Is the roast level (dark, medium, light) just a personal preference?

Is the roast level (dark, medium, light) just a personal preference?

Is the roast level (dark, medium, light) just a personal preference?

Coffee, the beloved beverage that fuels millions of people worldwide, is far more complex than many realise. One of the most crucial factors in determining a coffee's flavour profile is its roast level. But is choosing between dark, medium, and light roasts merely a matter of personal taste, or is there a science behind finding the perfect roast for each bean? 

What is meant by roast level in coffee? 

Before we dive into the nuances of roasting, it's essential to understand what roast level is in coffee. The roast level refers to the degree to which coffee beans are roasted, typically categorised as light, medium, or dark. Each level imparts distinct characteristics to the coffee:

Light Roast 

Medium Roast 

Dark Roast 

  • These beans are light brown and have no oil on the surface. 
  • They tend to retain more of the bean's original flavours, often described as bright, acidic, and complex. 
  • Light roasts typically have the highest caffeine content and are favoured for single-origin coffees to highlight unique bean characteristics. 
  • Common light roasts include Cinnamon Roast and New England Roast. 
  • They're often preferred for pour-over and drip brewing methods.
  • Slightly darker than light roasts, these beans have a balanced flavour, aroma, and acidity. 
  • They often exhibit a fuller body compared to light roasts. 
  • Medium roasts are versatile and popular, offering a mix of the bean's original flavours and roasting-induced tastes. 
  • They're suitable for various brewing methods, from drip coffee to espresso. 
  • Common names include American Roast, City Roast, and Breakfast Roast.
  • These beans are dark brown to almost black and have an oily surface. 
  • They typically have a bold, rich flavour with lower acidity and often feature notes of chocolate or caramel. 
  • Dark roasts have less caffeine than lighter roasts and tend to mask the bean's origin flavours, emphasising the roast character instead. 
  • They're often used for espresso blends and cold brew. 
  • Popular dark roasts include French Roast, Italian Roast, and Spanish Roast. 
  • These are ideal for milk-based coffee drinks due to their strong flavour that cuts through milk.

The Importance of Roasting

Roasting is a crucial step in coffee production that transforms the raw, green coffee beans into the aromatic brown beans we're familiar with. This process is vital for several reasons:

  • Flavour Development: Roasting triggers complex chemical reactions within the beans, developing the characteristic flavours and aromas we associate with coffee.
  • Caramelisation: As the beans are heated, their natural sugars caramelise, contributing to the coffee's sweetness and body.
  • Maillard Reaction: This chemical reaction between amino acids and sugars produces hundreds of flavour compounds, adding depth and complexity to the coffee's taste.
  • Moisture Reduction: Roasting reduces the moisture content in the beans, making them suitable for grinding and brewing.
  • Physical Changes: The beans expand and change colour during roasting, affecting their density and solubility, which impacts extraction during brewing.

The Science of Roasting: More Than Preference

While personal preference certainly plays a role in choosing a roast level, there's a strong argument that each type of bean has an optimal roast level that best showcases its inherent qualities. This is where the art and science of coffee roasting intersect.

Bean Origin and Characteristics

Bean Type


Ideal Roast Level


Additional Notes

High-altitude Beans

• High acidity

• Complex flavour note

• Often floral or tinge of citrus

Light to Medium-Light

• Ethiopian Yirgacheffe.

• Kenyan AA.z

• Colombian Supremo

• Grown above 1,200 metres.

• Slower maturation leads to denser beans.

• Often handpicked for quality

Low-altitude Beans

• Lower acidity

• Full body

• Nutty or chocolatey notes

Medium-Dark to Dark

• Brazilian Santos.

• Sumatra Mandheling.

• Vietnam Robusta

• Grown below 1,200 metres.

• Faster maturation.

• Often machine-harvested

Naturally Processed Beans

• Fruity, wine-like flavours

• Complex, sometimes fermented notes.

• Higher sweetness


• Ethiopian Sidamo Natural.

• Brazil Natural Bourbon.

• Yemen Mocha

• Dried with fruit intact.

• Longer processing time.

• Can be inconsistent in flavour

Washed Processed Beans

• Clean, bright flavours.

• Higher acidity.

• More consistent taste

Light to Medium

• Costa Rican Tarrazu.

• Guatemalan Antigua.

• Kenyan Peaberry

• Fruit removed before drying.

• More common in regions with reliable water sources.

• Often considered ‘purer’ in flavour

Honey Processed Beans

• Balanced sweetness.

• Subtle fruit notes.

• Creamy body

Medium to Medium-Dark

• Costa Rica Honey.

• El Salvador Honey Process.

• Brazil Pulped Natural

• Some mucilage left on during drying.

• Combines aspects of natural and washed processing.

• Increasingly popular in specialty coffee

Environmental Factors and Roasting

The environment in which coffee grows significantly impacts its ideal roasting level. Several factors come into play:

  1. Altitude: Beans grown at higher altitudes tend to be denser and more complex in flavour. They often require longer roasting times but at lower temperatures to fully develop their flavours.
  2. Soil Composition: The minerals and nutrients in the soil affect the bean's density and flavour compounds. Beans from volcanic soils, for instance, may have unique characteristics that influence their optimal roast level.
  3. Climate: Rainfall patterns and temperature variations during the growing season impact bean development. Beans from regions with distinct wet and dry seasons may require different roasting approaches compared to those from areas with more consistent climates.
  4. Sunlight Exposure: The amount of sunlight coffee plants receive affects the development of sugars and other compounds in the beans, which in turn influences how they respond to different roast levels.

Roasting Methods and Their Impact

The method used for roasting can significantly affect the final product, even when aiming for the same roast level. Different roasting techniques can produce varied results:

Caffeine Levels in Coffee Roasts

 A cup of brewed coffee (around 8oz) typically contains between 80 mg and 180mg of caffeine, with an average of around 95mg


Caffeine (mg per cup)

Light Roast

179 mg

Medium Roast

176 mg

Dark Roast



The Perfect Blend and Flavour

Roasting different beans to their optimal levels is crucial for creating the perfect blend. Master roasters often combine beans with complementary characteristics, roasted to different levels, to achieve a balanced and complex flavour profile. Here's why this approach is important:

  1. Flavour Balance: By combining beans with different flavour notes, roasters can create a well-rounded taste experience. For example, pairing a bright, acidic light roast with a full-bodied dark roast can result in a balanced blend.
  2. Aroma Complexity: Different roast levels contribute to various aromatic compounds. A blend of roasts can create a more complex and interesting aroma profile.
  3. Texture and Mouthfeel: Combining different roast levels can enhance the overall mouthfeel of the coffee, balancing brightness and body.
  4. Seasonal Adaptability: Roasters can adjust their blends throughout the year to account for seasonal variations in bean quality and availability.
  5. Customer Satisfaction: By offering blends that incorporate multiple roast levels, roasters can cater to a wider range of taste preferences.

The Art of Roasting: Skill and Experience

The art of coffee roasting requires a combination of skill, experience, and intuition. Experienced roasters develop a keen ability to read the beans, relying on their senses of sight, sound, and smell to judge the progress of a roast and make precise adjustments as needed.

This sensory acuity is coupled with a deep understanding of heat application, knowing exactly when to increase or decrease heat to develop the desired flavour profile. The complex relationship between time and temperature during the roasting process demands careful management to achieve optimal results, with even small variations potentially leading to significant changes in the final product. 

Skilled roasters also cultivate the ability to anticipate how different beans will respond to various roasting profiles, allowing them to adjust their approach proactively based on the specific characteristics of each batch. 

Perhaps most importantly, the best roasters maintain a spirit of innovation and experimentation, constantly exploring new techniques and pushing the boundaries of what's possible with different beans and roasting methods. 

This combination of sensory skill, technical knowledge, predictive ability, and creative exploration is what sets apart truly exceptional coffee roasters and contributes to the ongoing evolution of the craft.

The Intersection of Science and Preference

Coffee roasting is a complex interplay of science and art, transcending mere personal preference. Each bean's unique characteristics, influenced by its growing environment and processing methods, require specific roasting approaches to shine. Roasters blend science and creativity to craft balanced flavour profiles, appealing to diverse palates. 

For enthusiasts, understanding these complexities deepens appreciation and encourages exploration beyond simple roast categories. While individual taste remains important, knowledge of roasting intricacies enhances the coffee experience, leading to more informed choices and new discoveries. As coffee science and technology advance, the journey to find the perfect roast continues, promising exciting developments in flavour and aroma.

Choose Coffee Collective today!

Embark on a flavourful journey through the world of coffee!  Coffee Collective invites you to explore our extensive range of expertly roasted beans from around the globe. From light and bright to dark and bold, there's a perfect roast waiting for you. Don't miss out on our latest offerings and exclusive insights – subscribe to our newsletter for regular updates on new arrivals, brewing tips, and special promotions. Have questions or seek personalised recommendations? Our team of coffee experts is just a message away. Contact us today to discover your next favourite brew. Your perfect cup awaits!

Author Bio
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Author Bio

I'm Laura, the founder and owner of Coffee Collective UK Ltd. My journey began with a simple yet profound love for coffee - I mean, I really love coffee. My day doesn't truly begin until I've savoured my first latte. This passion led me to create Coffee Collective UK Ltd., a place where fellow coffee enthusiasts can find their perfect brew.

At Coffee Collective, I believe that every coffee lover deserves a personalised experience. That's why I partner with a renowned UK roastery to ensure each bean is roasted to perfection and ground to match every customer's unique preference. Whether you like your coffee bold and strong, or smooth and mellow, I've got you covered.

My mission is to share the joy and versatility of this wonderful bean with everyone who walks through our doors. From the first sip of the morning to the last cup of the day, I aim to make every coffee moment special. So, come join me on this delightful journey and discover the magic of coffee crafted just for you.