What is the Difference Between Light, Medium and Dark Roast Coffee?

 Image by Matthew Henry from Burst

We all know that life is full of decisions. And while many decisions are ones we don’t want to make, like whether we should get up for the gym in the morning, or run that extra mile, choosing the right coffee beans is one of those easier life decisions, because really, there’s no wrong option. 

If you’re like me, starting the day with a cup of coffee, or four, is essential. It’s that ten minutes of peace while you sip and your body slowly begins to wake up before the chaos of a Monday morning, and all the deadlines that follow, begins. 

But it’s also quite likely you’ve never given much thought to what kind of brew you’re drinking, and how the beans in your liquid gold, from taste to overall health, are affecting you. 

If you’ve finally decided to take your coffee journey seriously, it might help to know a bit more about how the beans creating your perfect morning blend differ. And if not, well, keeping reading anyways. You just might learn something. 

Let’s get started. 

Light Roast 

You probably already know that beans (light, medium, and dark) are roasted at different temperatures, which bring out different flavours. 

A light roast, sometimes referred to as a cinnamon or blonde roast, is the greatest controversy in the coffee world due to its acidity. Acidity refers to the darkness of a coffee roast. Heat breaks down the acidity in beans as they roast, with light roasts, as the lightest of the coffees beans, sitting at the highest level of acidity. 

These beans are roasted between 365-401°F ( that’s 185-205°C for you Canadians) and are removed from the roaster at, or just before the first crack in the shell. 

The flavour of a light roast is the least traditional of the coffee flavours, retaining citrusy, or lemony notes. They are also the hardest of the coffee beans, meaning they’ll wear down your grinder quicker than other blends. 

Some health professionals suggest avoiding light roasts if you’re looking to keep your metabolic acidity low, but, on the other hand, other research suggests that these brews might have the most antioxidants of all the roasts. 

But I mean, let’s be honest — if it gets you out of bed in the morning, it might just be worth popping a Tums or two throughout the day. 

Medium Roast

Medium roast, probably known in your local coffee shop as a city or breakfast blend, is roasted at a slightly higher temperature, ranging between 410-428°F. These beans are roasted beyond the first crack, but stopping before the second.

These beans have a medium-level acidity, and, unlike our blonde beauties, retain some of the more classic characteristics of coffee. Think buttery, caramel scents wafting up from your favourite coffee cup first thing in the morning. Mmm...if our caramel-coloured friends haven’t quite convinced you to get up in the morning, these brown babies might be the ones for you. 

Dark Roast 

Last on our list is the dark roast. French, Italian, espresso, continental, New Orleans, and Spanish roasts all fall under this category.

And yes, you’ve guessed correctly. These black beauties are roasted at the highest heast, which is anywhere below 482°F, but generally at about 464°F. The beans have an oily surface and the roasting process continues until the bean shows as a second crack. They’re also the easiest to grind as they break down faster than other beans. 

The beans lose all their acidity during the roasting process, and are instead prominent for their bitter flavour.  

Choosing a bean 

Now that you’re an expert in roasting, it’s time to choose a blend that’s right for you. 

Only, it’s not quite as simple as it appears. There’s little standard when it comes to coffee companies choosing a classification for their brews. For example, a Starbucks blonde roast, which is described as a brew with “mellow acidity,” technically falls under a medium to dark roast designation, because as any coffee connoisseur will note, the beans are roasted well past a first crack, and at times even to a second. 

We’re pretty sure you’re not drinking Stabucks, so to figure out what kind of beans you’re drinking, you can look for the cracks in the bean, or the colour. Here’s a chart for comparison. 

I personally love a blonde roast. It could have something to do with my rabid sweet tooth that has me reaching for sugar-coated gummy worms even before my coffee is brewed. 

But for those of you who aren’t yet familiar with your preferred roast, the beauty of Bean Bundle is getting to try new beans.  If you’re hoping to familiarize yourself with the different beans, try brewing three different blends and tasting them in a row. 

It’s also worth noting that Starbucks says Canadians love their blonde roast, drinking twice as much as Americans. As since we’ve already discussed how the blonde roast is actually a medium, or even dark roast, it’s probably a safe bet to start with a medium brew if you really don’t know where to start. 

Just remember: no matter what your preferred roast, coffee beans naturally begin to lose their freshness once they’re roasted. Air, moisture, heat, and light degrade the quality of your coffee beans.  Store your beans in an airtight container at room temperature, and always order just enough beans to last until your next bundle arrives to maximize the freshness. 

Happy drinking! 

Rachel Emmanuel