Difference between Dark and Light Roast Coffee

Updated on April 25, 2017

Coffee lover or not, many of us do not know the difference between dark and light roast coffee. They say dark roast coffee contains a high amount of caffeine, while light roast does not contain a lot of caffeine. Is this true? This article will explore the difference between dark and light roast coffee.

Descriptions

Dark

Dark roast coffee is made by roasting coffee beans to a temperature of 464°F until the end of the “second crack” (“crack” is the popping sound the coffee beans make when exposed to heat). The coffee beans become dark brown or black and shiny because the oil breaks through the surface.

When the beans are exposed to high temperature, the molecules that carry the flavor are burnt away and the beans become less dense because the water content evaporates. This causes the beans to lose their original attributes; the original flavor of the coffee is muted and is overpowered by the burnt, bitter taste. This, however, is not always a bad thing since some coffee drinkers prefer this charred taste. Many coffee lovers drink dark roast coffee because it is aromatic, rich, bold, and smoky with a hint of floral or berry flavor, but some do not like it because it can be hard to tell the origin of the coffee when it is dark roasted.

Dark roast coffee goes by different names:

  • Full City
  • Italian
  • Viennese
  • High
  • Continental
  • New Orleans
  • European
  • Espresso
  • Spanish

On the other hand, light roasted coffee is made by roasting coffee beans to a temperature of 356°F – 401°F or until it reaches the “first crack.” In this stage, the coffee beans pop and expand. Light roasted coffee beans are light brown and dry since they are not exposed to heat long enough to cause the oil to surface.

Light roasted coffee is bright and light flavored, but highly acidic. Many people also say it has a complex taste: it can be sweet, fruity, tangy, or floral. Since it is not roasted for long periods of time, the beans retain their original characteristic and flavor, which vary depending on the origin of the coffee beans. In fact, some coffee experts prefer light roast coffee because it allows you to get the original taste of the coffee.

The other names for light roast coffee are:

  • Half City
  • New England
  • Cinnamon
  • Light City

Moreover, it is important to note that some types of coffee are best when lightly roasted (e.g. Ethiopian coffee) while others are best with heavily roasted (e.g. Sumatra coffee). Certain types of coffee may have undesirable tastes when they are not roasted the right way.

Dark vs Light Roast Coffee

What, then, is the difference between dark and light roast coffee?

One difference between the two is how they are made. Dark roast coffee is made by roasting the coffee beans to a temperature of 464°F until the end of the “second crack” while light roast coffee is made by roasting coffee beans to a temperature of 356°F – 401°F or until it reaches the “first crack.”

The texture, taste, and color are also different in dark and light roast coffee. In dark roast coffee, the beans become less dense, darker (deep brown to black), and oily. It is aromatic, bold, rich, and has an apparent bitter, burnt flavor. This distinct charred taste overpowers the original flavors of the beans. On the other hand, in light roast coffee, the beans are light brown and dry. The original flavor, which can be floral, tangy, sweet, or fruity, is dominant. Also, it is more acidic than dark roast coffee.

When shopping for coffee, keep in mind that dark roast coffee goes by different names such as Full City, Italian, Viennese, High, Continental, New Orleans. European, Espresso, and Spanish and light roast coffee goes by Half City, New England, Cinnamon, and Light City.

So, going back to the question in the beginning of this article. Does dark roast coffee contain more caffeine than light roast coffee? Remember that dark roasted beans expand and become less dense. If you measure the coffee using a scoop, you will have more light coffee beans than dark coffee beans in a scoop. This means that you get more caffeine from light roasted coffee. However, if you weigh your coffee (which is how it should be done anyway), the caffeine content per ounce is practically the same whether it is dark or light roast coffee.

Comparison Chart

Dark Roast CoffeeLight Roast Coffee
Made by roasting the beans to a temperature of 464°F until the “second crack”Made by roasting coffee beans to a temperature of 356°F – 401°F or until the “first crack”
Dark brown or black; oily surfaceLight brown; dry surface
Less dense; less acidicSmaller, denser beans; more acidic
Aromatic, rich, bold, and smoky with a hint of floral or berry flavorLight-bodied; has a complex flavor (floral, tangy, sweet, or fruity)
Charred taste overpowers the original flavor of the beans; it can be difficult to determine the origin of the beansThe original flavor is retained
Also known as Full City, Italian, Viennese, High, Continental, New Orleans. European, Espresso, and SpanishAlso called Half City, New England, Cinnamon, and Light City