When you drink coffee made from dark roasted beans, you are drinking stronger, more caffeinated coffee, right? Actually, the opposite is true, at least of caffeine. The darker the roast, the less caffeine is present within the coffee bean. There are other differences between roasts, as well.
To understand the differences between roasts, we need to start out with the green coffee bean. A green coffee bean is a bean that is not roasted. It is soft and bitter, and would not be able to be ground and brewed for coffee. It contains flavors that are produced by the region it is grown in. The roasting process dries green coffee beans and removes the acids that create the bitter flavor. Once green coffee beans are placed in a roaster, heat is applied and the roasting process begins.
After a certain length of time, the beans change color from green to a pale tan or yellow, and then darken in color from light brown to almost black depending on the length of time they are roasted. Water is evaporated from them, and eventually they reach a stage called “first crack,” named after the popping noise that the beans emit when they are hot enough. There is a second crack, as well, farther on in the roasting process.
Light roasted beans are removed either right when the first crack begins (known as “cinnamon roast”) or during first crack. The roasting process removes some caffeine from the bean, so these light roasts are the most caffeinated. They also retain the most flavor from the coffee bean itself instead of the flavor produced by roasting. They are light brown in color, may have an uneven color appearance, and do not look shiny (the shine on dark coffee beans is from oils extracted during the roasting process). Names for these light roasts include New England, light city, and half city.
Medium roasts are produced from the end of the first crack stage to the beginning of the second crack. These beans are a darker brown color, and the darker medium roasts may show a slight sheen of oil on the body of the bean. When beans are medium roasted, they generally have less of the original flavors of the coffee bean, and the roasting flavors begin to come out. These roasts are often known as city, breakfast, American, and full city. They tend to be the most well-liked roasts in America.
Dark roasts take place from the beginning of second crack to somewhere in the middle or towards the end of second crack. These beans are very dark brown, almost black, and have a pronounced oil sheen on their surfaces. At this roast, coffee beans’ original flavor has been almost entirely lost, and the roast produces most of the taste. Beans can taste charred, as well. These have the least caffeine, and beans that are dark roasted but are from different regions will taste similar to one another because of the prominence of the roast flavor. Roast names include Vienna/Viennese, French, Italian, New Orleans, Continental, High, Espresso, and Spanish. Beans of this roast tend to be popular in Europe (hence the European names).
If you are more interested in the original flavors of the coffee beans, which come from the regions they are grown in, or you want the biggest caffeine kick from your coffee, choose a light roast. If you want a flavor balanced between the roast and the coffee, choose a medium roast. And if you prefer the caramelized flavor of roasting, or you want coffee that isn’t quite as caffeinated, choose a dark roast. There is no wrong roast to choose because the point is to make you, the coffee drinker, happy!