Where you’re a burgeoning barista, roaster, or just another coffee lover, learning the various types of coffee roasts is often an exciting yet intimidating part of the experience. You may feel overwhelmed, or like you simply don’t know enough about the subject. Don’t worry, everyone starts somewhere. And this guide will cover everything you need to know!
To give you a quick overview we’re going to break down the five types of coffee roasts along with their flavor palettes and other pressing characteristics. On this scale 5 signifies the highest and 1 the lowest for every category.
- White Roast
- Caffeine Content: 5
- Acidity: 5
- The thickness of consistency: 1
- Maximum Internal Temperature: Around 350F
- Flavor Palette: light and nutty taste
- Grinding Ease: 1 (light beans are harder and take longer to grind)
- Caffeine Content: 4
- Acidity: 4
- The thickness of consistency: 2
- Maximum Internal Temperature: 350 to 400F
- Flavor Palette: mild aroma, fruity taste profile, with citrus undertones
- Grinding Ease: 2
- Caffeine Content: 3
- Acidity: 3
- The thickness of consistency: 2
- Maximum Internal Temperature: 400 to 430F
- Flavor Palette: balanced taste with a strong aroma; chocolatey and nutty taste
- Grinding Ease: 3
- Caffeine Content: 2
- Acidity: 2
- The thickness of consistency: 3
- Maximum Internal Temperature: 430 to 455F
- Flavor Palette: bold aroma and bittersweet aftertaste with notes of dark chocolate and roasted almonds
- Grinding Ease: 4
- Caffeine Content: 1
- Acidity: 1
- The thickness of consistency: 4
- Maximum Internal Temperature: 455 to 482F
- Flavor Palette: strong bitter taste with charred or burnt undertones
- Grinding Ease: 5 (darker beans are softer and take less time to grind)
Any coffee beans that have been roasted past this point will become ashy and unsafe to consume.
5 Types of Coffee Roasts
Overall, there are five types of coffee that go from strong to mild, or light to dark in taste. While it may be counterintuitive, remember that the lightest roasts have the most caffeine content and are also the most acidic. The more the beans are processed the more caffeine they lose, so the darkest roasts are actually the weakest.
1. White Roast Coffee
You can get white roast coffee from lightly slow roasting coffee beans, leaving them hard to the touch and with exceptionally high caffeine content. This type of roast is not to be confused with the white coffee you often see on menus. Drinks like Ipoh White Coffee, Indonesian Kopi Putih White Coffee, and Flat White Coffee are not made using white roast beans.
Visually the color and texture of White Roast Coffee is similar to that of tea.
Maximum Internal Temperature While Roasting – Around 350F.
White roasted coffee beans have a light and nutty flavor profile. It doesn’t have the same layered notes or heavy aromas as darker roasts. In fact, the consistency for White Roast Coffee is similar to that of tea.
Since it’s roasted for very little time it retains much of the raw green bean character and has a grassy smell that some coffee drinkers relate to hay or dry leaves.
Naturally, this type of roast isn’t for everyone, and its restricted following limits its popularity in mainstream cafes. On occasion, health bars will use White Roast Coffee as a base for some smoothies, which appeals to customers looking for an early morning kick in their green juice.
Bean texture for White Roast Coffee is a lot harder than any other type of roast. Hence, attempting to grind it on a home grinder can damage the blades. That is why it is commonly sold in a ground coffee form.
2. Light Roast
While White Roast Coffee is a type of Light Roast, the category is a lot broader and refers to all coffees that are generally prepared with minimal heating.
Since the green beans are only roasted for a short period the oils at the core of the bean never have a chance to seep out onto the surface. Hence it’s cinnamon coloring and a mild taste.
So what classifies a roast as light? There are certain chemical and physical changes green beans undergo during the roasting process. As the beans are exposed to heat they begin to lose moisture and expand in size. Eventually, the pressure in the beans will reach a breaking point at which they crack.
At 400F a roaster will notice popping sounds that are technically termed the first crack. So any roasts that are only heated until or prior to the first crack can safely be called Light Roasts.
These roasts come in light fragrances and have a fruity flavor profile, with occasional hints of citrus undertones. Thin in consistency and high in terms of caffeine content, they are the roast of choice among cold coffee lovers.
The sharp acidity of the Light Roast is a defining characteristic. Part of the chemical changes that coffee beans undergo during the roasting process includes a reduction in acidity and caffeine content.
Hence, the longer the roasting time the milder the roast. Cold brewing is good for cutting through the acidic nature of Light Roasts.
Properly preparing light roasts is often considered more of a challenge than darker varieties. You have to brew them carefully and slowly. Fine grinding followed by a pour-over or cold brewing process is generally preferred.
Which Coffees Are Light Roasts
Light Roasts are considered a delicacy among coffee aficionados who want to experience the stripped and natural taste of coffee. By highlighting the terroir and minimizing the influence of processing techniques, coffee lovers can enjoy the acidic, citrusy tones of Light Toasts.
Some of the popular varieties of Light Roasts include Cinnamon Roast, New England, Light City, Half City, and White Coffee. Don’t be surprised if you come across these on a coffee shop menu.
3. Medium Roast
Medium Roasts are perhaps the most popular brew of choice among Americans. With a versatile range of brewing methods that all lead to great-tasting coffee, there are a few things you need to know about Medium Roasts.
The darker brown shade of the Medium Roast is thanks to its longer roasting time. As the natural sugars in the bean are drawn to the surface and heated they start to caramelize. This is what gives Medium Roasts their strong aroma. During the 400 to 430F temperature jump, the roast loses an additional 13 percent moisture content and crosses the point of the first crack.
With a Medium Roast, you can expect a balanced taste with controlled acidity. A strong aroma accompanies the sweetness with a chocolatey and nutty flavor profile.
Since these roasts are both less acidic and have a lower caffeine ratio than Light Roasts they appear to have a larger consumer base. If you want to make a roast that sells out, this is the one for you.
The best part about a Medium Roast is all the ways you can brew it. In terms of versatility, the Medium Roast outperforms all others. Whether you want an automatic drip or pour-over, espresso, or Moka pot, this roast will meet all your needs. Of course, you will need to grind your roast according to your brewing method.
Generally, a medium grind is preferable if you intend to try an automatic drip or pour-over. But if you want to go with a Moka pot or espresso you’ll have more luck with a fine grind.
Since the beans for a Medium Roast are softer than those of a Light Roast, extraction is both easier and faster. Keep this in mind so you don’t over-extract and go slowly.
Which Coffees Are Medium Roasts
Some of the Medium Roasts are sold as American, Regular, City, Breakfast, and Medium. So the next time you see any of these names on a menu you’ll know what you’re drinking.
4. Medium-Dark Roast
Medium-Dark Roasts take a step past the comfortable middle ground and onto the darker end in the world of coffee. Rich and dark, this heavy body roast heats the grounds long enough for some of the oils to make their way onto the surface. Once oxidized these oils give the medium-dark roast its deep hue and rich fragrance.
The Medium-Dark Roast is characterized by an internal temperature between 430 to 455F. The peak of the range cuts off right before the second crack starts, although you may see initial signs if you’re cutting it close to the edge. At this stage, the beans have lost almost all of their acidity and begin gaining a bitter edge that proceeds in the deeper roasts.
If you want to enjoy a cup of rich coffee, with a bold aroma and bittersweet aftertaste, Medium-Dark Roast is the one for you. With notes of dark chocolate and roasted almonds, the flavor palette is fledged out and layered. The extended roasting time gives it a wonderfully thick consistency and makes it minimally acidic. A Medium-Dark Roast is perfect for those hardcore coffee drinkers.
When brewed with care and patience, Medium-Dark Roast will appeal to coffee lovers who prefer a French Press, AeroPress, or Espresso brewing process. As with all roasts in the second half of the list, the overall roasting time makes these coffee beans softer and easy to grind.
The only risk with this type of roast is that over-extraction will make your brew exceptionally bitter. That is why you should go with a coarser grind in your French Press.
Of course, if you’re using a more controlled method like a pour-over or even an automatic trip you may choose to use a medium-coarse grind without risking a bitter flavor.
Which Coffees Are Medium-Dark Roasts
Some of the names retailers sell Medium-Dark Roasts under include Light French, Full City, After Dinner, Continental, Light Espresso, or Viennese. So if you see any of these on a label prepare yourselves for an aromatic brew with a slightly bitter dark chocolate aftertaste.
You may also notice that the darker roasts tend to be cheaper than the light roasts. That is because coffee is often roasted to a Medium-Dark or higher level in order to cover up processing defects or production inconsistencies. It may also just use lower-grade beans. The longer roasting may hide all such issues.
5. Dark Roast
If you enjoy Starbucks or other mass-produced coffee enterprises then you can count yourself as a lover of Dark Roasts.
For this type of coffee, the beans are roasted well past the point of caramelization. Most of the inner oils leach out onto the surface and turn a dark color. None of the original flavors of the green coffee bean is left with this type of processing. Dark Roasts are particularly popular in European markets.
At this stage, the beans have been roasted well past the second crack. All the oils have moved to the surface of the coffee bean and caramelized, giving it a buttery finish. There is minimal to no acidic and the roast is only mildly caffeinated.
Dark Roasts are characterized by a smooth, mellow flavor that has a strong bitter taste. At this stage, the beans have been processed to the point where they are burnt and charred. The resulting roast comes with charred undertones, featuring a heavy consistency and bold aroma.
This is not the type of roasting you want if you’re trying to preserve the original notes or flavor profile of the cocoa bean. In fact, at internal temperatures as high as these you have to be extremely careful when roasting because a sudden influx of oxygen can light a flame and start a fire.
Since the roast has been heated long enough to make the beans exceptionally soft it is very easy to overprocess them. That is why you’ll want to use a coarse grind regardless of your brewing process, although you can also use a medium-coarse grind. Since the extraction happens so quickly any finer grains will give you an unpleasantly bitter brew.
Which Coffees Are Dark Roasts
Some of the many names that this type of roast is sold under include High, European, French, Spanish, Neapolitan, Espresso, Italian, and New Orleans. Dark Roasts are not for everyone. In fact, very few people can appreciate the strong and bitter flavor palette for this type of roast.
How to choose your roast?
Different markets prefer different roasts.
For example, if you’re catering to a sophisticated market looking to spend more money on their roasts you’ll want the light types. In this case, you’re catering to a demographic that loves and enjoys coffee. They’ll want to savor each note and will notice if your roast isn’t up to market standard. For lighter roasts, you’ll also need more expensive equipment and higher expertise.
Now, if you choose to target a less knowledgeable market you can go with a cheaper medium to dark roast. These are easier to produce, require less complicated machines, and most importantly the roasting process is a lot simpler. For beginners, a medium to medium-dark roast may be the way to go.
Professional roasting is an art form. Experts spend years training till they are able to make split-second decisions about when to take a batch out. Often, just a few seconds can make or break your roast. And if you want a consistent product you’ll need to perfect your method.
Then there’s the decision of which roaster to use, and how fast to roast your beans. It can all seem quite overwhelming, but becoming an expert roaster is just a matter of getting started. Don’t worry if your first batch doesn’t turn out perfect, or even your tenth. With enough practice, you’ll have your recipe down perfect.
Also, keep in mind that different types of roasts require different kinds of roasters. That’s because the lighter the roast the harder the grain is. Processing is what makes your roast softer. So make sure you decide what roast you want before you purchase any equipment.
So choose your roast type and get started!