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What are Taste Qualities of Good Coffee?



Not all specialty premium coffees are alike. There are numerous diverse flavor profiles and each unique lot of beans will have its own distinctive characteristics. These differences are not necessarily good or bad – each will appeal to different preferences, and all together they provide a wondrous variety of taste experiences.

Quite often differences in flavor and aroma are linked to coffee growing regions, where variations in altitude, temperature, sunlight, moisture, soil, and other environmental factors determine the growth of coffee trees and their fruits. Different strains or cultivars are known to present peculiar traits as well, and after harvest, different processing methods may dramatically alter the final cup profile. And, of course, different roast levels bring forth a wide spectrum of tones from bright and fruity to smoky and earthy. Some beans show off their most noteworthy attributes only when light roasted while others reach their peak flavor when dark roasted.

With so many factors to consider, how can we tell which beans are the best? The answer is simple: we taste them!

At Burman Coffee Traders we use the following taste qualities to evaluate and describe the differences among our coffees.

coffee brewing in chemex pots
At BCT we are taste testing new coffees every day!

Brightness (acidity)

Acidity, commonly called brightness, is the first impression of a cup of coffee – that crisp sensation at the tip of the tongue. It is important to understand that a cup’s brightness is the “perceived acidity” rather than the actual pH; in fact coffee is actually less acidic than most soft drinks.

We perceive pleasantly acidic flavors almost instantly on the tongue’s tip and front corners, and just behind the upper teeth. Trace amounts of various acids found in coffee – Citric, Lactic, Malic, Acetic and about a dozen others – also contribute an array of sparkly, snappy and tart flavors.

Beans grown at higher altitudes and Washed Processed generally have greater perceived acidity than lower altitude or Natural Processed beans from the same region. Particularly in Africa, some coffee regions and specific cultivars are known for producing beans with more acidity.

During roasting, heat causes acids to be formed and consumed, converted into sugars and other flavor compounds. Home coffee roasters can manage roasting time, temperature, and roast profile as methods of controlling acidity, balancing it with body and cultivating flavor notes. Remember these easy rules of thumb: dark roasts have lower acidity than lighter roasts of the same origin, and beans roasted more quickly are brighter than the same beans roasted to the same level slowly.

Body (viscosity)

“Body” is a quality that is so complex that we cannot quite describe it with words, but we know it when we taste it! Take a sip of coffee and ask yourself – how full of flavor does my mouth feel, and for how long? Laboratory testing can quantify components of coffee related to body – levels of viscosity, oils, sugars, dissolved solids such as cellulose, suspended particles, etc. – but sensory evaluation is a matter of perception combined with comparative experience, and qualities of the coffee’s body are among the most important and most nuanced characteristics assessed when coffee cuppers evaluate and score premium beans.

We have found that brewing methods have a huge effect on coffee’s body level and flavor profile. Coffee brewed by French press or cowboy-style shows a more robust flavor profile and significantly fuller body than the same coffee drip-brewed with a paper filter, because the filter traps oils and solids that are part of the body, and fine particles that carry darker flavors.

coffee brewing in chemex pots
We evaluate coffees at light, medium, and dark
roasts, then share our opinions in the roasting and
tasting notes

Processing methods also have a very significant effect on a coffee’s body. Washed Processing removes the sugary fruit pulp completely from coffee beans, producing coffees with light to medium body and very clean, bright flavors. Natural Processing, in contrast, dries beans and fruit together to produce coffees with deeper-toned, more diverse flavors and heavier body.

Roasting methods also affect body. In general, longer roasting times build a coffee’s body, while shorter times accent its acidity. However, this is true only to a point; roasting too long causes a coffee to lose both acidity and body, a fault known as “baked” or “bakey.” Bakey coffees brew a cup that is insipid and lifeless.

Other Important Characteristics Affecting Coffee Taste & Quality

Unique Cultivar Characteristics: In addition to base attributes of body and acidity, a good specialty coffee has a unique personality which imparts distinctive flavors and aromas. These flavors may be bold or subtle and help to further hallmark a particular coffee.

With so many variations in flavor profiles caused by different cultivars and different regions, almost anything is possible! When cuppers describe the nuanced attributes of a premium coffee, they use a wide variety of flavor note descriptors; some may surprise you! Here are just a few of the incredibly diverse flavor notes that may be found in excellent coffees: lemon, orange, grapefruit, pomegranate, cherry, strawberry, blueberry, raisin, prune, grape, pear, apple, peach, melon, coconut, jasmine, rose, vanilla, honey, caramel, maple, molasses, chocolate, baker’s cocoa, tea, wine, almond, hazelnut, walnut, peanut, cinnamon, clove, nutmeg, pepper, anise, malty, smoky, earthy, tobacco, whiskey, peapod, olive oil, and so much more!

Seasonal Variations: Like a fine wine, the taste of a coffee can be affected by weather. Coffee is an agricultural product; the qualities of each crop depend on the conditions present in a particular region during a particular growing season. Our job is to discover where the best coffees are being grown at any moment in time, and to select the most exceptional lots from that region.

How BCT Selects the Best Beans for Home Coffee Roasting Customers

Whenever possible we visit our present and prospective coffee growers around the globe to learn first-hand of their methods and their regional characteristics. We also attend coffee industry conferences and events where we have an opportunity to meet and talk with producers and large distributors and do some sampling.

To evaluate new coffees we always acquire samples to test in our facility. The first step is to eliminate the ones that have any negative characteristics. You will never find any bitter or sour or tinny or rubbery coffees here. Then we decide if samples are distinctive enough to stock. Our goal is to provide a broad selection of the finest examples of classic and exotic coffees from all around the world. We often go through many samples of outstanding coffees from different sources just to find the right lot.

We strive to support socially and ecologically responsible growers as much as possible – many of our coffees are Organic, Shade-Grown, Fair Trade or Rainforest Alliance certified. We make a special effort to build relationships and support growers who provide fair wages, education, and other uplifting benefits to their workers.

And we supplement our selection with high quality decaffeinated coffees – many of our decaf drinkers have found that freshly home roasted decaf beans produce a cup light years ahead of any they have previously experienced, and they will never go back to stale sad decaf coffee!


Next: How to Choose Green Coffees?


More information on Green Coffee, Raw & Unroasted Coffee Beans

Choosing Premium Green Coffees: Our recommendations for beginning to explore our diverse selection: 3 lb Bundles and Sales.

The terroirs of Growing Regions, specific Strains or Cultivars, and the Processing Methods used after harvesting – all affect the taste and roast characteristics of each unique green coffee.


Ready to get started?



All About Green Coffee Beans?

What are green coffee beans? Do they make green coffee? 

Glad you asked. Here’s a quick review for your Home Coffee Roasting edification!

Green Coffee Beans are the seeds from the fruits of coffee trees. Coffee beans are green when they are removed from the fruit of the tree, and it is the roasting process that changes them to various shades of brown. There is a wide spectrum of roast styles; the exact shade of brown depends only on the roaster’s preference. In the coffee industry, Green Coffee refers to raw coffee beans or unroasted coffee beans that have been dried and cleaned and are ready for roasting. We carry an extensive collection of green coffee beans – see our selection of premium green coffees here, or read more below.

Two Species of Coffee

While there are many coffee varieties defined by regions, cultivars, and processing methods, there are two main types of coffee trees and beans:

green coffee beans

Arabica (Coffea arabica) – these trees produce a smaller crop of beans, but with more distinct and nuanced aroma and taste. All of our premium coffees come from Arabica trees.

Robusta (Coffea canephora) – heartier and more prolific, each tree provides significantly more beans, making costs of planting, maintaining, and harvesting much less than Arabica coffees. However, in spite of Robusta’s much higher caffeine content, most coffee connoisseurs find that these beans have a mediocre characterless taste.

Most cheap pre-roasted coffees are made from Robusta beans with a blending of Arabica for improved taste and aroma. All premium coffees are grown from Arabica cultivars; in some regions with harsh weather and rampant pests, tougher Arabica-Robusta hybrids are successfully cultivated.

Because Arabicas are considered premium specialty coffees, according to the Specialty Coffee Association of America (SCAA) standards they are further subdivided into 5 grades, distinguished primarily by the number of “defects” per pound. For example, Grade 1 coffees can have no more than 4 twigs or broken/discolored beans per pound. In general, most all of the beans here at Burman Coffee Traders are Grade 1 Arabica, the very best coffees available. *

green coffee beans
Indonesian coffee beans sometimes look imperfect,
but they taste delicious!

* Sometimes we discover an excellent coffee from a region whose crop characteristics make it impossible to meet the Grade 1 standard, even thought it still roasts and cups beautifully. Ethiopian, Yemeni, and Indonesian coffees often look imperfect but taste amazing. Often these beans are a great bargain for exceptional taste and aroma.

Why green coffee?

In addition to greater selection at lower prices, one of the biggest advantages of home coffee roasting is that green coffee beans will keep their quality for a year or more (at room temp, no refrigeration necessary) . So when you find one that you especially like, you can order a larger quantity and keep it for weeks or months, yet always be able to produce the freshest cup for any occasion.

There is a special appeal for those flavor adventurers who are excited by novelty and variety – since we sell Premium Green Coffee Beans By The Pound, you can purchase a wide assortment of specialty coffees from all around the world and taste and compare them all!


NEXT: What are Taste Qualities of Good Coffee?


More information on Green Coffee, Raw & Unroasted Coffee Beans

Understanding the Taste Qualities of Good Coffee: How do Burman Coffee Traders evaluate coffee beans from growers all across the world? What are the characteristics we use to judge quality and how do we ensure a wide variety to suit many different tastes?

Choosing Premium Green Coffees: Our recommendations for beginning to explore our diverse selection: 3 lb Bundles and Sales.

The terroirs of Growing Regions, specific Strains or Cultivars, and the Processing Methods used after harvesting – all affect the taste and roast characteristics of each unique green coffee.


Ready to get started?


Site Map – Home Coffee Roasting Learning Center

Home Coffee Roasting Tips & Reviews

Whether just getting started with roasting your own coffee beans or a more veteran Home Coffee Roaster, here at Burman Coffee Traders we want to help you get that perfect cup of coffee from your home roasting experience.

In addition to great products for Home Coffee Roasting, we also strive to be an educational resource for home roasters . . . which is what our Coffee Roasting Learning Center is all about.

  • Want to learn more about different types of coffee?
  • Want to learn what are the best coffee roast styles?
  • What are the different kinds of roasters for home roasting?
  • And a host of other questions on home coffee roasting

Well, you have come to the right page! Below is a partial list of some of the informative articles we’ve written on Home Coffee Roasting Primers:

Basics of Home Coffee Roasting

Understanding Different Types of Coffees

Using Coffee Roasters and other Equipment

Coffee and Tea Miscellany


Buying Coffee Beans for Home Coffee Roasting

Welcome to Burman Coffee Traders Learning Center!


Burman Coffee Traders offer lots of great Home Roasting Resources! These Learning Center posts – informational primers about different types of coffees and teas, as well as simple practical guidelines for using a variety of equipment – will be useful for everyone, with helpful articles for early beginners just learning the ropes of their new hobby as well as experienced home roasters perfecting their skills. Even those who are just coffee-curious can learn a lot with our series of Home Coffee Roasting Primers.














For newcomers, this collection of intro articles is the best place to start:



Learn more about roasters and other equipment:



Learn more about diverse types of coffees:

Learn the stories behind our most unique beans:

  • Coffee Grower Profiles – we are excited to share stories about some of the most unique and innovative growers with whom we have special partnerships. More coming soon!

And please remember that we also carry an incredible selection of premium teas! Read more about our newest, most popular and most exceptional teas, including these great introductory articles:



More Highlighted Products:

SALES & SPECIALS

SEE OUR FULL COFFEE LIST

SEE OUR FULL TEA LIST


NEW! Japanese Organic Roasted Kukicha (Twig Tea)

Kukicha "twig tea"

Great news, tea fans! We just got another special health tea from Japan. Kukicha – “twig tea” – is frequently enjoyed as a health tonic due to its high antioxidants and low caffeine.

Kukicha is quite literally the twigs and stems of the tea plant, mostly byproducts removed from the leaves during processing. But this very mild tea is recommended by those who follow a macrobiotic diet (which stems from “yin and yang” ideas of Chinese Taoism and Japanese Zen Buddhism) as a balancing and restorative elixir, and it is sometimes mixed with fruit juices to provide healthy nutrients to young children.

This Roasted Kukicha is really yummy! The roasting adds more robust and well-rounded flavors, appealing more to Western tastes. It is still a very mild tea, with pale orange liquor and a subtle aroma, easy on the belly, calming and warming rather than stimulating. Flavors tend toward nutty with subdued notes of cedar, canteloupe, jasmine, plus a unique tone that stands out compared to other teas – rich and buttery oats. Kukichas are known for being “creamy” and this roasted variety seems to have even more thick silky body. With longer steeping, a little astringency creeps in, but almost no bitterness (as long as you keep water temps low), and then eventually more vegetal flavors resembling bamboo or pine begin to dominate as body and sweetness improve slightly more.

After taste testing different temps and times, we recommend giving this roasted kukicha a gentle but longer steep to bring out more flavors and enrich the delicate liquor. We liked it best when steeped for about 5 minutes in 170 degree water. At only 3 minutes, this tea will contain some antioxidants and micro-nutrients, but will look and taste very light, similar to our Exquisite Pearls White Tea. At 7 minutes, it will taste much more robust, nutty with a hint of crisp melon floating on top of silky sweet body, but beyond that it begins to take on a more woody vegetal flavor.

Or try steeping this kukicha in traditional Japanese style – 6 grams of tea in 6 ounces of water, steeped for 30-60 seconds.  This provides a rich flavor experience quite different than a typical green tea – stand-out flavors include creamy buttery oats and a light but uniquely crisp astringency that tingles the palate and sinuses.  It can be re-steeped numerous times to enjoy the full range of flavor profiles.


Steeping Time – 3-7 minutes

Water Temp – 170 F

Organic green tea twigs

Buy Japanese Organic Roasted Kukicha



Fresh Roast SR500: Perfect for Beginners



We carry several types of roasters, with different batch sizes and mechanisms to suit different needs.

Our Favorite Home Coffee Roaster

For new home roasters, we have long recommended the FreshRoast SR500, a “fluid bed” roaster which is super easy to use. Fluid bed roasters are very similar in design to the familiar hot-air popcorn poppers – minimal mechanical parts, simply a fan and a heating element – the only significant difference is a smaller (and therefore hotter) roasting chamber. See video of SR500 in action.

The SR500’s glass roasting chamber makes it easy to watch as the roast develops, and then stop the roast at exactly the right moment. These popular roasters are economically priced, will roast a modest amount of beans in a speedy 7-20 minutes (including cool time), and are very easy to clean and maintain. Simple, safe, and accessible, the SR500 is ideal for new home coffee roasting enthusiasts.

UPDATE: The FreshRoast SR500 has been discontinued, but we are pleased to offer the NEW FreshRoast SR540, featuring a larger roasting chamber and improved control features but retaining most other characteristics of the venerable SR500. Check out this updated article on FreshRoast SR540.


How to use your FRESH ROAST SR500 coffee roaster

pour green coffee into roast chamber
SR 500 Home Coffee Roaster control panel
the cool cycle on the SR 500 Coffee Roaster

cleaning chaff collector of the SR 500 coffee roaster

Here are the basic steps:

  1. Start with four level scoops of green coffee (about 4.5 ounces by weight).
  2. Remove the chaff collector, add the coffee to the roasting chamber and put the chaff collector back on.
  3. Toggle the heat setting from OFF to LOW. Set the timer for 5 – 9.9 minutes. You may add time at any point by hitting the UP button.
  4. Start the roast with lowest temperature and highest fan speed settings, to lower moisture content and ensure an even roast. After approximately two minutes move the temperature to high. As the roast progresses coffee beans will begin turning over vigorously, especially after first crack; turn the fan speed down as needed, as slower-moving beans will build heat to roast faster and more evenly.
  5. As coffee beans roast they will begin to brown, double in size and shed chaff, emitting a light audible “first crack.” Begin to pay close attention, watching for your desired roast level. For many coffees, we recommend a roast that ends shortly before second crack – beans will appear medium to medium-dark brown and the surface of the beans will begin to turn from dull/flat to a velvety sheen; this is within the range of “City Roast” to “Full City Plus Roast,” and is a good place to start for most coffees. When you are happy with the roast level, simply hit the COOL button to complete the cycle.
  6. Be aware that roasting goes much faster as you move into the dark end of the spectrum. “Second crack” occurs when internal bean oils and moisture expand from an exothermic reaction, producing a small hole in the bean and emitting a subtle crackling sound; this is the start of a dark roast. Sometimes second crack is very quiet, but if you see shiny oils on the surface of the beans, you are into the second crack – consider turning off the heat at this time, as beans will very rapidly darken beyond this point. If you see smoke coming from the roaster, you are well into the second crack and at a dark roast; definitely hit the COOL button now.
  7. DO NOT SKIP THE COOL CYCLE! This function not only stops the roast from continuing and cools beans enough that they may be handled, but also it is very important to allow the equipment to cool before beginning the next batch.
  8. After the cool cycle shuts off, remove the chaff collector (be careful – it may be still pretty warm), lift out the roast chamber by its handle and dump out the beans.  Let freshly roasted beans sit in a glass or ceramic bowl to allow “set-up” for a day or two, then put them in an air tight container. We like to store the set-up roasted beans in a small canning jar.
  9. The only cleaning necessary is to dump out the chaff from the chaff collector and wipe it out; a small basting brush works perfectly. This model yields about 28 cups per batch.


Follow roasting with a “Set-up” period of time

Freshly roasted beans will be at their peak of flavor only after they have “set-up” for a day or more. This is due to necessary off-gassing of carbon dioxide that balances the acidic tones in the beans. Read our primer about roast styles to learn more.

different coffee roasting styles coffee beans set up

What if roasts are too dark or too light?

Batch size is critical to the roasting process. In all air roasters, smaller batches roast slower and larger batches roast faster. It may seem counter-intuitive, but hot air flows more freely with fewer beans, meaning that less heat builds up in the chamber. If your roasts are too dark decrease your batch size to increase air flow or hit the COOL button earlier. If your roasts are too light increase your batch size to increase trapped hot air, or increase time and heat settings.

We recommend taking notes in a Roasting Journal, so that you can remember exactly what settings work best for each unique bean.

Not sure if you want it lighter or darker? Read our primer about roast styles if you would like to experiment with different roast levels.

More Coffee Roaster Tips:

All roasters are sensitive to your home voltage, so it helps to identify a circuit that will not be used by any other appliances while you are roasting. This also means that roasting times may vary slightly from one batch to the next, so be sure to watch carefully, especially with a new roaster.

Keep in mind that these are home roasters not intended for commercial-scale use. It is very important to let them cool down between batches or you may trigger the thermal protection safety features, which require the roaster to be reset by the manufacturer and may void the warranty.

If you want to stop the roast at any time, just hit the COOL button. It is inadvisable to switch the roaster off, as it will be very hot and it will require a cool cycle before handling. We cannot emphasize it enough – the cool cycle is very important to maintaining the longevity and effectiveness of your Fresh Roast SR500.

Never leave any roaster unattended. Think of home coffee roasting as similar to frying bacon – it can and will burn if you walk away from it!

fresh roast SR500 and roasting styles

For even more tips, see our video demo on using the FreshRoast SR500:


NEW Video Guide to FreshRoast SR 540


Want to learn more about Green Coffee before diving in? Follow these links:


Ready to get started with Roasting Coffee?



Home Coffee Roasting for Beginners



The Art of Home Roasting:
Using Your Senses

Though professional roasters now use high-tech thermometers and precision scales and timers to ensure commercial-grade consistency, home coffee roasting is an art even more than a science, and perfecting your roasting skills will require close attention to the process. This primer will help you to understand how to use your senses to determine when your coffee beans are at just the right roast level. But it will still take a lot of practice, and some trial and error with each new batch of beans – we hope that you have lots of fun on your flavor adventures!

Smell

Unroasted coffee beans start as a pale green color (except for decafs, which are already brown). As the beans begin to heat up, they change first to a straw or tan color, and you will notice a kind of grassy smell. As the beans retain more heat and the roast accelerates, the batch will more rapidly progress through darker shades and the scent will change from a faint roasted coffee aroma to a pungent burning smell with visible smoke.

beans begin to change colors
cool cycle

Watch

You may be able to judge the correct roast level by deciding when you like the smell. But for some, this may be difficult, especially since different coffees have different aromas. We find that it is usually easier to determine the correct roast level by eye. A medium roast, or anywhere in the range between “City” and “City Plus” roasts, will look medium-brown and dry. A “Full City” roast is a few shades darker than City Plus, and will begin to display oils on the surface, a subtle velvety sheen. A “Full City Plus” is a deep brown with more visible oils, a noticeably shiny appearance. Beyond that level, there are many designations for dark roasts, such as Vienna, French, Italian, etc, ranging from very dark brown to black. Read our Guide to Coffee Roast Styles to learn more about the wide spectrum of roast levels.

It is very important to understand that roasting goes much faster once you enter the dark end of the spectrum; the differences between Vienna and Italian roasts may be only a few more seconds on high heat. And any roast darker than Full City will tend to dominate the unique characteristics of the beans and to pretty consistently produce flavor profiles more like the dark roast style, less like the coffee itself. For these reasons, it is very (very!) important to watch your roasting coffee, especially during the last few minutes as it nears the desired roast level.

Listen

Coffee can pop or “crack” twice during roasting. The “first crack” is when the coffee expands and breaks its papery coating, which becomes chaff and is automatically collected by the roaster. It will sound similar to popcorn popping (though quieter). The “second crack” is when remaining moisture and oils expand and fracture the bean more dramatically (though it is audibly much quieter than first crack). When you hear second crack, you can be sure that you are moving into dark roast territory. For many home roasters, it is an easy rule of thumb to turn off the heat a few moments before you begin to hear the second crack if aiming for medium roast, or just after the start of the second crack if aiming for medium-dark roast.


Coffee Roasters for Home Coffee Roasting

We carry several types of coffee roasting machines, with different batch sizes and mechanisms to suit different needs. For new home roasters, we often recommend the FreshRoast SR540, the latest version of a proven “fluid bed” roaster which is super easy to use, especially for those new to home coffee roasting.

fresh roast SR500

Sounds Easy, Right? It sure is! Read More about popular FreshRoast SR Models


Home Coffee Roaster Tips & User Guides for All Models

Advice and tips on all current and past home coffee roasters sold by Burman Coffee Traders.


Want to learn more about Green Coffee before diving in? Follow these links:

What is Green Coffee? What are Green Coffee Beans?

Understanding the Taste Characteristics of Good Coffee: How do Burman Coffee Traders evaluate coffee beans from growers all across the world? What are the characteristics we use to judge quality and how do we ensure a wide variety to suit many different tastes?

Choosing Premium Green Coffees: Our recommendations for beginning to explore our diverse selection: 3 lb Bundles and Sales.

– Learn How to Use a Home Coffee Roaster

Learn what to expect from different roast levels in the wide Spectrum of Roast Styles

Learn about the terroirs of Growing Regions, specific Strains or Cultivars, and the Processing Methods used after harvesting – all affect the taste and roast characteristics of each unique green coffee.


Ready to get started?



Guide to Coffee Roast Styles



All of us coffee fans have at some point felt mystified by the seemingly endless and arbitrary list of distinct roast styles. What are the differences between “City,” “City Plus,” and “Full City”? What do we mean when we talk about “American,” “French,” “Italian,” and/or “Vienna” roasts? And why is one “Espresso Roast” so much darker than another? This article will clarify common terms used to indicate roast levels, and what characteristics can be expected from each broad category.

There is very little standardization of terms for roast levels, which often causes confusion. We generally find that only professional roasters actually benefit from a perfect understanding of all the specific styles; for most coffee lovers, it is good enough just to know the differences between “light” and “dark” (and why we at BCT almost always go for “medium”).


A Wide Spectrum of Coffee Roast Styles

All roast styles fall within a spectrum from lighter to darker, but sometimes the differences between the most popular roast styles – like “City,” “City Plus,” and “Full City” – are so tiny that it is difficult to get a clear vision of the whole spectrum. For example, those names indicate internal bean temperatures ranging between 426-437º F, and the difference in roasting times may be less than 1 minute, but the perceived differences in body and flavor profile can be very significant. Most boutique coffees that we consume in the United States are roasted somewhere within this very limited range, while most bargain coffees are further into medium-dark range (but not nearly as dark as some cultures like them!).

city roasts

“City,” “City Plus,” and “Full City” roasts – most boutique beans in the USA will be roasted within these levels

An experiment will help to clarify: treat the same beans with a City roast (426º F) and a Full City roast (437º F) – or just think of it as “two levels darker” – then taste-test them right next to each other, and you may be shocked by the big differences in body and flavor profile! But then give those beans a Cinnamon roast and a Spanish roast, and you may not even recognize them as the same coffee!

Viewed on the whole, all roasts will fall into one of four color levels, described below. Listed in parentheses are common names for specific roast styles falling within these broader color levels.

spectrum of roasts
Spectrum of coffee beans, from raw to burned. Everyone has different preferences, but we generally recommend aiming for the middle range of this spectrum; the extremes at either end (greenish yellow or totally black) will be unpalatable to most.

Since we cater to home roasters who are mostly figuring out their favorite roasts by trial and error and lots of fun taste-testing, rather than precision measurement of the internal temperatures of the beans, we recommend that you avoid stressing out about all the specific terminology – describing a roast level as “light” or “dark” rather than “New England” or “New Orleans” is just so much easier! But it can be fun to learn all the nuanced roastmaster vocabulary, so we have included popular names for specific roast levels. The designations listed in parentheses go from lighter to darker (though even this is debatable due to lack of standardized terminology). Those in italics are vague descriptors, less commonly used within the premium coffee world (though favored by the big cheap coffee companies), and quite frankly we do not know exactly what they mean, because everyone uses them differently!



Light Roasts (aka “Half City,” “Blonde,” “Cinnamon,” “New England,” “Light City”)

light roasts
Light Roasts – note that some chaff still clings to the beans on very light roasts

After a few minutes you will hear the first “crack.” The beans will have visibly expanded in size and will be a brighter orange-brown color, dry with no visible oils. “Blonde” (second to left) or “Cinnamon” (third to left) roasts may not even make it to first crack with some beans – we generally advise against such light roasts because they may taste raw and vegetal or “grassy.” But some enjoy light roasts because they are significantly higher in caffeine – “Half City” (far left) roasts may be barely drinkable, but nowadays they are often used for trendy high-caffeine beverages.

Light roasts are sometimes preferred for milder coffee varieties, and often will exhibit more of the subtle nuanced “origin flavor” or terroir. Generally, coffees roasted to this level can be expected to be higher in acidity and lighter in body, and they may taste harsh and underdeveloped.

Beans from regions such as Ethiopia, Kenya, Hawaii, and Jamaica are often light-roasted so that their signature characteristics shine through in the cup.



Medium Roasts (aka “City,” “American,” “City Plus,” also “Regular,” “Breakfast”)

medium roasts
Medium Roasts – a wide range! Notice how there are less specific names even though this is the largest section of the spectrum.

Shortly after “first crack” but before the “second crack” occurs, the beans are considered to be within the medium roast range. Beans will be medium brown and still exhibit a dry surface, though they may appear to have a slightly more velvety texture. “City” (far left) roasts generally end shortly after first crack, “City Plus” (fifth from left) may require a couple of minutes longer, but at this point the roast level will progress much more quickly, so pay close attention!

Medium-roasted coffees are generally preferred in the United States. There will be sweeter tones than the light roasts and the body will present more balance in acidity, aroma, and flavor.

A good place to start with a new unfamiliar coffee, most beans taste good medium-roasted, and it will be easy to assess whether a lighter or darker roast may be needed to better suit the bean or your own taste preferences.

And we encourage you to experiment! Coffee culture in the US has not yet invented distinctive names for the smallest shade variations, as Europeans have given to their preferred dark roasts, but the best part about home roasting is that you can figure out exactly what roast point is perfect for each unique bean – and you can call it whatever you like!



Medium-Dark Roasts (aka “Full City,” “Viennese” or “Vienna,” “Full City Plus,” also “Continental,” “European,” “After Dinner”)

medium-dark roasts
Medium-Dark Roasts – note how the surface begins to get a little oily as the beans near second crack, and some beans may be chipped

Eventually, you will hear the beans begin their “second crack’”and you will see oils rising to the surface. The beans will become a rich, dark color and appear slightly shiny. “Full City” (far left) is still a few moments short of second crack, while anything beyond “Full City Plus” (far right) will progress beyond the second crack phase and well into dark roast territory.

At this level flavors will tend more toward spicy, chocolate, and dark berries, a lower-acidity full-bodied cup with abundant aromas and a drier finish, more like baker’s chocolate or fine wine.

Central American, South American, and Indonesian coffees typically taste very good at this roast point.



Dark Roast (aka “French,” “Italian,” “Turkish,” “Neapolitan,” “New Orleans,” “Spanish,” also “High,” “Double”)

dark roasts
Dark Roasts – it becomes more challenging to notice the differences by color, but beans get significantly more oily as they are further roasted

After second crack, beans will swiftly turn very dark – Spanish-roasted coffees are charcoal black – and very shiny – touch them and the surface will be noticeably oily. In the roaster, beans will begin to smoke as sugars carbonize.

Tastes will be smoky/sweet with lighter body. The darker the roast the less acidity will be perceived in the cup. Dark roasting will also decompose much of the caffeine, so dark-roasted coffees will have less stimulant effect than light-roasted ones (this is the reason why high-caffeine Robusta beans are often added to espresso blends).

Many beans lose their distinctive flavor profiles under the dominant smoky flavors of a dark roast, but we have found that Brazilian and Indonesian beans stand up very well to this treatment.

burned coffee beans

Burned coffee beans – if they look
like this in your roaster, hit the
cool cycle before they start on fire!

Historically, mainstream tastes have tended toward the dark end of the spectrum (dark roasts are more reliable for consistent commercial coffees, simply because they blast all the unique flavors out of the beans) and therefore there are a lot more designations for incrementally darker roasts. The differences between “French” (far left) and “Spanish” (far right) roasts are actually much less than the differences between “City” and “City Plus” roasts. If you like a specific level within this range, be sure to pay very close attention to your roaster – once the beans get up to these high temperatures, they will be moving into the next roast level every few seconds!


“Espresso Roast” : We would like to note that there is no such thing as an “Espresso Roast.” Espresso is a brew style, not a roast style. It can be very tricky to guess the exact roast level of coffees labeled “Espresso Roast,” because every roaster has their own idea of what that means. But they typically reside within a predictable range – most beans intended for espresso are roasted medium-dark to dark (“Vienna,” “French,” “Italian,” or “Continental” roasts are all commonly used for espresso).

Also note that because coffees intended for espresso are usually a special blend of beans from different regions, challenges may arise due to inconsistencies in roasting times. For example, you may notice that our BCT Espresso and Jumpstart blends will roast up with some beans a little darker, some a little lighter – but don’t worry! – these are carefully crafted recipes that provide deep and balanced flavor profiles, and they are supposed to look that way.


An important note about “Set-up”:

A crucial detail often neglected when first learning about home coffee roasting is that freshly roasted coffee beans will off-gas carbon dioxide for several days, up to several weeks (and after this off-gassing is finished, they are considered stale). Carbon dioxide stored in the beans creates carbonic acid when it combines with water. This means that freshly roasted beans will taste more acidic than those that have rested or “set up” for a few days.

This part requires no work or attention – just put them in a bowl immediately after roasting and let them air out at room temperature. For most beans, we recommend letting them set up for at least 24 hours, up to a week or more, depending on the variety and your preferences. It can be really fun to experiment with the set-up curve – roast on Monday, then savor a sharp intense flavor profile on Tuesday, a milder medium-acidity cup on Thursday, and more balanced mellow tones on Saturday!

Often, we roast just enough to always have one fresh batch, but if you prefer to roast more and want to keep the beans fresher longer, simply put them in a sealed container after they have set up. Mason jars are preferred, but any reusable food storage container will suffice. Plastic bags must be the type with one-way valves, or else they will puff up with gases. Store at room temperature to maintain optimal moisture – refrigerators are too damp, freezers too dry. Please note that although you can slow the process with a sealed container, there is nothing that you can do to stop freshly roasted coffee from going stale – except to brew and drink it!

Remember to let beans “set-up” for at least 24 hours for optimal flavor

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Read more Home Coffee Roasting Primers: Coffee RegionsCoffee Cultivars, and Coffee Processing Methods