How different are coffee roast levels?
To learn more about what goes on behind the scenes at the roast level of coffee, from the moment the harvested coffee beans are turned into a roaster to when they become a happy cup of cold brew, we spoke to Maciej Kasperovic, Q grader, coffee expert and Coffee Director at Trade Coffee, a subscription coffee company that connects small roasters with coffee lovers across the United States. He explained more about the role of roasters in determining the roast level of coffee beans and how each one is uniquely delicious.
How are roasted coffee beans roasted?
According to Kasperowicz, a roaster’s primary task is to ensure that the freshly picked coffee beans are roasted well by performing a series of meticulous steps. “When coffee reaches the roaster, it’s a dry, green bean, and it’s basically the roaster’s job to turn that bean brown,” says Kasperowicz. “At the same time, the roaster makes that seed more fragile so we can grind it and cook it and dramatically change the flavor from something that smells like grass or bad green tea to a coffee flavor.”
To roast the beans, roasters rely on special equipment to carefully heat the coffee. “They dump the coffee into a big machine that applies heat. Most of the brewing machines used in specialty coffee work in two ways. either use a hot rotating drum that rotates like a solid, cast-iron clothes dryer, or use a chamber of extremely hot air, like a very extreme convection oven. Kasperovich says. He notes that the two most important key variables to control that will ultimately determine the specific flavor of the coffee beans are temperature and time.
However, what exactly is “roasted” coffee?
By controlling two key factors during roasting, temperature and time, the roaster can change the taste, smell, etc. of the coffee produced from those beans. “In the most basic sense, roast level is how dark the roaster makes the coffee. There are many different combinations of time and temperature that a roaster can use to achieve that color, and those choices will greatly affect flavor, texture and aroma, but the level of roast really means the roast color,” Kasperowicz says.
According to Kasperovich, one of the main ways to determine the type of roast is its color. “If you see a coffee bean that’s close to the sun, it’s definitely lightly roasted. If you see coffee that’s black, it’s a dark roast, and there are many degrees of medium roast in between, often in the eye of the beholder,” he says. Because the color scale can often be subjective, Kasperowicz says it’s important to share a basic metric so customers can determine what a roast level really means based on a specific roaster’s perspective. “One of the most important things I do when evaluating coffee at Trade is assigning coffee roast levels across all the coffees on our site; you’d be surprised how often one roaster will call a roast dark and another will call it medium,” he says.
“If you see a coffee bean that’s close to the sun, it’s definitely lightly roasted. If you see coffee that’s black, it’s a dark roast, and there are many degrees of medium roast in between, often in the eye of the beholder.”
How different roast levels affect the taste of coffee
There are many factors that affect the taste of coffee depending on the level of roast, but there are some general rules to help predict the end result. “The level of roast is actually pretty intuitive if you look at the beans. Lighter pans are often more delicate. Medium roasts start to bring out that caramel flavor, which makes sense because caramelization and Maillard reactions, like any other type of cooking, are actually happening,” says Kasperowicz.
This also means that the darker the roast, the stronger the flavor. “Dark roasts can taste kind of charred and smoky because the coffee fibers are actually charring. If you like those charred flavors, and most people do, dark roasts are for you,” Kasperovich says. On the other hand, the lighter the coffee bean, the more acidic it will be because it was roasted for the shortest amount of time. Meanwhile, medium roasters will love the more chocolate flavor, which is Kaspersky’s first choice if you’re looking for a place to start your coffee-loving journey.
The lighter the coffee bean, the more acidic it will be because it was roasted for the shortest amount of time.
“If you don’t know where to start, medium grills are probably the place to go. They are, in most cases, less acidic than similar light roast coffees, but they don’t have the charred bitterness you find in dark roasts,” Kasperowicz says. “They’re also probably the most versatile in terms of how easy they are to brew, whether you’re using a drip machine, cold brew or espresso,” he says. That said, regardless of the brewing method, Kasperovich notes that the grill will have the biggest impact on the final result, contrary to popular belief.
“However, I personally believe that the type of coffee you enjoy is more important than the brewing method you use. I’ve had some incredible light-roast espressos, for example, and if you really want dark, smoky flavors, you’ll probably want to stick with dark roasts, whether you’re brewing a brew or a French press,” Kasperowicz says. . For context, espressos are traditionally made with a medium or dark roast. Meanwhile, lighter pans are usually cooked to fill. (Although a French press can be paired with three types of barbecue, depending on who you ask.)
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