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Don't Confuse Roast Level With Strength

What Roast Should I choose? [Is Dark Roasted Coffee Stronger?]

Coffee roasting has evolved so much in the last few decades. Not only light roasts have become more popular, but artisan roasters like Brewtus Roasting are taking the craft to new levels. A single origin coffee gets special treatment. Master roasters will take their time to test what roasting degree works best for that particular bean, through sample roasting. Once the roast established, is recorded and applied to that batch of beans.

Another neat technique in specialty coffee is blending single origin beans to various degrees; this creates complex tasting coffees by mixing origin flavors with roastiness flavors. Dark roast coffee adds more body, while light roast coffee adds distinct origin flavors. When we combine them we get an entirely different blend.

There are many popular misconceptions about the roast level and how it affects your cup of coffee. There are also some interesting facts and tips that you can use to improve your cup.

Why Do We Roast Coffee?

To better understand how roasting affects coffee beans, we need to start with the reasons we roast. Green coffee is a rich source of various antioxidants and other phytochemicals. This includes chlorogenic acid, caffeine, and polyphenols. Green coffee contains a bit more of these compounds than the roasted beans. However, there are two problems with green coffee:

  • firstly, we cannot extract these substances from green coffee using regular brewing methods

  • secondly, green coffee doesn't taste good unroasted

Roasting fixes these two problems at once.

By roasting coffee we soften the internal cells structure, so we can extract coffee easier. Some of the cell walls break during roasting; this leads to the expansion in volume and the specific cracks during the process. When the cellular structure is softer, the soluble solids in the beans are easier to extract. The more we roast, the easier to dissolve these compounds during preparation, this is critical information. It explains the myth about why people think that dark roasted coffee is stronger. It also allows us to adjust the brewing techniques so we can make a strong coffee no matter the roast. More about this later.

During the roasting process, there is also a shift in the chemical composition, due to the Maillard reaction, this causes, among other chemical changes, the sugars in coffee to caramelize. The roasting brings out the flavors and aroma from the green coffee bean. It removes the grassy taste, and and it brings out the sweetness in the beans. Depending on the origin and the type of the beans, we also adjust the roast to enhance or preserve specific flavors and aromas, and to mute others.

Is Dark Roast Really Stronger?

This is a favorite subject of mine, and I can probably write a book on it. I’m half joking, but I do get a little passionate when I talk about roasting and coffee strength.

People think that dark roasted coffee is stronger. Dark roasted coffee is not stronger than light roasted. The confusion about it is two-fold. On one hand, dark coffee tastes differently from light roasted coffee, and we perceive that as strength. In fact, we only taste roastiness and not strength. The Total Dissolved Solids, (TDS), is roughly the same for all roasts, “if“ we adjust brewing variables accordingly. The “if” is very important, because it leads us to the second side of the problem. As we mentioned before, darker roasts are easier to extract. Using the same brewing variables, water temperature, grind size and brewing/steeping time we will get a stronger cup from a darker bean. If we adjust the brewing variables for the lighter roast we will get the same TDS.

How To Compensate for Light Roast

How do we adjust for a lighter roast you might ask? In three ways: grind finer, use a slightly higher water temperature. Depending on the roast lightness, you might only need to change one variable or all. You will need to do sequential tests, to find the perfect recipe. I recommend tweaking all three variables in small increments. Mind you; a grind size change will automatically result in a longer brew time for some coffee brewing methods, this includes gravitational brewing methods, like automatic drip and pour-over.

For immersion methods, such as the French press, the dripping rate is not a factor. But finer grinds might be a problem because of the filter. If you use the Kruve sieves, you can go much finer than the industry recommendations.

Extraction time is also affected for espresso when using finer grinds. In this case, you can compensate for a finer grind size by lowering the dose. The lower dose improves the flow, preventing the over-extraction.

Which Roast Should I Choose - Light or Dark?

The roast level comes down to your preference. If you are looking for complex flavors, which retain the bean’s origin, you should choose a light roast. If you are looking for a “traditional” taste, then a darker roast is for you.

In conclusion, if the roast taste is what you like, stick with dark roast. If you want to experience modern flavors, choose a light roast. You need to adjust the brewing variables when you work with terroir coffee. If you are starting out with light roasts, may I recommend you the Costa Rica Direct Trade? This Direct Trade Black Honey from La Minita Farms in Costa Rica is grown in a micro-region of this farm and is ideal with perfect sun and shade along with the steady wind.  It is roasted lightly to preserve its incredible notes of chocolate, brown sugar, plum, and spice. It may sound like a recipe for sugar plums, but it’s a recipe for kicking mornings in the face!


This was a guest post by Dorian from Coffee Brewing Methods.

Barkeater Coffees Ethiopia Hambela Makes 2015’s Coffee Of The Year


What a great way to close out 2015! Our Ethiopia Hambela made Top Coffee for The Beaten Path Distributions Coffee of the Year list. Here at Barkeater, we know our coffees are special. We only choose the best coffees from around the world for our customers and we roast them fresh to order. Our attention to detail for every step of the process is what makes Barkeater Coffee taste so amazing, and we’re proud of that. So, you can imagine how excited we were to not only make the Top Coffees of 2015 list but come in at #1!

Beaten Path Distribution and Coffee

The Beaten Path Distribution (TBP) is a clothing and lifestyle label that specializes in vintage designs for a variety of clothing products, cool accessories, and COFFEE. That’s right, coffee!

Beaten Path’s journey to specialty coffee is familiar to those of us who are passionate about our heavenly brew. It all started with a 2013 cross-country road trip by TBP’s founder Charles Mertens. While on the trip he was visiting friends in LA, who introduced him to their favorite coffee spot, Intelligentsia. It was here that Charles got his first introduction to quality craft coffee, more specifically single origin coffee. Coffee would become an important part of Charles’ life and that passion would lead him to make coffee a part of The Beaten Path Distributors portfolio of products.

To kick things off, TBP introduced their top 3 favorite coffees of 2015. Barkeater is proud to be at number one, and to be associated with the quality brand TBP is known for.

What makes Ethiopia Hambela so special?

The history - This Ethiopian coffee is not only special because of its unique flavor profile, but also for the history of Ethiopia's Hambela Coffee Estate where it is grown. The Hambela Estate was a gift from the Ethiopian Emperor to Mulumebet Emiru, Africa’s first female pilot. Mulumebet’s passion for flying helped break the stereotypes for women in Ethiopian society and inspired future generations of Ethiopian aviation. Sadly, her flying career was cut short by the 1936 Italian invasion of Ethiopia. Mulumebet married, and the family turned their attention to cultivating the rich farmland of the estate. Wild coffee trees were transformed into a private coffee farm and forever linked Mulumebet’s story with Ethiopia Hambela coffee.

Today, the Hambela Coffee Estate is still operated by Mulumebet’s grandchildren under the METAD Agricultural Development PLC. METAD continues to break down social barriers with their employment and education opportunities that are strengthening their local community. When it comes to their coffee, they specialize in a “seed to cup” business philosophy, which ensures that only the finest Ethiopian coffees make the grade.

The process - Ethiopia Hambela is a naturally processed coffee, which means as soon as the coffee cherries are picked, they are placed on raised screens and dried whole, in the sun. When the cherries dry to the point of becoming a dark brown pod, the seed is removed and the coffee's ready for roasting. This natural method produces an amazing full body coffee experience and captures the fruity notes that make it so famous.

Thanks again to The Beaten Path Distributors for shining a spotlight on such a wonderful coffee like Ethiopia Hambela.