If you’ve been to coffee shops or cafes, you might’ve been asked to choose between a light, medium, or dark roast.

This may sound like gibberish to someone who isn’t big on coffee, but knowing the differences could help you find the best cup of coffee for you!

Thankfully, this article will help you understand each roast and what makes them special.

Quick Answer: What’s the difference between light, medium, and dark roast coffee?

The difference between light, medium, and dark roasts is the length of time the coffee beans are left to roast and the flavor profile of the coffee. Each roast level offers something different in terms of taste and health benefits.

Light, Medium, and Dark Roast Coffee: What’s the Difference?

Keep reading to learn more about what makes light, medium, and dark roasts different and how their properties can benefit you!

Differences between light, medium, and dark roast coffee

A common misconception about roast levels is that the darker the roast, the more caffeine the beverage will have.

There are several myths and misconceptions about the different kinds of roasts out there, so I hope this article clears them up and brings you clarity (and less confusion when asked which roast you want!).

Light roasts are the densest in flavor and acidity

Contrary to popular belief, light roasts are denser in flavor and moisture than dark roasts, making the flavor more intense than the rest.

Light roasted coffee beans are left to reach around 350°F to 400°F (176.7°C to 204.4°C) for about 4-6 minutes before hearing the “first crack.”

Blonde roast coffee beans.
Light roast

The first crack is a barista term used to describe the popping sound coffee beans make when they’re roasting.

Once the person(s) roasting the coffee beans hears them pop for the first time (the first crack), this signals that the beans have achieved a light roast.

Since light roasted beans are cooked for the shortest time at a lower temperature, light roasts retain far more of the coffee bean’s flavor characteristics and acid content because not much of it is lost in the roasting process!

Medium roasts have a balanced flavor and acid content

Medium roasts tend to be the more popular and preferred option amongst coffee drinkers because of their balanced flavor and aroma.

To achieve a medium roast, coffee beans are roasted for a longer time and at a higher temperature than light roasts.

More moisture is lost during a medium roast, resulting in a less pungent flavor than a light roast.

Peruvian coffee beans.

Once the coffee beans have gotten to 420°F (215.6°C) or moments before the second crack, they’ve reached a medium roast and can be removed.

Some coffee roasters will remove the beans moments after the first crack or a little while before the second crack to prevent over-roasting the beans.

Medium roasts are the middle-ground of all the roast levels and have the perfect blend of characteristics from light and dark roasts!

Dark roasts have an intense and smoky flavor with lower acidity

I think dark roasts are for those who want to feel like they’re being sucker-punched awake because this roast level will make you feel like it’s doing precisely that!

Although light roasts can also be quite strong, dark roasts have a more bitter and slightly burnt flavor, and I wouldn’t recommend it to someone who’s only starting to get into coffee.

In my opinion, dark roasts are better suited for those with a well-seasoned palate for coffee.

Dark roasted coffee beans.

To achieve a dark roast, the coffee beans are roasted to 440°F (226.7°C) and removed as soon as the second crack occurs or a little while after.

Since dark-roasted coffee beans are left to roast for longer than the other levels, their flavor and scent are very distinct and perfect for those who need a significant energy boost!

Flavor profiles of light, medium, and dark roasts

Every roast level has a unique and distinct taste that people either love or hate.

The length of time the coffee beans are left to roast has a considerable impact on the flavor of the coffee, as the longer the beans are roasted, the more caramelized and oily they’ll be.

Light roast coffee has floral and fruity notes

Also known as New England or Light City, light roasts are for those who prefer coffee that is true to the beans’ original flavor.

Since light roasts are roasted for the least amount of time, coffee made with light-roasted beans tastes most like the coffee beans’ base characteristics.

Blonde and dark roasts compared with the same amount in grams,
Blonde roast on the left. Dark roast on the right

Some say that light roasts can even taste somewhat nutty and grainy and are an excellent choice for those who enjoy a mild-bodied cup of joe.

Medium roasts taste caramelized 

Since medium-roasted coffee beans are cooked for a little longer than light-roasted beans, these beans take on a more caramelized and sweet flavor.

Also known as a City Roast or American Roast, the general public typically prefers medium roasts because of their balanced notes that aren’t too overpowering.

Medium roasts contain characteristics from light and dark roasts, making it the perfect option for someone who wants a sweeter-tasting coffee that still packs a punch!

Dark roasts pack a robust and nutty flavor

Dark roasts are well-known for being the bitter and smoky variety of all the roasts. Some refer to it as New Orleans Roast or Italian Roast, and you can expect a heavy and bitter nutty flavor from a dark roast.

Since dark roasted coffee beans are left to cook the longest, the beans start taking on the flavor of the roasting, hence the smoky taste.

Medium roasted and dark roasted coffee beans next to each other.
Medium roast on the left. Dark roast on the right

Many people prefer to have dark roast as a cold brew, as the cold brewing process draws out a chocolatey flavor from the beans and is a lot less bitter.

If you’re wondering which roast is the best option, remember that it boils down to personal preference!

A great idea is to try all of them and then decide which one you like the best.

As mentioned earlier, medium roasts are probably the best option if you’re still new to drinking coffee, as it’s a perfect blend of flavors.

Health benefits of light, medium, and dark roasts

I’m certain all coffee lovers (myself included) will be pleased to know that drinking coffee actually has some health benefits!

Granted, you should consume it in moderation. Each roast level has something beneficial to offer, and I will share some of their benefits with you.

Light roasts are rich in antioxidants

Light-roasted coffee beans are packed with antioxidants, such as chlorogenic acid.

Chlorogenic acid (CGA) is a compound and natural antioxidant found in coffee beans and various fruits and vegetables.

CGA contains anti-inflammatory properties, can regulate blood sugar levels, and is anti-carcinogenic (counteracts and prevents cancer development). (Source)

Medium roasts are potent in chlorogenic acid

According to a recent study from NCBI, medium roasts are the highest in caffeine, while green coffee beans are the highest in CGA. Some other benefits of chlorogenic acid include:

  • Repairing cell damage
  • Fighting antibodies
  • Lowering cholesterol
  • Boosting energy levels

The quality of the coffee you use is essential, as conventional coffee brands use synthetic fertilizers and pesticides, which can rob the coffee beans of their health-beneficial properties.

Dark roasts are low in acidity, which reduces the chance of stomach ache

Many people report that drinking coffee has a negative effect on their tummies and causes stomach aches, but dark roasts may be a better option for those struggling with this problem.

If the tummy aches are linked to the acid content of the coffee, dark roasts are far less acidic than light and medium roasts and may do a better job at not upsetting your stomach!

Extra dark roasted coffee beans.
Extra dark roast coffee

Dark roasts also contain N-methyl pyridinium ions responsible for weight loss. So, for those on a weight-loss journey, dark roasts may be your best friend! (Source)

N-methyl pyridinium ions regulate glucose levels and stimulate the body, making dark roasts an excellent choice for anyone keeping an eye on their weight.

These ions also help reduce gastric acid production, so dark roasts tend to be easier on the stomach than lighter roasts. (Source)

Although the various roast levels are chock-full of antioxidants and health benefits, it’s important to remember that you can only reap these benefits if you consume coffee in moderation.

The FDA has cited 400 milligrams of caffeine a day as an amount not generally associated with dangerous, negative effects.

Drinking an extreme amount of coffee every day can do more harm than good and lead to issues such as:

  • Anxiety
  • Jitters
  • Restlessness
  • Insomnia
  • Headaches
  • High blood pressure

Final thoughts 

There are several reasons why coffee is such a popular beverage around the world.

Its versatility is something that is recognized and loved by many, so don’t be afraid to experiment with different types of roasts to find your favorite.

I hope this article has helped you understand the differences between the various roasts of coffee and how you can benefit from them!

If you’d like to try some delicious coffee recipes you can make at home, you can have a look below for some inspiration:

Coffee recipes to try

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