Although there should be an industry standard for roast types, there is not. Well, not really. Most coffee professionals will tell you there is but there isn’t. There is more a set of ‘guidelines’ rather than standards because every roaster I have met on earth, including myself has a different view of what coffee beans in a light, dark and everything in between are. I like to use these ‘guidelines’ loosely anyway. It’s more up to interpretation than anything else.
When customers tell me they want a light roast, I know they mean more towards a medium because that is the American preference. That is how most of the store brands are roasted. Most of the coffee chains do the same thing (except one big green one that burns 99.9% of their coffee). It has been my experience that most people are after what tastes best, regardless of the roast. When I hear ‘that coffee’s too strong’ my reply is, ‘use less of it.’ When I hear ‘that coffee is too weak’, my reply is ‘use more of it.’
I have been asked what coffee beans of mine are dark roasted. I always follow that question up with another question: “What are you looking for in your coffee profile? Do you like your coffee bitter?” The answer is always “bitter? no, I like it strong.” That brought me to a revelation many years ago: I believe that when someone asks for a ‘dark roast’ what they are really looking for is a bold, full flavor and great tasting coffee. Something strong, and certainly not bitter or not flat like most dark roast coffees tend to be. After all, to get a dark roast coffee it has to be roasted longer. This means that more of the wonderful flavor oils and natural sugars inside the coffee beans will have a better chance to be burned leaving the bean bitter and burnt. Or at the very least, smoked and that is not a flavorful coffee to me. I have never met a person that said “I am looking for a bitter and burnt tasting coffee.” So, if you guessed that my response to “I want a dark roast coffee’ would be ‘use more of it’, you are correct.
I believe that if whole bean coffee is roasted, proportioned, blended, ground and brewed correctly you can take a light to medium roasted coffee and get a wonderful bold, strong-knock-your-socks-off kick in the pants cup. I had a lady once walk out of my store because I did not brew a ‘dark roast’, nor did I have a dark roasted bean on the premises. She would not listen to a word I had to say about ‘dark roasts’ and she stormed out. I do not care for anyone that will not at least listen to why I choose to not carry a particular item.
I have one exception my ‘no dark roast’ rule and that is my dark roast blend I make. I use 3 different bean origins all roasted to a different degree. There are dark roast coffee beans added to this blend of light (true cinnamon light roast) and medium roasted beans to round it out. The dark is smoky and burnt tasting on its own but when added to the other two bean types makes a superb ‘dark roast blend’ that has people coming back for more. All the bold and strength without the bitterness and flatness usually associated with a dark roast coffee.
The coffee business is largely a passionate business and we tend to serve what is close to our hearts. I cannot help it if I do not carry what a customer wants; they do have choices to go elsewhere. My ultimate goal is to educate the consumer so they can become not only my customer, but an educated customer. I have not had 100% success at educating all of my casual coffee drinkers to get the black brew or the straight espresso when they ordinarily do not. I cannot convert every buyer to a traditional cappuccino which has a lot less milk than most think. However there are those that are willing to listen, try it and become educated. And that is my greatest thrill: to know it worked. I am just thrilled to know I made a difference. Even if they decided my suggestion was not for them, at least they tried it and in that sense I am still thrilled.
If you use cream and sugar in your coffee it is usually natural that you would want to have a stronger coffee in order to taste the coffee. Then there are those whom like to taste cream and sugar more than the coffee itself. So, I say to you all, ‘use more or less’ and adjust to taste. It’s perfectly fine to enjoy your brew as you like. After all it is your brew, no?
For those that want to be in the know, when green coffee beans get roasted, there are colors of when they would be done. Whether organic coffee or not, here is what I consider to be the average coffee roast types:
Light Roast – Light brown in color, without any oil on the bean’s surface. This happens because the coffee beans are not roasted long enough for the oils to permeate the bean surface. This roast is also known as a cinnamon or city roast.
Medium Roast -This roast is medium brown in color with a stronger flavor than a light roast. These beans will also have a surface that is non-oily. This roast is probably the most common and most preferred in the USA. It is also referred to as full city roast.
Medium to Dark Roast- Darker in color with some oil on the surface. This roast range is more confusing than others because as I said earlier, there really isn’t an industry standard. Most roasters will adapt their own degrees here more than elsewhere. In general, the darker you get the more apparent a bitter aftertaste will usually be. Dark roasts also tend to be heavier in mouth feel but the drawback is flat in flavor. This area is also known as the full city+ roast.
Dark Roast- This roast is where the oils are very apparent. The dark roast is also a bean that has very low acidity due to the longer roast period. However, a dark roast can have ranges too. Just remember the darker the roast the more oil on the surface of the bean and the blacker in color it will be. Common names for this roast are Italian, Viennese, New Orleans, espresso, and European. We call it a French roast. In my roasting business, I do not suggest many coffees roasted dark on their own. I believe that dark roasts lack flavor and body. I do however believe that a properly paired and blended dark roast blend will suit your palate boldly if you gravitate toward a bold coffee.
Charred and beyond -Throw these out because I am surprised they did not burn up in the roaster fire! There is absolutely not one good characteristic about anything this bean has to offer!
So the next time you buy coffee wholesale and ask for a light roast in your brew or whole bean coffee, you are probably getting a medium roast. And when you ask me for a dark roast you know what I’ll say.
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