- Updated Mar 26, 2020
- Writen by Robert Smith
Light Roast vs. Medium Roast vs. Dark Roast: Coffee Roasting Level
- Updated Nov 19, 2019
- Writen by Robert Smith
If you prefer an even more hands-on approach to coffee making, a good idea would be to start your brewing process straight from roasting the green beans. But, besides getting a good coffee roaster, you also need to understand how to roast the coffee properly.
When it comes to coffee roasting, the first thing you need to figure out is the roast type that you will need. And here, you need to know what the three main roast types, which are light, medium and dark roasts, have to offer.
Each of these roast types has its positive and negative traits, and it will deliver a different coffee flavor, which means it will be ideal for a different kind of coffee drinker.
While ultimately your choice of a coffee roast will depend on your tastes, here we provide a breakdown of the pros and cons of the different types and also compare them.
Light Roast Overview
A light roast takes the shortest time of all the roast types and will also require the lowest temperatures, which makes it one of the quickest and easiest even for beginners.
Because there is minimal roasting involved, this roast type tends to retain most of the original flavors in the coffee. Also, a light roast will retain all the important antioxidants and other healthy compounds found in coffee and hence making this a relatively healthier roast.
With this roast, most of the caffeine is also retained, which makes it perfect for those looking for coffee that offers high caffeine doses. But, the minimal roasting also means that this coffee will also have higher acidic levels.
The light roasts are often used for cuppings, and the main reason for this is because most of its taste comes from the coffee, which means it will deliver the actual individual characteristics.
But, this coffee does not have the nice flavor oils you get on the dark roast, and the higher acidity levels can be a huge problem for some coffee drinkers.
Medium Roast Overview
The medium roast will provide the perfect balance between body and acidity, and it is the ideal compromise for those that find the light roast way to mild and the dark roast more overwhelming.
At the medium roast level, the coffee flavor and taste will not come entirely from the coffee beans because some significant percentage stems from the roasting.
And while you can still feel and taste the coffee's original flavor, the brightness is complemented by a fuller body which creates a more distinct flavor.
The more balanced taste of the medium roast and relatively less acidity are what makes this roast the most popular of the three. And many coffee drinkers also seem to love that it is often a little on the sweeter side.
But, this roast requires a little more attention to get right as you can easily under or over-roast which can give you an entirely different roast profile. Also, there will be little to no oil which might deny you some of the flavors you would get with the dark roast.
Dark Roast Overview
Dark roasts are famous for showcasing their bolder bodies and providing a richer taste than all other roast types, which explains why many seasoned coffee drinkers will prefer it.
But, at this roast level, most of the coffee taste and flavor will come from the roasting process, and unless you are super keen, you cannot feel a lot of the natural coffee flavors and characteristics from the beans.
This roast is very popular in Europe with variations like the French and Spanish roast being among the preferred ones, and it is the best for making espresso thanks to the thicker body.
The dark roast also has reduced caffeine content when compared to others like the light roast, and it will also have a bitter and smoky taste, which while some people might like, others will find it a little unbearable.
350 to 400 °F
400 to 430 °F
450 to 482 °F
Diverse, floral and fruity flavors
Rich, diverse and well-rounded
Rich and deep with a hint of woodiness, earthiness, spiciness
Diverse and vibrant
Smoother and sweeter
Classic and soothing
Ideal Brewing Methods
Cold-brew, drip coffee
Espresso, Moka pot, cold brew, drip coffee
Light Roast vs. Medium Roast vs. Dark Roast
The roast level or type is mostly a personal preference and will hugely depend on the taste that you are looking for in your coffee. What this means is that light, medium and dark roast all have fanatics that will not trade them for any other roast type.
But, if you are new to coffee or are just trying your hand at roasting for the first time, it is important to understand how these common roasts differ. Here are a few points to help you out.
1. Roasting Temperature
Roasting is all about getting the temperature right and if you mess up things at this point, you can end up with a roast that is completely different from what you have in mind.
Light roast coffee beans will be roasted to the first crack, which allows them to retain most of the coffee's natural flavors. And to get this roast, you will need to keep the temperature between 350 and 400 degrees Fahrenheit, but some roasters can still go up to 450 degrees Fahrenheit and still keep the roast light enough.
When it comes to the medium roast, you will need to stop just before the second crack. And for this roast, the roasting temperature will be between 400 and 430 degrees Fahrenheit and like with the light roast, you can also go up to 450 degrees Fahrenheit without changing the roast.
Dark roasting will require higher temperatures of at least 450 degrees Fahrenheit and will take much longer than the other two. For this roast, you have to wait for the end of the second crack and depending on the coffee beans types you are using, sometimes you might need temperatures of up to 490 degrees Fahrenheit.
Coffee flavor is often dependent on the kinds of coffee beans you are using and their origins. But, one thing you might not know, is that how you roast also has a huge impact on the flavor. Hence, you can expect to get a different flavor from the light, medium and dark roasts.
With the light roast, you can expect the most natural coffee flavors possible, and it is possible to get the individual characteristics of coffee from different regions. The flavor profile for this roast can be best described as diverse with distinct floral and fruity flavors.
While the medium roast still offers some diverse flavors that have significantly pronounced characteristics based on the coffee origins, they are a little subdued. For this roast, the flavor will be richer and well-rounded.
Dark roasts will get most of its flavor from the roasting. Hence, the flavors will be deeper than what you get from the other roasts. You can expect to get a deep and rich flavor with hints of chocolate and spice characterized by some earthiness and woodiness.
The color is one of the easiest ways to tell these roasts apart because the temperature and roasting time will have a huge effect on the color of the coffee. And it should be clear from the onset that the introduction of temperature means that all roasts will change the colors of the beans.
Starting with the light roast, you can expect to get a lighter tan color and will not be shinny because there are no visible oils on the surface of the coffee beans.
For a medium roast, the color will be a rich brown shade, and as the light roast, the roasting time and temperature are not enough to bring out the oils, and so the surface will not have any visible oils in most instances.
A dark roast comes in a darker brown color and the higher roasting temperature and longer roasting times bring out the flavor oils, and so the coffee beans will have a thin coat of oils on the surface.
Acidity levels in coffee matter a lot, and this is more so for the drinkers with acidity issues like irritable bowel syndrome, gastric ulcers and acid reflux, which is the most common of the three.
If you have all these issues or just one of them, you need to be keen on the acidity levels on your coffee. And like with many other things, the acidity levels will be highly dependent on the level of roasting.
The less you roast the coffee beans, the more the acids are retained and hence the higher the levels of acidity. What this means is that you can expect to get high acidity from the light roast, medium acidity level for the medium roast and low acidity levels for dark roasts.
Coffee lovers that are trying to avoid acid reflux when taking coffee should stick with the medium or dark roasts.
Nothing beats the smell or aroma of freshly brewed coffee in the morning, and if you are a true coffee aficionado, this aroma is probably what you always look forward to every morning.
But, what you might not know is that the aroma that you get on your coffee will be largely dependent on the roast that you use. If you are keen enough, you can easily tell the aroma coming from different kinds of coffee roasts.
Light roast brings out more natural aromas from the coffee, and you can expect to get some vibrant and diverse aroma from all the individual components in the coffee.
With the medium roast, you will get a smoother and sweeter aroma as some of the vibrancy is subdued a little by the roasting, but the aromas will still be quite diverse.
Dark roasts have what can be described best as a darker and soothing aroma, and it is a more classic smell that many people tend to associate with coffee.
6. Ideal Brewing Methods
Well, you can use any roast that you want for any brewing method as it is all up to your personal preferences and the kind of taste that you prefer, and so there are no parameters that you need to adhere to.
With that said, given the differences in flavor extraction methods, it is important to know which roast will work well for the popular coffee-making method.
Starting with the French press, you can get the strongest flavor from the coffee and all the nice aromatic oil and it works well with almost any roast profile. Pour over works best with light roast, drip coffee works best with medium and dark roast while nothing beats a dark roast for espresso making.
A coffee’s roast profile is one of the key determinants of everything from the coffee taste and flavor to the aroma that you get.
Your roast also has a huge effect on the brewing method that you can use, and so you cannot afford to go wrong here. And in many instances, you have to choose between light, medium and dark roast, which means you need to know what each has to offer, but with this piece, this should be clear.
From our overview and comparison above, it is clear that the light roast will be perfect for those looking for a nice roast profile for pour-over coffee or high caffeine content. The medium roast will provide a perfect balance of acidity and body and dark roasts will be perfect when you want a richer taste and bolder body.