Tips for Choosing the Best Coffee Roasts with Infograhic

Many grocery stores devote an entire aisle to coffee and tea. While variety is nice, as you scan the long rows of different coffee roasts, sold in both bulk whole beans and pre-packaged ground, the choices offered can become overwhelming!

In fact, making an informed choice about coffee roast is often impossible. Many consumers actually end up making their buying decisions based on a wild guess rather than actual knowledge.

The information we offer you in this post with infographic is designed to help make your coffee shopping experience less confusing so you end up buying what you and your family actually want and need.

Coffee Roasts Infograhic

Coffee Roast Infographic

Caffeine Level

Since most of us drink coffee, at least in large part, for the caffeine stimulus, let's first look at the relative caffeine levels found in different roasts.

While it may be counter-intuitive, dark roasts do NOT have more caffeine than light roasts, as is commonly thought.

The more robust flavor of darker roasts does not equate to more caffeine.

Remember, caffeine is flavorless and colorless!

It is a fact that the lighter the roast, the more caffeine a coffee will have.

Once consumers learn this fact (and accept it as true), most want to know how much more?

The answer to this question is more complicated than you may realize. According to the National Coffee Association (NCA), light roast coffees have a "slightly higher concentration" of caffeine than dark roast coffees.

This is because the extended roasting time destroys some of the caffeine in darker roasts.

However, for most people, the caffeine level they actually get when brewing darker roasts will be significantly less, not just slightly less.

This is explained by an experiment conducted by America's Test Kitchen.

How Much Caffeine Is Found In Coffee

In January 2014, Cook's Illustrated reported on a coffee caffeine experiment conducted by America's Test Kitchen.

They roasted two batches of identical green coffee beans from the same source:

  • One batch was the classic light roast (just after the first crack heard when roasting). and the other was the classic dark roast (just after the second crack heard when roasting).
  • The other was the classic dark roast (just after the second crack heard when roasting).

They then used identical amounts of coffee by volume of each roasts and brewed each in the same equipment for the same amount of time using the same amount of water.

They then sent samples of these two coffees off to be analyzed independently for caffeine content.

The coffee brewed from dark roasted beans had SIXTY percent more caffeine than the coffee brewed from the light roasted beans!

Measuring Coffee Beans

They repeated this same experiment, only this time, measuring the coffee by weight rather volume.

On the second experiment, it took more dark roasted coffee because coffee beans expand as they roast longer, and therefore, take up more volume!

However, most people measure their coffee by volume at home, not by weight, and therefore, will get less caffeine when using a darker roast -- about sixty percent less!

Also, dark roast coffee has a more robust flavor, and therefore, it takes less dark roasted coffee by weight to produce a full bodied cup of coffee.

Acidity Level of Roasted Coffee

Light roast coffees are far more acidic than dark roast coffees. The acidity of medium roast coffees fall in between light and dark roasts.

This has both taste and health consequences. Some people prefer the crisper brighter taste of acidic coffee whereas other people prefer the more mellow taste of medium and dark roasts.

Some people cannot handle the acidic nature of lightly roasted coffee, especially first thing in the morning before they've eaten anything.

Acidic coffee can be especially upsetting to sensitive stomachs when combined with orange juice, which is also quite acidic.

Even if your stomach can take the acidic jolt, it can lower the pH of your whole body (make it more acidic) which can lead to multiple health issues.

For people on an alkaline diet (trying to keep their body at a pH of 7.0 to 7.5), it is essential that you drink darker roast coffees, the darker the better, as these darker roasts are less acidifying.

Bitterness Level of Roasted Coffee

Some people find dark roast coffees too bitter for their taste. This is usually because they are buying dark roasts that have been roasted too long.

Dark roasts are generally defined as roasting to just after the second crack and to where the oils of the coffee bean start to come to the surface.

You'll start to see a shine on the coffee beans when this happens and the granules will tend to clump a bit when you grind a dark roast because these surface oils make them stick together some.

However, some roasters, either intentionally or by accident, will roast the beans even longer to the point they become burnt (charcoaled) and the oils simply burn off.

This is point where you get the bitter notes. Thus, if you like dark roasted coffee without the bitterness, look for beans that show a shine and look dark brown rather than jet black.

Although it will vary by brand and batch: 

  • Vienna roast is on the lighter end of dark roast, a little lighter than French roast.
  • Italian roast is usually darker and more bitter than French roast, often appearing jet black.

Origin Of Coffee Beans

Life-cycle of the coffee bean

There are really only two species of coffee tree -- those that produce Arabica beans (more than 80 percent of the market) and those that produce Robusta beans (less than 20 percent of the market).

It doesn't matter where these two species are grown or how they are roasted,

Robusta beans are considered far inferior tasting, often tasting bitter even at light or medium roasts! They are often used in really cheap brands of coffee, including instant coffees and coffees made for hotel chains. 

Therefore, for the purpose of this discussion, we are going to ignore Robusta beans and concentrate on Arabica beans grown in different places.

Coffee is a bit like wine because the flavor of the bean varies according to the variety of Arabic plant, the soil in which it is grown, the weather of the region, and the micro-climate (shade versus non-shade).

Depending on all these factors, you can get notes of:

  • Citrus
  • Caramel
  • Floral
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 HOWEVER, and this is the key point in this section, the more you roast the beans, the less noticeable these special notes will be.

Therefore, in light and medium-light roasts, these variables will come shining through. In medium-dark to Vienna roasts, a sensitive palate will pick up on these notes but they will be much more subtle.

In the darkest roasts, these notes will all but disappear. Therefore, if you want to experience the flavor differences in beans of different origins, you'll want to stick with light to medium roasts unless you have a very delicate palate, and even then, you'll want to avoid the darkest roasts.

Final Thoughts

When coffee beans are roasted, they undergo what's known as the Maillard reaction. This is the chemical reaction that takes place when amino acids from proteins react with sugars in foods as they are roasted and browned.

It's the same reaction you see and smell when you brown your steak, cook french fried onions, toast your bread, or roast a batch of pumpkin seeds.

Depending on how long coffee beans are roasted, the flavors and chemical properties of the beans can change dramatically.

Now that you have specific knowledge of four key factors in these roasting changes, you can make more informed buying decisions on different coffee roasts.

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