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You must be wondering about the taste differences between light roast and dark roast coffee. While the general gist of the flavor is similar in various coffees, some tend to have a deep and dark taste. Others have a bright and fruity flavor. There are some which can taste along the lines of dark chocolate while others can have a taste like graham crackers. These comparisons are similar to the taste comparison of light roast vs dark roast coffee.
There is a lot that goes into determining the different tastes coffee can have. While the origin of the beans and the climate they were grown in play their part, another factor has a more prominent role to play in the taste you get from your coffee.
When you drink a cup of coffee, there is a very pronounced flavor. The most prominent aspect that defines your overall experience of drinking coffee is how intensely the beans were roasted. You must have heard of dark roasted coffee and light roasted coffee. You might be wondering what the difference is in the dark roast taste vs. light roast taste.
Roasting Differences Between Dark and Light Roast
Roasting is a part of processing the coffee beans before they reach you for consumption. It is the process that transforms the raw coffee beans into the distinctly aromatic, crunchy, and flavorsome beans we use for our favorite beverage. The best way to describe the coffee roast levels is by the color of the roasted beans.
The roast levels range from light to dark. The most popular debate among coffee drinkers is about the dark roast vs. light roast taste – which of the two is better, has more caffeine, and gives a better overall coffee drinking experience. If you would like to know more about the difference in caffeine in the different roasts, you can view our article on the caffeine differences by clicking here.
When the coffee beans go through the roasting process, they absorb heat. As they absorb more heat, their color becomes darker. As the beans continue to roast, there is a sheen that develops on the coffee bean surface by the oil it excretes.
Let’s discuss the tastes of the different roasts.
Light Roast Coffee Taste
Light roasted coffee goes through the roasting process, but it is not exposed to as much heat as dark roast coffee. Heating coffee beans is like cooking any ingredient. You force the moisture out of the coffee beans as you roast it. Since lightly roasted coffee beans are not exposed to too much heat, most of their moisture is left inside. They are a lot denser.
Denser coffee beans give you a brighter (or more acidic) taste. The acidic flavor is more fruity and herbal – not chemically acidic. Since the light roast retains most of the coffee bean’s flavor in its natural state, you can expect more complexity in its flavor. The body will still be thinner than a dark roast, and it will taste more like a robust black tea than coffee.
Light roasted beans have unique flavors. You can tell the subtle differences of where the coffee was grown, and the difference in flavor between beans grown in different farms. The light roast helps coffee beans retain their flavor.
- Acidity: High
- Body: Light
- Flavor: Fruity, diverse, herbal, and fresh
- Aroma: Vibrant and diverse aroma
Dark Roast Coffee Taste
On the other hand, dark roasted coffee remains on the roasting machine for much longer than the light roasted beans. It could also be left on the roasting machine at higher temperatures. Dark roasted coffee beans tend to lose more moisture due to greater exposure to heat. It makes the coffee beans less dense, and they tend to have more of a single-note flavor.
The longer you leave coffee beans on the roasting machine, the more the complexity of the taste starts to go away. As the coffee beans become darker, they lose their acidic, bright, and fruity flavor. It is replaced by a more full-bodied, dark, and smoky aroma.
Dark roasted coffee tends to have the least complex flavors, but the single-note flavor is significantly richer than light roasted coffee. Dark roasted coffee is not bland at all. It is the opposite. Dark roasted coffee beans have a more intense and deep flavor reminiscent of dark chocolate, woodiness, and even spiciness.
Dark roasted beans have a bold and rich aroma with the heaviest body. It has the iconic taste and smells that people generally expect coffee to have.
- Acidity: Low
- Body: Heavy
- Flavor: Deep, rich, earthy, smoky, and dark
- Aroma: Classic, soothing, and smooth
Other Factors Affecting Taste
The roast level is a primary factor that affects the taste of the coffee we drink. However, that is not the only reason why different coffees taste the way that they do. Here are some of the factors that affect the taste of coffee besides the roast levels:
Growing Conditions and Soil
The conditions in which the coffee beans grow, or the “terroir” can impact the coffee plant. The terroir consists of environmental factors like soil type, elevation, plants surrounding the coffee plant, and the climate. While all coffee is grown in warm climates surrounding the equator, the various factors can make subtle differences in the taste of the coffee before the roast level has anything to do with the taste. The native taste of coffee beans is better recognizable in light roast coffee, because the process of dark roasting coffee breaks down the natural flavors in the coffee to give way to a more toasty taste.
Variety of Coffee Plant
Another crucial factor that makes a difference in the taste of coffee we drink is the type of coffee plant that the beans are extracted from. There are two distinct species of coffee plants called Arabica and Robusta. Robusta coffee has a more coarse taste that is identifiable as more bitter than Arabica coffee. Robusta beans have lower quality and are easier to grow. Also, they have more caffeine content. Arabica is grown at higher elevation levels. It is more difficult to cultivate them, and they give a smoother tasting coffee.
The third factor besides roast levels that affect the taste of coffee is the processing method used. There are three main ways to process the coffee cherries before manufacturers store and ship them for further processing.
Dry processing is a natural method of processing coffee cherries. The coffee cherries are laid out in the sun to dry naturally over seven to fourteen days. The cherries have to be turned frequently to ensure that they dry evenly and prevent mold formation. Once the cherries are dry, the skin is removed from the bean, and it leaves behind coffee beans that deliver a low acidity and full-bodied flavor.
Wet processing is a process where coffee cherries are brought to a wet mill where they get pulped. The pulp is removed from the cherry to leave the coffee beans behind. Coffee beans have a sugary coating on them that is removed after going through fermentation tanks. After that, the coffee beans are washed and dried in large dryers or in the sun. This process leaves the coffee beans with brighter acidity and a lighter body than dry-processed coffee beans.
The third method involves mixing the two types of processes. The cherries are pulped and then set to dry naturally within the fruit pulp and a layer or parchment under the sun. This process leaves coffee beans with more of a sweet and fruity flavor.
The roast level is a crucial factor in determining the dark roast vs. light roast taste. However, there are several other factors that can affect the taste you can expect from your coffee. Ultimately, the roast level determines how much the coffee beans can retain their flavors.
Our advice would be to give coffee of both roast levels a try. Also, perhaps consider trying medium roast coffee. If you love the complex and unique flavors of light roasts, you should go for that. If you prefer a more single-note flavor that is richer and more intense, dark roast coffee is the way to go.
Medium roast is great if you like something in the middle. It gives you a fine balance between the two. We suggest trying the different roasts to determine which one makes you the happiest.
If you are interested in seeing more about the roasting differences between dark roast and light roast (and the in-between), more information is available on the National Coffee Association’s Coffee Roast Guide.
If you have any additional questions that are coffee-related, please send us a note and let us know. We are always trying to see what our readers want us to write about. Thanks for stopping by, and happy brewing!