About Roasting Levels

Light roast, French Roast, Medium Roast, City Roast, Full City Roast, Italian Roast, Vienna Roast, American Roast, Espresso Roast, Full City+, City+.

Coffee roasting descriptions are all over the place and different geographic areas use different terms. Add to that recent “blonde” coffees from those of whom we don’t speak and it gets more confusing. Just be clear about one thing. The “blonde” coffee is still burnt since the biggest coffee retailer in the world can only, apparently, produce that. But hey-it’s good with milk and sugar in it so burn it all!

Twenty years ago nobody was drinking light roasted coffee. As a matter of fact the prevalence and the discovery of the new flavors of light roasting really came about from home roasters who created roasting programs to monitor the roast. Before that coffee was sold as basically black and blacker which has added to its popularity. Personally, I can’t stand to drink coffee that has gone through “second crack” which we will explain in a bit but many people don’t think they’re drinking coffee unless they are tasting charcoal. This is unfortunate but like everything else, change comes slow.

With Big Ridge Coffee we are here to introduce you to light roasted or possibly light medium roasted coffee. “Light roasted” is where Single Origin comes in to play. The fact is, and this has been verified by many in the specialty roasting world, once the bean is burnt it all pretty much taste the same. The only difference after that is the freshness of the roast. I’ve roasted dark and sent to several people for review and they all like it, adding that it is “excellent” coffee. This is good to know but I have to admit that I’m not sure the added freshness is worth the extra cost of buying specialty coffee since your taste is for the burnt coffee flavor. You can buy this all day long at the store, often on sale for cheap!

Roasting flavors

Take our most popular coffee, the Ethiopia Yirgacheffe. I can roast that coffee light, light medium, medium, medium dark, dark and way burnt (espresso) and it is going to have that many different flavors. Granted, once it gets to medium dark the rest is going to be very similar. But let’s talk about French Roast.

French Roast is a medium dark roast. The coffee bean has been burnt but just barely so there is possibly just the right amount of “roasted” flavor, we’ll call it, and fulfills what most would consider a good, drinkable cup of coffee. That is, most Americans. The fact that it is “French” has nothing to do where it is from but rather the amount of roasting that has been done to the coffee seed. Yes, that’s right, we’re talking about a seed. A seed from a fruit. Since the coffee bean is actually a seed from a fruit shouldn’t it have some fruit in the flavor and aroma? Specialty roasters think so and is why they don’t like French Roast or anything burnt.

The Roasting Process

Once a coffee seed has been processed, cleaned and dried it is ready for roasting. The coffee seed starts out as green coffee and is poured into the hopper and released into a gas heated rotating drum. The temperature of the drum is being monitored and the coffee is being monitored by an element that is in the actual drum.

The heat is added to the coffee seeds and they begin to heat up both in the inside and the outside. Eventually the seeds change color and explode producing what is called a “crack.” This crack sounds and even smells similar to popcorn popping. The first crack enters slowing then crescendos to a peak and reduces to a brief silence. Moments later the beans, which at this point the coffee is drinkable and is now a coffee “bean,” begin to pop again. This time not as loud and the crescendo is less and sound a bit like Rice Krispies but the aroma is now recognizable and smells like that disgusting Pike Place from those of whom we do not speak.

The difference between roast levels after the first crack is just a matter of seconds but the trick to roasting and pulling the most flavor is how linear the coffee bean’s temperature is reduced after being heated and then dropped out of the roaster just before the second crack comes. As I mentioned earlier, after the second crack there is very little difference in taste from a bean from Africa or South America or Central America or even Hawaii.

Regardless, we all have our own definition of what a great cup of coffee is. I appreciate that fact but as someone who has invested in the coffee business, it’s not really what I’m interested in producing. Big Ridge Coffee’s goal is to produce consistently great tasting coffee from Single Origin coffees from all around the world. We prefer to produce light to medium roast but will always provide burnt coffee for those wanting that roasted, burnt, familiar flavor.

Below is a chart I created to clarify most roasting descriptions. Hopefully you can use this to determine where your taste lies. Remember nothing is wrong in spite of my bias as a coffee drinker. I have my own opinion and I don’t mean to be snobbish but let’s face it: all coffee drinkers are coffee snobs. At least experienced coffee drinkers and for myself that is always changing. For a majority of my life I thought good coffee was Folgers and for many Americans, they would agree. I went through the 8 O’clock stage and even a brief Cafe Bustelo phase. I at one time thought Pike Place was the best cup around. Now I can’t stand it. It’s okay. It all changes. McDonald’s? Not bad. I even like Walmart’s Coffee Shop and I’m always interested in what a Keurig can produce.

One thing not discussed and is a common arguing point is how much coffee to water. We will address this in another post and once again I’ve found everyone is “snobbish” on their own opinion. 🙂