The Difference in Coffee Roasts
French, dark, light, green, medium-dark, medium, and about a hundred other names are given to the different roasts of coffee. Each of them is a measure of how hot and how long a coffee bean has been roasted or subjected to heat.
All coffee beans start inside a small berry. In the middle of the berry is a seed or bean. This is the coffee bean that we are all familiar with. First, the fruit portion is dried and taken off of the bean.
The bean at that point is green. In fact, from a distance, the look like a half of a pea. They will range in color from a bright green to a greenish-brown. While you can make coffee from them, it will not be what you are used to. It will have a relatively weak flavor, but it will be filled with anti-oxidants and caffeine.
This is the bean that is put into the roaster. While there are many different styles of roasters, the basic idea is the same. A coffee roaster heats up the beans while the beans are stirred, either by hand or mechanically. Of course, you can roast coffee beans over a fire, in a skillet and stir it with a spatula.
Modern coffee roasters are more like giant dryers that take the green beans, heat them and roll them in a drum. At large coffee roasters, this happens in a roaster the size of a small house and is all run by computer. At small, custom roasters, like Blackwelder Coffee, the coffee is watched over by master roaster and is guided with experience and keen eye. How long and how hot the beans are roasted will created the different flavors.
These are beans that have not been roasted long and not too hot. “Not too hot” is relative, since the internal temperature of the beans will reach between 356° and 401° Fahrenheit. At this temperature, the beans will pop and expand in size. This is call the “first crack.” (Bet you can guess: There is a second crack ahead.) Light roasts have no oil on the outside and tend to have a lighter, less acidic flavor. They are also higher in caffeine content.
Medium brown in color, these roasts will tend to lose the “grassy” taste the light roasts have. Here the temperature is 410° to 428° F. (You can see from these numbers that the process is precise. It is also all about timing.) These are often labeled Regular Roast, Breakfast Roast, or American Roast.
Here there is a bit of oil beginning to show. These coffees tend to taste more robust, with a decent hint of acid. At 437° to 446° F, the bean will begin the second crack. These beans will be roasted to the beginning or middle of the second crack.
These beans will have a sheen of oil and will be dark brown to black in color. They are roasted to 464° F. Beyond that, the coffee will take on a charcoal or tar flavor. These roasts are known as Espresso Roast, Italian Roast, Spanish Roast, or French Roast. These beans have the lowest caffeine content, but since they are often brewed to be very thick, people tend to feel it more.
While this is general guide to roasts, every roaster will have their own methods and origin coffee. These will affect the flavors and create as unique a beverage as if were created by a master vintner.