Coffee Roasts 101: The Difference Between Light, Medium, and Dark Roasts

January 22, 2019

coffee roasts

It may seem like Americans drink a ton of coffee, but we’ve got nothing on Finland, Sweden, and Iceland. Those Nordic countries consume the most coffee per capita, while the U.S. doesn’t even crack the top 20. 

The U.S. has a lot of ground to make up. We also have a lot of gaps to fill in our knowledge of coffee. For instance, coffee roast levels can be hard to figure out unless you’re a barista. 

If you don’t know enough about the difference in coffee roasts, keep reading. 

Light Roast 

Light roast coffee is sometimes called New England Roast. If you know that, then you can guess that light roast is more popular on the East Coast than in other parts of the country. 

The acidity is usually more noticeable when drinking a light roast. All coffee beans start out as green.

But if you’re aiming for a light roast, you’ll want to remove the beans after the first time they pop. That initial pop is often known as the first crack.

The first crack happens at a temperature of about 401 degrees Fahrenheit.  You may have heard that light roast coffees have more caffeine, but that’s a myth.

Medium Roast

Medium roast coffees are ideal for people who can’t quite make up their mind. Balance is the name of the game for a medium roast, which is one reason why this roast pairs well with brunch or breakfast.

With light roast coffees, you know to stop roasting after the first crack. But making medium roast coffees is trickier. You have to wait until after the first crack is over but before the second crack commences.

If you’re curious, that means a temperature range of at least 410 degrees. 

Dark Roast

Dark roast coffee beans look a bit like chocolate. But a dark roast doesn’t taste like a candy bar, or at least not any candy bar made by Hershey’s. 

No, if you drink dark roast, you’re drinking something bitter, smoky, and full-bodied. That’s because the beans get roasted to a temperature of about 464 degrees, if not higher.

Roasting dark coffee beans is a delicate game. You need to go beyond the second crack of the beans. But if you go too much farther, you’re going to get something that tastes like ash rather than coffee. 

Not surprisingly, the flavor of the roasting process is most noticeable with dark roast coffees. The flavor of the actual coffee beans is more pronounced with lighter and medium roast coffees.

Dark roast coffees are especially popular in the Pacific Northwest. The coffee house culture is big in cities like Portland and Seattle. That means you’ll find a lot of local roast houses who specialize in making coffee that’s bittersweet without being burnt. 

Coffee Roasts at Cupitol 

The world of coffee roasts is wide and varied. Something that seems like a medium roast on the East Coast might seem like a light roast in Seattle. 

But our coffee roasting business isn’t focused on the coasts. At Cupitol, we’re focused on brewing the best cup of coffee in the Chicago area.

Check out our coffee shop philosophy to learn more about what we do.