Coffee Is More Than Just a Roasted Bean—A Guide to the Different Types of Light Coffee Roasts
Most of us look forward to our first cup of coffee every morning. We may have different ways of getting that first sip—a French press, a pourover, a drip pot, or a Keurig. Some of us want the bold flavor of a dark roast, while many of us prefer a lighter roast. But did you know that the common categories of roasts—light, medium, medium-dark, and dark—are just the tip of the iceberg, so to speak? There are a multitude of different types of roasts, and each one can have an effect on the flavor of your morning cup.
What Happens When You Roast a Coffee Bean?
Did you know that people have made coffee with unroasted beans for centuries? Known as “green coffee,” from the color of the beans before they’re roasted, this libation offers a lot of health benefits. Fans of the beverage describe the flavor as being between roasted coffee and herbal tea, and they’re often drawn by the increased caffeine content. (Roasting coffee beans reduces the caffeine content; a dark roast generally has less kick than a medium or light roast.)
During the roasting process, the water in coffee beans generates steam, which softens the hard outer wall of the bean, eventually causing it to break down and crack open with an audible sound. The roasting process also causes chemical reactions in the sugars and acids contained in the beans, further affecting their flavor.
What Are the Different Types of Light Coffee Roasts?
Though you might encounter slight variations in terminology, the following are the primary light coffee roasts:
- Cinnamon roast—The lightest of all roasts, this brew uses beans that are pulled from the roaster as the first beans start to crack. (Many say the sound is akin to popcorn bursting from the hull.) Cinnamon roast produces coffee that is extremely light in color but high in caffeine. It’s difficult to obtain commercially, as it’s generally not as preferable as darker roasts.
- Blonde roast—A blonde roast is slightly toasted before the beans crack, typically at temperatures around 375°. The lightly tanned beans are matted in texture, with a sour or acidic taste. Blonde roasts have little to no sweetness and are not in high demand.
- Light city or New England roast—These terms are used interchangeably to describe beans that are roasted to a temperature of 375-400°. Such beans are bright and delicate in flavor and may have hints of fruitiness. The beans have a very light brown color. The primary draw of a light city or New England roast is the caffeine level—the highest among those considered to produce regularly drinkable coffees. This roast is a little easier to find than a cinnamon or blonde roast yet still not widely available.
- Half city roast—Beans roasted at a temperature around 400-415° have a fruitier and more flowery flavor than the light city or New England roast. The half city roast is most likely what you’ll get when you go to your local coffee shop and order a light roast. It’s not universally available in grocery stores but not that difficult to find in a specialty coffee shop. You’ll sacrifice a little bit of caffeine for a little more flavor.
- American roast—American roast is not much different than a half city roast, though the beans are typically a bit darker, as they’ve been roasted to at least 410°, bordering on a medium roast. Because the beans are roasted a little longer, they lose some of the caffeine, but their flavor is enhanced. American roast is the easiest of all light roasts to find, available in both specialty coffee shops and grocery stores.