The Difference Between Light, Medium And Dark Roast Coffee

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coffee beans in glass jars
Photo By: Pexels

Oh the many choices we have in life. As we go through our days, we don’t give a second thought to what most of those choices are. Second nature takes over and we just do. Well there is one choice in life that we should consider more than most, and that is which coffee roast to use.  For me, I prefer the more medium roast for my morning cup. So how do you decide which is right for you? I say, start by knowing the difference between light, medium and dark roast coffee.

Below I have compiled some information to help guide you to your perfect roast. Hopefully you’ll be inspired to try one, or maybe all of them. Why not? Try them all! You can’t say you don’t like something if you haven’t tried it right? So let’s get inspired together and try something new!


The Roasting Process

green coffee beans, roasted coffee beans
Photo By: Coffee Geek

Roasting coffee beans is crucial to how different coffees are made. This process plays a key role in how your coffee will taste and smell, how much caffeine it preserves, and how much acidity it will contain when the roasting process is done. The coffee beans you see on store shelves today are by far not what they start out looking like. When picked they are a very light green color with a somewhat grassy smell, no taste, and soft to the touch. Once in the roaster, depending on how dark or light you like your coffee, they become the beans we know and love in the morning.

All beans are the same in the beginning of their life cycle so to speak. Depending on the species, they all start with the same amount of caffeine, oil, and acidity. During the roasting process these components are broken down and extracted. The lighter the roast the higher the caffeine, higher acidity, but no secretion of oil. Medium roast becomes a balance between all of them. The darker the roast the less caffeine and less acidity, but more oily. The oil contributes to the flavor and that’s why lighter roasts have a more grainy taste, and the darker ones are smoother and sweeter.

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coffee roaster roasting coffee beans
Photo By: Nathan Dumlao

As the coffee beans are roasted, oils will appear on the surface of the bean. The temperature in which they are roasted will determine how much oil will appear. Higher temperatures equal more oil. This oil is also very noticeable in the coffee itself once it is brewed. Our beloved light, medium and dark roast coffees are roasted between 180°C and 240°C, not to exceed 250°C as this will burn the oils in the bean and that’s what gives it that burnt taste like charcoal or tar.

The longer a coffee bean is roasted, the more caramelization occurs in the bean. This is where dark roast coffees get their rich aromas and creamy flavors from, but it also covers up the origin flavor characteristics of the bean. This is opposite in lighter roasts. They have almost no caramelization but more of their origin flavor. They also retain their light aromas of nuts, fruits, and flowers.

Medium roast coffee is, in my opinion though, the best of both worlds. You get a decent amount of caffeine, you get a nice bold flavor but not too strong, no grainy taste, and it’s less acidic so it’s easier to blend with different flavors. Also, it still has most of its origin characteristics and is right at the start of caramelization so you get more of a sweet taste and smell.

Once the beans reach an internal temperature of 205°C they will pop and crack open. This is known as the “first crack”. Around 220°C the beans will reach its “second crack”, and most dark coffees are only roasted to about the end of this stage.

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So here’s an overview of each roast and what it entails:

Light Roast Coffee Beans

light roasted coffee beans
Photo By: Halacious, Light Roast Coffee Beans
  • Roasted to an internal temperature of 180- 205 °C (356-401°F)
  • Not roasted past the “first crack”
  • Light brown in color
  • No secretion of oil
  • Almost no caramelization
  • Keeps most of its origin flavor
  • Has aromas of nuts, fruits, and flowers
  • Has a toasted grainy taste
  • High caffeine content
  • Less acidity

Medium Roast Coffee Beans

medium roasted coffee beans
Photo By: Jannes Klingebiel,           Medium Roast Coffee
  • Roasted to an internal temperature of 210-220°C  (410-428°F)
  • Roasted between the end of “first crack” to beginning of “second crack”
  • Medium brown in color, almost like milk chocolate
  • Has some caramelization
  • Keeps some of its origin flavor
  • Caramelization adds a sweet taste and aroma
  • Has less caffeine than light roast but more than dark roast
  • Acidity is balanced out

Dark Roast Coffee Beans

dark roasted coffee beans
Photo By: Chris Armytage,             Dark Roast Coffee
  • Roasted to an internal temperature of 240°C  (464°F)
  • Roasted to the end of the “second crack”
  • Dark brown in color like dark chocolate
  • Lots of oil secretion (seen in cup once brewed)
  • Has a lot of caramelization
  • Almost all the origin flavors are covered from the caramelization
  • Has rich aromas and a more bitter- sweet taste
  • Has the least amount of caffeine
  • Almost no acidity


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Roasted To Your Preference

In the end, whichever you choose, make it yours. Whether you like your coffee black, with cream or sugar, milk, a little alcohol, anything you like. Choose what gives you comfort and makes everything around you disappear for even a brief moment. Smell the aromas, feel the steam on your face, and appreciate the art of coffee. It is after all, art.


If you would like to leave any comments or have any questions about this post, please leave them in the comment section below.  I would love to hear from you!

For the Love of Coffee





2 thoughts on “The Difference Between Light, Medium And Dark Roast Coffee”

  1. Hallo,

    Interesting articles on coffee you have! Thanks.

    I personally prefer as little acid as possible in anything I consume. So the dark roast would be the best in that regard. But I honestly say, what is the point of coffee without any or adequate caffeine? Caffeine is being increasingly recognised for positive health benefits such as protection against colorectal cancer. So, the medium roast addresses this issue.

    May I ask Angela, at the beginning, you explained fully how the roasting process affects caffeine content and acidity. You said the light roast has high acidity. But later in the overview, you say the light roast has less acid. Am I understanding you right?

    Warmest wishes!

    • Hello and thank you for your inquiry.  I can see why you got confused.  

      I’ll try to explain it a little better.

      So when the beans are roasted, they secrete the oils, and with this secretion your losing acidity.  Light roasted beans are obviously not roasted as long as dark beans.  Therefore they do not lose as much acidity, but they still lose some.  

      So even though they start out with high acidity, once roasted they do lose a bit of it.  So in the end you do have a less acidic coffee bean, just not less like a dark roast.  

      So to explain it better, they start out with high acidity, once roasted they lose some but not a ton.  So you end up with a bean that’s less acidic than when it started, but more acidic than a medium or dark roast coffee.

      I hope this clears things up for you and makes sense.




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