Many are confused about the various coffee roast levels. What does it mean that something is light vs. dark roast? Which has more caffeine? What do experts prefer? Here are some answers:
- Lighter roasts maintain more of the natural flavor of the bean, i.e. a soil/planty type of taste
- Lighter roasts are preferred by experts because they allow you to experience the coffee itself vs. the taste of the roast
- The more you roast the less you get the coffee flavor and the more you get the roasting flavor, which can be good depending on the quality of the coffee
- Roasting flavor is the characteristic “harsh coffee taste” that many common coffee experiences seem to have. Most people think of the roasting flavor as “coffee flavor”
- Many people claim to favor the dark roasted flavor because it’s associated with “coffee flavor”, i.e. it’s familiar to them
- Moderate roasting does activate flavors that may not be present in green or lightly roasted beans, so not all roasting is bad. The key is moderation
- As a result, many experts agree that light-medium or medium roasts are the best for high-end coffees. It gives a balance between natural favors and some roasting accents
- Lighter roasts have more caffeine than darker roasts because the caffeine is in the oils that get burnt off during roasting
- The analogy of steak works well; people who know steak get it rare to medium-rare–never well done. Well done steak, and heavily roasted coffee eliminate the character of the original, which is why it is rejected by experts of both
- There are some coffees that are best highlighted by a particular roast level, e.g.: Ethiopian coffees should be roasted lightly, and Sumatran coffees should be roasted heavily
- When in doubt, don’t go too light (bland/planty), or too dark (sugary/intense)–go with medium blend for the best activation of flavor without removing it altogether
- The cheaper the coffee the more roasted it probably will be (to get consistency from sub-par beans). Folgers, Starbucks, et al, are basically burnt to death
- Don’t put junk in your coffee unless you don’t respect it. That’s like putting A1 on a $100 steak.
- If you are going to doctor up your coffee, do it to coffee that’s darkly roasted. Not only is it likely to improve the taste, but the combination of milk/creme and sugar with the smoky/acidic flavor of the coffee will be more pleasant than with lighter roasts
Ping me if you have anything to correct/add.
1 More at Wikipedia.