Even the most experienced coffee connoisseurs can become swamped with the deluge of options that exist in today’s coffee market. There are different bean varietals, different growing geographies, different roast types, and various brewing methods to choose from.
Environmental factors like elevation, temperature, and humidity are all responsible for the way a particular lot of beans taste – but the roasting process is equally culpable! The temperature of a roast as well as its duration can highlight specific flavors and aromas, but it can also mask or eliminate the undesirable flavors which are oftentimes present in lower-quality beans. Whether it’s a light roast, a medium roast, a medium-dark roast, or a dark roast, the roast level plays an oversized role in determining the final appearance, aroma, and taste profile of a given batch of beans.
As you might expect, light-roasted coffee has a light body that is bright, crisp, floral, and citrusy. Light roasts offer a more ephemeral drinking experience, with short aftertastes that taper off quickly after consumption. Some drinkers find light-roasted coffees to be “weak”, lacking the deepness and smokey body that’s present in darker-roasted coffee.
A light roasting process doesn’t get the beans hot enough to crack open, and thus, their unique flavor complexities and vibrant taste profiles are maintained and preserved. Before specialty coffee took off, farmers and processors had a poor understanding of exactly how their growing and processing methods affected the end product.
A dark roast used to be the go-to roast profile because it masks many of the bad musty and leathery notes that were commonplace in beans that were carelessly grown and inconsistently / inattentively processed.
Through scientific advancements in farming, better processing practices, and a more nurturing approach came a cambrian explosion in specialty coffee. Now more than ever, amazingly-delicious beans are grown that convey the flavor characteristics of their origin. With a light roast, these unique and distinctive notes can truly shine to the fullest of their potential!
Dark-roasted coffees, on the other hand, are stronger and bolder, lingering on the palate instead of dissipating sharply. A good dark roast shouldn’t taste burnt or ashy, but rather, it should taste chocolatey, caramelized, nutty, or a mix of each. The distinctive origin flavors will be less pronounced with a dark roast, and in their place, you’ll get a less-acidic coffee with a heavy body and deeper flavors.
There’s not much diversity when it comes to the flavor structure of dark-roasted beans, which is why most roasters don’t offer a wide variety of dark roasted coffees.
Medium Roast Coffee
The name says it all with medium roast coffee. But even this category can be split into medium-light roasts, straight medium roasts, and medium dark roasts. With a medium roast, you get beans that are slightly acidic, but not quite as acidic as a light roast. Similarly, medium-roasted coffees also have a good body, but not to the same extent as dark roasts.
This middleground generates a well-rounded flavor profile, delivering drinkers a beverage that is less intense than a light roast, but still possessing those natural origin notes.
A few of the brightest flavors will be eliminated with medium roasts, and in their place you get the deeper and sweeter flavors of a longer roast. It’s all about tradeoffs when roasting, and through experience as well as experimentation, good roasters are able to choose the best roast profile so that the best qualities of every batch are brought to the fore!
If you’re the kind of person who finds something they like and then sticks with it, a dark roast could be for you. But if you’re a collector of new experiences and love trying everything under the sun, you’ll never get bored with the light-roasted single origin options available in today’s premium coffee scene. Different plots will deliver different tastes, and roasters can even achieve unique flavors with batches from the same plot that were picked at different times of the day!
Sticking with the coffees that are familiar, tried-and-true, and within your comfort zone is all fine and good, but you never know what’s going to arise when experimenting with impeccable beans that have been roasted to perfection!