Light Roast vs. Dark Roast Coffee Beans: What are the Differences Between the Two?

Differences between light roast and dark roast coffee beans go beyond color. You may have already learned longer roasting times give dark roast coffee beans their almost black color. 

Besides roasting times and darker color, what are the distinguishing characteristics of light roast and dark roast coffee beans?

Let’s dig a little deeper to better understand how varying roasting times bring out differences in roasted coffee beans.

Dark Roast Coffee Beans Are More Full-Bodied and Have Bolder Flavors

What does it mean when coffee is “full-bodied”?

Let’s take a step back and define “body” as it relates to brewed coffee. Body is a characteristic describing the feeling or weight of a drink in one’s mouth. It is therefore sometimes known as “mouthfeel”. It can be described with words such as thin, light, heavy, or full. For comparison, whole milk has a heavier or fuller body, while skim milk has a thinner or lighter one. Some find the best way to get a sense of a coffee’s body is to let it rest on your tongue and rub it against the roof of your mouth.

The longer roasting time of dark roast coffee beans produces oils on the exterior. You may have noticed dark roast beans’ shinier surface. When brewed, these oils create the thicker, more full-bodied texture of dark roast coffee.

So is the darkest roast the most “full-bodied”?

In general, dark roast is more full-bodied relative to light roast coffee. However, coffee beans begin to lose body at a certain roasting point. Medium dark roasts tend to have the fullest, while darker roast beans have less body.

Darker roast coffees are known to have stronger and more distinct flavor profiles. 

What is a flavor profile? 

A flavor profile describes the relative intensity of aromas, tastes, and aftertastes in a food. Flavor profiles can also be related to textures and sensory attributes. Therefore, it is often mentioned when referring to the “body” of a drink.

In comparison, the flavor of light roast coffees is usually described as sweeter and brighter. When coffee is described as bright, it refers to the higher levels of acidity and “tanginess”. A bright flavor also indicates a drier aftertaste.

Light Roast Coffee Retains More of the Original Tastes of the Bean Relative to Dark Roast Coffee

Coffee beans’ origins play a role in the resulting flavor of brewed coffee. Each growing region will produce coffee beans with distinct flavor characteristics. The longer the beans are roasted, the more these flavors are masked. Higher quality coffees are sold as light roasts so unique flavors of different regions can be fully enjoyed.

Here are some examples of coffee growing regions and the flavor profiles associated with the coffee beans produced there:

  • Ethiopia – Bright, complex, fruity
  • Kenya – Acidic, sweet, notes of berry
  • India – Smooth, creamy, mild
  • Indonesia – Low Acidity, deep earthy flavors
  • Brazil – Chocolatey, nutty, light acidity
  • Colombia – Varies greatly region to region; from smooth with a chocolate finish to bright and fruity

If you are looking for coffee with a more complex taste, stick with light roast coffee beans. A complex flavored cup of coffee will reward you with many different taste accents.

Both Light and Dark Roast Coffees Have Health Benefits, But They Differ

Recently there has been a great deal of research devoted to identifying the health benefits of coffee. In general, research has found some evidence that coffee consumption reduces the risk of liver cancer, Type 2 diabetes, and heart failure. Studies have also found drinking coffee lowers your risk of experiencing depression or suffering from Alzheimer’s or Parkinson’s disease.

But is light roast coffee healthier than dark roast coffee?

This is not necessarily the case. Research has found both to have health benefits.

Lighter roast coffees have a higher concentration of an antioxidant known as polyphenol chlorogenic acid (CGA). This antioxidant is what creates the acidic taste of coffee. CGA is the main component responsible for coffee’s health benefits. Because it’s an antioxidant, it has the ability to help reduce inflammation, cholesterol levels, and blood pressure. It can also help fight the signs of aging in your skin. Less CGA is present in darker roasts as it gets broken down during the roasting process. Note that the quality of the original (green) coffee bean contributes to the CGA level as well. High quality organic green coffee beans will have the highest level of CGA.

What are the health benefits of darker roast coffees?

Darker roast coffees have their health benefits as well. N-methylpyridinium is present in higher levels the longer the coffee beans are roasted. Research has shown this chemical reduces the amount of excess acid produced in the stomach. Those who experience stomach irritations when drinking coffee are likely better off selecting coffee brewed with darker roast beans.

The longer the roasting time, the more phenalyndines are produced in the coffee beans. Phenalydines are the result of the chemical breakdown of chlorogenic acid lactone. They are responsible for the bitter taste of dark roast coffee. Despite the bitter taste, Phenalydines are healthy for the brain. They prevent the buildup of proteins responsible for conditions related to the nervous system’s deterioration. These conditions include Alzheimer’s and Parkinson’s disease.

Compared to light roast, dark roast coffee has also been found to more effectively replenish vitamin E and glutathione in the blood. Vitamin E helps to protect cells from damage. It is also an important antioxidant that keeps the immune system strong. This antioxidant is also thought to play a role in lowering the risk of heart disease, cancer, and dementia. When your body produces healthy levels of glutathione, your body experiences many health benefits. These include reduced inflammation, deceleration of aging, and the prevention of mental health conditions.

The Caffeine Myth – Light Roast vs. Dark Roast Coffee

It is worth mentioning the caffeine levels in light and dark roast coffee. It was once believed that dark roast coffee contains more caffeine than light roast. However, this is not the case. The roasting process reduces the density of the coffee bean, but not the caffeine content. Check out our blog post covering the caffeine content in coffee to get the full scoop.

Personal taste and preference will likely play a large role in your choice between light and dark roast coffees. Be sure to try coffee beans from different regions. Roast these beans at varying levels before making your final decision. You may be delightfully surprised.

Selecting the Best Coffee Grinder for Your Home Roasted Coffee Beans

buying and using a burr coffee grinder

Imagine waking up in the morning, eager to drink your first freshly brewed coffee of the day, only to disappoint your eager taste buds with a stale and flavorless liquid. You can avoid this scenario with the right coffee grinder.

Before you even take your first sip, the absence of the delicious aroma of freshly brewed coffee will likely be a huge letdown as well. This could become a reality for you if the ground coffee you purchased from a retail outlet is past its prime. Ground coffee loses its flavor more quickly than roasted coffee beans. You may find it advantageous to invest in a high-quality coffee grinder if you are a home coffee brewer.

Why do I need a coffee grinder?

Consider how much money is wasted when throwing out stale ground coffee.

Having a coffee grinder at your disposal will allow you to grind only the amount of beans needed for each batch of coffee, greatly decreasing your chances of wasting unused coffee grounds.

How do I choose the best coffee grinder?

Let’s start off with the types of coffee grinders available – blade and burr. 

coffee grinding
blade coffee grinder

Blade coffee grinders are the most cost-efficient and their movement is similar to that of a blender. The blades spin at a high-speed chopping roasted coffee beans and not actually grinding them. These grinders are also known as coffee mills.

Burr coffee grinders get their name from the two revolving rough surfaces (burrs) that grind the coffee beans. Moving between the burrs, the coffee beans are ground a few at a time. There are many options to consider if you are interested in purchasing a burr coffee grinder and they are sold within a wide price range. Things to consider are the size, power source (manual vs. electric), and the shape of the burrs (conical vs. flat).

So which type is better when comparing blade coffee grinders vs. burr coffee grinders?

Here are some things to consider when choosing between blade and burr coffee grinders:

1. Price

Blade coffee grinders would be your choice if you are looking for the least expensive option. In most cases, you get what you pay for when price is your main criteria. Blade grinders come with fewer options and tend to have a shorter lifespan.

Some may find blade coffee grinders to be an attractive option if they plan on using theirs to grind other things such as spices, giving them more bang for their buck. However, without a thorough cleaning, grinding other things with your coffee grinder will likely affect the coffee taste.

When it comes to burr coffee grinders, consider purchasing a manual one which will give you a consistent grind without the higher price of an electric version. However, what you don’t pay in dollars, you pay in labor.

When it comes to burr coffee grinders, consider purchasing a manual one which will give you a consistent grind without the higher price of an electric version. However, what you don’t pay in dollars, you pay in labor.

2. Grind Size

With blade coffee grinders, you cannot adjust the grind size as you can with burr coffee grinders. In fact, blade coffee grinders chop up the coffee beans into pieces of varying size. On the other hand, the grind size from burr grinders is more uniform.

Coffee Grinder infographic

You might be wondering why coffee grind size even matters.

The grind size will affect the overall flavor of your coffee. To get the most flavorful cup of coffee, the optimal grind size will depend on your brewing method. Pairing the wrong grind size and brewing method may result in coffee that is under- or over-extracted. You can use this guide to help you find the right combination.

There is even more to consider when you are looking to produce a finer coffee grind.

Producing a finer grind requires the coffee beans to be ground (or chopped) for a longer period of time. The high speed at which blade grinders rotate generates heat, ultimately resulting in a brewed coffee with a scorched or burnt flavor.

Bottom line: A burr coffee grinder will produce a more flavorful cup of coffee.

3. Preparation Time

Undoubtedly, self-grinding your coffee beans will increase your total coffee preparation time. Coffee lovers would likely agree that it is well worth the extra time to optimize the flavor from your coffee beans.

As you make your purchase decision, it’s important to consider how much coffee you make on a regular basis. Blade grinders and electric burr grinders will grind coffee beans more quickly than manual burr grinders. The time difference may not be a significant issue when grinding beans for a single serving of coffee. However, your coffee prep time may increase considerably when brewing larger batches. 

Manual coffee grinder
manual coffee grinder

Considering all the factors, most coffee aficionados will agree that burr coffee grinders give them the highest return in flavor on their investment in high-quality coffee beans. The adjustments available with burr coffee grinders also allow devoted coffee drinkers to more easily experiment with flavors by adjusting the grind size and brewing methods.

If you’re convinced a burr coffee grinder is the optimal choice, you may be wondering…

What’s the difference between Conical and Flat Burr Coffee Grinders?

Besides the shape of the burrs, differences between the two types of burr coffee grinders include: 

  • Grind Size Consistency – Flat burr coffee grinders produce a more consistent grind size, but the difference really can’t be detected without the aid of a microscope. The less consistent grind size of conical burr coffee grinders is desirable when brewing espresso.
  • Cleaning – Their shape makes flat burr coffee grinders more difficult to clean as more grounds become trapped in the burrs relative to the conical shaped ones. When grinding different types of coffee beans, trapped grounds from previous grindings can affect the flavor of your next cup of coffee. 
  • Price – Conical coffee grinders are more cost-effective than flat burr coffee grinders due to their slower motor. A less powerful motor results in less heat and noise generation.

Conical burr coffee grinders are more commonly used with home coffee brewing. 

There are many other “bells and whistles” you may consider when selecting your coffee grinder including the number of settings/adjustments, timers, and digital displays. 

Baratza Sette 30 AP coffee grinder

If you are interested in investing in a conical burr grinder with advanced design, the Baratza Sette 30 AP is a great option to consider. Its revolutionary design allows it to operate more efficiently at a reasonable price. 

See all of our Best Coffee Grinders here.