Best Light Roast Coffee: Should You Be Drinking Light Roast Coffee Beans
Coffee is a crucial part of many people's morning (and afternoon) routines. Whether you make it at home or purchase a cup at your local café, the act of sipping this bean brew throughout the day has become a ritual of sorts. Still, few coffee enthusiasts recognize just how many factors contribute to making the best coffee in the world.
Many of these elements come into play long before you grind the beans, resulting in the designations "light," "medium," and "dark" roasts. These coffee types don't only differ in taste but in their caffeine concentrations and even health benefits. Here's everything you need to know about light roast coffee to help you select the perfect morning cup for your body.TRY OUR LIGHT ROAST →
What is Light Roast Coffee
Light roast coffee beans have a golden brown hue. Roasters prepare light roast coffees at temperatures between 350°F and 400°F. They do this for a much shorter time than medium or dark roasts, which helps to retain a higher caffeine concentration and more delicate flavoring.
Once the beans reach their maximum temperature, they pop due to a buildup of pressure from steam, indicated by a "crack" sound. Once this occurs, the coffee reaches its light roast stage. Up to that point, the bean is going through several chemical changes, one of which is caramelization.
When the coffee bean reaches 320-392°F, sucrose, the primary sugar in coffee, starts to break down. The water and CO₂ inside the bean begin to escape, leading to the "first crack," discussed below.
Dark roast coffees tend to have higher degrees of sugar caramelization than light roasts. Plus, when heated to 445°F like medium dark roasts, most of the compound "trigonelline" is degraded. These two chemical events cause dark roasts to be less bitter than light roasts. (Trigonelline is the primary component that makes coffee taste bitter.)
Another chemical difference that separates light vs. dark coffee roast levels is the breakdown of cellulose. The coffee bean's structure, referred to as a "matrix," is critical in structural uniformity and heat distribution. Darker roasts fracture this matrix, causing the "second crack" and the release of several aromatics.
Flavors Associated with Light Roast Coffees
Light roast coffees tend to have intense aromas accompanied by sweet flavors. They're pretty acidic, which is desirable for coffee.
The acidity is what creates the dry feeling on your tongue when you drink coffee. It's also responsible for the sharpness and vibrancy of the beverage, traits that most people look for in a cup o' joe. Too little acidity will result in a flat, dull-tasting cup of bean soup.
Examples of these tasting notes include hints of citrus, floral, and honey body flavors. These notes are typical of blonde roast coffee, a type of specialty coffee prepared with high-quality beans that heated to the light roast level.
In contrast, dark roast coffee tends to have a bold or even smoky flavor profile. These tastes are enhanced by the beans' oil dissolving during the roasting or brewing process.
Some gourmet coffee brands might incorporate milk chocolate in their recipes to add a more sweet flavor to each blend.
Does the Difference Between Light Roast and Other Coffees Matter?
The differences between these roasts might surprise you. From coffee bean color to the amount of time needed for preparation, these distinctions play a significant role in how a coffee drinker should prepare their favorite breakfast blend.
The purpose of roasting a coffee bean is to bring out the rich aromas and flavors that would otherwise remain unexpressed. Before the roasting process, the coffee bean is essentially flavorless. It is harvested and roasted in its green stage, characterized by a soft, spongy texture and an earthy, grass-like scent.
When the bean is roasted, it undergoes significant chemical changes that can only happen at extremely high temperatures.
The roaster must wait until a very specific point, when the bean has reached its optimal flavor and the proper amount of moisture has been removed, to remove it from the heat and stop the roast with rapid cooling. A few seconds too long and the batch could be ruined. This is why professional roasters take years to learn their craft, honing their ability to "'read' the beans."
This roasting process is directly responsible for the caffeine levels, flavor profile, and moisture content. Without it, you'd be drinking grassy water every morning!
Light Roast vs Dark Roast
There are a few key differences between light roast and dark roast coffee to consider before you choose your preference. These distinctions are described in detail below.
Is Light Roast Coffee the Strongest?
Most people associate "strong" coffee with the taste of the roast. The ratio of coffee grounds to water during brewing partially determines coffee's strength.
This is because too little can enhance the coffee's taste and may even accentuate the brew's bitterness. On the other hand, too much water will dilute the flavor.
"Strong" coffee is typically defined by a high concentration of grounds for a small amount of water. The ratio of water to grounds aside, light and dark roasts are distinguished by opposing taste profiles.
Dark roast coffee tends to have a more intense flavor due to its low acidity and longer exposure to heat, extracting more flavor and aromatics from the bean, as discussed above. Some flavors for a dark roast might be more smoky and bold, containing dark chocolate for an added flavor blast.
Light roasts are more acidic than darker roasts. Plus, the beans are less porous, allowing less water to pass through and extract the coffee bean’s flavors.
The particular flavors also depend on the type of bean used. Arabica beans are by far the most popular. The tasting notes are incredibly versatile, ranging from subtle sweetness to tangy. They're well-known for some very yummy fruity coffee brews. On the other hand, Robusta ranges from neutral to bold.
Is Light Roast Coffee More Bitter?
Remember the chemical compound trigonelline? Well, as mentioned above, that plays a central role in determining a coffee's bitterness. It's 100% water-soluble, so you're guaranteed to get a taste of it whenever you take a sip of the bean brew. However, the way the beans are roasted determines how much trigonelline you're going to get.
Light roasts will definitely have the most trigonelline, so they'll be more bitter (or "bitterer," whatever floats your boat!). This is because 85% of the trigonelline will break down when the bean reaches 445°F, the ideal temperature for a moderate dark roast.
Light roasts also have less sugar caramelization. Since caramelized is not as sweet as its non-caramelized form, this creates an interesting level of sweetness to balance the bitterness.
Is Light Roast Coffee Healthier?
There are several health benefits of consuming coffee. Yet, these advantages differ slightly in their availability, depending on whether you're sipping on a light roast or dark roast.
For one, light roast coffee tends to have higher levels of chlorogenic acid (CGA) than medium or dark roast coffees. CGA offers numerous biological benefits for coffee drinkers due to the following properties:
One study demonstrated that light roasts have higher concentrations of antioxidants than dark roasts. They also retain more anti-inflammatory properties due to the roast level.
Although light roast coffee offers many health benefits, dark roast coffee might be a more suitable option for people who want to lose weight. In any case, moderation is the key to attaining health benefits from coffee, whether it's a light or dark roast.
Third Wave Coffee
As you know by now, coffee can be quite complex. Not only that, but our culture seems to make generational shifts in the coffee market, also known as waves. Currently we are in the Third Wave Coffee movement, but a Fourth Wave is on the horizon. At Black Ink, we offer the best of each wave!
Which Areas of the World Offer the Best Light Roast Coffee Options?
You can't just pick any coffee bean to roast. Not all are suitable for short heating periods and would do better with a medium or dark roast approach instead. The countries, regions, and continents that grow the best light roast coffee beans include those listed below.
Beans from this corner of the world typically have the lowest acidity levels. These are quite smooth with very mild flavors, which are expressed quite well in a light roast.
Papua New Guinea
Coffee plants here grow in rich organic soil, filling the roast beans with vibrant flavors. These are often quite sweet but not too overpowering.
Coffee beans from here are known for having a delicate, fruity taste profile. They work beautifully in light roasts because of their mild taste.
Most beans from the Motherland are packed with bursting fruity flavors. However, depending on the region where your beans are sourced, your beans might also have smooth, sweet, or acidic qualities.
No matter which of these best describes the taste, they're all uniquely floral, which works perfectly for light roasts.
Our Black Ink Coffee Ethiopian has a smooth body, crisp acidity, and a flavor profile that's fruity, herbal, and sweet, making it an excellent option if you prefer your coffee light.
Beans from this region are some of the most widely preferred types. They normally taste of chocolate with a nutty undertone with a fruity aftertaste.
Beans from here work well for light, medium, and dark roasts. Yet, Brazilian coffee beans are the most challenging for light roasts, while Costa Rica's are the best.
How Do You Make Light Roast Coffee?
Roasting coffee is a delicate process that only professionals should handle. As mentioned above, expert roasters must make a significant commitment to the practice, taking years to learn their craft.
It takes a very carefully trained eye to determine when a coffee bean should be removed from the roasting process. Attempting to do so on your own could lead to disappointing results. Although, it could still be a positive learning experience.
If you do want to try your hand at roasting your own coffee, here are a few things you'll need:
- Green coffee beans
- Note: Other roasting methods include stovetop, oven, and a popcorn maker. See why you might want a designated roaster below.
That's it! Once you've got these two items, use these tips below to make your homemade light roast coffee:
- Roast the green coffee beans at 350-500°F. The correct exact temperature depends on the roasting method you've chosen. Some coffee enthusiasts suggest a more specific temperature range, from 356-401°F.
- Agitate the beans while they're heating. You should never let your beans merely sit there and roast. Stirring and turning them helps distribute the heat evenly, creating well-balanced flavors and aromas.
- Listen for the first crack. Three to five minutes into the roast, you will hear a "crack" sound. This signals that the coffee beans are now suitable for brewing light roast coffee.
- Note: You must pull the beans out before they make a "crack" noise again. The second time indicates that the batch is at a medium roast level. Of course, the exact timing of these sounds will depend on the method and temperature.
- Cool your beans. You'll need to cool down the batch as fast as possible to stop the roasting process. Shake the beans up and shuffle them between two metal colanders to help them shed heat fast. This process will also help remove the chaff (the husk) from the beans' exteriors.
When you're done heating and cleaning your beans, you may be tempted to pack them up right away. Don't do it! Coffee beans release carbon dioxide, so you shouldn't store them in a closed container so soon. Instead, wait about 12 hours. This will give the beans enough time to de-gas and prevent damage to the container due to excess internal pressure.
Storing Light Roast Coffee
Carbon dioxide is a highly important part of light roast coffee's storage requirements. Have you ever looked at that hole on coffee bags you find in the store or café and wondered what the heck it is?
It turns out, that hole is crucial to maintaining your coffee's freshness and supporting the beans' ability to offload the following gases:
- Carbon dioxide
- Carbon monoxide
- Volatile Organic Compounds (VOCs)
These all get trapped in the beans' pores at the end of roasting. The gaseous portion of coffee normally accounts for 1-2% of a freshly roasted batch. Storing them as whole beans ensures that the gases escape gradually. This helps keep the beans fresher for longer. Samo Smrke and colleagues stated in their research publication:
"A proper understanding of the amount of released gases is important for packaging and preserving the quality of coffee during storage."
Grinding or extracting the beans gets rid of these gases much more quickly, which is why grounds tend to go stale much sooner than whole beans.
Interestingly, different roast levels will vary in the amount of CO₂ they carry and their degassing rates. The following measurements represent how fast (or slowly) each coffee type degassed, according to the roast speeds (in a roaster):
- Light: 3.5 micrograms of CO₂ per gram of coffee beans per hour (μg/g*h)
- Medium: 5.1 μg/g*h
- Dark: 8.0 μg/g*h
- Light: 4.5 μg/g*h
- Medium: 5.3 μg/g*h
- Dark: 7.6 μg/g*h
- Light: 3.1 μg/g*h
- Medium: 5.6 μg/g*h
- Dark: 9.2 μg/g*h
Based on these measurements, light roast coffee degasses the slowest out of all three variations. This means you'll have a much easier time keeping it fresher for a longer period. You'll also notice that the degassing rate depends on the roasting temperature.
In this case, a "fast" roast meant five minutes with a starting temperature of 120°C on the roaster's "high flow" setting (this refers to the flow of gas to the burner). The others were set to the same starting temperature. The settings were "medium flow" for slightly less than ten minutes for the "medium" roast and "low flow" for just shy of 13 minutes for the "slow" roast.
If you're going to be roasting your coffee at home, consider your storage options before deciding which temperature might work best. Fast and slow roast options will yield the longest shelf life.
Light or Dark Coffee: Which Roast Style Tastes Better?
Your taste preferences might differ depending on which roast level you enjoy drinking the most. The only person who has the final say in what you enjoy is you.
Suppose you enjoy a dark espresso roast with hints of dark chocolate sprinkled in or enjoy a light pour-over with berries or vanilla; having versatile taste buds might encourage you to experiment more often.
Black Ink Coffee has several flavors that make an exquisite blend for expanding your palate, including creamy, nutty, and sweet.
The tasting notes for a light roast might include tangy or sweet properties, along with a citrus or floral aroma. The best light roast coffee should maximize its flavors by tantalizing consumers through every sip.
Whether you need an energy boost in the morning or prefer a drink with a more flavorful taste, you can never go wrong with a light roast. It takes less time to prepare than dark roasts and yet offers a better caffeine kick with a milder flavor profile.
We believe you can match any coffee roast to your preferences with the right preparation method and supplier. Our Black Ink specialty coffee is ideal for a range of palates, from moderate to bold taste preferences.TRY OUR LIGHT ROAST →