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3 Roast Levels: How to Choose?

March 19, 2012

Are you taking your first journey into gourmet coffee beyond Starbucks, Dunkin Donuts and other supermarket coffee?


Congratulations, there’s a world of great tasting coffee available.


Maybe the first and easiest choice you could make is what roast level to purchase -- light, medium or dark roasted coffee.


What’s the taste difference?


Basically the darker the roast the more coffees taste similar.  The reason is that the darker you roast coffee, the more dominant is the burnt / charred flavor.  That’s not always a bad thing - it’s an often desirable characteristic that adds another layer of flavor to a coffee.  It’s a variable that skilled coffee roasters control.


Light Roasted coffee brings out the most origin character of particular coffees.  You’re better able to taste the difference between a Colombian (full body, some floral notes) and say a Kenyan (bright wine acidity) and a Sumatran (earthy and mossy).  Not all coffees are great light roasted, some have undesirable tastes like peanuty, vegetabley,  cocoay.      Often coffees that are light roasted don’t taste balanced (meaning equal amounts of body, acidity and fruitiness. The problem is that some customers just don't like light roasted coffee becasue it can taste extreme.  Too much citrus. Too much floral.  Not necessairly balanced.  Visit our selection of Light Roasted Coffees here and Light/Medium coffees here.


Medium Roasted is a compromise that often brings out the best flavors in coffees that have begun caramelization but don’t yet have any burnt or chocolately darkness to them.    This roast level often brings out a balanced complete coffee with lots of possible flavors: citrus, fruit, berry, acidity.  Our full selection of Medium coffees are available here

Dark Roasted coffee can give you bold, rich, darkness.  In unskilled hands or with inexpensive green beans it can give you charred, acrid or burnt flavor  (to be honest some customers like this flavor).   Tastes converge towards chocolatey darkness, and there is little in the way of floral, berry, fruit, citrus.   Those flavors have been burnt off or overshadowed by the flavor of full caramelization.  This can taste like cowboy coffee:  dark, rich, stewy.  Sumatrans are great in this roast range.  It’s an industry secret that when you have beans you’re trying to use up rather than putting them on sale you put them into a French Roast.  Almost anything tastes alike in a French Roast  (sorry, coffee roaster friends).  Our selection of dark roasted beans can be found here, otherwise, if you want to something in between medium and dark, here is a list

What roast level is best for espresso?  Trick question, right?  There are basically 4 finer roast levels usually for espresso, all falling under medium-to-dark:  Full City Roast, Vienna Roast, French Roast and Italian Roast.  The pressure of espresso extraction tends to work best with these darker roasts because the sugar in the beans has been fully caramelized, boosting flavor.  We've listed coffees that are well-suited for espresso here.



Just note that specialty coffee roasters use many different terms for roast levels that full under these 3 main categories.  From lightest to darkest there's a City Roast, Full City, Vienna, French Roast, Italian Roast, Spanish Roast, Turkish coffee roast (charrrred). 





If you’re a beginner diving into gourmet coffee, what should you try?  


My suggestions:


Do you like dark rich cowboy coffee that is full body, bold and rich?  Then bypass everything and just get some dark roasted coffee.

Do you like a balanced coffee with potentially elements of citrus, fruit, berry, acidity, and a complete range of flavors?  Try medium roast coffees.

Do you want to taste wildly different coffees at the extremes?  Try Light Roast perhaps from say 3 different regions -- Central America, Africa (esp. Ethiopia and Kenya) and islands (Sumatra, Hawaii).  One coffee may taste wildly lemony, another buttery, another earthy.  


But of course read the descriptions under the coffees at Coffee Kind, as each coffee’s uniqueness comes out at different roast levels.






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