roast Type For You

Considering all you’ve learned about the different types of coffee roasts, I’m sure you’re wondering how to pick between the three. To begin, if a bag of coffee beans lists flavors that you know you like, you will most likely enjoy the coffee no matter what the roast type it actually is. Also take into consideration how you like to drink your coffee. Do you put milk, cream or sugar in your coffee? If so, how much? If the answers are yes and a lot, then opt for a medium or dark where the roast maintains its taste better with the additions. If you prefer your coffee black, a light roast may be the way to go.

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