Drinking Coffee

The Quick Guide To Coffee Roast Terminology

Posted on 10. Nov, 2012 by in Articles, How-To

Roasting is probably the most important aspect of preparing great coffee. The roasting process brings out the aroma of the coffee bean, as the chemical structure of the coffee oils changes in the heat. Without it, the rich, familiar smell of coffee would not exist. In this article, we will discuss the degrees of roasting and explain briefly their effect on the coffee bean.

Unroasted coffee

After the coffee fruits have been picked and the beans have been extracted, they are of a pale, gray-green color. In this form, the beans can be stored for about two years provided that they are kept in the appropriate sacks. This is the form in which coffee is traded as a commodity across the world, waiting in vast warehouses to be shipped off to different locations all over the globe. The roasting process usually happens close to the location where the coffee is to be sold, as coffee begins to lose its flavor and other aromatic qualities after it has been roasted. 

Very light roast

This is the first grade on the roasting scale, known under a number of other names such as “Cinnamon roast”, “New England roast” or “half-city roast”. The lightest roasts are often the ones with the most subtle and delicate flavor structure. This is because there is no robust, roasted flavor that could overpower and thus dull the natural aromas of the beans. The coffee undergoing very light roasting is usually a little dry and has a yellow colored bean as a result. This roast is prepared at around 380-400 degrees Fahrenheit for optimal results.

Light roast

This is the second lightest roast, also known as a “city roast” or an “American roast”. The light roast beans will result in a well-balanced coffee brew, slightly more aromatic than the brew of the very light roast. The essential oils of the coffee beans are not yet brought to the surface from the roasting. Light roast beans are produced when the beans are roasted at temperatures ranging from 410 and 430 degrees Fahrenheit.

Medium roast

Drinking CoffeeThe medium roast, as its name suggest, is in the middle of the roasting scale, also known under the names of “full city roast”, “regular roast” and “continental roast”. It is the most popular and most frequently sold variety of coffee. The color of these beans will be chocolaty while their surface will tend to be dry. The flavor of a medium roast is usually less acidic and a little sweeter than that of the light roast. Some of the oils will have come to the surface of the beans during the roasting process. The brew of this type of roast is often served for breakfast. The best medium roasts are made at temperatures ranging from 435 to 450 degrees Fahrenheit.

Dark roast

The dark roast is also known as the “Italian roast” and it is the second strongest roast. The dark roast has a deep chocolate color as the oils will have surfaced and burnt the outside of the beans. Moreover, the beans will usually have an oily texture, not dry like the light roast. Dark roasting burns the bean to the point that the typical “roasted” aroma easily overpowers the natural flavor of the bean. For this reason, the darker roast is usually associated with lower quality, Robusta beans. This roast is best when produced at 465 to 475 degrees Fahrenheit. 

Darkest roast

The heaviest roast of all, this grade is also known as a “French roast” or the “Spanish roast”. In truth, the “Spanish” is even more burnt than the “French”, making the beans have an almost charcoal-like, smoky and bitter flavor and aftertaste. The darkest roast produces the least acidic but most bitter coffee. The natural flavor of the beans is fully dominated by the taste of the roast. The strongest roasts are made at around 480 degrees Fahrenheit, close to the fire threshold of the beans.

What do the roast levels tell us?

Do not be fooled to think that a lighter or darker roast means that you have in front of you a more superior or inferior brew. There are general characteristics, as discussed above, that different degrees of roast will give to the coffee beans.

The general trend is that lighter roasts will preserve a more acidic taste and more of the original flavors of the beans in contrast to the dark roasts. Conversely, darker roasts will result in a significantly thicker brew, thus we can say that the body of the coffee gets fuller with the degree of the roast.

Furthermore, it is useful to know that caffeine levels are reduced as the beans are roasted to higher and higher degrees. However, the actual drop in caffeine levels as a percentage of the total chemical composition is very slight!

However, the true art of coffee roasting is in finding the perfect roast that suits a specific coffee bean the most, so that the qualities of its flavors and aromas are maximized.


While we cannot directly deduce the quality of coffee simply based on the roast level of the beans, this knowledge can aid us in appreciating the characteristics of coffee. Be sure to keep a look out for our next article on coffee roasting where we explain the procedure in greater detail!

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