Your favorite coffee blend begins life as all coffees do – as small “cherries” on a coffee tree. Those cherries are then picked, peeled, dried, and roasted to perfection. Taking those raw beans and turning them into a delicious roasted coffee is truly an art form. How the beans are roasted has a huge impact on the final coffee’s flavor, aroma, and texture which means the process itself marks the difference between a boring bland cup and one that will blow you away.
What is a coffee bean?
As touched on previously, coffee beans are actually the pit of a small cherry-like fruit. Once the fruits are picked, the pits (or beans) are removed and then dried before being bagged and exported for roasting. Roasting is where the magic happens to transform that bean into an irresistible beverage.
What is the roasting process?
In order to roast coffee, roasters train and practice for years in order to learn the craft. The process itself involves heating the green coffee beans to temperatures between 370 and 540 degrees Fahrenheit for anywhere from a few minutes to half an hour. The time and temperature determine the level of roast.
What are roast levels and what do they mean?
Everyone has their preferred roast level – light, medium, dark – but what do those really mean? The roast level affects the coffee’s flavor, body, and caffeine level. Does a dark roast have a higher caffeine level than a lighter roast? Let’s explore.
As the name implies, a light roast will be light brown in color with a lighter, more acidic flavor. Light roasted beans typically taste more like the location they grew in – the soil, weather, and any other nearby crops all will affect their flavor profile. A light roasted bean will have been heated to a temperature between 375 and 400°F, until the “first crack.” They are not shiny or oily in appearance either, which is characteristic of darker beans which are roasted longer and the beans have had time to release more oil. Lighter roasts also tend to have slightly elevated caffeine levels over darker roasts.
Medium roast beans are darker than light roasts with a sweeter and more balanced flavor with less acidity. Their caffeine levels are slightly lower than light roasts but a bit higher than darker roasts. A medium roasted bean will have been heated to a temperature between 410 and 430°F, after the first crack but before the second crack. Medium roasts do tend to release more oils, as they are roasted longer and at higher temperatures than a light roast, but they are still not very shiny in appearance.
A dark roasted bean will have been heated to a temperature at about 460°F, near the end of the second crack. They tend to have a slightly bitter and smoky flavor with none of the flavor notes from their growth environment.
What does “first crack” and “second crack” mentioned above really mean?
First and second crack refers to an audible cue, a literal POP like popcorn popping, that roasters listen carefully for while the beans are roasting. Once first crack is achieved, the beans can be pulled out of the roaster and packaged for use (light roast). The beans pop or crack due to expansion during roasting where residual moisture is released from the beans. The release of this moisture creates steam and pressure inside of the bean and causes it to literally crack open.
How do you select the right coffee roast?
There really is no “right” or “wrong” coffee roast selection. Some people prefer the taste of dark and bitter coffees while others prefer lighter roasts or mixed blends. It really comes down to which is your personal preference.
If you want your morning brew to taste its absolute best, be flavorful, and be incredibly enjoyable – select a whole bean variety of your favorite roast. No matter light or dark, the optimal cup of coffee is fresh ground from the bean right before brewing.
Are you a coffee drinker? How do you prefer your ‘cuppa Joe? Light? Medium? Dark?
Let us know in the comments below!