If you’re passionate about your cappuccinos, cold brews, and caramel macchiatos, then you would naturally want to find out more about how this heavenly beverage is made. And learning the types of coffee roasts is a great place to start.

Traditionally, there are 4 main types of coffee roasts: light, medium, medium-dark, and dark. The former has the most caffeine, while the medium roast is considered to be the most popular one. A medium-dark is perfect for those who hate acidity and a dark roast is usually the right type for extra dense beans.

What roast type should you go for the next time you’ll be getting your traditional morning coffee? Let’s figure that out!

What Is Coffee Roasting?

Roasting is the exact process that transforms the physical and chemical properties of a green coffee bean that, ultimately, makes it possible for us to enjoy the unique flavor and aroma of coffee.

The coffee cherry seed will typically get heated up in a commercial roaster that looks like a cross between a clothes dryer and a pizza over.

During the process, the beans go through a few stages that lead to the birth of one of the types of coffee roasts. The roast directly affects the appearance of the coffee and its flavor, so knowing what type of roast you prefer will help you enjoy your coffee-consuming experience to the fullest.

The 4 Main Types of Coffee Roasts

Traditionally, coffee roasts fall under four main categories – light, medium, medium-dark, and, finally, dark roast.

Light Roast

You might notice that light roasts are also sometimes called ‘half city’, ‘light city’, and ‘white coffee’.

  • The beans have a light brown color
  • Don’t have any oil on the surface
  • Are quite acidic
  • Out of all the other types of roasts, contain the most caffeine

If you are ready to dive even deeper into the topic, then let’s have a look at the different types of light roast.

Cinnamon roast

The word ‘cinnamon’ has nothing to do with how the bean is going to taste. The roast was named that way because of its beautiful color.

The beans that have been removed from the roaster right after the first crack are the ones that are usually referred to as ‘cinnamon roast’. To achieve such a state, the beans have to be roasted at around 385 degrees Fahrenheit.

This type of roast is not commonly used for commercial or home brewing.

New England roast

The color of a New England roast is a tiny bit darker than that of a Cinnamon roast. The beans are roasted at around 400 F.

You can really taste the coffee’s origin at this point. If you truly want to be able to tell the difference between two different types of coffee beans, then roast them to this level and then taste the beverages side by side (like a real pro).

Medium Roast

The common names of this roast are ‘breakfast roast’ and ‘regular roast’.

  • The beans have a medium brown color (close to the color of cocoa or milk chocolate)
  • The first crack has already ended, but the second has not begun yet
  • The beans are either not oily or only have a few flecks of oil
  • More smoke starts coming from the roaster

American roast

American roast is not exactly a full medium roast. A lot of experts like to think of it as something in-between a light and a medium.

The beans get roasted at 410 F.

City roast

This is what most coffee addicts would expect a medium roast to taste like. You can sometimes hear people referring to this roast as ‘bright’.

The temperature in the roaster should be held at around 430 F to be able to create the perfect City roast.

Medium-Dark Roast

Also known as ‘after dinner roast’, ‘light French’, and ‘light espresso’.

  • The beans have a richer brown color (like dark chocolate)
  • The roast gets pulled during the first few snaps of the second crack
  • There can be an oily sheen

Full City roast

Go for a Full City roast, if you are a fan of medium-dark roasts and opt for a Full City+, if you are the adventurous type who likes their coffee to be as close to the border of the ‘dark side’ as possible (but not quite there yet).

For a medium-dark, the beans get roasted at around 435 F.

Dark Roast

A dark roast comes with a lot of names – ‘New Orleans roast’, ‘Spanish roast’, ‘European’, ‘Neapolitan’, ‘Continental roast’, ‘Espresso roast’.

Some companies will have a scale that aligns all their dark roasts. The Spanish roast, for example, can be darker than the Italian one, and so on (bear in mind that there is no universal arrangement).

  • The beans are deep brown, nearly black in color
  • The oily sheen becomes even more pronounced (in fact, some beans can have a few oil droplets on them)
  • This type of roast is the lowest in caffeine

Vienna/Viennese roast

This classic dark roast goes right past the second crack (halfway to the third one). At this point, the majority of beans will start losing their original notes. It is generally not recommended to go any darker.

The roasting temperature is held at about 435 F.

French roast

Such coffee beans are also known as ‘double roasted’ and they are prepared at 460 F.

Italian roast

Anything that is roasted over a temperature of around 460 F is classified as ‘Italian roast’. Zero flavors and a burnt taste – these aren’t exactly the qualities that you would want your coffee to exhibit.

The Flavor Profiles of Different Coffee Roasts

  • Light roast

The first phase at which coffee actually becomes drinkable. Even though the beans will finally start looking and smelling like coffee, they are still quite underdeveloped and will have a grassy taste.

Cinnamon and New England roasts have a pronounced acidity and a ‘toasted grain’ flavor.

  • Medium roast

Perhaps, the most popular type of roast as it offers the best of both worlds – you’ll get to enjoy the flavor of the bean’s origin (nutty, floral, fruity notes) without the acidity that is often present in light roasts.

  • Medium-dark roast

This is a great choice for those willing to remove the acidity from their drink. At this stage, the earthy and spicy notes are going to start dominating, while the floral and fruity origin flavors will become a bit muted.

Pacific and East Indian coffees are, in general, the most suitable ones for a medium-dark roast as they naturally have spicy notes in them.

  • Dark roast

You will start tasting less of the original flavors and more of the actual roasting. The beverage can appear burnt and, at one point, it might not matter any longer what beans you have in the roaster as they’ll all have the same taste.

With that being said, some extra dense beans will be able to maintain an original flavor even after they get into the dark territory.

What Do Coffee Beans Look Like Before Roasting?

Raw coffee beans are green and have a completely different texture, smell, and look. Essentially, raw beans are a part of a plant with a grassy, bitter, or chalky taste.

Why Can’t We Drink Unroasted Coffee?

Green coffee beans have a hard ‘skin’ and taste nothing like our beloved beverage. To make the coffee drinkable, you need to get rid of these plant compounds (like chlorophyll and anthocyanins, for example).

During the process of roasting, over 800 compounds get transformed. And this chemical transformation is exactly what makes the beans suitable for making delicious coffees.

Can You Roast Your Own Beans?

If you manage to get your hands on green coffee beans, you can try to roast them on your own by using a pan, the oven, or even a popcorn machine!

After 3-5 minutes, you will hear the first crack that indicates that your beans have already been lightly roasted (this is the minimum amount of time required to produce a batch of beans for your future coffee).

You would also have to figure out how to store your freshly roasted beans, but the whole experience is definitely fun and rewarding.

Coffee Roasting Stages

Whether the beans have been placed in a commercial roaster or on a simple pan, it doesn’t really matter. These little guys would have to go through the following stages in order to turn into the fantastic end product.

  1. Drying stage
  2. Browning stage
  3. Roasting (development) stage