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What Does Coffee Roast Level Really Mean for Flavor? Part 1: Light Roast

January 8, 2018

| By Savannah Phillips |

Editor’s Note: This blog series examines the specific misconceptions that many hold about light, medium and dark roast coffee and how these roast levels translate into the final flavor profile once it has been brewed and reached your cup. Our hope with this series is that you’ll walk away with a better understanding of the type of coffee flavors that you prefer so you can more easily find it when purchasing specialty coffee to brew at home.


It’s fair to say that lighter roasted coffees, while recently have become much more popular in the world of specialty coffee, tend to be less popular to the general public overall. There’s a number of reasons for that, but over the last few years, it’s mainly due to the huge success of larger national coffee companies heavily marketing dark roast to the masses. I touch on that more in the third part of this blog series.

When customers walk in looking for light, or “blonde” roast (thanks to Starbucks for this marketing term), I can most often assume they are looking for a coffee that is less strong or more mild. Sometimes a mildness in coffee is due to a lack in quality and/or freshness. It doesn’t necessarily mean, however, that someone would normally prefer the flavor profiles of high-quality fresh lighter roast, which is why it’s important for anyone to taste a variety of well-balanced and nicely roasted coffees to find out what flavor characteristics you like best.

As coffee is roasted, there is an increase in the levels of both organic and inorganic acids. These are imperative to how it tastes, even though some people would say they prefer a more “low acid” coffee, these acids are what really what make up the flavor. I have found that, over the years, what customers don’t know is that they are attracted to certain types of acids, that bring out specific flavors. Lighter roast coffees in general have more sharp tasting organic acids, such as citric or malic acids. These acids make the coffee have bright citrusy and fruit flavors, and mild stone fruit and floral notes.

Each and every kind of coffee has a very different flavor profile and it’s important to know how to properly roast a coffee to best bring out the flavor characteristics. Some coffees, especially very high quality coffees, should be roasted a bit lighter to ensure the natural flavors are not covered up by roasting it too much (think of a filet mignon being cooked medium-rare opposed to medium or medium well), while others should be roasted a bit longer to bring out more of the natural flavors from sugar caramelization. Something to really to be aware of when it comes to light roast coffees as well, is that it’s not uncommon to come across light roast coffees that have been under roasted. You can usually tell if a coffee is under roasted if it tastes sour, lacks sweetness and balance.

There’s also the misconception that the lighter the roast the more caffeine. Lighter roast coffee has less volume than darker roasts since the longer coffee roasts the mass of the coffee bean increases (note that the density decreases sharply). Normally most people do not weigh their coffee at home when they brew it, (they “scoop” it) and coffee is measured by weight not volume so by default when you measure by scooping it they end up using more of light roast due to the lack of volume created by roasting it.

If you’re interested in trying some lighter roasted coffees with some bright citrus, fruit forward and floral notes, stop by our cafe to try our Ethiopia Amaro Gayo, Guatemala Huehuetenango and Suke Quto. These are technically considered medium-light to medium roasts, but have many similar flavor characteristics to light roasts with much more balance. You can order a full pour over of any of these to enjoy in our cafe as well as take some coffee beans with you to brew at home!


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Savannah Phillips

Quality Control
A Level-Two Certified Barista, native Northwesterner turned So-Cal girl, Savannah is also addicted to yoga, hiking, meditation and long drives up Coast Highway 101. She doesn’t remember ever not loving coffee. Even as a child, when most other kids typically hate the taste, it was something she craved, which looking back, was unquestionably an early prediction of a career devoted to specialty coffee.

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