How to Choose the Best Coffee Roast
Boasting countless preparation methods, varieties, and regional origins, coffee comes in many different tastes, aromas, colors, and acidities. But, of all of these, the most important is how your coffee has been roasted.
We explore the importance of the best coffee roast and how much of a role this critical aspect plays in your coffee experience. In searching for that perfect whole bean coffee - from the lightly roasted, aromatic beans of the Arabica variety to the less acidic, fuller-bodied Robusta type – finding the best coffee roast can make all the difference.
The Life of a Coffee Bean
Before we look at the different roasts available and how to go about choosing the right one for you, let’s take a quick look at coffee’s biology.
As you may well know, coffee beans come from – you guessed it – the coffee plant. This bushy shrub produces cherries, each of which holds two precious coffee beans inside. These cherries are picked, and peeled, the beans collected and then dried, milled, and shipped off around the world where they head into the next phase of their journey from farm to cup – roasting.
What is “The Roast”?
Roasting refers to the process of heating and then cooling coffee beans, changing their natural flavor and aroma. The science behind the roast is quite fascinating, as the intense heat transforms the chemical and physical properties of the bean, unlocking the rich flavors inside and giving us that unmistakable coffee smell.
The amount of time the beans are exposed to the heat determines whether the roast will be light, medium, or dark. The heat causes the beans to dry and crack open, releasing fragrant oils and triggering chemical reactions inside them that transform the flavor and smell. Nature’s magic at its best!
Roasting breaks down the strong acids responsible for the bitterness in coffee as well as the caffeine compounds. So, as a general rule, while darker roasts leave you with a coffee that tastes stronger, in fact, acidity and caffeine actually decrease as the coffee roast gets darker.
There are four generally accepted roasting types. Light roasts, medium roasts, medium-dark roasts, and dark roasts. Let’s take a look at their different characteristics:
Boasting complex acidity and intense original bean flavors, light roast coffee is high in caffeine and brings out the different varietal flavors. Perfect if you want to know the difference between an Ethiopian and Guatemalan single-origin Arabica, for example.
- Color: Light brown with the beans having just lost their natural green color. No surface oils.
- Flavor & Aroma: Rich, original flavors showcasing the specific variety. Fresh, fruity aromas, with hints of popcorn and fresh-baked goods.
- Acidity & Caffeine: High levels of both acidity and caffeine.
- Best For: Fully-washed Guatemalan pour-over brews.
The medium roast is arguably the most popular of them all. Holding on to the beans’ original flavor, while boasting less acidity with softer aromas, medium roast coffees are a favorite among most people. It’s all about balance with this premium roast.
- Color: Medium brown. A little darker than lightly roasted beans. Some oils on the surface of the bean.
- Flavor & Aroma: Floral or sweet aromas with a medium-bodied, balanced flavor, showcasing less bitterness. . The true ‘coffee smell’ has started to emerge.
- Acidity & Caffeine: Balanced acidity, and standard caffeine. Likes by many for its balance.
- Best For: French-pressed Ethiopian and Brazilian single-origin coffees.
Somewhere between "balanced" and "strong," we find the revered medium-dark roast. For many coffee lovers, medium roast coffees don't pack the intense flavor they crave, and dark roasts are just too overpowering for them. Also known as the "full city roast," medium-dark roasts are favored for lower acid levels.
- Color: Dark, rich brown, but not yet turning black. Most beans have a second roast crack, releasing good amounts of oil to the surface.
- Flavor & Aroma: Less sweet aroma, but the flavor profile is fuller and bolder with a more smoky character. Still retaining traces of the origin flavor, medium-dark roasts leave a noticeable bittersweet aftertaste.
- Acidity & Caffeine: Very low levels of acidity and similar caffeine to medium roasts.
- Best For: Espresso with European (French and Italian) varieties.
Preferred by coffee die-hards and those looking for a strong coffee punch, dark roast coffees have been heated to above 250C - almost to the point of burning. Crunchy and brittle, the extended exposure to heat has left the beans oily and black. Devoid of much of the acid and with less caffeine than the other best coffee roasts, dark roast whole bean coffee is chosen by the connoisseur who knows their coffee.
- Color: Shiny, dark black. The heavily roasted bean has been heated to the point that it has cracked twice, releasing all of its oils to the surface.
- Flavor & Aroma: Strong bitterness and smoky, chocolaty or burned caramel notes overpowering most of the original flavor – but in a good way.
- Acidity & Caffeine: Dark roasts are known to be almost acid-free, with lower levels of caffeine.
- Best For: Wet-hulled Sumatra varieties of any sort.
Roasting Premium roast whole-bean coffee is both art and science. It can take years to perfect the technique, and each varietal requires a special touch that gives each batch its own unique flavor. Talented roasters of premium coffee have mastered methods that involve making split-second decisions during the roasting process while keeping an eye on cracks, oils, and the smell coming from the beans.
Picking which roast is best for you can be a tricky task. Whether you're looking for that subtle light roast coffee, exuding authentic flavor, unique to a specific region of origin, or that dark, smoky cuppa, bursting with powerful aromas and jolting bitterness, finding your best coffee roast can take a lifetime.
Our advice. Stick to single-origin coffees like ours (because blends can be confusing), choose only premium roasts (you get what you pay for), and only use whole bean coffee, like Orosi Coffee’s range of selected coffees, sourced from around the world and roasted to absolute perfection.