Coffee Tips: Selecting Roast Color
What is roast color?
Like a piece of bread, raw coffee is mostly carbohydrates like starches and oils, although there are over 1600 chemical compounds in a single coffee bean.
When a slice of bread is toasted, it browns until it burns. Toasted light, you can taste the wheat. Toasted until burnt or very dark, you taste only the charred remains. So it is with our coffee bean (seed).
The flavor changes with the degree of roast. A light roast Colombian tastes more like a light roast Nicaraguan than like a medium roast Colombian coffee.
Roast color is a function of temperature and time. Relatively speaking, artisan roasters use variations of these controllable factors to create flavor. Roasting is a craft much like pottery is. Two potters using the same clay, the same glazes, and the same shapes will have different outcomes. Temperature + time in the kiln will determine what the craftsman’s effort will produce. So it is with coffee.
Generally, the coffee begins to roast at 405°F when the starches can get no hotter and they break down into simple sugars that carmelize at about 420°F. That is when the light roast is pulled or dumped. It can take from 8-14 minutes to get to a light roast color.
Between 420° and 475°F the color darkens until nothing is left to taste except burned plant matter!
Light Roast Coffee
Nuanced • Bright • Lively
In the lighter roasts (both light and medium), you can taste the nuance and impact of terroir. If you’re a single origin lover, these coffees are your go-to. With a light roast especially, the specific qualities unique to the coffee’s origin stand out. If you’re sticking with Vienna and French roasts (the darker beans), you have to work harder to tell the differences between origins. With light, it’s all there in the first sip.
For those of you that cup your coffee and take the time to taste every flavor, the lights and mediums are probably the roasts for you. Single Origins tend to be the best of this roast color – members of our Single Origin Coffee Club receive a bag of our fresh shipments each month.
Light Roast Recommendation
Medium Roast Coffee
Nutty • Spicy • Balanced • Fruity
Roasted about 20 degrees Fahrenheit higher than the light, the color on a medium roast coffee bean shifts into a chocolate brown. As you move from the light roast to the medium, the bright and lively acidity morphs into a smoother, deeper, and more balanced mouth feel. In every sip of a medium roast, you’ll find that a certain mellowness and maturity prevails.
Medium Roast Recommendation
Dark Roast Coffee
Bold • Spicy • Chocolaty
The coffee bean color on our dark roast (sometimes called the Vienna roast) is still more brown than black. You could compare it to the color of baker’s chocolate. When this coffee is freshly roasted, the beans will have a shiny coat of coffee oils on their surface. The greatest dark roast coffees will have hints of carbonization, but shouldn’t be described as smoky or toasty — we’ll leave those descriptors to the very dark roast.
Dark Roast Recommendation
Very Dark Roast Coffee
Toasty • Smoky • Caramelized Sugars
Ah, the “French Roast.” This is the coffee that goes great with a splash of milk. The coffee bean color on our very dark roast is more black than brown, with rich and copious levels of surface oil. Roasted long and hot to produce deep carbony, smoky flavor notes. A well-made French roast will have caramelized sugar notes, licorice and roasted chestnut flavors, and a long wet (not ashy) finish.
Very Dark Roast Recommendation
Now we’re setting you free on your roast color adventure. Don’t be afraid to try something new, and most importantly, enjoy!