Light vs. Medium vs. Medium-Dark vs. Dark Roasted Coffee

“Only big boys drink the dark stuff!” You’ve probably heard something like this from coffee aficionados before. Well, how true is this? Do you really need big-boy pants to drink dark-roasted coffee, or is there something else brewing in the background? Today, we’re going to talk about the different stages of coffee roasts, from light to dark, so you know what you’re getting in each cup of coffee.

Why Do We Need to Roast Coffee Beans?

This is a misconception that some people hold. It’s entirely possible to purchase fresh coffee beans, known as green beans, and steep them in hot water. Green beans have an immensely earthy tone to them, which tastes more like herbal tea than traditional coffee.

However, if you’re a fan of more traditional forms of coffee, then roasting the beans is a necessary process. Each bean contains acids and antioxidants that, when introduced to heat, break down and give coffee its iconic flavor profile. Roastmasters unlock a coffee bean’s true potential by rapidly shocking them in heated air for a specific period of time.

Light vs. Medium vs. Medium-Dark vs. Dark Roasts

As you’ll find out down below, there are two important variables that go into determining what type of roast a coffee bean is: temperature and time. Lightly roasted coffee beans sit in a heated drum for shorter periods of time at a lower temperature as opposed to the darker varieties.

Each roast master follows their own set of rules to determine how long to roast coffee beans to achieve the right roast level. In a nutshell, the most common roasting temperatures and times of a typical batch for each roast type are as follows:

• Light Roast | 4-6 minutes at 350-400°F

Lightly roasted coffee beans appear lighter in color than the other roast varieties. Since the beans don’t sit in a heated drum for as long, they preserve many of their natural volatile components, resulting in an earthier, true-to-nature flavor profile. This stage is also when a noticeable crack appears in the bean, known as the first crack. The crack is caused by the minute water content turning into steam and breaking out from the middle of the bean.

• Medium Roast | 7-10 minutes at 400-430°F

Medium roasts take it a step further. They sit in a drum for longer and at higher temperatures, thus leading its chemical compounds to further break down. Medium roasts contain many of its natural coffee flavors, but hints of the roast process are more noticeable.

• Medium-Dark Roast | 5-8 minutes at 430-450°F

As its name suggests, a medium-dark roast is in the middle ground between medium and dark roasts. They’re not yet as “cooked” as dark roasts, so they maintain some of their natural coffee-ness, but they’re mainly overshadowed by the roasting process.

• Dark Roast | 9-10 Minutes at 430-450°

A dark-roast bean sits in the heated drum for the longest period of time at up to 450°F on average. When the beans come out of the drum, they’re the darkest they can be without being burned. Due to the longer roasting process at a higher temperature, you’ll mainly taste the flavor of the roast with hints of coffee in the background.

Is Dark-Roast Coffee for Hardcore Coffee Fans?

So, how true is the statement that dark roasts are only for those that truly appreciate coffee? Well, as it turns out, not very.

As you can see from the explanation above, the longer the beans sit in high heat, the more their volatile compounds break down. It becomes less acidic and more bitter, the antioxidants are left in trace amounts, and even the caffeine levels significantly drop.

Does that mean that true coffee lovers should reach for a bag of lightly roasted beans instead? Not exactly. The acidity in light roasts can be overpowering to some people’s palates, and their higher caffeine content may not be what you’re looking for.

Which Roast Is the Best?

In our humble opinion, a “true coffee lover,” if such a thing exists, is someone who is open to all types of coffee roasts. Experimenting with different roasts while preparing different drinks is really the only way to enjoy all forms of coffee.

Most people typically choose one roast level and stick to it whenever possible, and that’s completely fine. All you really need to know about the different coffee roast levels without getting too technical is that less time spent in the heated drum means more natural coffee flavors, while darker coffee beans give off the taste of the roast. But hey, it’s your cup of joe. Choose what tickles fancy, whether it’s one roast level or all of them!

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