Light Roast vs. Dark Roast Coffee: Differences in Strength, Caffeine Content, and Flavor

Dayne Dayne (57)
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The darkness of a roast greatly affects its flavor profile. I'm going to tell you a bit of the why and hopefully teach you some things you didn't know.

The Different Roasts

Coffee starts out as a bean that is pale green in color. As it is exposed to heat, it becomes darker and darker. The terms light roast, city roast, half city, and cinnamon roast are all synonymous with light roasted coffee. This is coffee that has been roasted for the least amount of time. Medium, American, and breakfast roasts are all medium roasted coffee. Dark roast seems to have the most aliases with names such as full city, European, French, Italian, Espresso (typically), and Continental.

These names can be confusing because they are not always labeled as such. Some roasters choose other terminology for their roasts and do not specify the actual degree to which the coffee was roasted.

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It would stand to reason that the darker the coffee, the more caffeine it contains. Well, the opposite is actually true. The longer the bean is roasted, the less caffeine it contains. That's why many coffee shops switch to darker roasts near the end of the day.

Strength is a vague term for coffee and it can be very subjective. When you taste a very bitter or burnt coffee, you may call that strong. When I taste an acidic or astringent coffee, I may call that strong. In reality, darker coffees tend to be more bold, but not necessarily stronger. Also, as we said, the caffeine content is lower in dark roasts so lighter roasted coffee is objectively "stronger" in a caffeination sense.

Flavor profiles vary greatly in the different roasts and are the primary reason one might prefer one level of roast over another.

Coffee is a fruit. Therefore, it can sometimes tastes fruity. It certainly does when it is not roasted very much. Light roasts will always lean more towards fruity flavors. Roasting coffee for longer will get rid of those flavors in favor of the more smoky, burnt flavors.

The current trend in coffee is to roast lighter and lighter. This is partly due to the demand for higher quality coffee beans and more attention to detail in regards to origin and sourcing. Most "third wave" coffee roasters do not have many or any dark roasts.

Of course, taste is subjective so its your job to find out what you like. Try light, medium, and dark roast. Try it as espresso, drip, french press, and however else you can get it. You'll slowly find out which roasts and which countries you prefer.

Happy brewing!

Our guide makes picking the perfect espresso machine for any occasion a breeze!
Odin Odin (62)
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We love good coffee of all kinds, but there’s something extra special about the way a fresh-pulled shot of espresso goes down… that rich ambrosia scent, that nutty roasted goodness filling the morning air. It’s pure bean magic. Recreating that coffee shop magic at home has become a necessity for anyone working from home. Still, there’s a conflicting mess of information out there about which espresso machine is “the best.” Fifteen unique espresso machines for fifteen unique situations! We wanted to do something a little different and find just the right espresso machines for various homes and budgets. And so, here is the fruit of our passion for the high-tech world of the best espresso, our gift to all you fellow bean-lovers desperate for the perfect home pull—the fifteen unique espresso machines for fifteen unique situations. True Espresso Machines vs. Pods Note that all of the machines listed here are true espresso machines. We don’t like using pods because of the environmental downsides and the hassle, and we generally don’t think the taste is as good as a properly pulled shot (even from a cheaper espresso machine!). There are many faux espresso machines on the market, too, which fail to provide the 15 bars of pressure needed to pull a true espresso. We include a couple of stovetop espresso makers because of their usefulness and novelty status, but be aware that you’re not getting a “true” espresso with anything that can’t produce a high level of pressure. What is espresso? True espresso has a rich tiger-striped crema on the top due to the high-pressure method of making the espresso. Bars of pressure Espresso is an Italian coffee brewing method that has gained international recognition as a staple for coffee aficionados and average drinkers alike. Espresso is made by forcing a small amount of near-boiling water through coffee grounds at a minimum of 9 bars of pressure (one “bar” is a measurement of pressure which is equal to the atmospheric pressure at sea level, so “9 bars” is nine times the pressure of the atmosphere at sea level). Crema top True espresso also has a rich tiger-striped crema on the top due to the high-pressure method of making the espresso. The heat and pressure strip essential oils from the coffee grounds, and the aeration created by this process helps produce the foam. Many machines are equipped with a portafilter that increases this aeration effect and thereby creating the effect of a fuller crema. However, it must be noted that the use of a portafilter doesn’t create a true crema — one that is filled with the oils from the coffee beans — it only creates the appearance of one through pressure and aeration. Espresso beans and pressure The best way to get crema from an espresso machine is to select fresh beans from a region known for its espresso bean (which have a high oil content), ensure that the pressure and temperature are right, grind the beans fresh and finely, and tamp the espresso grounds down with around 30lbs of pressure, so the water is passed through them at the right speed. Repair, warranties, and machine lifespan Espresso machines work because they generate a lot of heat and pressure. This is great for your morning espresso but plays havoc with all but the most sturdily-built machines. Sometimes, defects in build quality that might not be otherwise apparent will end up emerging after a few uses due to that pressure and heat — plastic parts, especially, are vulnerable to this. It’s vital to have a warranty in place to protect your investment! Why do espresso machines break? One of the many reasons why people become frustrated when buying an espresso machine, only to have it fail around six months in, is because they expect it to continue functioning without any maintenance. because of the high pressure and heat that these devices operate under, certain types of maintenance are absolutely required. A build-up of minerals on the inside of the espresso machine’s pipes will, for instance, increase the pressure of the water passing through those pipes (a smaller diameter within the pipe equals greater pressure), and over time this added pressure can exceed the limits of what certain parts of the machine can handle. How long do espresso machines last? Carefully cared for, an espresso machine should last years — even the cheapest espresso machines should last two years before needing a major servicing. Eventually, of course, certain interior elements like rubber hoses or gaskets will also need to be replaced — but this can usually be done by any capable DIYer, or by a local appliance repairman, or even a volunteer from a local Maker Space. Our recommendation: extended appliance warranty All of this said, we strongly recommend getting an extended appliance warranty on any expensive piece of machinery — on top of the at least one year of comprehensive warranty for parts and labor that any reputable company will provide. There’s always the chance when dealing with mass-produced machinery that your device has a random defect. In this case, it’s vital to have a warranty in place to protect your investment. In the end, with proper maintenance and care, however, a good espresso machine will last years and provide you with multiple daily pulls of crema-topped goodness.