Coffee Beans are typically roasted at about 550 degrees Fahrenheit. A chemical process called pyrolysis brings out the aroma and flavor that had been locked inside the beans in their raw state — this process is what gives them the coffee taste and aroma.
The longer the beans are left to roast, the less they will maintain their distinct origin characteristics; these are the qualities of the bean that are uniquely created by its variety, soil, altitude, and general geographic origin (e.g., Colombian vs. Ethiopian). As beans continue to roast, the flavors unleashed through the roasting process can eclipse the dominance of the origin qualities.
Light Roast: After about ten minutes in the roaster, beans will reach an internal temperature of approximately 350 degrees. At this point, the roaster will begin hearing pops. These pops, or “Cracks,” signal the beginning of the Light Roast period; beans removed from the roaster between 350 and about 400 degrees internal temperature will have a light- to light/medium-bodied flavor profile. Examples of our light roasts are Ethiopian Yirgacheffe and Smooth Move.
Medium Roast: As internal temperatures increase, the first cracks continue to be heard. Beans that are removed from the roaster with an internal temperature from about 400 to 430 degrees internal temperature are classified as medium- to medium/dark-bodied roasts. Examples of our medium roasts are Colombia Sierra Nevada and Guatemala Huehuetenango.
Dark Roast: A second, louder threshold of pops begins at around 430 degrees. Beans removed during the second “Crack” are considered Medium/Dark- to Dark-roasted coffees, and will continue darkening as temperatures increase. Examples of our dark roasts are High Impact, Sumatra Ketiara, and Espresso Fantastico.
What about caffeine levels?
Because of how bitter and strong dark roasts taste, many coffee drinkers assume that these roasts are also the most highly caffeinated. However, this is not the case: In fact, it is the opposite. It’s a myth that a dark-roasted coffee has a lot of caffeine. The truth is, along with a decrease in brightness, caffeine levels drop as roasts get darker.
There you have the facts. I know for me, I can taste more flavor from light and medium roasts over dark. I know a lot of companies are out there promoting the darkest, strongest coffee on the planet, and I get that. However, there is more to Specialty Coffee than the amount of caffeine and the roast level. There are subtle flavor notes that most easily can be experienced through light and medium roast coffees.
Coffee 101: Which roast if for you