Coffee drinkers can be very particular about what they do and don’t like.
Some people are partial to coffee drinks with higher caffeine levels, while others seek out roasts with less caffeine content. Some people prefer Arabica beans or only buy Robusta beans. Others swear that the best coffee comes from Colombia … or Ethiopia … or Costa Rica.
Some like a pour-over, some drip brew, and some use a French press. Some drink it hot, while others like it iced or cold brewed. Some coffee fanatics will only drink fair-trade gourmet coffee while others will drink any old cup of Joe that comes their way.
But no matter how many preferences and ideas you have about coffee, one of the most important things to understand is the difference in the roasts.
A lot of people shy away from the light roast in favor of something darker and more flavorful. But that’s not always the right call (or even the right way to think about it).
We think there’s a time and a place for everything, including lighter roasts.
Not sure you agree?
Here’s when and how to drink light roast coffee.
What is Light Roast Coffee?
The roast of the coffee has nothing to do with the type of coffee bean. Instead, it has to do with the roast level.
When we talk about light roast coffee, we’re referring to coffee beans that are yellowish-tan to light brown in color. Compared to medium roasts and darker roasts, light roasts are the palest in color. The darker the roast, the darker the color of the bean.
Light roast coffee has lots of natural flavors. It tends to be brighter, sweeter, and have more acidity than darker roasts. That’s because some of those natural flavors dissipate during the roasting process. Since light roast beans process for the shortest amount of time, they retain more of those flavors and acids.
Light roast coffee tends to be a bit more complex, less bitter and has even more antioxidants than darker roasts. Starbucks and other national coffee chains often refer to a light roast as a blonde roast.
And it just may be time to give it a try.
A lot of great light roast coffees are also single-origin. Not familiar with that term? Read: Single Origin Coffee Explained.
How is Light Roast Coffee Roasted?
Light roast coffee starts the same way all coffee beans do — as the seeds of the coffee cherry fruit that grow on the coffee plant.
Once the plant is ready to harvest, the coffee cherries are picked (usually by hand). The coffee cherries need to dry out and the exterior of the fruit removed. At that point, the green coffee beans inside are ready for extraction from the fruit.
With the seeds removed, coffee roasters can begin to roast those whole beans.
The roasting process is crucial to the end result and overall flavor of the bean. The longer the roasting process, the darker the beans will be.
The shorter the roasting time, the more fruity the beans will taste. With beans roasted for long periods of time, the more burnt the beans tend to taste.
Some coffee roasters use drum roasters to toast their beans, while others use flatbed roasters. Both require heat to roast the beans to perfection, and that heat can come from a direct flame, an indirect flame, or hot air.
Learn more about coffee beans in our fun article: Is Coffee a Vegetable?
The Caffeine Myth
It is a common myth that there is a significant difference in caffeine content between light roasts and dark roasts. And while the flavor of a light roast is considerably different from that of a dark roast, the variance in the amount of caffeine is very minimal.
Some people claim that light roast coffee has more caffeine because the caffeine isn’t lost in a long roasting process. That’s simply not true.
Dark roast beans get larger during roasting but lose density through the process. And because they're less dense, there are fewer individual beans in a tablespoon of a dark roast than in a tablespoon of light roast.
Based on that measurement, yes, there is more caffeine in a tablespoon of light roast, simply because the bigger beans have more caffeine in each one.
But no one makes a cup of coffee based on the size of the bean. We make coffee based on the mass or weight of ground coffee. So when you compare ground light roast beans to ground dark roast beans, the amount is pretty much the same. And so is the caffeine content.
Discover more about the dark side of the roast in our article: French, Italian, and Vienna Roast Levels Explained.
How to Brew Light Roast Coffee
There’s absolutely no point in drinking a weak, flavorless cup of light roast coffee.
And because all beans endure a similar roasting process, many people make the mistake of brewing a light roast in the same way as a dark roast. But there are some tricks to making a light roast taste even more flavorful than it already is.
Ready to learn how to make the best light roast cup of coffee possible?
You’ll need to pay close attention to three things:
- The size of your coffee grounds
- The temperature of your water
- Your brew time
Light roast coffee beans are less porous than darker ones. This makes it a bit harder to get the full extraction of the flavor compounds out in the brewing process. Light roast beans are less porous because they're removed from the roasting process before they crack.
The cracking of the bean happens once all the water in the bean has completely vaporized. Just before this point in the process, light roast beans finish, so they never go through the cracking process. Thus, it's more challenging to get the flavor of the beans out.
To get the most flavor out of your beans, start with a small ground size. The larger the grounds, the less taste you’ll get.
Using hotter water and extending your brew time can also help to release those great flavors.
Rather than using an automatic drip coffee maker, light roasts are better suited for brewing in a French press or with the pour-over method. These methods naturally have a longer brewing time, making them best for getting the most flavor out of those little beans.
Drink Your Light Roast Hot
Different roasts lend themselves to specific coffee drinks.
For example, you would never make an espresso with a light roast. You should only use a dark espresso roast for straight espresso or espresso-based drinks. (Such as the Americano, cappuccino, mocha, or macchiato.)
But if you like black coffee, coffee with milk or cream, or a café au lait, a light roast makes for a delicious drink.
These might seem like the simplest of all coffee drinks out there. Yet, what you add to it and how you brew it can make a huge difference in its taste.
You’ve probably seen your local neighborhood baristas brewing cups of coffee using:
And while it may seem intimidating to brew coffee a different way than through your countertop Mr. Coffee, these other methods are easy to master. They just take a little practice.
When it comes to a light roast coffee, methods that extend the brewing time will give you more flavor.
So grind those beans, brew yourself a cup, and enjoy your light roast piping hot. Add cream, non-dairy milk, sugar, or nothing at all … how you take your coffee is entirely up to you.
If you’re interested in lowering the acidity in that cup, definitely opt for that splash of calcium-rich milk!
Drink Your Light Roast Cold
Not in the mood for a hot cup of coffee?
Lighter roasts taste great as iced coffee on the rocks or as a cold brew.
If you like your coffee iced, you may lean toward a dark roast for fear that the melting ice will only water down the flavor even more.
But there’s a way around that issue:
Just brew your light roast stronger!
To brew your coffee to double strength (or more), just lower the coffee-to-water ratio to produce a more robust cup.
Light roast beans also make for a delicious cold brew. Unlike iced coffee, which is hot coffee chilled and poured over ice, cold brew coffee is brewed cold.
To cold brew a light roast, you’ll need to allow your coffee beans to steep in water in the refrigerator for about twelve hours. The result is a refreshing brew that you can drink straight, add to, or pour over ice for a delicious iced cold brew coffee.
You may also like learning: How To Pick the Right Dairy (Real or Vegan) For Your Coffee.
Light Roast Coffee: It’s Not Just for Breakfast
If you’ve ever bought a breakfast blend or a morning blend, you’ve probably noticed that they’re on the light side. It is quite common to see lighter roasts served as an accompaniment for breakfast, and there’s a good reason why.
With all their fruity and bright notes, light roast coffee beans pair perfectly with foods that mirror their flavor profile.
This includes traditional breakfast foods, such as pancakes, waffles, and cereals. Light roast coffees tend to be sweeter. Their natural flavors go well with various different American breakfast dishes, including fruit bowls, yogurts with or without fruit, and all sorts of baked pastries.
Besides, light roasts also have a thinner body and a more delicate texture. Making them perfect for pairing with buttered croissants, toast, and breakfast scones.
But light roast coffee isn't just for breakfast. It also pairs beautifully with food that it contrasts with, many of which appear at lunch or dinner rather than breakfast.
The brightness and sweetness of a light roast is an excellent contrast to salty dishes. It also goes well with vegetable-based foods and snacks, such as hummus.
But perhaps the best pairing of all is a light roast coffee with cheese. The texture of a light roast lends itself to mixing well with soft cheeses such as goat cheese and Brie.
In some UK and European cities, such as London and France, it is common for restaurants to serve a cheese course after the main course and before dessert. Of all the hours in a given day, this is perhaps the perfect time to enjoy a cup of light roast coffee!
Light roast coffee also pairs perfectly with dessert. It goes great with all sorts of butter-based dishes, such as cookies or cakes, served as after-dinner treats.
You may also enjoy: What Everyone Should Know About French Coffee.
Is Light Roast Coffee Better Than Dark Roast Coffee?
There are a variety of differences between light roast coffee and dark roast beans.
The flavor profiles are different. The texture and mass of the bean are different. They work well in various types of coffee drinks. So it's simply unfair to say that one is better than the other because it's all a matter of your preferences and what your palate enjoys.
But here’s the key takeaway:
No matter what the coffee snobs say or the current coffee trends, there's no right or wrong way to drink a light roast. If you like it for breakfast, have a cup in the morning. If you like it as a mid-day drink, have it after lunch. And if you want some with dinner, enjoy a cup or two with a cheese course or with a sweet, buttery dessert.
The thing about coffee is that many people have a lot of opinions on how you should and shouldn’t drink it.
If you like a light roast, embrace it, no matter what the critics or “experts” have to say.
Many people make the mistake of assuming that the darker the bean, the more flavorful the coffee. The longer a coffee bean roasts, the more the natural flavors erode, and the more oils appear on the bean. And since light roast beans roast for a shorter time, they actually retain more flavor than dark roasted beans.
But for the average coffee drinker, none of that matters. All that matters is whether they like the flavor or not. And if you think you aren't a light roast fan (or haven't tried one in a while), it's time to give it another try.
For those near Sonoma County, stop in at Taylor Lane to sample a mug of our daily light roast blend!
Ready to brew an incredible light roast coffee for breakfast, dinner, or any moment in between?
Check out our Organic Rise & Shine Blend, perfect for making a quick pour-over, cold brewing, or enjoying as a sweet café au lait.