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The Perfect Brew: Light vs. Medium vs. Dark Roast Coffee

Galena Roasters is a small-batch specialty roasting company located in Galena, Illinois. Since 2018, Galena Roasters has been dedicated to bringing its beloved town exceptional coffee through an exceptional experience.

Coffee, a beloved beverage and morning ritual for many, comes in a variety of tasting notes, aromas, and intensities based on the roasting process and roast level. The choice between light, medium, and dark roast coffee can be sometimes confusing for both coffee connoisseurs and casual sippers but understanding at least the basic difference between roast levels will help you elevate your coffee experience. Cheers.

Light Roast Coffee

Lighter roast coffee is the most challenging yet rewarding of the three roast levels. With a lighter body, brighter acidity, and greater nuance and sweetness, light roast coffees are roasted to lower final temperatures, preserving more of their original chemistry and potential. Here's what you can expect from a cup of light roast coffee:

Flavor Profile:

  • Bright and acidic: Light roast coffee often has an initial zesty and crisp flavor.

  • Floral and fruity notes: With lighter roast beans, you might detect greater hints of citrus, berries, or floral undertones. This coffee roast tends to boast more subtle flavors. 

  • Subtle sweetness: The beans' natural sugars shine through, accentuated by the organic acids that increase the perception of sweetness.

Caffeine Content:

Light roast coffees contain the highest caffeine levels if measured by volume. Because coffee beans during roasting expand and lose mass, light roast coffee beans are smaller and more dense.  Thus more light roast beans are in a measured scoop of coffee than darker roast beans.

Color and Aroma:

You can expect a lighter brown color and clear perception of the volatile aromatics created during the roasting process.  If there is a nutty or fruity or even chocolatey tasting note in a specific coffee, those aromas will be very perceptible.

Try two of our light roast coffees: Ethiopia Yirgacheffe & Kenya


Medium Roast Coffee

Medium roast coffee is a middle ground between light and dark roast. It strikes a balance between preserving the beans' original characteristics and presenting more of the flavors created by the roasting process:

Flavor Profile:

  • Balanced and well-rounded: Medium roast offers a little more body and mouthfeel than lighter roasts.  

  • Roasting flavor notes: Medium roast coffees have more of the chemistry created by the roasting process. Greater melanoidins and caramelization begin to gain influence in the cup.

  • Moderate acidity: The acidity is less pronounced and more muted though not absent in a medium roast.  There is still potential for the perception of sweetness.

Caffeine Content:

Roasting temperatures do not get hot enough to affect the caffeine molecule so again it’s all relative to how many beans in your method of measure.  Whether measured by volume or weight medium roast coffees are similar in caffeine content.

Color and Aroma:

A nice, medium-brown color with a well-rounded, complex aroma, which includes notes of both the original bean chemistry and the roasting maillard process.

Try two of our medium roast coffees: Brazil Fazenda Santa Inez & Ethiopia Oromia Guji

Dark Roast Coffee

Dark roast coffee, labeled as French or Italian roast, undergoes a typically longer roasting process which ends the roast at a higher bean temperature. Darker roasted coffees are more about the roast flavors than the original terroir of the coffee beans.

Flavor Profile:

  • Bolder and smokier: Darker roast coffees typically have the greatest amount of body and mouthfeel.  Many of the more subtle flavors can be obscured in a dark roast.

  • Minimal acidity: The original organic acids and flavor influences are absent in dark roast coffees.

  • Slight bitterness: Darker roast coffee may carry a hint of bitterness due to the chemistry created by the greater length and or intensity of the roasting process.  Some dark roast aficionados will tell you they are “built for milk.”

Caffeine Content:

Dark roast coffee contains the greatest amount of caffeine if measured by weight.  The dark roast beans are larger and much less dense, having lost mass from the more intense roasting process.  Therefore a weighed ounce of dark roast contains more beans, and thus more caffeine, than coffees roasted to lighter roast levels.


Color and Aroma:

Dark brown, sometimes with oils on the bean surface.

Try our dark roast coffee: Keith’s Sweet & Sassy Dark

Choosing the Right Roast for You

The choice between light, medium, and dark roast coffee ultimately comes down to personal preference. To help you decide, consider the following factors:

Flavor Preferences: If you enjoy the natural, bright flavors of coffee, opt for a light roast. If you prefer a balance between natural and roasted flavors, go for a medium roast. For a rich, smoky experience, dark roast is the choice.

Caffeine Sensitivity: It’s all about how many beans you want in your brew.  

Brewing Method: Different roast levels work better with various brewing methods. For example, light roast coffee can shine in pour-over or Aeropress, while dark roast suits French press.

Experiment with different roast levels to discover your perfect cup of coffee, and don't be afraid to explore the wide range of single-origin and specialty beans that each roast level has to offer. Happy brewing!

This blog is part of our series on the Ultimate Guide to Coffee Terminology. 

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