Coffee Roasts

roasted coffee beansNext to the original quality of the bean, the roast is the most important factor affecting the flavor of the final product. Coffee beans undergo distinct unpredictable changes the longer they are subjected to heat. Here's a quick outline of what you can expect from each of the common coffee roasts and some of the terminology you can expect to run into.

Ultimately, the roast that is right for you is very much a matter of personal preference. But stay flexible. Personally, I generally prefer darker roast by also enjoy medium or even a very light roast coming into vogue now referred to as "blonde." It's great fun to experiment so easily and affordably.

The Roasting Process

Let's take a look at what happens in the roasting process. As you might expect, coffee beans are the seed of the coffee tree. They ripen on the plant inside a red berry. After they harvest the coffee varies, growers strip the pulp of the berry away, then clean and dry the bean.

At this point, the coffee bean is a pale tan in color. If ground and brewed, the resulting coffee would have very little flavor. Roasting changes that.

Heating the coffee bean drives out moisture and at the same time develops the volatile substances that give coffee it's desirable aroma and taste. These substances go by the name of coffee essence or coffee "oils", even though they are not chemically a true oil. This is good since if they were they would not dissolve in water.

Coffee essence is extremely fragile. It evaporates readily and oxidizes easily. Not only that, it can absorb off tastes if the batch of coffee beans being roasted isn't perfectly clean. Coffee essence is indeed the essence of coffee, yet it only represents about 1/200 of the weight of a green bean.

As the coffee is roasts longer, the essence develops more fully and gathers into pockets throughout the central portion of the bean. The heat also steadily drives out moisture.

As the process continues, the bean darkens in the coffee essence rises to the surface of the bean. This is why darker coffee roasts appear oily while lighter roast have a dry surface.

Dark roasting gradually vaporizes some of the acidic components of the coffee bean. Because of this, dark roasted coffees have slightly less bite and than lighter roasts. Additionally, as the roasting continues longer the bulk of the bean develops a toasted flavor that contributes to the taste profile of a dark roasted cup of coffee.

The Origin of the Names of Coffee Roasts

Historically, the populations of various countries predominantly favor a characteristic degree of roasting over others. In Scandinavian countries and in the United States people have traditionally preferred lighter roasts, while the French and Italians have long been drinkers of dark roasted coffees.

This has led to national names being applied to the degree of roast. This is a very informal system with no definitive definitions. Generally speaking, American roast is medium, Viennese is medium-dark, French is a dark roast and Italian darker yet.

But again, there is no definition. What someone may call an Italian roast, someone else will refer to as dark French. You also see dark roasted coffees labeled espresso roast because traditionally a dark roasted bean is used to brew espresso.

How to Recognize a Coffee Roast

The labels I described above are guidelines to what you might expect from the coffee. You can get a pretty accurate idea about what to expect from the appearance of the coffee bean after roasting.

A medium roast (American) will be medium brown in color with a dry surface. Flavor wise it has a definite acid snap and rich tones.

A medium dark roast (Viennese) is a bit darker in color and is beginning to develop patches of oil on the surface. The acidity will be less and it is starting to develop a very slight roasted flavor.

Dark roasted coffee (French roast for most people, but also called Italian) is dark brown with an evenly oily surface. Acid he has disappeared and a distinct bittersweet roasted flavor is present.

Very dark roasted coffee (Italian or Dark French) is almost black in color and has a very shiny oily surface. It has an almost burned or charcoal flavor (in a positive way).

Of course, the best way to really get to know the various coffee roasts is dedicated fieldwork. It's tough duty I know, but somebody has to keep sampling and testing the different brews. Have fun with your explorations!



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