There are so many different kinds of coffee roasts that it is easy to get confused, and it is often hard to decide which roast is the best to use for your daily brew. Obviously, it depends on your personal taste, but this is a guideline on how to pick the best coffee roast that suits your palate.
Coffee taste or quality is not determined by the roast alone. Another important factor is the origin of the beans. A bean from Ethiopia will have a distinctly different taste from a bean from India, even if they are both French roast.
What is Roasting?
Coffee roasting, which some consider to be an art form, is quite a technical process, requiring precise timing and judgment. A few seconds can make the difference between a perfect roast and a ruined batch. Coffee beans are usually stored and transported in their green state, which is best for retaining their quality and flavor. When the time comes to sell the beans to the end-user, they are roasted bringing out the flavor and aroma that has been stored in the green beans. The beans are brought rapidly to a high temperature, which causes several chemical changes to occur.
When beans reach the desired darkness or color, they are rapidly cooled in order to prevent the roasting process from continuing. The point at which the roast is stopped depends on the type or flavor desired by the roaster.
What are the effects of Roasting Coffee?
Sugars are caramelized, and fats and starches are emulsified, resulting in the formation of the coffee oil, which gives the coffee its distinctive taste and aroma. Early in the roasting process, the oils are retained within the beans, but as the roast gets darker, the oils begin to extrude onto the surface. The darkest roasts look distinctly oily. Moisture is excluded in the roasting process, turning the soft, spongy green bean into a lighter, crunchy dark bean that we use to grind for our coffee.
There is generally more caffeine in lighter roasts, as the caffeine evaporates under high temperatures.
The Roasting Colour Guide
There are four color categories for roasted coffee beans. Generally, the lighter roasts are more acidic than darker roasts, with more caffeine, while the darker roast has a fuller, richer flavor. Very dark roasts can have a smoky or charcoal flavor.
These are light brown in color, with no oil on the surface, and produce a mild coffee, with more caffeine.
- Cinnamon – the lightest roast, resulting in a ‘bready’ flavor like roasted grain, with not much body and sour tones.
- New England – Popular on the east coast of the USA, it is slightly darker than the cinnamon roast but does not have the grainy flavor.
These beans are medium brown in color, as the name suggests. They have a non-oily surface. This a generally preferred blend in the USA, and so is often referred to as an American Roast. This roast is most commonly used in professional tasting. These roasts are best for French presses or drip coffee machines.
- Breakfast – a popular roast for a lighter, morning coffee
Beans are a dark chocolate brown, with oily drops on the surface. As the sugars have just started caramelizing, the caramel flavor starts to become more distinct. These roasts are more common in the Western USA and are best for distinguishing between the different varieties and regions of coffee beans.
The beans are shiny black, with an oily surface. There is less acidity, but the flavor becomes more bitter. These roasts are best used for a good strong espresso. You can use these roast on all coffee machines, but you get the best, fullest flavors when using pressure as well as heat.
- French Roast (often called continental)
- Italian Roast – Darker and oilier than French Roast, with a slightly burned flavor
- Spanish – This is the darkest roast available, with almost black beans. It has a flat flavor with charcoal undertones.
If you have a coffee roastery near you, you can go along and ask for some samples to try out. Otherwise, order the smallest quantities, and You may find that you prefer different roasts in the morning, midday and evening. You can also buy yourself a home coffee roaster, and experiment with your choices of flavors.