Nothing beats a fresh cup of hot, bold coffee first thing in the morning. This powerfully aromatic beverage is a delightful part of the morning ritual, giving you a rush of energy right at the start of the day. The odds are that the coffee in your pantry is a dark roast. This rich roast profile is incredibly popular, but lately light roasts have started to get traction. Innovations in distribution, roasting techniques, and brew methods have led to a massive debate between fans of dark and light roasts. So the big question is if dark roasts taste better than light roasts.
Of course, the answer to any question about taste is a matter of opinion. But if you understand what impacts your coffee’s flavor, then you can make more informed decisions when you buy your next beans. Flavor comes down to chemistry, so things like the climate the coffee was grown in, what beans are in your blend, the roast profile, and how you make your coffee will change the way your final cup tastes. Consider all of these factors when you’re buying beans to make sure that your coffee tastes the way you want.
The Region of Where The Coffee Is Grown
Coffee grows in tropical environments with nutrient rich soil, hot temperatures, and humid air. But variants in these climates will have a huge impact on the chemical content and flavor of the beans. So regions in a low altitude with more sunlight and volcanic rich soil like Indonesia will have more savory coffee with nutty overtones. High altitude regions with more rainfall like much of South America will have more acidic compounds, giving you a floral, fruity bean. When you find a region you like, stick to different roasts and blends from that area.
Blends vs. Single Origin
Long gone are the days of relying solely on large cans of blended Robusta beans from around the world. Now, you can pick beans that have specialized blends and origins to perfect their flavor. Like the names imply, a blend is a combination of beans from 2 or more regions, while single origin all come from the same place. This has a pronounced impact on the flavor, with single origins focusing on a single, powerful flavor profile. Blends can combine different regional beans to get a more complex flavor profile.
The Roast Profile
Of course, the roast will have the biggest impact on the flavor. Roasting cooks the beans, and depending on the temperature will change the chemical composition of the beans. Dark roasts have always been more popular because they’re easier to make. The roasting process breaks down the acids and caramelizes the sugars, giving you that signature bold, toasty flavor. A good light roast will preserve the fruity, floral flavors of the coffee, resulting in a final cup that bright, pungent, and citrusy.
The Brewing Method Used
Different brew methods will extract different aromatics and oils from your beans. Factors like water temperature, grind size, and surface area will all change the flavor. And, of course, different roasts will work better or worse with different brew methods. French press will have little surface area with more brew time, while espresso has a lot of surface area with little brew time, creating incredibly different flavor profiles. So when you’re deciding between light and dark roasts, you have a ton of control over how the final cup will taste.
How Different Coffee Roasts Taste
When you’re trying to find the best tasting coffee, roasts make up a huge part of your decision. It’s largely preference, but you’ll want to understand the peculiarities with each roast profile. Don’t be afraid to branch out and try something new, because you can find great examples of any roast profile.
Dark roast is the standard in American coffee houses. For decades, bold brews from darks have given us a toasty flavor profile with a rich mouthfeel and a finish that leaves you craving another sip. It mixes perfectly with milks and cream, and pulls an excellent espresso shot. Beans are roasted for longer creating that caramel taste. If you’re a fan of the classic morning cup of java, odds are it’s a dark roast. You can also get extra dark roasts to have and even more powerful flavor experience.
Light roasts have only recently begun to gain traction, finding their way into niche coffee houses in the 90s. Today, they make up a huge amount of the market, with industry titans like Starbucks embracing blondes. Good quality light roasts are made using different temperatures and bean spreads to preserve the fruity quality of the green beans. If you just try to make them like an undercooked dark roast, you’ll get a flat, watery flavor. It may sound like a complex process, but you can actually roast your own beans at home.
Which Roast Is More Bitter
A huge turnoff for coffee drinkers of any level is a sour, bitter cup. While this is usually the result of a poorly brewed pot of joe, different roast profiles may be more prone to going bitter. It’s important to know the difference between bitter and sour, since they’re on opposite ends of the pH scale. Bases have a higher number on the scale, resulting in a more bitter flavor, while acids have a lower number, resulting in a sour taste.
Light roasts are more acidic than dark roasts, making them lean towards the sour side. A standard light will have a pH of 5.5, while a dark can be as high as 6.5. If you’re trying to avoid consuming acidic coffee, or if you’re sensitive to sour flavors, consider opting for dark roasts. If you can’t stand bitterness, maybe light roasts are right for you.
The Best Tasting Coffee
This question is pretty subjective. Some people can genuinely enjoy the flavor of a cheap can of Robusta, others settle for nothing less than a delicately roasted light. What you really want to focus on is which coffee you enjoy with each brewing method. It still comes down to preference, but if you want a light roast for the fruity overtones, you’ll get better results with some methods over others.
Espresso is the go-to way to get coffee in a shop. While you can still get a nice home espresso machine, professional equipment can take up too much counter space. This technique does a great job of accentuating the flavor note of both light and dark roasts. Because you get such a concentrated shot of coffee, you only get the oils and toasty aromatics out of a dark. Or you get all of the acids and sugars out of a light roast to get a bright, effervescent flavor. So it’s a tie between dark and light with espresso.
Drip coffee is a classic part of the morning routine. This simple process gets you a quick, hands off pot of coffee that brings out a lot of the oils that make a good dark roast. It works best with darker roasts and mediums, but not really light roasts. You don’t quite extract the particles that make a light roast worth having, resulting in a watery, flat cup of coffee. So if drip is your primary brew method, you really can’t go wrong with a dark roast.
Pour over is a more hands-on alternative to drip coffee. You grind the beans more finely, and place them in a cone, resulting in the coffee having more exposure to water. While a dark roast will taste fine out of pour over, you’re going to get a really bright and floral cup of light roast. The oils come out easily, but the acids and citrusy components need more time. If you use pour over, you’re fine with any blend, but you’ll really be getting your money’s worth with a good quality light roast.
French press is a bare-bones way to get a cup of joe with minimal machinery. It has the most exposure to water, but also the least surface area. The final drink is a strong brew that accents all of the flavor profiles in each blend. So whether you have an extra dark roast or a light roast, you’ll have a good, flavorful cup. So it’s another tie between lighter and darker coffees with french press. Just be prepared for an incredibly flavorful drink.
Deciding What Roast is Best For You
Ultimately, it’s up to you to test new roasts to find out what works for you. While dark roasts have traditionally been the most popular option, the industry has made light roasts an equally delicious option. If your preference leads you to the fruitier citrus flavor of a light, then don’t be afraid to embrace it. Or if you find that you can’t get a dark enough coffee, don’t shy away from an extra dark. The important thing is to make the most out of your favorite morning beverage.