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How to Choose the Right Coffee Roast for You

Four roast types displaying in bowls as both whole beans and ground coffee to present the color differences in each roast.

Wondering which coffee roast is best for you? From light to dark, we’ll give you the rundown on the aroma and flavor of each, so you can get a better idea about the differences. We’ll also cover how to figure out which roast will best suit your taste buds. From now on, you’ll know exactly which coffee roast to purchase and brew every single morning.

Why Are Coffee Beans Roasted?

A person holding raw coffee beans in their hand before they go through the roasting process.

Coffee is first harvested as green, raw beans, which then go through a strict roasting process that alters the bean’s physical makeup, flavor, and aroma.

For coffee beans to reach that gorgeous (sometimes glossy) brown finish, they’re roasted at varying temperatures for different lengths of time. This is what determines the various roasts. For example, a light roast goes is roasted at a lower temperature for a shorter period, which gives it that light brown color.

To determine whether a coffee bean is edibile, they go through up to two “cracks” during the roasting process. The “crack” refers to the physical (and audible) cracking that happens to a bean as it expands. According to roasters, a change in aroma means the first crack is about to begin.

Appearance, acidity, and even caffeine content, all play a role in the roast profile of coffee beans. When beans are roasted, oils are extracted, and the natural flavors fade away, giving you a spectrum of new flavors dependent on the roasting process.

To reach that delicious hot cup of joe, the roasting process is an essential part of the equation. There are three main roast profiles, and each offers a unique flavor and quality. Finding the right one might take a little time and brewing practice, but hopefully, these descriptions will help get you there a little faster.

Light Roasts

A woman getting ready to open a full pour-over coffee maker and a bag of Real Good Coffee Co. coffee sitting on the counter.
Real Good Coffee Co.

Light roasts offer more acidic, brighter notes in each sip, for a lovely floral taste. They’re known to be excellent for pour-over coffee makers, and contrary to common belief, light roasts boast more caffeine than any other roast.

When looking at the beans, you’ll notice their dry texture, as the oils haven’t had enough roasting time to reach the surface of the beans. A light roast has barely made it to that first cracking stage.

If you’re looking for a cup of coffee that offers the most natural aromas and flavors, you’ll find that in a light roast, like this one from Real Good Coffee Co.

The 100% Arabica beans in the Breakfast Blend offers a mashup of fantastic flavors to wake up to. You’ll get subtle hints of citrus, while also being able to appreciate a smooth chocolate flavor.

Real Good Coffee Co. Light Roast

Smooth flavor with aromatic notes of milk chocolate and cream.

Medium Roasts

A woman pouring a cup of Volcanica coffee.
Volcanica Coffee Company

As you probably guessed, medium roasts are the perfect middle ground between dark and light. They’re a great place to start, as they offer the best combination of quality and flavor.

You’ll enjoy the preserved natural flavors of a lighter roast, with hints of caramel in each sip. Because these beans are roasted longer, they pass that first cracking stage before being bagged. Medium roasts are perfect for anyone who uses a standard drip (or any other) coffee maker.

Mr. Coffee 12-Cup Coffee Maker

Perfect for medium-roast coffee.

Volcanica offers a delicious medium roast called Sumatra Mandheling. It’s known for its smooth chocolate flavor and fresh earthy undertones. The low acidity and full-bodied flavor will give you a fantastic start to your day.

Vocanica Medium Roast

Smooth chocolatey flavor with earthy notes in every sip.

Dark Roasts

A cup of coffee next to a bag of Kicking Horse Kick Ass Coffee.
Lavazza/Kicking Horse Coffee

Famous for their toasty flavors and smooth finishes, naturally occurring flavors and aromas aren’t present in dark roasts. Instead, you get nice nutty and chocolate notes in each sip.

The only downside for some is that dark roasts contain less caffeine. However, if flavor is more important to you, then you already have an excellent excuse for a second (or third) cuppa. These beans have reached the second-crack stage and have roasted longer.

Some dark roasts are referred to as “extra dark,” which means the coffee’s original flavor no longer remains. The glossy beans hold high oil content and offer bold, almost smoky notes.

Lavazza/Kicking Horse makes a dark roast called Kick Ass that’s harvested in Indonesia. It’s described as sweet, smoky, and audacious, so if you are looking for a bold, daring cup of joe, this one’s for you!

Kicking Horse Dark Roast

Wake up to a smoky, dark chocolate flavor with an earthy finish.

How to Choose the Right Roast for You

A person at the grocery store shopping for coffee beans.

As you’ve now learned, roast levels contribute significantly to a coffee’s flavor profile, aroma, and caffeine content. Finding the roast level that you’ll appreciate the most will likely take a bit of time.

Just remember that lighter roasts offer a more natural flavor with a more robust acidity in each sip. The darker you go, the more the original flavors disappear, and the beans take on a more elaborate flavor profile.

Caffeine levels also decrease as the roast gets darker. The best way to understand which you like best is by trying the different roasts yourself. Start with a medium roast, and then give a light and dark roast a shot.

If you don’t want to purchase three separate bags, spoil yourself with a cup from a local coffee shop instead, and don’t be afraid to ask the barista some questions.

Whether you’ve just started drinking coffee, or have just never thought much about the different roasts, these descriptions will get you well on your way to finding the perfect cup for you.

Emilee Unterkoefler Emilee Unterkoefler
Emilee Unterkoefler is a freelance food writer, hiking enthusiast, and mama with over ten years of experience working in the food industry. Read Full Bio »
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