The Need for Roast Degrees
How dark do you like your coffee?
I like it very dark.
But just how dark is dark coffee?
Coffee in general is a subjective experience. Everyone feels coffee in a different way and that’s just the nature of us individuals. When it comes to the coffee roasts, it can get even more subjective. As you saw above in the dialogue, ‘dark’ coffee cannot really be defined. I mean, yes, we may have the same general idea of what ‘dark’ coffee is. A little more on the bitter side with less acidity. But then again, your ‘dark’ coffee might be my ‘medium’ coffee if I’m used to having coffee with a higher roast degree. The same goes for the roasts provided by various coffee companies. What Starbucks may define as a ‘Medium Roast’ may not be the ‘ Medium Roast ‘ at your local coffee roaster.
So, what can we do to take away this subjective discrepancy?
By having a universal language, and that’s where the Roast Degrees/Roast Types come into play.
The Roast Degrees/Roast Types
To make it easier to understand the darkness of coffee, there’s a simple guide that roasters follow which can also be interpreted by you or me.
There are four general categories used when referring to the roasts of coffee.
This is the first stage where the raw green coffee beans turn into the more accustomed earthy brown color we are used to seeing. Also at this point you get the typical aroma of coffee. This stage revolves around the ‘ first crack ‘ or the ‘ first pop ‘ of the coffee beans when they expand and make a loud cracking sound. A bit like the popcorn in the microwave.
The taste profile that is typically associated with this roast type is high acidity and low bitterness. The Third Wave of Coffee has propelled the popularity of this roast type. And that’s because of the fruity and tropical acidic flavour profiles that can be extracted from specialty coffees at such roast degrees together with the bright floral aroma . And yes, it’s very ideal for high quality single-origin coffee.
There are many terms used to refer to the light roasts, but the more common is Light Roast and then the slightly darker Cinnamon Roast.
This is usually associated for coffee roasted between the end of the first crack and just before the beginning of the second crack. Generally, this is where you get a good balance of acidity and bitterness. There are two terms referring to this roast category which is Medium Roast and the slightly darker High Roast. It does get a little confusing but this is the term generally used to refer to the roast degrees.
This roast-degree is very popular in Japan, especially where I live in Fukuoka. Generally speaking, the coffee beans imported to Japan were not of the highest quality several decades ago. This means that it was rather difficult to bring out the best flavours of coffee in their Light to Medium roast range since you would get this raw-bitter and nauseating tastes. As a result, roasters were kind of forced to roast darker to take away all of these impurities. But then again, people still wanted some sort of acidity to their coffee and that’s where the Medium-Dark Roast or 中深煎り came to the rescue.
Although the bitterness slightly outweighs the acidity, it’s still a roast which brings out a very well-balanced flavour of the coffee.
The coffee associated with this category is usually roasted between the beginning of the second crack to the middle of the second crack.
The common terms associated with this category are Full City Roast and the slightly darker Vienna Roast.
Perhaps you may have seen coffee beans that are glossy and shiny. They all fall under the Dark Roast category where the roast has gone beyond the mid-second crack. That’s when the oils inside the coffee are released and coat the surface of the beans which gives it the shiny look.
They go by names such as French Roast, Italian Roast, Espresso Roast and so on.
Coffee beans roasted to this degree contain bitterness with very little acidity. Roast the beans too much and it will start to taste like tar and charcoal ( though I haven’t tasted tar or charcoal ).
Ideal Roast Degrees Differ
The varying bitterness/acidity levels are just a general measure of what you can expect to taste depending on the roast degrees. But it does’t mean that all the coffee varieties will follow this trend and that each coffee variety is fit for all roast degrees.
That’s why many roasters use the cupping or tasting method to find ideal roast degrees of every coffee variety they plan to serve to their customers. Just leaving the beans in the heat for a few seconds longer or shorter can possibly change the whole dynamic of the taste of the coffee; that’s why roasting can be difficult and challenging.
We, as customers, should appreciate the effort and time that the roasters put in to bring out the maximum potential of coffee at hand and so that we can always have a great cup of coffee.