Knowing Your Coffee Roasts

Do you get confused when hearing about different styles of roast coffee? Many people grind their beans themselves, to ensure a fresh and flavourful cup of coffee. But not as many people roast their own. Whether you are a home-roaster or not, knowing the different roast levels and their taste characteristics can be helpful when purchasing coffee.

In general, lighter roasts are sharper and more acidic than darker roasts. Darker roasts have a fuller flavour. Beans that have been over-roasted will take on a burned, smoky or charcoal flavour. Also, there is less caffeine in the darker roasted coffees than in the lighter ones. The roast alone doesn't determine the resulting coffee taste or quality. The origin of the beans makes a big difference. A bean from Ethiopia will taste differently than a bean from India, even if they are both French roast.

What exactly does roasting do? The sugars, fats and starches that are within the bean are emulsified, caramelized and released. This creates the delicate coffee oil. This oil is what gives coffee its distinctive aroma and taste.

These are the basic roasting classifications used by professionals to designate the darkness of roasts. Many are used interchangeably, so be careful.

 Light    Cinnamon, New England, Light, Breakfast Cinnamon: The bean is light brown, and dry (no oil visible). The flavour is baked or "bready", like toasted grain. There will likely be definite sour tones. There is not much body in cinnamon roasted coffee.
New England: A term not as frequently used as the others, though this roast is apparently common in the eastern United States. It's a little darker than the cinnamon roast, but without the grainy flavour. New England roast will still have some sour tones to it.


American, Medium Brown, City, Brown

American, Light: Medium light brown beans. This roast is the norm for eastern USA. This roast (and sometimes cinnamon as well) is the most often used for cupping or professional tasting.


City, Medium: The colour is darker still, more of a medium brown (think chocolate). This roast is common in the western parts of the USA. This roast is a good choice to taste the differences between varietals.

Medium Dark

Full City, Vienna, Velvet

Full City: Medium dark brown beans. The beans will start to show some oily drops on the surface with this roast. Full City will have caramel or chocolate undertones.


Italian, Espresso, European

Italian, French, Espresso: Beans are starting to get dark brown, and French roasted beans are shiny with oil. There is less acidity, but with burned undertones. This roast is often used when making Espresso. Many people think this is the darkest roast available, but that's not true.


Espresso, Italian, Continental

French, Italian, Dark French: Similar to regular French, but more darker and oilier looking, and with a stronger flavour.

Very Dark

French, Dark French, Spanish

Spanish: Darkest roast of all. Colour is nearly black, beans are extremely oily.