Last updated on April 19th, 2023 by Garret Jacob
If you are a habitual coffee drinker but still get confused about the differences between light vs dark roast coffee, you are not alone.
In fact, many people who say they drink coffee every day also may mistakenly think that dark roast coffee has more caffeine because it has a bolder flavor.
That simply is not true. In fact, the opposite is true.
Light roast coffee actually contains more caffeine than dark roast coffee because the beans are roasted for less time. When you roast coffee beans for less time and at a lower temperature more of the original flavor and caffeine content is retained in the bean.
Aside from this common misconception about the caffeine levels of light roast and dark roast coffee, there are a few other differences that you may want to be aware of before you order your next cup of coffee or before picking out a bag of coffee beans at the grocery store.
Let’s break down some of the main differences between light roast and dark roast coffee.
What is light roast coffee?
Light roast coffee is a type of coffee where green coffee beans are roasted for a shorter period of time and at a lower temperature. Typically, light-roast coffee beans are roasted until they reach a temperature between 385 and 410 degrees Fahrenheit.
The coffee roaster will know once the beans reach the 385-degree threshold because the beans will start to pop and make cracking noises. Once the beans make their first cracking noises, roasting is halted and the beans are considered lightly roasted.
Since light-roast coffee beans are not roasted as long, the beans are known to better retain their moisture, caffeine content, and acidity, while maintaining more of the original flavor of the beans.
Light roast coffee beans can be identified by their light brown color, lack of oil on the surface, and their density.
Also, something you may not see as often is white coffee which is an even lighter roasted version of green coffee.
What is dark roast coffee?
Dark roast coffee is a type of coffee where green coffee beans are roasted for a longer period of time and at a higher temperature. Typically, dark-roast coffee beans are roasted until they reach a temperature between 430 and 440 degrees Fahrenheit.
When the coffee beans reach this temperature range, they will crack once more. This second cracking noise signifies that the coffee beans are in the dark roast stage and all roasting is halted.
If the coffee roaster continues roasting the coffee beans past this point and the coffee beans reach a temperature of 465 degrees or higher, then all the flavor of the coffee could be removed and the result is a nasty charcoal taste.
Dark roast coffee loses more moisture than light roast coffee and more of the original coffee flavor is lost in the roasting process. On the other hand, dark roast coffee has a more caramelized, bold, and smoky taste that creates a strong, full-bodied cup of coffee that is less acidic, less caffeinated, and for some, easier on the stomach.
Dark roast coffee beans can be identified by their dark brown or blackish color, oily surface, and lighter weight.
Which is better, light or dark roast coffee?
When comparing light roast and dark roast side-by-side, it is much easier to taste the differences between the two and decide which one you prefer.
When you first sip the light roast, you may notice a crisp and acidic floral or fruity flavor to the coffee that seems light on the tongue. With the dark roast, the first sip brings a heavier, bolder, and often, smoky, chocolaty, or nutty flavor.
After the coffee has entered your body, the light roast blend may feel a little harsher on your stomach if you are sensitive. This is caused by the higher acidity and caffeine levels that come with light-roast coffee beans. The dark roast may be a little more smooth on the stomach and it will give you a much milder jolt of caffeine than the light roast.
However, the exception is if you are drinking espresso shots rather than sipping on a drip coffee. Taking a shot of espresso is a much more concentrated form of coffee that can give you a quick powerful jolt of caffeine, feel a little harsh on the stomach, and stimulate the digestive tract.
When it comes to whether light roast or dark roast is better, it really depends on your preference. However, as a general rule, many baristas claim that light roast is best for drip or pour-over coffee drinks whereas dark roast is better for espresso drinks like cappuccinos, lattes, and mochas.
Light vs dark roast coffee side-by-side comparison
|Light roast||Dark roast|
|Caffeine||higher caffeine content||lower caffeine content|
|Taste||maintains more of the original coffee flavor which can be more floral, fruity, or earthy||burns off some of the original coffee flavors and replaces them with caramelized smokey, nutty, and chocolaty tones|
|Health||higher amount of antioxidants, helps aid digestion, and contains lower levels of acrylamide||less caffeine, many anti-inflammatory properties, poses less risk of dental erosion from acidity|
|Antioxidants||retains more antioxidants due to shorter roasting time||less antioxidants due to longer roasting time|
|Flavor||tastes lighter, crisper, fresher, and more like the original coffee plant||tastes bolder and stronger and it can contain hints of chocolate, smoke, or nuts|
|Acidity||much higher level of acidity; good for those looking for digestive relief||much lower level of acidity; good for people with sensitive stomachs|
Light vs medium vs dark roast coffee
With all of this talk about light roast coffee versus dark roast coffee, what about medium roast?
Medium roast coffee is actually an incredibly popular choice for many coffee enthusiasts because it finds the perfect balance between light roast and dark roast coffee. Medium roast coffee is versatile because it can be used for anything from making espresso drinks like Americanos, lattes, and macchiatos, or it can be used in a French press or standard 12-cup drip coffee maker.
When it comes to flavor, medium roast strikes a balance between being not as acidic as a light roast and not as bitter as a dark roast. Medium roast also maintains more of the natural coffee flavors of the bean with a well-rounded flavor balanced out with hints of caramel, chocolate, or smoke.
Hope this was helpful. Now that you have the perfect roast for you, be sure to match it up with a great machine to get the best brew!
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Garret is a content writer who has written thousands of articles on hundreds of subjects, all with the help of his favorite Peruvian blends of coffee grown near his home, a few hours from Machu Picchu. When he’s not sipping his cup of joe or writing content, he enjoys hiking in the mountains, camping with friends, and enjoying a cold beer around a fire beneath a star-lit night.