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Light, medium and dark roasts

Light, medium or dark roast – which coffee roast is for you?

Coffee beans are actually green, soft and spongy seeds in their raw form. It takes the roasting process to unlock their delicious taste, and turn them into the brown, fragrant beans we all know and love. Coffee roasts are categorised according to their colour: light, medium and dark. The colour is only half the story, though. The roast itself has a huge influence on the flavour of the coffee, with the amount of time the beans are roasted producing wildly different tastes. Each roast has their own qualities, so it’s really a matter of personal preference. Here, in a nutshell, are the differences between coffee roasts.

Light Roasts

Light, medium and dark roasts - light roast coffee

Light roasts are light brown in colour, and have a lack of oil on the beans, as they have not roasted long enough for the oils to break through to the surface. They retain most of the characteristics unique to the origins of the coffee – most of the taste comes from the original coffee. This means light roasts offer a more complex flavour, with traces of sweetness, fruitiness, floral notes, buttery taste or earthy tones; the taste varies depending on the beans. Because dark roasts are known for their smoky, bitter flavour, it’s often assumed that light roasts are the milder, ‘weaker’ choice – but the complexity of a light roast makes for an intense taste in its own way. Light roasts have the highest acidity and the lightest body, since they have not been roasted long enough to produce caramelised sugars or oil. They also contain greater levels of chlorogenic acid – which is a well known antioxidant and anti-inflammatory. Examples of light roasts include Light City, Half City, Cinnamon Roast and New England Roast.

Medium Roasts

Light, medium and dark roasts - medium roast coffee

Beans that are removed immediately after the first ‘crack’ in a coffee roast will be light roasted, but leave them in as the cracks continue and the beans will begin to caramelise, and take on the flavours and aromas of the roast. This medium roast will be medium brown in colour with a stronger flavour, and more of the coffee’s oils will be visible on the beans. At this roast level, you get a balance between acidity and body, with the coffee’s qualities beginning to give way to the roast’s flavours and aromas. This means you get the tastes of the original coffee – albeit milder than a light roast – but these will be complemented with the fuller body introduced by the roasting process. There are still a lot of possible different flavours that come from the origins of the beans, whether it’s citrus, nuts, chocolates or acidity, but you’ll also get more a ‘traditional coffee’ flavour, and a more rounded taste. Examples of a medium roast include City, Breakfast, Regular and American roasts.

Dark Roasts

Light, medium and dark roasts - dark roast coffee

The second ‘crack’ in the coffee roast denotes the stage where the beans start to become dark roasted. They will range from very dark shades of brown to black in colour, with oils seen on the beans. When you drink a dark roast, you’re almost exclusively tasting notes from the roast, rather than the subtle flavours of the original bean. Their strong, bitter flavour is often what people mean when they talk about ‘strong’ coffee, and these dark roasts have a much richer taste and bold body. Because the original coffee’s qualities are mostly lost at this roast level, though, it’s difficult to pick out any specific characteristics of the coffee’s origin when drinking. Nuanced flavours like citrus and acidity give way to the more overpowering flavours from the roast. There can also be notes of dark, bitter chocolate, liquorice or spicy tones. These roasts have historically been popular in Europe, used in Continental, Italian, French and Spanish roasts – and due to the fact that these roasts can stand up to lots of milk and sugar, dark roasts are usually used for Espresso roasts.

Which roast has the most caffeine?

None of them! Some coffee drinkers might think that because dark roasts taste stronger, they must contain more caffeine, but this isn’t the case. Light, medium or dark, there’s no real difference between the roasts when it comes to caffeine content. Want more caffeine? Then just use more coffee when brewing.


Whether you prefer a light, medium or dark roast, our expertly blended coffee is perfect for you. We freshly roast our beans on site every day at our Bank Street and Blackfriars Street shops in Carlisle – the aroma of our coffee roasting has been part of everyday life for generations of Cumbrians. You can pop in store, or order online – we offer UK-wide delivery and we’re even happy to quote for delivery outside the UK, too. Browse our range of coffee here.

Fancy trying something different, with a new delicious coffee delivered to your door every month? Read all about our Coffee Club here.