About Roast Levels

Dark roast, French Roast, Light roast, espresso … what does it all mean?

What is good coffee?

Good coffee is the coffee you like. It can be inexpensive or expensive. It doesn’t really matter if you like it, right?

But all coffee can’t be the best coffee can it? How many times have you seen “the best coffee” on a bag of coffee? One thing we know for sure is that they are all liars because we all know the absolute best coffee in the world can only be found at www.bigridgecoffee.com!

The best coffee is what you like to drink and it’s what you compare everything else to. “Good coffee” is often determined by how close it matches what you consider to be “good coffee.”

It does seem complicated at times, especially to casual coffee drinkers but just know, most people do not know what makes a good cup of coffee but they can sure tell you if they are drinking one.

There are many steps to a good cup of coffee and roasting is just one. Roasting, along with the species of the bean, the altitude, the shade, the sun, the processing, the water to coffee ratio, the kind of water and the temperature of the water. This article is about roasting so we’ll keep it there.

They write entire books on this subject so this will be brief but will hopefully give you an idea of what the differences is between the the degrees or level of roasting.

To roast coffee you have to get a coffee seed (green coffee) hot enough to break down and burst or “crack.” Once this happens you can drink the coffee. After the coffee cracks the first time you can keep roasting it until it pops again or reaches what is called “second crack.” You can then stop or keep right on roasting until the seed turns black. You can then proceed a bit further and this is what is called espresso roast. It’s as black as the bean can get. It’s burnt at this point. Beyond all recognition, really but can be ground down to a powder, compressed and force fed hot, scalding water to produce a cup of espresso. If you’d like to accentuate the taste, add sugar and milk or better yet, steamed milk then you have a cappuccino.

Just like a burnt piece of toast or burnt anything, it taste burnt. Remember this flavor because anything past the completion of first crack is also burnt. Often times coffee drinkers are in love with the level of roast because after you burn a coffee seed (bean) they all kind of taste the same or very similar. The only difference is time. Time will determine the difference in taste but even at this level of roast, even time doesn’t affect it much and is why dark roasted coffee is such a preferred American flavor. It’s because it’s what you’ve been drinking most of your life. The shelf life is long. Burnt coffee made in Feb will pretty much taste the same the next February but possibly a bit more stale, but definitely drinkable.

Another factor affecting the roast is the development time. One of the first ways I home roasted was with an air popcorn roaster. It produces some really good dark roasted coffee. Just add some green coffee beans and plug it in. The coffee will quickly go through the roast cycle and roast through second crack producing an excellent fresh French Roast!

The time it takes a roast to develop is probably the most influential roasting parameter there is other than when you decide to drop the beans and stop the roast. At the most, roasting takes about 10 minutes and soon after First Crack, the other levels can come quickly, as in seconds. The difference between a French Roast and an Italian Roast is seconds. The difference between a light and medium roast is also a very few seconds.

The color of the bean is the best indication of roast level.

From brown to black—so it goes, similar to this picture:

Roast levels

The green coffee is unroasted. Then you have a light roast, medium roast, dark roast and then espresso.

What makes it more confusing is all the different names given to roasts levels. There really is no standard but here is a guide:

Light Roast – AKA city roast

Medium Roast – AKA city+ Full City, French Roast, City Roast

Dark Roast – AKA French Roast, Italian Roast, City Roast, Espresso Roast.

Simply using Light, Medium and Dark is a little over simplifying but the reality is that there is so little difference in the actual time it takes to go from Light to Medium but the flavor differences are a bit more drastic.

In the picture above, the two images on the right will taste dramatically different than the light brown and brown images in the middle. Although, sometimes there is only about 20 seconds between what is on the far right and what is the first light brown coffee.

Temperature levels can be as high as 460 degrees by the time the black coffee bean is produced. A light roasted coffee can be dropped at 413 degrees or less. The beans actually begin to roast about 370 degrees. The actual work or the time that the coffee seed transformed into a coffee “bean” and developing flavor was around 340 degrees.

The inherit flavor of the coffee bean is best enjoyed with light to light medium roast, ie, light brown to darker brown and less shiny. The shine comes from the oil in the bean pushing through the outer layer and becoming a French Roast. This shine is representative of the level of roasting most people are looking for in the flavor of their coffee. This level is French Roast. A Medium Roast or Full City roast is what is called a Medium Roast on this website and is where we roast most of our coffee. This roast ensures some of the original flavor and adds a bit of roast flavor to the bean.

To summerize: shiny, brown beans leaning dark is kind of what we are shooting for and is what is called a Full City Roast or Medium Roast or even “Light French Roast.”

When looking at the labels of roast on this website please refer to the following. This is generally what you will get when you order our coffee.

Light Roast – A light brown roasted coffee bean

Medium Roast – A brown coffee bean with a bit of shine.

French Roast – Dark brown and shiny

Italian Roast – Dark brown and shinier.

Espresso – Black and Shiny.

I hope this adds a little shine to the subject of roasting levels if not, then just contact me and we can discuss more before you order your coffee. You can also even add notes to your order. Most all of our coffee is roasted to order so it can be custom tailored to your taste.

If you are interested in roasting your own coffee I can provide you with green coffee. Please email me at bigridgecoffee@gmail.com.