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!

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