Guide to Coffee Roasts

Let’s get roasted!

As you dive into the world or homebrewed coffee the roast of the coffee will become more and more important. All coffee that you drink has been roasted. You may hear/read words like light roast, Breakfast roast, or Vienna roast and wonder “what the heck does a ‘full city’ have to do with coffee?” Don’t worry, though the art/science of coffee roasting is very nuanced the general ideas are easy to grasp – and here is a quick guide to coffee roasts to help.

Learning about the different roasts will help you work out what kinds of coffees and flavors you enjoy. Because even a batch of beans from the same crop roasted to varying levels will taste extremely different.

Why do we roast?

Roasting coffee beans brings out the aroma and flavor that is locked inside the green beans. In fact, green beans can be stored without losing any quality or flavor – roasted beans will slowly lose their flavor. You would certainly not want to brew up a cup of green coffee beans. They are soft and spongy and smell like grass – hmm maybe a new delicacy?

coffee roasted in thailandLike much of coffee, and life, it all comes down to chemistry. Bringing the beans to a high heat creates a chemical reaction. Once the roaster gets the beans to the desired color the heat is quickly removed, and the beans are cooled. Roasted coffee is lighter and crunchy and smells amazing. The difference between a perfect roast and burnt coffee can be a matter of only a few seconds.

The Roasts

There are four basic categories: light, medium, medium dark, and dark. Each roast will have unique characteristics. When I worked at Starbucks many times the men would come in and order “the darkest coffee you have” and talk about how tired they were. If I wasn’t too busy I would explain that the lighter roasts have more caffeine.

Light Roast

Light brown with no oil on the surface of the beans. Lighter roasts retain more of their regional and distinct characteristics. Most acidic.

  • Light City
  • Half City
  • Cinnamon

Medium Roast

Medium brown color with a balanced flavor, aroma, and acidity. No oil on the surface of the beans.

  • City
  • American
  • Breakfast

Medium Dark Roast

Dark color, this roast has some oil on the surface and with a slight bittersweet aftertaste. The acidity characteristic of the lighter roasts almost disappears.

  • Full City

Dark Roast

Shiny black beans with an oily surface and more bitterness. The darker the roast, the less acidity. A darker roast may be easier on your stomach if the acid bothers you. Dark roast coffees run from slightly dark to charred. Dark roasts pair especially well with milk.

  • High
  • Continental
  • New Orleans
  • European
  • Espresso
  • Viennese
  • Italian
  • French

When I first started drinking coffee dark roasts like French and Vienna were my go to but now that I have learned to appreciate the different ways of preparing the coffee I really enjoy a wide range of roasts and all the nuances they bring.

Here is a cool video that literally goes inside a coffee roaster.