Coffee Basics: Light vs Dark Roast Coffee


Was there ever a time when you thought that dark roast coffee was called dark because it had more caffeine, and tasted stronger?

There’s a good chance that you, like me until recently, are still under the impression that this is the case. This article busts myths like these, and discusses the real difference between the two types of roasts. Light and dark aren’t even the only ways you can prepare your coffee beans, and there are at least two other ways to do so. We’ll go over the basics of roasting, how to choose which level is right for you, and some health concerns that you should keep in mind while making the choice.

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So, How Do I Do This “Roasting” Thing?

For the uninitiated, roasting is the process of heating coffee beans to enhance the aroma and flavor of these beans. The distinction between light and dark roast stems from the difference in temperature at which one roasts coffee.

There are several ways one can do this. A cast-iron pan, a popcorn popper, an oven or a commercial coffee roaster are all handy implements for the process. You could also purchase pre-roasted beans, but those tend to spoil within two weeks of roasting. As such, it is best to roast coffee beans yourself to get the best flavor.

Which Roast Has More Caffeine?

Light and dark roasted coffee both have a popular misconception associated with them. And they’re both incorrect.

On the one hand, some think that dark roasted coffee borrows its name from the fact that it has more caffeine, and has a more charred taste to it. On the other, some believe that the process of roasting ‘burns off’ the caffeine in coffee beans, making light roasted coffee the one with more caffeine. As you’ll find out, light roasted coffee does have more caffeine, but not for this reason.

In reality, caffeine levels remain stable no matter how much you roast coffee beans. This means that if you were to roast two batches of the same quantity is, either way, the total caffeine in both batches will be the same.

However, if you were to take, say, 100 grams of both types of roasts and measured how many beans each pile comprised of, the dark roasted batch will have more, approximately two beans more for every ten grams. This is because while roasting doesn’t burn the caffeine off the beans, it does burn off moisture other components that make them lighter. Thus, on a per-bean measure, light roast coffee has more caffeine.

Which One is Better?

The answer to this question depends heavily on what you prioritize while drinking coffee. Limiting yourself to a light roast will bring out the natural flavor from the beans. This can result in a fruitier, sweeter taste, and sometimes a floral aroma. To achieve this, beans are heated to a temperature between 350-400 degrees F. Light roasting can be a bit of a double-edged sword if the beans aren’t roasted properly though since that brings out some of the unseemly flavors from them. Usually, you’ll hear the signature ‘crack’ sound when its done. If you’re interested in light roast, give Kicking Horse brand a try!

However, due to the shorter heating time, the sugars do not get enough time to caramelize, giving it a lighter taste than dark roasted coffee. Lighter roasts are also highly acidic, and if your stomach happens to disagree with it, you might have to experiment to find the right roast.

In most ways, dark roasted coffee is the opposite of these. It has a more bitter, carbon-y flavor that comes from heating the beans for longer. If you drink coffee with dessert, this might be the more appropriate choice. Dark roasted beans are also less acidic, making them suitable for a wider variety of people. If you prefer more chocolate or nutty coffee flavors, dark roast is the way to go. Here’s a great dark roast we have in the office, give it a try and let us know what you think!

Besides the preferential aspects of the choice, there is one health factor you might want to consider. Some researchers have claimed that there is evidence that light roasted coffee is healthier for you than its alternative. This is because it has more antioxidants that reduce inflammation in human cells, which dark roasted beans lose due to the extra exposure to air and heat. Inflammation is the source of several chronic diseases, like diabetes, cancer, Alzheimer’s, etc. The conclusions from these studies still need to undergo further testing to ensure the accuracy of its claims, but make of it what you will!

What About the Other Types of Roasts?

If neither roast seems quite right to you, there are two alternative methods of preparing coffee. You could go for a medium roast, which tastes exactly what it sounds like. It offers a blend of the sweetness from light roasts, and the bitterness from dark roasts. Alternatively, if dark roast isn’t dark enough, you will probably have to look out for a place that sells ‘French Roast’, ‘Italian Roast’, ‘Espresso Roast’, for the like for coffee that is darker than the pits of Tartarus. These coffees are very oily and taste especially ashy.

Between the light and dark roast, neither can objectively be considered better than the other, unless your stomach prevents you from the former. Both are enjoyable in the right setting, but if you, like most people, drink coffee for the buzz, light roasted is the way to go!

Did you learn something new today, or maybe this was all a refresher? Either way, let us know what your preferences are in the comment section down below! Light roasts are usually our go-to favorites like this one from Real Good Coffee Company, but thoroughly enjoy the richness of dark roasts on cold, winter days.

Enhance your coffee knowledge and enjoy additional Coffee Sesh articles like What is Medium Roast Coffee, Why is Cream and Sugar Bad for You, or Best Coffee Brands from Kenya.

Lastly, if you want to learn more about making coffee from people just like you, be sure to join our private Facebook group here at Daily Coffee Talk. You’ll be able to learn how to brew, how to roast and most importantly how to enjoy the perfect cup of coffee!

We’ll brew ya later! ☕️

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