Different Types of Coffee Roasts (Light, Medium, Dark, Other)

You know there are different types of coffee roasts. But what makes them different, and how do the flavors really stand apart?

Here, we’ll explore the different coffee roast types, their flavor profiles, potential benefits, and how to choose the best coffee variety for your needs (and taste buds).

What is Coffee Roasting?

Coffee beans undergo roasting to bring out the intense flavor and aroma of the fruit. They start as green, fresh beans.

The roaster heats them quickly, then reduces the temperature. This dries the beans out and makes them look and smell like the beans we know.

Roasting is a delicate process that takes years of practice. Each roaster has its own process and a signature flavor profile. This is why you’ll never have two cups of coffee that taste the same.

Categories of Roasts

In general, coffee roasts fall into one of three categories: dark, medium, or light. The roasts that you know from your local coffee shop all fall into these categories. They range in flavor intensity, bitterness, and caffeine content.

These beans are roasted at different temperatures and for various lengths of time.

During roasting, coffee beans go through two levels of cracks. These are referred to, unsurprisingly, as first and second crack. When the beans reach the first crack, they are getting closer to becoming edible.

These cracks are noticeable by a literal, audible cracking sound. Some people describe it as similar to the sound of popcorn kernels exploding.

As they go through the stages of cracking, coffee beans release oils. They also begin to caramelize and become noticeably darker in color. You’ll notice the aroma becoming more robust and sweeter.

This careful chemical process makes the coffee beans we love. It is also the reason why coffee roasting is a delicate process. It takes years to be able to recognize the signs of perfect roasting.

Light Roast

Many people assume that light roasts are lower in caffeine. But actually, they have a slightly higher caffeine content than dark roasts.

Light roasts are less oily. This is because they don’t roast long enough to break down the oils in the bean.

Light roasts are usually higher in acid. They also have a less robust flavor and are paler in color. However, some people prefer light roasts because they are delicate and varied in flavor. Others find them overly sour or weak.

Light coffee beans are roasted to the first crack. This means that they undergo toasting just to the point of being edible. They do not develop the caramelization or oil content of darker roasts. They are heated until 385 degrees Fahrenheit, then rapidly cooled.

Examples of light roasts include cinnamon roast, light city, and half city roast.

Benefits of Light Roasts

Lovers of light roast coffee tout the following benefits:

  • Surprising health benefits due to high antioxidant levels
  • Higher caffeine content (although this is marginal)
  • Light, more varied flavors

Medium Roast

Medium roast coffees are made from slightly more mature beans. They have also roasted longer, allowing some of the oils to break down. This results in a more robust flavor.

You may also see oils on the surface of your coffee.

Medium roasts may also be sweeter in flavor and more aromatic. This is because the longer roasting lets the beans start to caramelize. They are also lower in acid than light roasts.

Some people describe medium roasts as having a slightly spicy flavor. These flavors are released by roasting to the second crack. This is usually between 437 and 446 degrees Fahrenheit.

Examples of popular medium roasts include American, Breakfast, and City.

Medium roasts are some of the most commonly consumed coffees in the United States. This is because they are moderate in caffeine content, sweetness, and bitterness.

Benefits of Medium Roasts

Medium roasts, as the name implies, are an excellent middle-of-the-road coffee.

They are neither too strong nor too watery. This is why they are the most popular choice for most Americans.

Other benefits include:

  • Less bitter than dark roast coffee
  • Sweeter than light roast coffee
  • Moderate acidity

Dark Roast

Dark roast coffees are almost black, very oily, and highly bitter. Because of their long roasting time, they are low in acid. This makes them a better choice for people who suffer from heartburn or GERD.

Dark roasts are highly aromatic and robust in flavor. These are a few reasons why they remain so popular. They may taste bitter or spicy to some people. These coffee beans are roasted to the second crack and beyond.

During the second crack, oils travel outside the beans. Those oils are why dark roasts have a shiny, oily appearance.

You may also notice balls of oil floating on the surface of your coffee. This contributes to the thicker “mouthfeel” of dark roast coffee beans.

There is some overlap between medium and dark roasts., and some roasters even categorize specific blends as medium-dark.

Medium-dark roasts usually roast to about 446 degrees Fahrenheit. At that temperature, they’re roughly at the beginning or middle of the second crack stage.

Dark roasts, alternatively, are roasted at least to the end of the second crack. This raises them to a temperature of about 464 degrees Fahrenheit.

Examples of medium-dark roasts include After Dinner, Vienna, and Full-City roasts.

Dark roasts include French, Continental, New Orleans, and Italian roasts.

Benefits of Dark Roasts

Many people enjoy the intense flavors and bitter notes of dark roasts. Additionally, dark roast coffee has some other benefits, including:

  • Health benefits due to high vitamin and antioxidant content
  • Stronger flavor and aroma
  • Lower acidity

Other Types of Roasts

In addition to the three main types of coffee roasts, there are a few others. We’ve mentioned the overlap between medium and dark roasts. The other types are espresso and double roasts.

You are probably familiar with espresso. This type of coffee is made from medium or dark roast coffee beans. It is roasted at a high temperature to bring out caramelization. This results in a sweet, highly-caffeinated brew.

Double roasts aren’t common in every coffee shop in America. However, you may find them in other parts of the world. These include roasts like French, Spanish, and Turkish coffee.

Double roasts, as the name implies, are roasted even longer than dark roasts. Double roasting involves a higher temperature for a longer time. The beans reach the point of smoking. The result is a charred flavor that is lower in sweetness. Double roasts are also lighter.

Benefits of Other Roasts

Espressos and double roasts may be an acquired taste. Not everyone likes their intense or smoky flavors. However, there are some benefits to these unique coffee roasts. These include:

  • A unique smoky or bitter flavor
  • High caffeine content
  • Light body

How to Choose a Roast

Everyone has their preferences when it comes to a coffee roast. Whatever you prefer is completely fine. But learning to make the best choice for you can take time.

Many people don’t have a particular coffee roast that they drink exclusively. You might enjoy all different kinds of roasts. Alternatively, you might find that you don’t care for darker or lighter roasts. For most people, learning about coffee simply means trying different kinds.

However, you can make an educated choice with the information you’ve learned here. If you enjoy mild, varied flavors, try a light roast. If you prefer bitter flavors with a healthy body, try a darker roast.

Is There a Right Way to Roast Coffee?

There is no one right way to choose a coffee roast. Consider your personal preferences and past favorites. You can find the three main types of roasts at almost any coffee shop.

If you want to roast your own coffee at home, there is a detailed process. This takes special equipment, time, and practice to perfect. Every coffee roaster has its own signature process.

But they all have to learn how to recognize the signs of perfect roasting.

If you want to learn how to roast your own coffee, do some research first. Coffee blogs, groups, and newsletters can all point you in the right direction.

How to Roast Your Own Coffee

If you want to roast your own coffee, you’ll have to do some research. But with time and practice, it’s possible to become an expert.

Take advantage of the internet. There are websites entirely devoted to the art of home coffee roasting. You can also join a local interest group.

These can help you find the right equipment and learn the methods. Roasting your own coffee might become your favorite new hobby.

Of course, you don’t have to roast your own coffee to enjoy it. You can always become a coffee connoisseur at your favorite local cafe.


Coffee roasting is an art as much as a science. Different roasts have complex notes, acidity, and even mouth feel.

You may find yourself enjoying trying new roasts and flavors. This is true if you buy locally or decide to roast on your own. Try something new and see what you discover.

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