We offer four (4) levels of roast for simplicity:
- Light roast
- Medium roast
- Dark roast
- Espresso roast
Most people will know whether they like a medium roast, dark roast or espresso roast and limiting the options keeps it simple for the majority of our customers.
Note that in the context of coffee roasts, an "espresso roast" doesn't mean it can only be used in espresso - it is simply our darkest roast. Many customers enjoy a very dark roasted (espresso roast) coffee in a traditional coffee brewer.
You can also use a medium roast in an espresso machine if you like.
Modern, sophisticated coffee roasters roast based on flavour profile, not colour. A "medium roast" for a colombian coffee is different from a kenyan coffee and is also different from a sumatran coffee.
Back in the stone-ages of coffee roasting, companies sold their coffees by colour with abstract names that had nothing to do with flavour. Some coffee roasters still use this system, and the lack of expertise shows in their poor flavours. Because we get asked frequently about equivalents, we've create a rough-equivalents of the roasts in the chart below.
We recommend that you try different roasts for each coffee rather than arbitrarily choosing one based on colour - you might be surprised!
City Roast: Also known as a Breakfast Roast, these are medium-roasted beans. They have some brightness and the sugars have caramelized further than in an American Roast. The bean itself is relatively dry, with none of the oils coming through the surface and it has little body.
Full City Roast
Medium / Dark Roast
Full City Roast: This roast looks like a medium brown coffee bean and is the most common roast. The length to which it is roasted brings out a true coffee flavour - caramelized coffee beans often with chocolatey hues, while still maintaining most of it's original characteristics. The beans are physically mostly dry, but some oils may show through, giving it a fuller body than the city roast.
Dark / Espresso Roast
Vienna Roast: Our Dark roast, some people refer to it as a Continental Roast, and it is typically quite a dark roast for true coffee - nearly ideal for Espresso. Deep-brown in colour, the oils are typically very apparent on the surface which gives it a full body. While it gives more of a mouth-feel than previous roasts, it does begin to lose some of the characteristics of the original bean.
French Roast: This is our Espresso roast - as dark brown as you can get without them being fully burnt. They're covered in the readily-available oils that make espresso such a delicious drink. Because the caffeine levels are so much lower than lighter roasts, amply-flavoured double-shots are common for those seeking their daily caffeine fix. The body of the coffee is most prevalent, usually overpowering the original characteristic of the beans itself. Sugars are fully caramelized at this point.
Italian Roast: Also known as charcoal. Only partially kidding - this roast is also known as a "Spanish Roast" and most beans are nearly indistinguishable from one another at this point. The burnt taste will overpower any of the coffee's original character, and you should be buying the cheapest beans possible at this level of roast because it won't make a difference in taste.
Here's another depiction of various roasting points:
Caffeine Levels in Roasted Coffee
It's worth noting that the darker you roast your coffee, the less caffeine it ultimately has. The roasting process not only caramelizes the sugars in the coffee beans, but also destroys some of the caffeine. While a dark roast or espresso roast might taste stronger with more flavour, it will have less caffeine than a medium roast.
Likewise, medium roasted coffees will have more caffeine while also preserving more of the natural flavour of the beans, which will help it distinguish one coffee from the next.
How much of a difference does this make? Ultimately, not much. According to studies, an espresso roast has 95% of the caffeine of a medium roast - that's only a 5% difference! Coffee roasts should be chosen based on how you like the flavour, not how much caffeine there is.
Home Coffee Roasting
Coffee Roasting is something that can be done at home by an enthusiast, but the results typically won't be the same as when done by a professional roaster. While all coffees start as green coffee beans, their composition is different from one country to another, and even regions and beans within a country can be different.
Because of the varying levels of minerals, nutrients, caffeine and other compounds (like chlorogenic acid), each bean will need to be roasted a little differently. A coffee roaster (like us!) will have roasted each bean hundreds or thousands of times, getting the process just right to bring out the full flavour of the bean.
All of the coffee beans we sell come directly from our own inventory - while we stand behind our roasted coffees because we're the producers (after having put our skills into it), we don't guarantee any results from the green coffee beans since we're only reselling - the results of roasting are entirely up to the roaster's abilities and experience.
If you'd like to launch a coffee business without diving into the complexities of roasting, we offer a private label coffee service.
The Roasting Process
Understanding the process the coffees go through while roasting will help you better roast coffee, bringing out more individual characteristics in the coffees themselves.
- Yellowing: The coffees will be relatively unchanged for the first few minutes, staying green then slowly changing to a yellow colour while emitting a sort of grassy smell.
- Steam: Once they hit the right temperature, they'll begin to steam as the internal moisture in the bean is released.
- First Crack: An almost fruity smell will emit from the bean's steam, and an audible crackling occurs as the roasting really begins. This is due to the sugars caramelizing and water escaping as the bean breaks apart, allowing the delicious flavouring oils to seep.
- First Roasted Stage: After the beans have cracked the first time, you're able to stop at any point depending on whether you want to taste the full characteristics of the coffee bean or bring out more caramel flavour. Stopping just after the first crack is roughly a city roast.
- Caramelization: As the oils countinue to break out of the bean, they'll cook or "caramelize" which will give you more of the coffee flavour. Somewhere between the first crack and second crack is known as City+, and just before the second crack is a Full City roast.
- Second Crack: The bean will crack again, and the darker flavours will begin to overtake the unique tastes of the beans themselves. This is somewhat more pronounced than the first, and putting the entire batch through a second crack might send pieces of beans flying, so be careful! A few cracks in puts you in Full City+ roast, and countinuing puts you at a Vienna roast.
- Darkening Roast: The sugars will be burning more than caramelizing at this point, and smoke will become stronger. Right near the end of the second cracks of the batch you'll hit the French Roast, which makes beans nearly indistinguishable from one another.
- Overdone: Mmmm charcoal.
Remember to have some sort of ventilation for the beans when you remove them, to ensure quick cooling to stop the roasting process. Also make sure they're agitated or moved around, so that they cool evenly.
Home Coffee Roasting Equipment
There's a couple options for home roasting, depending on your budget and how seriously you want to try it out. A hot air popcorn popper is probably a good starting point for any home roaster, with some models being better than others.
We don't supply any home coffee roasting equipment, but have had recommendations from customers for the following, in order:
- West Bend Poppery II
- West Bend Air Crazy
- Nostalgia Brand
- Toastess TCP-388
- Popcorn Pumper
Amazon is probably the easiest place to find these, but some can also be found at Wal-Mart, Bed Bath and Beyond or a local small appliance store.
Special thanks to SweetMaria's Sight Guide to Roasting for images.
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