For discerning coffee drinkers, roast level is one of the most important factors to consider when pursuing the perfect cup of joe. Without getting into too many technical specifications, suffice it to say that roast level is generally determined by the actual colour of the roasted coffee beans.
Lighter-coloured beans are known as “light roast”, while dark-coloured beans are called “dark roast”. So what exactly makes the difference between the two? Below are some key points to help you identify the unique characteristics of each type of roast.
Light roasted coffee vs Dark roast
Light roasted coffee beans
Light Roasted coffee beans have a tan or light brown colour, and they generally do not display much oil on the surface of the beans. They are generally considered to be the most acidic roast level, and are (quite obviously) the brightest-coloured bean.
The character of the beans’ origin is quite handily brought out by light roasts – for example, it’s not too difficult to discern the difference in flavour and aroma between a Kenyan (quite acidic with bright wine notes), Colombian (floral with heavier body) and Sumatran (mossy or earthy) light roast.
Since practically every type of coffee bean under the sun has been utilised in light roasting experiments, it has become apparent over the years that not all coffee beans taste very balanced when light roasted; in fact, for some beans, a light roasting process can bring out the most jolting or obtrusive notes (e.g., too peanutty, too cocoa-ish, too veggie, etc.).
Light roasted coffees tend to have a deep, complex flavour profile, hints of tangy fruitiness, floral aromas, and notable sweetness, but the quality of the roasting process can have a significant impact on whether or not these unique elements will be adequately brought out.
Some examples of popular coffee drinks in which light roasts are used include Java, Kenya and Jamaica Blue Mountain Coffee.
Dark Roasted coffee beans have a rich, dark brown colour that is similar to dark chocolate in appearance. In fact, some dark roasted beans can be almost completely black in colour, and the oils can be more easily seen in these beans than their light roasted counterparts.
The word “bold” is often used to describe the flavour of a dark roast, although it can sometimes border on charred or burnt depending upon the skill level of the roaster.
You won’t find many floral, citrus, berry, or fruity notes in dark roasts; instead, there will often be a rich, smoky, full-bodied, or even chocolaty flavour to brews from dark roasted beans.
Generally speaking, darker roasts are a favorite choice for espressos, primarily because the pressure of the extraction process tends to produce the best caramelization of the sugar in the beans. This produces a heck of a flavour boost in the finished product.
Dark roasts have traditionally been the go-to choice in Europe, which is why terms such as Italian, Spanish, French, and Continental roasts are essentially synonymous with dark roasts.
Since roast level determines the various qualities that will be brought out of the coffee, you would do well to take your time and experiment with various roast levels to see which one best suits your preferences.
For that you will need a good home coffee roaster and high quality beans. The good news is that there is such a diverse range of flavours in both light and dark roasts, you’ll have plenty of opportunities to enjoy your favourite drink!