Dark Roast vs. Medium Roast: What’s The Difference?
By The Glam Café’ 4-6-21
Whenever someone asks what type of coffee you like, the only correct answer is, "The one with the caffeine. I mean what other kind is there would be my response" But of course I know that different types of coffee—light, medium and dark roasts—attract different types of people. Everyone has their preference but your preference may have you missing out on the other great tasting roasts that are out there.
See, the roasting process takes the same coffee beans and, depending on how long you roast them, makes them taste completely different in the mug. Here's how that magic happens, plus how the taste and strength vary in light roast vs. medium roast vs. dark roast. I’m going to also share something with you about caffeine content that will likely blow your mind.
THE SECRET ART OF ROASTING AND CRACK(ING)
You might know nothing about roasting, and most people don’t even really care, all we care about is the liquid lifeline getting into our mugs 😂 but you can sound like a pro (and understand the difference between light and dark roast) if you can just remember the Three-Crack Rule. This won't make any sense now, but it will in a moment.
The roasting process helps coffee beans become what we think of as “coffee beans.” It's when you take raw or green coffee beans and expose them to heat. This process removes moisture from the bean and also changes the color, aroma and flavor of the green coffee beans into something you'd actually want to make a drink with.
Roasters are artists in my opinion. It takes skill—and trial and error—to determine exactly when to remove coffee beans in order to achieve the desired result in a cup of coffee.
As coffee beans slowly heat up, the flavors and acidity begin to change, and the color begins to brown as the sugars and amino acids in the beans react together. Eventually, typically somewhere around 350 degrees Fahrenheit, the beans go through the first crack. As the name implies, the beans expand to the point where you can hear them crack. You could remove the beans now and have light roast coffee beans (Sidenote this is where the bean has the most CAFFEINE, yeah I know shocking. You would think the darker the roast the more caffeine but nope 😱). Or you can keep heating them and allow the body and heavier flavors of your future coffee to build. When the temperature climbs to about 440 to 450 degrees Fahrenheit, the beans crack again. This second crack releases oils to the surface of the beans.
You don't want to roast coffee beans much beyond the second crack. Unless you want a mugful of charcoal-tasting liquid.
THE FIRST CRACK: LIGHT COLOR + HIGH ACID
If you remove coffee beans right after the first crack, you have light roast beans. It doesn't take a genius to figure out that these beans have a light brown color. When brewed, lighter roasts are, well, light. They have little or no oil and a thin body. Some might consider them watery. The flavor is delicate yet complex. It's often described as some mix of fruity, citrus, sweetness, and floral hints.
THE SECOND CRACK: MEDIUM COLOR + BALANCED FLAVOR
Medium roast beans are removed from heat right before the second crack. The additional exposure to heat causes the beans to develop a toasty flavor and a brown color. Medium roast coffee has a little more heft than lighter roasts but usually minimal or no oil. It's less acidic than a light roast, but it maintains some acidity. Most people describe medium roast as “balanced.” It has a balanced flavor, aroma, and acidity. But don't let that fool you. When roasted correctly, medium roast's flavor isn't flat; instead, it's complex. In one sip of Colombia Supremo Coffee, you might notice notes of stone fruit. In the next, hints of caramel and roasted peanuts come through. And the finish? Delicious, smooth, give-me-more dark chocolate.
THE 2+ CRACK: DARKER COLOR + INCREASED BODY
Medium-dark roast coffee beans are removed right at or after the second crack. The coffee beans are a darker brown color and have some oil on the surface. They have less acidity but more body than lighter roasts. A cup of coffee made with medium-dark roast beans is spicy with notes of caramel and chocolate. You might notice some smokiness and a bittersweet tang.
THE THIRD CRACK: DARKEST COLOR + BOLD, BOLD, BOLD
Finally, the good stuff! Dark roast coffee beans are roasted until after the second crack. This takes finesse because if you roast too much longer, your coffee will taste like tar. As you can likely guess by now, the beans have a dark brown (or almost black) color. And since they've gone through both the first and second crack, they're also oily. Dark roast has the heaviest body and lowest acidity of coffee roasts. Dark roast coffee is rich and bold—you'll taste smokiness, some bitterness, toast, and chocolate.
So as you can probably tell the longer the roasting period the more body or heaviness the coffee will have. No matter which roasting method used all of it tastes good to me, and I hope you will try something that is outside of your preference.