What’s My Roast?


Your favorite coffee roast actually says a lot about you—how much you crave chocolate, whether you’re a beer or wine drinker—even whether you’re a vegetarian.

First, a bit of science: Coffee is roasted light to dark, and every roast has its own profile. In general, when it comes to flavor, lighter roasts maintain more of the flavor profile of its beans—the humidity, temperature and soil of their origin—but the darker the roast, the more the coffee acquires the flavor of the roast itself (often referred to as the “roast character”) rather than the beans. Coffee beans contain natural sugars and natural oils, and it is the flavor of these compounds that is increasingly activated by longer roasting times. As comparison, there is a world of difference between the taste of raw sugar and burnt sugar.

What Your Roast Says About You
So what does all this mean? A light roast tends to have a good bit of subtlety to its flavor profile—a professional taster might describe it as “grassy,” “citrus,” or “toasted grain,” depending on the beans. On the other hand, the subtle notes of a light roast can’t really compete with excess cream or flavored syrups, as those would drown out the bouquet. So there’s a good chance your average light roast coffee drinker is enjoying her coffee black. She enjoys subtlety, the quieter flavor notes; she might think of herself as “traditional” or a “purist” due to her preference for black coffee. Lighter roasts also have higher acidity.

Darker roasts, having activated those sugars to a more advanced degree, might be venturing into “caramel” territory. There’s also a much greater likelihood that a taster would describe a dark roast as “burnt,” necessitating the addition of a “flavor booster” like milk or cream to smooth out the taste (drinking a dark roast black is not for the faint of tongue). Caramel and cream are much “bigger” flavors, so one might say those who like a bit more drama in their lives—who are drawn to the stronger emotions, perhaps—tend to favor dark roasts. Or the coffee drinker is younger, in his teens or twenties, and wants a more “exciting” coffee drink—a blended iced coffee with chocolate syrup, say—and the only way to taste any coffee flavor at that stage is with a dark roast.