Coffee has become an incredibly integral part of everyday life. We drink it in the morning with breakfast and at night with dessert. The ever-versatile beverage has continued to sweep the food and beverage industries, with more options to brew coffee in many ways both at work and at home.
Believe it or not, not all coffee is the same. When coffee beans are first harvested, they hardly resemble the beans you grind up to make your morning cup of coffee. If you tasted them, you would probably spit them back out! To get the coffee beans we are used to brewing, coffee beans need to be roasted in different ways to create different flavors, all resulting in an enjoyable drinking experience. Therefore, roasting coffee beans is very important, no matter where your preference lies on the range from light to dark roast.
What Is Coffee Roasting?
Coffee roasting is the process of roasting coffee beans into the brown, lovable beans we know. When coffee beans are first harvested, they’re green and lack the basic flavor of coffee as we know it. If coffee beans are not roasted, they never attain the delicious flavor of the daily coffee we enjoy. Therefore, the beans are stored as they are first harvested, in a green state, where they are spongey and smell and taste like grass. Keeping the coffee beans in their green state until they are ready to be roasted preserves their quality and flavor.
When the beans are roasted, their flavor and solubility with water are increased. Coffee beans can be roasted in a variety of ways, from small-batch roasting using a cast iron pan to large-batch roasting in an industrial-size roaster. Recently, small-batch roasting has become popular. Like craft beer brews, small-batch coffee roasts offer unique flavor samples for a short time. The length of time and specific way that the coffee beans are roasted have a lot to do with how much of the beans’ flavors shine through in a cup of coffee.
How Are Coffee Beans Roasted?
When coffee beans are roasted, they go through a process. Some coffee roasts only undergo a few of the listed steps, while other undergo them all. The five steps of coffee roasting are:
- Drying or Yellowing
- Maillard Reaction
- First Crack
- Second Crack
1. Drying or Yellowing
A critical first phase that uses the overall moisture content of the coffee beans to determine the total roasting time length.
2. Maillard Reaction
The “browning” of the coffee bean. This is the step that begins the process of thousands of chemical reactions within the beans that are responsible for their flavor and aroma.
3. First Crack
Like popcorn popping, the first crack is when the majority of the moisture begins to dry in each coffee bean. The beans are essentially dried from the inside out.
4. Second Crack
Most darker roast coffees are made from beans that experience a second crack. The beans are nearly completely broken down during this step.
The coffee beans become completely broken down. If carbonization is reached, the coffee beans are likely to catch on fire and burn. This step should definitely try to be avoided.
Do Coffee Roasts Matter?
Just as you have spent years mastering the perfect amount of milk and sugar in your coffee, professional coffee roasters have perfected the amount of time that specific coffee beans should be roasted to reach optimal flavor. When coffee beans are roasted, their flavor profile intensifies. Lighter roasts result from a shorter roasting time, and darker roasts result from a longer roasting time.
If you’re someone who wants to drink coffee for the caffeine and not flavor, you may think that the roast doesn’t matter. However, you’d be wrong. Coffee roasts mean much more than just the color of the coffee, from the flavor profile to the caffeine content. Actually, the lighter the coffee roast, the higher the level of caffeine.
When coffee roasters decide what the best roasting method is for your coffee, they consider the flavor and aroma of the final coffee product. Arguably, the roasting process is the most important part of the entire coffee production process. If the roast is done incorrectly, coffee roasting can destroy the whole batch of coffee.
For example, when coffee beans are roasted, the sugar and water inside of the bean heat up. This heat transforms the sugar into caramel. The longer that sugar is cooked, the darker it gets in color, but it can burn easily. Once the sugar is burned, the coffee becomes bitter. Some bitterness is expected in a dark roast, but too much bitterness can be detrimental to the final flavor of the roast.
On the other hand, if coffee beans aren’t roasted long enough, the sugar content in the beans may be too high at the end of the process, resulting in an overly sweet flavor. In these cases, you can see why coffee roasts matter during the coffee production process.
The Different Types of Coffee Roasts
Coffee roasts typically come in five options, ranging from light roast to dark roast. For many years, the darker roasts were more popular. Today, lighter roasts have taken the top spot for many coffee drinkers. No matter how you drink your coffee, you probably aren’t sure what your preferred coffee roast is. By learning which roast is your favorite, you can shop smarter and enjoy your coffee even more!
The types of coffee roasts, lightest to darkest, are:
The lightest coffee roast, white roast, is made from lightly-roasted coffee beans. The lighter beans result in higher caffeine content than darker roasts. The light roast coffee beans are roaster the least, so they are also the hardest of all of the roast types. Take note that “White Coffee” is not a name for white roast coffee; it is an entirely different beverage.
- Light, white color
- Mild flavor
- No oil on the bean surface
- Highly acidic taste
- Strongest coffee of all roasts
- Least roasting time
Light roast is a common type of coffee roast, and it has become increasingly popular recently. The beans are roasted slightly longer than white coffee beans, giving them a light brown color. Light roast beans are typically only roasted until the beans undergo the “first crack.” After they crack, the beans’ roasting ends and the beans begin to rest. The short roasting time results in the beans lacking a layer of oil on their outside, a slightly more acidic flavor, and a higher caffeine content than other roasts. The light flavor of light roast coffee is a great option for cold brew coffee. Some commonly known light roast names are Cinnamon, City, and Half City.
- Light brown, cinnamon-like color
- Mild, fruit flavor
- Not very aromatic
- No oil on the bean surface
- Slightly acidic taste
- Higher caffeine content – strong coffee
- Great for cold brew coffee
- Second least roasting time
Medium roast is a great middle-of-the-road option for coffee drinkers, and it’s the most popular coffee roast in America. It’s not as lightly flavored as light roasts but not as robust as darker roasts. Medium roast coffee has more flavor and aroma than its lighter counterpart. Due to the longer roasting time, medium roast is darker than lighter roasts. The longer roasting also allows for the flavor of the coffee beans to express themselves more, especially the nutty and chocolate flavor notes. With medium roast coffee, the flavor is more balanced than with other roast levels. Medium roast coffee is very versatile and can be brewed in many ways while still retaining its flavor’s integrity. Some common medium roast coffee names are American, Medium, Breakfast, and Regular.
- Medium-brown color
- Nutty and chocolate flavor notes are more noticeable
- No oil on the bean surface
- More aromatic
- Medium level of caffeine
- Versatile brewing methods
- Medium roasting time
Medium-dark coffee roasts have a stronger flavor than lighter roast coffees. The coffee beans are roasted to the point where the beans are dark brown, hard to the touch, and with a slight amount of oil on their surface. The flavor profile of medium-dark is more robust than lighter roasts and is often less acidic, too. Most of the acidity is roasted out of the coffee beans when they are roasted to a medium-dark level. Instead, a slightly bittersweet aftertaste is in its place. Medium-dark coffee roasts can be used when brewing espresso and when you want to brew your coffee using a French press. Some common medium-dark coffee roast names include Full City, Continental, and Light Espresso.
- Dark brown color
- Robust flavor with strong bittersweet dark chocolate and roasted almond flavor notes
- Some oil on the bean surface
- Very aromatic
- Thicker consistency
- Low level of caffeine
- Best brewed using a French press or espresso machine
- Second-to-longest roasting time
Dark roast coffee is the darkest roast available. Dark brown to almost black in color, dark roast coffee is roasted the longest of all of the roasts. Dark roast beans are roasted until they reach the second crack. They’re roasted nearly to the fifth level of roasting: carbonization. If the beans were roasted any longer than a dark roast, it is likely that the beans would completely carbonize. The taste of dark roast coffee is very strong and sometimes bitter. Because the coffee beans are roasted for such an extended period, they have the lowest caffeine level of all roast levels. Some common names for dark roast coffees include Espresso, European, Dark, and New Orleans.
- Dark brown to black color
- Strong, slightly bitter flavor
- Oily surface on bean
- Lowest level of caffeine
- Longest roasting time
The Future of Coffee
Coffee is no different than any other industry. It’s evolving, and we must be aware of the trends to stay successful. Historically, dark coffee roasts have been the most popular and accessible. Only recently have lighter roast coffees become more popular. However, the lighter roasts are associated with smaller, more expensive batches. The flavors of lighter roasts are not as strong, and in the long run, darker roasts will likely still be the king of coffee.
Darker roasts have been a mainstay in the coffee world for most of history. For many years, the priority of the coffee industry was production; the more coffee beans that were roasted, the more coffee roasters could sell. Roasting coffee beans to a dark roast allowed for all coffee beans in a group to be roasted, no matter what state they entered the roaster — doing so allowed for coffee roasters to sell as much coffee as possible, raising their profit margins. Also, by roasting the coffee beans to a darker roast, the darker color and stronger flavor could disguise any imperfections in the coffee beans.
Today, many newer coffee roasters choose to focus on lighter coffee roasts. They believe that the lighter roasts allow the beans’ flavor to show more than with darker roasts. In addition, the way that roasts are categorized may shift. Some coffee professionals believe in categorizing coffee roasts by when they “crack,” rather than by their color. That would be in an effort to describe each roast by more of its flavor characteristics than strictly by color. In the future, there may be more of an effort to create specialty dark roast coffees, just as specialty light roasts have been made.
Choosing American Dining Creations
Coffee is a major part of the workplace. Whether coffee is used to give an employee a midday pick-me-up or a way to share business ideas with partners or coworkers, it’s an integral facet of corporate life. At American Dining Creations, we offer a multitude of options for your workplace coffee setup. From an individual coffee bar to a full coffee shop, we can build a custom coffee facility to suit your specific needs. Regardless of your budget, we can create a coffee solution to fit your office space best. If some of your team doesn’t share the love of coffee that you might, our coffee bars can also include specialty tea and hot chocolate options to make everyone happy.
Our company prides itself in innovation, inclusion, service, and hospitality. We love to provide each of our customers with items that fit their geographic location and customer base. Family-owned for three generations, American Dining Creations has perfected hospitality in the workplace. Our story began in Ithica, New York, with amusement park novelties. Today, our company has grown to 20 locations throughout the country.