Those who lean towards dark roast coffee love its bold flavor and aroma. But what do those words actually mean? Coffee lovers know that there is not just one type of coffee. Among roasts, regions, and processing methods, there are hundreds of flavors and aromas to choose from. First, let’s get into detail about it’s crafted. Then we’ll discuss some other details.
What is Dark Roast Coffee?
There are several different types or “roasts” of coffee: light, medium, and dark, with additional in-between roasts like light-medium or medium-dark. Each roast has a distinct aroma and flavor; the darker variety usually tastes less acidic and more bold and bitter, which can taste “burnt” to some coffee drinkers. It also goes by other names such as french roast or italian roast. How is it made? First, we need to explain the coffee production process. The coffee bean is first harvested from a tree. The beans grow inside of a coffee fruit, which is sometimes called a “coffee cherry” because it is small and red in appearance. Each coffee cherry contains two coffee beans.
After harvesting, the beans are removed from the fruit and the sticky mucus layer that surrounds the beans is washed off. Then, the beans are laid under the sun to dry, which usually takes about a week for fully washed beans. After the beans are dried and their papery parchment layer is peeled off, it’s time for roasting.
Roasting is a meticulous process; the differences in roasting time and temperature from light to dark is actually quite small. The dried beans go into the roasting machine with a soft, green appearance. They are then roasted for about 12 minutes at 240 degrees Celsius or 464 degrees Fahrenheit. Then, they come out looking like what we recognize as coffee: dark brown or almost black in color, hard and crunchy, and with an oily coating.
Once the roasted beans are ground and brewed, the flavor usually overtakes any regional flavors or aromas. In other words, these distinct flavors are “roasted out” of the beans during this process, and it’s harder to tell one variety of dark roasted coffee from another.
Is Dark Roast Coffee Stronger than Lighter Roasts?
This depends on what you mean by “strong” coffee. Are you referring to the coffee’s flavor, its body, or its caffeine content?
We’ll discuss the caffeine content in more detail below, but for now, let’s talk about the coffee’s taste. It’s true that a darker roast has a bolder and more smoky taste, as we discussed earlier. What about the strength of that taste? When people refer to strong coffee, they often mean that the coffee simply contains more of whatever flavor it already holds.
For example, weaker coffee may taste more watery and less flavorful. The stronger the coffee, the more you can taste all of its flavors in full force. So in this sense of the word, is the darker roast inherently stronger than lighter roasts?
As far as the strength of the already-present coffee flavor and aroma, the answer is no. A coffee’s roast level has nothing to do with its strength. Strength is achieved by manipulating the ratio of coffee to water when brewing. In other words, to brew a stronger coffee, you need to add more ground coffee and less water to the pot, no matter which roast level you have.
Does Dark Roast Have More Caffeine?
Dark roast coffee, despite its bolder flavor, actually has less caffeine than light roast. This is a common misconception! Many people think that the darker the coffee, the higher the caffeine content. Why does dark roast have less caffeine?
In fact, the roasting process actually draws caffeine out of the coffee bean. The more a coffee bean is roasted, the less caffeine it maintains. This is why dark roast coffee has less caffeine than light roast coffee.
Is Dark Roast Coffee Better for You?
There’s already a bit of scientific research on the health benefits of coffee, especially if you drink it without cream or sugar. Where do the roast levels come into play, though? Is one type of roast better for you than the others?
Some scientific studies say that dark roast is, indeed, better for you than light roast. One study found that it helped to raise the body’s levels of antioxidants such as glutathione more than light roast coffee did. Another study found it less acidic, and therefore, it does not irritate the stomach’s lining the way light roast coffee does.
At the same time, other studies have found that light roast coffee is actually better for you. Some research has concluded that light roasts have more antioxidant activity effects on the human body. Researchers believe that this is because the antioxidants are roasted out of the bean as the roasts get darker, similar to the way that the caffeine content is roasted out.
The research is still inconclusive on whether dark roast is healthier than light roast. At the same time, though, coffee itself still has many health benefits, such as its antioxidant content and its reduction of the chance of liver cancer. If you drink coffee for its health benefits, it’s best to drink it black, without added calories in the form of cream and sugar.
Light Roast vs. Dark Roast
So, what’s the difference, anyway? The first difference occurs in the roasting process. Light roasted beans are roasted for around 11 minutes (usually just 1 minute less than dark roast). They are roasted at a temperature of 180-205 degrees Celsius, or 356-401 degrees Fahrenheit.
In appearance, light roast coffee beans are, of course, lighter. They are closer to golden brown in color, while dark roast beans are dark brown or almost black. Light roast beans also have a dry appearance, while dark roast beans look oily. This is because the more the bean is roasted, the more oil escapes from the bean. The dark roast’s oil production can add to that bitter taste, and sometimes produces a chocolatey flavor.
Speaking of flavors, as we briefly mentioned earlier, light roast coffee maintains more of its original taste. In other words, when drinking a light roast coffee, the taste is more defined by where the coffee comes from than how the coffee was roasted. Dark roast, on the other hand, maintains more of the roast flavor and less of the origin flavor. So, it’s easier to tell the difference between a light roast from Colombia and a light roast from Indonesia. It’s more difficult to tell the difference between a dark roast from two different places.
Light roast, since it maintains its flavor, usually tastes more complex and can maintain floral or fruity notes, for example. It usually tastes more acidic and bright. Dark roast, as noted before, tastes rich and full-bodied in comparison.
Best Regions for Dark Roast Coffee
It’s hard to pick a best region for dark roast coffee. This is because, as we said, it’s easier to mask regional flavors with a darker roast, Therefore, dark roast coffees from different regions may taste more homogenous, because they do not retain the notes and undertones that light roast coffees do.
With that said, there are some coffee varieties that are said to taste better with a darker roast. For example, coffees from Indonesia generally taste more dark, earthy, and full-bodied, and so these beans do well under a darker roast. One such variety is the Indonesian Sumatra Mandheling coffee beans. These Sumatra beans, from the largest island in Indonesia, can taste earthy with notes of cocoa or tobacco. Due to these bold undertones and low acidity, most people choose a dark roasted variety of these beans, since it brings out their sweet taste.
Another coffee that does well under dark roast is the Indonesian Sulawesi beans. These are much less common than the Sumatra beans, but have a similar full-bodied flavor. As is the tradition with Indonesian coffee, Sulawesi coffee beans are quite earthy and sweet, which is why a dark roast will accentuate their bold flavor.
In addition, Brazilian coffee is usually used in dark roast. These coffee beans are usually of the robusta variety (as opposed to the more popular arabica), and generally have a heavier and bolder body.
So, there you have it: everything you need to know about dark roast coffee. What’s your favorite coffee roast? Do you have a favorite variety of dark roasted coffee? Share all of your coffee stories and comments with us below!