Food Business

What is the Difference Between Light and Dark Roast Coffee?

If you are a coffee drinker, chances are you have a favorite roast. Perhaps you enjoy the richness of a dark roast or maybe you like the subtle hint of flavor from a lighter roast. Perhaps your favorite coffee falls somewhat in the middle. It is possible that you drink coffee regularly, but still are not sure what the real difference is between a light and dark roast.

One of the most important factors that determines how coffee tastes is the degree that the coffee beans are roasted. Before coffee beans are roasted they are green, soft, and have little or no flavor. The roasting process changes these raw beans into the crunchy, flavorful, aromatic beans that we know as coffee. Whether you are buying coffee by the packet for your own consumption, or wholesale coffee for sale in your business, it is important to understand the different types of coffee that are available.

Some of the other factors that determine how coffee tastes includes the variety of coffee, the environment that it was grown in, the age, the grind, the processing method, and the brewing method that is used. The level of roast provides a rough baseline on the taste that can be expected.

Let’s take a closer look at the different levels of roasts and what you can expect from each.

Light Roasts

Light roast coffee will typically be a lighter brown in color and have no oil on the surface. A light roasted coffee bean will have a taste of toasted grain and a pronounced acidity. Light roast coffees typically have more caffeine than the darker roasts.

A light roasted coffee bean will typically have an internal temperature of 356 to 401 degrees F. At around 400 degrees F, the beans will crack or pop and start to expand in size. This is referred to as the first crack. Light roasted coffee is typically not roasted past this first crack.

Medium Roasts

A medium roasted coffee will have a medium brown color and a bit more body than a lighter roast. Similar to the light roasted coffee, there will be no oil located on the surface of the beans. However, a medium roast coffee does not have the grainy taste that is found in the light roast. Medium roast coffee tends to have a more balanced aroma, flavor, and acidity. The caffeine content is a bit lower than light roasts, but there is more than is found in the darker roasts.

Medium roasts will have an internal temperature that reaches between 410 to 428 degrees F from the end of the first crack to just the beginning of the second crack.

Medium Dark Roast

The medium dark roast coffee will be a richer and darker color. There is some oil that will start to show on the surface of the coffee beans at this stage. Medium- dark roasts have a heavier body when compared to the medium or lighter roasts.

The medium dark roast coffee beans are roasted until the start or middle of the second crack. This is at a temperature of between 437 to 446 degrees F. It is during this stage that the aromas and flavors of the roasting process are noticeable. The taste of medium roast coffee can be a bit spicy.

Dark Roasts

Dark roasted coffee beans will be dark brown or almost black in color. There is oil seen on the surface of the bean. This is evident in a cup of coffee that is brewed using dark roasted beans. The origin flavors of the coffee are taken over by the flavors from the roasting process. Dark roasted coffee will often have a smoky or bitter taste. It can also taste a bit burnt. The amount of caffeine in dark roast coffee is substantially less.

In order to reach the dark roast level the coffee beans will be roasted to have an internal temperature of around 464 degrees F. This is towards the end of the second crack and at times past it. Typically the beans will not be roasted past a temperature of 482 degrees F as this is where the body of the bean will become thin and the taste will be that of tar or charcoal.


This was a short guide to some of the common roasts of coffee that are found on the market. Here is a quick summary to use as a guide:

  • The darker the roast, the less of the origin flavors are shown and more flavors are gained from the roasting process
  • The body of the coffee will get heavier until it is roasted to the second crack. After the second crack the body will start to thin
  • There is more acidity in a lighter roast
  • Dark roasts have oil on the surface and lighter roasts do not
  • The darker the roast the less caffeine

When it comes down to it, the roast of the coffee is all about personal preference and what you enjoy.