Roast Style and Flavor

There are many factors affecting the flavor of your coffee. Naturally, the origin of the bean and the care with which it has been treated will affect the coffee in your cup, and so will the color of the bean. Roasting has a big impact on the flavor of coffee.

Unroasted coffee starts as a green bean, and how dark it's roasted will affect the flavor characteristics. Knowledge of how coffee flavor is affected by roast style goes a long way to understanding how pale or dark a bean will taste when ground and brewed.

Introduction to Roast Style

Across the many coffee-drinking parts of the world, people have developed their own preferences for roast style. Roast style has a big impact on the flavor of a coffee, so it is important to understand. Not only can you expect certain flavor characteristics depending on the roast style, but coffees of different origins will be better suited to some roast styles over others. Plenty to debate.

Starbucks has popularized the dark roast that you will find in most of the coffee that they sell. In fact, this is a part of their culture. It isn't popular with everybody, so although most of us have a Starbucks store nearby, you may not be enjoying the beans of some origins as much as you could if they weren't roasted so dark.

Putting it Together

Here, we'll cover the different roast styles and the impact that it will have on the flavor of the coffee in your cup. Learning this will also help you understand where some coffee names come from. For instance, you'll learn why Viennese coffee has nothing to do with the origin of the bean, but rather the roast style made popular by centuries of coffee drinkers in Vienna.

Coffee Color Guide

Below is a guide to show you the level of brown color that you should associate with this roast style. This is a simulated level of roast with a real bean, but use the spectrum below as a guideline only.

Roast affecting Flavor

Below is a guide explaining how roast style affects the flavor characteristics of a coffee bean. It is suggested that you learn your Coffee Taste Terms. Even more important is that much of a coffee's flavor is determined by its origin, but even that is affected by roast style. While you are familiarizing yourself with Coffees of the World, what follows will help you understand how the characteristics of that bean's origin are affected by roast style.

Cinnamon Roast

This should not be confused with cinnamon as a flavor additive to coffee. Rather, it speaks to the resemblence of this roast style to the color of the spice. Lighter than this and the flavor oils contained at the center of the unroasted bean have not even had the time to emerge to the surface and be enjoyed in the brew. A coffee bean this pale is usually associated with a 'rushed' commercial bean job where coffee is being mass-produced.

  • Acidity: Increased. Acidity "burns" off of the bean as it is roasted so a bean this pale will retain much of its original acidity.
  • Body: Weak. Body -or mouthfeel or richness or the thickness of the coffee- develops as the bean is roasted. At this pale a roast, expect a very thin, weak consistency.
  • Aroma: Decreased. Your sense of smell that adds to the four basic tastes will not pick up much additional flavor here, as what connaisseurs describe as floral, earthy, etc. The bean, in fact, has not been roasted enough to develop sufficient aroma.
  • Complexity: Decreased. The flavor oils captured in the center of a coffee bean can contain a myriad of varied coffee tastes. In a roast this pale, those oils have not had sufficient opportunity to develop the full potential of their flavor. For coffee drinkers looking for a simpler complexity, this is not a fault.

Light Roast

Also called New England roast after the region of the United States that made this roast style popular.

  • Acidity: PEAK. This is the peak of a bean's natural acidity depending on its origin. From this point, the roasting process will begin to burn acidity out of the bean, leading to an acrid flavor known to connaisseurs as pungency.
  • Body: Decreased. However, richer in consistency than a lighter roast. Body is starting to develop as the bean is roasted.
  • Aroma: Increased.However, more developed than in a lighter roast. The bean's natural ability to complement the sense of taste with flavor characteristics picked up by the sense of smell is being developed in a darker roast.
  • Complexity: Increased. However, flavor oils captured in the center of a coffee bean have made more of their way to the surface of the bean, releasing the bean's naturally complex coffee flavor.

Light-Medium Roast

Also called American or Regular roast, this has become the most pale traditional coffee popular in North America. You can find commercial beans roasted a lot darker than this, but coffee's biggest following will go as pale as this.

  • Acidity: Increased. From here, acidity is being roasted right out of the bean. At this point, its replacing pungency is not yet developed, so you will still get a nice, bright coffee flavor.
  • Body: Increased. Richer in consistency than a lighter roast.
  • Aroma: Increased. More developed than in a lighter roast.
  • Complexity: PEAK. Flavor oils captured in the center of a coffee bean have made more of their way to the surface of the bean, releasing the bean's naturally complex coffee flavor.

Medium Roast

Also called Regular City roast, this is also a popular and common roast style in North America.

  • Acidity: Increased. From here, acidity is being roasted right out of the bean and replaced by a pungent or acrid flavor loved by fans of dark roasts.
  • Body: Increased. Richer in consistency than a lighter roast.
  • Aroma: PEAK. This is the point that a coffee's aroma is maximum, after which it will start to burn off of the bean as the bean continues to be roasted.
  • Complexity: PEAK. All of a coffee's flavor potential is realized.

Full City Roast

Also called Viennese roast, Light French roast, or Light Espresso Roast.

  • Acidity: Decreased. The tart or high notes of coffee are now being roasted out of the bean, replaced by pungency.
  • Body: PEAK. This will lead to a thicker consistency in the cup.
  • Aroma: PEAK.
  • Complexity: Increased. From here, some of the coffee's complexity in flavor will be lost as it is burned off of the bean by excessive roasting. This complexity is not generally desired in a cup of espresso, so for those drinkers, nothing important is lost.

Espresso Roast

Also called French roast, Continental roast, or Light Italian Roast.

  • Acidity: Weak. Almost completely burned off of the coffee bean, and replaced by a strong pungency that espresso drinkers love.
  • Body: PEAK.
  • Aroma: Increased. From here, there will be less and less for your sense of smell to pick up and add to the flavor experience. At this roast style however, there is still plenty of aroma to enjoy.
  • Complexity: Increased.