Light Roast Vs Dark Roast: What’s The Difference?

Have you ever found yourself shopping for coffee, wondering which roast to buy?

Or, maybe you have a go-to roast, but you’re not sure if a different level might suit you better?

Do you wish you had all the information you needed about different roast levels in one place?

Well, good news. 

You’ve come to the right place.

In this article, I’m going to tell you all about light roasts, medium roasts, dark roasts – and everything in between.

Ready to get started?

Let’s take it from the top!

Light Roast Vs Dark Roast: In A Nutshell

roasted coffee beans in sacks

Coffee beans can be roasted to varying degrees. 

You’ve got light roasts, medium roasts, and dark roasts. Then you’ve also got medium dark roasts, and extra dark roasts, too.

Basically, there are 2 factors that affect a roast level:

  1. How long the beans are roasted for
  2. What temperature they’re roasted at

The longer they’re roasted for, and the higher the temperature they’re roasted at, the darker the roast will become.

Beans that are roasted at a lower temperature for a shorter amount of time are light roasts. 

Those that are roasted at slightly higher temperatures for a little bit longer are medium roasts.

And, finally – beans that are roasted at the highest temperatures for the longest amount of time are dark roasts. 

Each coffee roast level will give you a very different brew, with very different properties, and a very different flavor profile. 

Which one works for you will largely come down to your own personal preference. That being said, certain roasts are better for certain brewing methods. 

But, I’ll tell you all about that in just a minute.

Let’s dive a little bit deeper into each coffee roast level, to see what each one has to offer.

Light Roast Coffee

light roast coffee beans

Light roasts are roasted at 356 – 401°F, until the “first crack” happens.

This is when the coffee bean begins to crack and expand. It does this twice, but light roasts don’t ever get anywhere close to the “second crack.”

These roasts are lighter in color and body, but they retain a lot more of the coffee bean’s subtle flavors and aromas. These flavors can be fruity, citrusy, floral, earthy, or spicy – depending on the type of coffee bean and the region it’s from.

Light roasted coffee is more acidic, too, and it has a higher caffeine content, despite not tasting as strong as darker roasts.

Generally, these roasts are favored when brewing filter coffee. 

Why is that, you might be wondering?

Because filter coffee is brewed at lower temperatures than other methods, and the extraction times are longer. That allows you to really get the most out of the subtle aromas and flavors in a light brew.

That being said, there are no rules, and you can definitely use a light roast for other brewing methods as well. It all comes down to what works for you at the end of the day.

Medium Roast Coffee

Medium roasts involve temperatures of 410 – 428°F, and the beans are roasted until after the “first crack” – right before the “second crack” begins.

These roasts are somewhat darker in color, and they have a fuller body than light roasts.

Their flavors and aromas, as well as their acidity, are very nicely balanced. It’s a nice middle ground between the subtle flavors of a light roast, and the rich taste of a dark roast.

A medium roast doesn’t have as much caffeine as a light roast either, but it does still have more than a dark roast.

As far as brewing methods go, medium roasts are super versatile. They’re an especially great choice when you’re brewing filter coffee, no matter which technique you’re using.

Medium Dark Roast Coffee

Beans that are roasted at 437 – 446°F fall into the medium dark roast category. The “second crack” has to have at least begun at this point. But, it could be anywhere up until around halfway through it.

The color of these beans is even darker, getting very close to the color of a dark roast. And the fullness of the body and roasted aroma and taste starts to closely resemble a dark roast, too. 

At this stage, the coffee beans start to pick up new flavors from the roasting process. These types of flavors are unique to medium dark, dark, and extra dark roasts.

Medium dark roasts also start to develop some oily residue on the surface of the coffee beans. Although, it isn’t quite as pronounced as it is on dark roasts.

Generally speaking, medium dark roasts are better for pressure methods like espresso. With espresso, hot water passes through the coffee grounds quickly at high pressure. 

Since the extraction time is short and the water is hot, it can extract all the flavors of the roast, without drawing any unwanted bitterness.

Dark Roast & Extra Dark Roast Coffee

dark roasted coffee beans

Dark roasts require an internal temperature of at least 464°F, which the beans reach towards the end of the “second crack.” 

However, some go even darker, hitting temperatures as high as 482°F. These would be called an extra dark roast.

Anything beyond that and you’re looking at burnt coffee beans. In case you’re wondering, those would taste like charcoal and tar. Not the most appealing flavor, I’m sure you’ll agree.

Dark roasted coffee is deep dark brown color, full bodied, and characterized by a rich flavor. 

They lose most of the subtle fruity or floral aromas of the coffee bean, but they gain a whole other flavor profile from the roasting process itself. 

The intense taste of dark roasts might lead you to assume that they have more caffeine in them. However, in reality, these roasts actually have the lowest caffeine content. 

Another property that can help you recognize dark roasts is an oily residue on the surface of the beans. A lot of the times when these roasts are brewed into coffee, you can see the tiny little oil bubbles on the surface of your cup of joe. 

Like medium dark roasts, a darker roast works wonderfully with pressure brewing methods like espresso. But, again, there’s no rule that says you can’t use them with other brewing methods, too.

In fact, they’re an excellent choice if you’re a fan of cold brew coffee. The cold water is able to extract the subtle fruity and floral notes of the coffee bean, which are usually lost when you brew a dark roast.

And at the same time, you also get those lovely roasted, earthy, chocolatey flavors.

The Bottom Line

So, there you have it.

Light roasts are a paler color with a lighter body, and they showcase the subtle aromas of the coffee bean. 

Medium roasts are noticeably darker with a fuller body, and more balanced flavors and aromas. 

Medium dark roasts are darker still, and their fullness of body and flavor lean heavily towards those of dark roasts. 

Dark roasts are so dark that they’re almost black. They have a full body and an intense, rich flavor that comes from the roasting process. 

Extra dark roasts are about as much as you can roast a coffee bean without burning it to a crisp.

Again, which roast works for you will come down to your personal taste. So, don’t be afraid to try a few different roast levels out to get a better idea of what you like the best.

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Viktorija Jovanovic
Viktorija is a trained barista and chronic iced coffee addict. Aside from great coffee, she loves photography, road trips, and spending time in nature with her dog, Bane.