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The 4 Types Of Coffee Roasts Explained

Jason Gass
Last Updated: March 22nd, 2023

For the new coffee drinker there is often an overwhelming amount of confusion when it comes to the various types of coffee.

The different coffee roasts that are available, combined with a wide range of coffee bean types can make buying an enjoyable coffee a challenge for the new coffee drinker. It can also be a source of confusion for experienced coffee drinkers.

Though it may seem like there is a large number of coffee roast styles, there are four basic roasts to be considered: dark, medium-dark, medium, and light roast. Each roast offers a different flavor, color, and even caffeine level.

To learn more about each roast type, follow along with us as we examine the four different types of coffee roasts.

What is the Roasting Process?

what is the roasting process

Roasting coffee beans is the process that takes a green bean that has been removed from a coffee cherry to a delightful product that makes one of the most popular drinks around the world.

When coffee beans are roasted, the heat turns the green coffee bean into a toasted “nut” of sorts. These toasted coffee beans are what give our favorite cup of coffee its aroma, mouth feel, and rich color.

When we roast coffee beans, we take a soft and bitter coffee seed and turn it into a product that is filled with flavors and aromas that get us started in the morning, and make our favorite desserts taste just a little bit better. Roasting is the most important step in making great coffee.

Before we get into the details of each type of roast, there are a few things you should know about roasted coffee:

  • Light and medium roast coffee will not have noticeable oils on the beans
  • Light roast coffees have the most caffeine
  • Lighter roast coffees will have more of the original flavors
  • Dark roast coffees have oils on the beans
  • Oils on coffee beans give dark roast beans a smoky and robust flavor
  • Dark roast coffees have less caffeine

4 Types of Coffee Roasts Explained

types of coffee roasts explained

1. Light Roasts

Light roast coffee is the mildest of the roasts we will be considering. These coffees are characterized by a light brown color and no noticeable oils on the outside of the beans. They are roasted to around 410° F, or to the point when the beans begin to pop or crack. Coffee roasters call this the “first crack”, and it is the indication that beans have reached the light roast level.

There are some common misconceptions about light roast beans. First, many people think that light roast coffees are not going to be flavorful. However, when the beans are not roasted for as long, you get more of the “origin” flavors. These are the flavors that make each variety of bean unique.

One of the other misconceptions of light roast coffees is that they don’t have as much caffeine as darker roast coffees. This is a false understanding of the properties of light roast coffee. In fact, light-roast coffee tends to have more caffeine than darker roasts. The lower roasting temperature and shorter time exposure to heat leave much of the caffeine that is present in the green coffee bean.

Light roast coffees tend to have a mild but fruity flavor. The mild, but slightly acidic flavors make light roast coffee a nice selection for cold brew coffee. Darker roasts tend to make cold brew bitter.

2. Medium Roasts

If you like the origin flavors that you get from light roast, but that mild toasted flavor of a darker roast is interesting to you, then you will enjoy coffees that are considered medium roasts.

Medium roast beans are a slightly darker brown color and have a more robust body than light roasts. You won’t find as much of the bright, fruity flavors in medium roasts, but rather a nicely balanced palette that spans both the fruity and roasted flavors. Medium roast coffees are the first roast style where you can actually experience a bit of the flavor that comes from long exposure to heat.

Medium roast coffees are heated to no more than 440º F, and are usually removed from the heat just before the “second crack”. This added time and temperature do reduce the amount of caffeine in medium roast coffees.

These balanced coffees are ideal for just about any brewing style. You may even want to try a medium roast bean when making espresso. This is a unique and very flavorful espresso that you won’t experience with darker roast coffees.

3. Medium-Dark Roasts

Medium-dark roast coffees really start to bring the bold flavor and body to your cup of joe. You will notice that your brewed coffee made with medium-dark roast beans comes with flavors of dark almonds and bittersweet chocolate.

Medium-dark coffee is ideal for brewing styles like French press, Aeropress, or even espresso. You can even use this style of roast for your basic drip coffee.

One thing to keep in mind with darker roast coffees is that to avoid a lot of bitterness in your brewed coffee you will want to alter the grind size. Finer grounds in brewing styles like French press or drip will result in a coffee that is over-extracted and bitter. For these brewing styles, consider medium-coarse or coarse grinds.

4. Dark Roasts

As the name suggests, dark roast coffees are the deepest colored of the coffee bean options, in some cases, the beans are almost black in color. To get this deep color, dark roast beans are roasted to no more than 440𝆩F, and are held at this temperature until the beans begin to have a sheen from the oils.

The oils that come from the beans at the later stages of roasting are what give dark roast coffees their unique flavor. Coffee oils tend to give beans a deep flavor and a smooth and creamy mouth feel.

Dark roast beans, for most brewing styles, will do best with a coarse grind. However, the exception to this is if you are using an espresso maker or Moka pot. These two styles can use fine grounds.

What are Green Coffee Beans

what are green coffee beans

Green coffee beans are dried beans or seeds before it is roasted. Green beans do not make a good cup of coffee since the flavors and oils are still held tightly in the cells of the bean.

Some dedicated coffee drinkers will buy green beans and roast their own coffee at home. You can do this in your oven if you want to try it and there are home roasting machines that you can purchase if you are committed to roasting your own beans.

Which Roast Has the Highest Amount of Caffeine?

roast has the highest amount of caffeine

With all the hype about espresso giving you a strong dose of caffeine or that jolt that you need to get moving, it is easy to think that dark roast beans are the ones higher in caffeine.

However, the reality is that dark roast coffee actually has the least amount of caffeine of the four styles. The mild, fruity light roast coffee bean is the one that you want if you need a quick start to your day or an extra boost of energy.

Higher temperatures and longer exposure to heat will break down the caffeine molecules in the coffee bean. If you think about roasting coffee similarly to cooking foods, this starts to make sense.

Burned foods or those that have been overcooked lose a lot of their nutrients and flavors. The same happens with coffee beans, the longer they are roasted, the less caffeine and less of the original flavors of the coffee variety.

In general, light roasts tend to have around 60% more caffeine content than their darker roast counterparts. Brewing style can have an impact on the amount of caffeine per ounce. This is why a one-ounce shot of espresso has almost the same amount of caffeine as an 8-ounce cup of drip coffee.

The Types Of Coffee Roasts – Final Thoughts

The style of coffee roast that you prefer comes down to the flavors you enjoy and the amount of caffeine you are looking for. Lovers of bold, deep flavors and a creamy texture will jump for darker roast coffees. On the other hand, if you are looking for a boost of caffeine you will want to go for those bright, flavorful light roasts.

Each coffee roast gives the drinker a unique experience, and depending on how you brew your coffee, one roast type can have a wide range of flavors and textures.

About The Author

Jason Gass

Jason Gass is a Colorado based freelance writer and blogger whose goal is to share a good cup of coffee and great stories around a campfire with close friends. When he’s not working, he spends most of his time traveling, searching for the best breweries, and road-tripping in his teardrop trailer with his wife, daughter, and two dogs.

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