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Roasting is one of the most fascinating aspects of the coffee industry. It takes the green coffee seed, which has almost no flavor beyond a quite unpleasant vegetable taste, and transforms it into an incredibly aromatic, astonishingly complex coffee bean. The smell of freshly roasted coffee is evocative and delicious. In the last 20 years, we are shifting our coffee habits toward a lighter roasted.
Fast or slow, light or dark?
To simplify matters, it can be said that the roast of a coffee is a product of the final color of the coffee bean from light to dark, and the time it took to get to that color from fast to slow.
The roasting process can be controlled to determine 03 key aspects of how the coffee will taste:
It is generally agreed that the longer a coffee is roasted, the less acidity it will have in the end. Conversely, bitterness will slowly increase the longer a coffee is roasted and will definitively increase the darker a coffee is roasted. Sweetness is presented as a bell curve, peaking in between the highs of acidity and bitterness. A good roaster can manipulate where a coffee may taste acid, bitter or sweet. However, adjusting a roast profile can never improve a poor-quality coffee.
A. Light roasted coffees
Light roast coffee is a light brown color and has no oil on the surface of the beans. These coffees typically have a sharp acidity, a mellow body, and bright flavors. These coffees are roasted in order to preserve the unique characteristics of the bean.
Light roasts often produce fruity and floral coffees. However, if the roast doesn’t penetrate to the very center of the bean, grassy and “green” flavors may show up.
Light roasting is beloved in the specialty coffee industry for its ability to bring more vibrant, unique flavors out of coffees. They highlight the unique characteristics of a coffee’s origin more than any other roast style.
Light roasted coffee often reaches an internal temperature of 175-205 degrees. These beans barely reach what we call “first crack”.
Other names include cinnamon roast, light city roast, and half city roast.
B. Medium roasted coffees
Medium roast coffee is a brown color and rarely has an oily surface. These coffees have a medium acidity and body, as well as a rounded flavor profile. Roasting to this level also preserves many of the unique flavors of the coffee’s origin, but it also begins to reach into the deep caramel sweetness of a longer roast. As a result, these coffees are balanced, well rounded, and are slightly darker and sweeter. Some of those bright notes of a light roast may be eliminated, but it’s a trade-off for balance.
Specialty coffee roasters love medium roasts because they are more approachable than light roasts to the average coffee drinker. They’re less acidic and intense, but still can showcase a coffee’s natural flavor profile.
Medium roast coffees reach 205-220 degrees and are typically roasted a little beyond first crack, but not all the way to second crack.
Other names include regular roast, American roast and city roast.
C. Dark roasted coffees
Dark roast coffee is a dark brown color and often has an oily surface. These coffees have a low acidity, heavy body, and tend to reveal deeper, darker flavors. Coffees roasted to this level tend to not have many of their origin characteristics left.
Dark roast coffee has long reigned king, largely because coffee quality wasn’t great in the past. Roasters would “roast away” the less desirably flavors of low-grade coffee to find deeper, more uniform, and more approachable ones. This was an understandable way to combat low quality coffee, but it’s no longer needed. Specialty grade coffee are now widely available to roasters. Now, the goal of a specialty roaster isn’t to roast away bad flavors but lean into deeper and better ones.
Dark roast coffees reach 220-230 degrees in the roaster and typically reach second crack and beyond.
Other names include Full city roast and Vienna roast.
There are terms used in coffee roasting such as “French roasting” or “Italian Roasting”. Both of these terms are used to indicate very dark roasts, typically high in body and bitterness but with many of the characteristics of the raw coffees lost. These kinds of roasts are not suitable for exploring the flavors and characteristics of high-quality coffees from different origins.
To conclude, ultimately, picking a roasting level depends on your personal preference. If you are a real coffee lover, don’t go for a dark roast but for a light to medium roast to enjoy each coffee’s uniqueness taste. Overbaking a coffee will always give the same stale and bitter taste.