Light Roast Vs Dark Roast Coffee: Differences Between Them

Coffee is one of the most popular drinks around the world. The different roasts, beans, and brews will give you new and different coffees each time. Whether you’re looking to find out more about the different roasts or find it all overwhelming, you’ve come to the right place! 

This guide will explain light roast vs. dark roast differences and what tastes to expect from each different roast. 

Before the coffee is roasted, the beans are not soluble in water to be extracted into a liquid. So, the coffee cherry is sent to a cylindrical heater, which turns the beans to evenly roast them from the flames below.  

Coffee has been roasted since approximately the 15th century and since has been picked from everywhere in the world. Arabica beans are the most popular type of bean from Ethiopia. They’re considered the least bitter and have the richest flavor. In comparison, Excelsa beans come from Southeast Asia and usually have a dark roast to complement their fruity, rich undertones.  

But what exactly is the difference between a light roast and a dark roast? 

coffee beans in cup

What is a Light Roast Coffee? 

A light roast is done at lower temperatures to a light brown color, giving a softer and very acidic taste. Lighter roasts will retain the coffee cherry’s original flavors and are drier and full of variety. 

Lightly roasted beans will contain a lot of sweeter tastes; honey, peachy, or chamomile notes are all possible in a lighter roast. This can also be very difficult to achieve for a novice as it will require more attention.  

ORIGINS 

Because of its popularity worldwide, you’re most likely to find Arabica beans to be light roasted. Excelsa beans are also more likely to be roasted lighter. This indicates that lighter roasts originate from Eastern Europe and Southeast Asian areas; the word Arabica likely comes from a 7th-century popularity in Arabia (now Yemen). This is for those who like a smoother, sweeter coffee.

light roast coffee beans

Pros & Cons of Lightly Roasted Coffee 

What We Like 
  • The most caffeine is retained 
  • Contains most of the original bean flavor 
  • Smoother and less thick 
  • Tastes best with sweeter foods 
Things We Don’t 
  • Tough to get exactly right 
  • Sugars don’t have time to caramelize 
  • Doesn’t mix well with savory foods 

What is a Dark Roast Coffee? 

Dark roast beans are roasted at higher temperatures and for longer. They become dark brown, and the bean’s surface is oily. The coffee cherry loses most of its original flavor through the roast, so the flavor comes from the roast itself. 

By using a dark roast, your coffee will have bold, to-the-point flavors and is very noticeable when you first drink it. If roasted right, it can make an excellent addition to a meal. 

ORIGINS 

Dark roasts usually surface from different beans. Robusta has been the staple of a dark roast; it is usually mixed into Arabica for a kick in your cup. The Robusta bean originates from Saharan Africa and grows in high altitudes. Libercia beans also contain nuttier, bitter flavors, and originate from Western Africa, specifically Liberia. Dark roasts are ideal for a bolder, stronger coffee. 

black roast coffee beans

Pros & Cons of Darker Roast Coffee 

What We Like 
  • Bold flavoring 
  • Nutty and chocolate notes 
  • Less dense than a light roast 
  • Straightforward flavors 
Things We Don’t 
  • Most flavor is from roasting 
  • Can be very bitter 

Light vs. Dark Roast Coffee: Key Differences Compared 

coffee bean variety

We know what different roasts of coffee there are, but when it comes to a light vs. dark roast coffee, what are the main differences, and what would be best for you? 

Here we will explore the different flavors and tastes from each bean type.   

1. Coffee Taste 

Type 

Bitterness 

Acidity 

Color 

Light Roast 

Less bitter, smoother, and fruitier flavor. 

Very acidic – the roast retains the coffee cherry's original flavor. 

Light to medium brown. 

Dark Roast 

Bitter, depending on the roasting process. Bitterness increases with higher temperatures. 

Low acidity – because the cherry's flavors being burnt away. 

Medium to dark brown/black. 

There are many other differences in the roasts, which we will explore below. 

2. Roasting Temperature 

The temperature needs to be different for each roast. When the beans absorb heat, the temperature will determine the roast almost immediately.  

For lighter roasts, you are looking at a temperature range of 350 – 400oF, and you’ll want to stop the roast as it hits the first crack in the bean.  

For an in-between medium roast, you’ll want a range of 400 – 430F and stop as the second crack appears. This will have lost some of the bean's original flavor but have begun with the new, darker flavors.  

Dark roasts are somewhat more straightforward. You want a maximum temperature of 450F, and you need to stop roasting as the second crack in the bean ends. Be careful; roasting for too long will burn them and produce less-than-appealing flavors.  

3. Aroma 

The aroma of coffee is the smell it emits, usually the best part of my mornings! The aromas will vary on different roasts.  

  • Lighter will have vibrant aromas, ranging from a fruitier smell to a more traditional brew. 
  • Medium will get a sweeter aroma, as the sugars in the bean will have begun to caramelize.  
  • Dark roasts will have the traditional coffee smell, and the aroma is smoother and stronger. 

4. Brewing 

An important part of preparing coffee is the brew, and different methods suit different coffee types.  

  • Pour over: this works best for a light roast, as the flavors won’t be too overpowering and complement each other well.  
  • French press: perfect for any roast, the flavors will remain in the brew and will feel smoother and stronger. 
  • Drip: much better for a medium to dark roast. Especially very useful when it comes to espresso making, which is ideal for dark roasts.  

5. Benefits to Health 

Coffee, in general, is regarded as a healthy beverage to drink. The roast makes very little difference to the health benefits, but with a lighter roast, you’re going to retain the antioxidants and caffeine more.  

This does mean that a lighter roast is slightly healthier than a dark, but in terms of overall heathier choices, any roast is an excellent boost to your mood and will level up your energy.  

6. Caffeine Content 

As the beans are roasted, the caffeine is burnt away. This happens with any bean you roast.  

In terms of the level of caffeine retained, a lighter roast takes the title. This is because of the lower roasting temperature and less time it takes. If you’re looking to feel more alert in the morning, a lighter roast is perfect to kick start your day. A darker roast is better for late afternoons and evenings.   


People Also Ask (FAQs)

Can I roast coffee beans at home?  

Yes! You can roast them in the oven with a baking tray for 15 – 20 minutes at the desired roast temperature above. You can also use a stovetop pan or popcorn maker to roast beans. 

Is a light or dark roast better for lattes and cappuccinos?  

For a milk-based drink, you will want a darker roast that won’t overpower it. Robusta beans are popular for these coffees, and the darker roast won’t ‘cut’ the milk. 

Is light roast or dark roast better for espresso? 

Dark roasts are better for espressos. As the coffee ages, you will start to notice changes in flavor, and darker roasts have more subtle changes, whereas light roasts will change significantly.  

How long does coffee last? 

The shelf life of coffee beans in your cupboard is generally up to two months. This is because as the coffee ages, as does the taste and freshness of the beans. Darker roasts have a longer shelf life.  

Are my coffee beans burnt? 

If you have followed roasting guides correctly, the beans won’t have burned. However, once you finish the initial roast, they will appear smoky and have a slight aroma. This will come as the beans cool down.  


Conclusion

Roasting coffee is an art form. It’s a diverse operation that results in a wide array of flavors, smells, and taste sensations. Hopefully, this guide will have helped you explore your favorite roast or explore what the key differences are in light vs. dark roasts. With so many different roasts to choose from, the choices are endless!