Understanding Roast Levels of Coffee: How Do You Like Your Steak Cooked?

Understanding Roast Levels of Coffee: How Do You Like Your Steak Cooked?
DJ Smith
DJ Smith

Are you a dark roast coffee drinker? Maybe you're a medium roast kind of person. Or, are you someone who loves coffee roasted on the lighter side. There is a lot of information and debate on which roast level is better. At the risk of getting "roasted" (see what we did there) for our take on the subject, let's look more intently at these roast levels.  


To start, think about the degree of a coffee roast as you might the degree of doneness in a steak. With steaks, we think about a range starting at rare and going to well-done. When you think about that range and the tastes you get with each degree, you begin to understand the range of degrees in roasted coffee. With the lower degrees of doneness in your steak, you get more of the inherent flavors of the meat. The darker you go in cooking the steak, you are establishing different tastes in the meat as you continue the cooking process. As the outside of the meat starts to char, you get more carbon-like flavors and a smokiness from burning the steak. 


So what does this have to do with roasting coffee? Well, lighter roasts allow the roaster to bring out the flavors inherent in the beans. However, in darker the roast, the intrinsic flavors start to burn off and establish different tastes of the roasted beans. It's at this point that we get into a point of contention between roasters and customers. Roasters generally want to bring out a bean's natural characteristics. They do as little as possible to put "themselves" into the roast by going dark and putting the roast into the beans. However, the customer may prefer a dark roast for the perceived boldness and strength of the flavor. The roaster must harmonize their purist notions with the customer's preferences. This collaboration with customer preferences often dictates what the roaster will do with the coffees they roast for a given coffee bean. 


Customer preferences often create definable regional differences throughout the country. For instance, in the Pacific Northwest, people generally go for a darker roast. However, many in the New England area often reach for something in the lighter roast category. They like a dark roast with chicory in Louisiana because a typical dark roast isn't bitter enough. 


These degrees of roast levels have names, and the following is a list of some of these names from light to dark: 


Cinnamon – This is the lightest palatable roast. You won't find this one too often.  



New England –



American –



City – City is the most common light roast you will find on the market. The lighter roasts tend to be very acidic and may taste underdeveloped if care is not taken during the roast.  


After City roast, things tend to get a little muddy. Names for darker roasts are often switched around from one roaster to the next. The most common order is as follows; 


Full City: This is the degree of roast that is popular throughout most of the USA. 



Full City+



Vienna, French, and Italian – You will often find these names are often flipped around on the degree scales. 



Spanish: The Spanish roast is typically dropped just before the beans catch fire. If you want something akin to the charcoal in your grill, you might love this level. 


Here's a tip to enjoy your coffee more. Don't get stuck on a specific roast level. Instead, open yourself up to trying different coffees for what they are and find a coffee you love. You may be pleasantly surprised by how much you enjoy a lighter roast. Don't forget lighter roasts do not mean less flavor.


Side note: You will find talk about lighter roasts having more caffeine than darker roasts. While that is technically true, the difference is so insignificant; it is hardly worth mentioning.  


What is your favorite roast level for your coffee? Do you lean to the dark or light side? Maybe you prefer a medium roast? We would love to hear your thoughts in the comments below. If you have additional questions about the degrees of coffee roasting, drop me an email at jason@justlovecorp.com. 



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