Debunking the Myth of the Dark Roast April 08, 2014


When customers come into Red Whale Coffee and ask for a dark roast coffee, we often respond with one question:  “What do you like about a dark roast?”

Surprised by this question, customers naturally assume that a dark roast coffee will provide a fuller bean flavor and a better cup of coffee. In reality, what most people misunderstand is the relationship between the flavor of the coffee and the degree to which the coffee bean is roasted.  A full body coffee does not necessarily have to be dark roasted, and a dark roast can sometimes disguise the natural flavor of the bean.

People choose coffee based upon taste, flavor and aroma. Understanding how the roasting process affects the taste of the coffee may affect your choice the next time you order a cup of coffee.

Light, Medium or Dark Roast?

The taste of the coffee bean consists of a variety of factors, including the age of coffee, the environment in which the beans are grown, and the method for grinding, processing, and brewing the bean. But the degree to which a bean is roasted provides the best guideline for how the coffee is going to taste.  The most popular, but probably the least accurate, method of determining the degree of roast is to judge the bean's color by eye. Scientifically, as the beans absorb heat, the color shifts from green to golden and then to increasingly darker shades of brown. During the later stages of roasting, as the beans darken, oils may start to show. The roast will continue to darken until it is removed from the heat source. Beans will also darken as they age, making color alone a poor roast determinant.

Beans have specific characteristics and profiles based upon a variety of organic factors and the different degrees of roast alter those features. Many roasters use a combination of bean mass temperature, smell, color, and sound to monitor the roasting process.

The goal in roasting a bean is to maintain its natural profile and accentuate its taste rather than depleting the bean through the roast, of its natural flavors. With a lighter roast, the bean will exhibit more of it’s "origin flavor:" the natural flavors created in the bean by its variety, the soil, altitude, and weather conditions in the location where it was grown.  As the beans darken to a deep brown, the origin flavors of the bean are eclipsed by the flavors created by the roasting process itself. At darker roasts, the "roast flavor" is so dominant that it can be difficult to distinguish the origin of the beans used in the roast.

Characteristics of a Light to Medium Roast Coffee:

  • Origin flavor of the bean is easily identified
  • Original characteristics of beans remain intact
  • High acidity
  • Beans become very bright and light brown in color
  • Higher levels of caffeine

Characteristics of a Medium Roast Coffee:

  • Origin flavor of the bean is less distinguished
  • Balance of acidity, bitterness, fullness
  • Beans become medium brown in color
  • Caffeine level decreases somewhat

Characteristics of a Dark Roast Coffee:

  • Bean flavor starts to lose origin distinction
  • Flavor eclipsed by the roasting process
  • Loss of brightness among beans
  • Increase in bitterness
  • Beans become dark brown in color
  • Caffeine levels drop

How is a Coffee Drinker to Decide?

Well, if you’re in the area you should stop by our location in San Rafael (Marin County) for a tasting!

To decide what coffee to order, consider explaining what flavors you prefer.  Use terms such as rich, nutty, full-bodied, crisp, and bright to improve the chances you will get the taste you want instead of asking for a coffee by the degree it was roasted.

When you share your coffee preferences with us at Red Whale Coffee, we can help you pick an amazing coffee.  Whether your preference is full-bodied or something more fruity, we want to make sure you always have great coffee in your life.  Please do not hesitate to email us or call (855) 906- 6277 with questions or comments. 

All of our coffees can be found, by region: Shop Red Whale Coffees by Region.