Two billion cups of coffee are consumed each and every day, according to the British Coffee Association.
But oftentimes, consumers don’t know exactly what they’re drinking… and it’s no surprise. today’s coffee culture has become more complex than understanding the universe. Light roast coffee, dark roast coffee, tamping, grind size, brew length, caffeine content… the list of variables in a cup of coffee is, like the universe itself, ever-expanding.
We’re here to decipher the confusion and lay it all out on the line for you, as simply as possible. In this blog post, we deconstruct the coffee strength vs coffee roast debate, and boy is it a doozy.
Is dark roast coffee stronger than light roast coffee?
It seems obvious to declare that the longer you roast a coffee bean, the stronger it’ll be. But you’d be wrong. In fact, it is the contrary: lighter-roasted coffee beans carry more strength in both flavor and caffeine content.
The reason this misinterpretation exists is that traditional coffee – that is, first and second-wave coffee – is associated with stronger flavors like toast, charcoal, and a general burned-ness. These flavors overwhelm the palette and often cause novice coffee drinkers to spit it out.
Think of it like toast. Burned toast is difficult to eat. It’s crunchier, drier, and will often cause us to cough an air of breadcrumbs. Lighter toasted bread, then, contains more ‘bread flavors’, so to speak. It’s more palatable and contains more of its original substance.
The same is true for a coffee bean. As we roast beans darker, we remove actual flavors and replace them with a generalized taste of burned-ness. But it is not stronger coffee.
Light roast coffee is stronger, by far
Light roast coffee is stronger on all counts. When it comes to flavor, fresh beans that are roasted lighter will contain more ‘origin flavors’, depending on factors like the type of bean, the region it was grown and the method it was processed.
Many specialty coffees are roasted lighter, and often carry a variety of flavors like berries, nuts and oats, honey, chocolate, and, in the case of some Ethiopian coffee (like a Yirgacheffe), Earl Grey tea and citrus.
When a coffee bean is roasted, it loses up to 90 percent of its water content. When it comes to caffeine, then, light roast coffee is denser, and consequently, it retains more minerals and nutrients, like caffeine.
Essentially, a burned chicken breast will have lost most of its vitamins and nutrients. Dark roast coffee will have lost its essential oils and minerals.
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Strong coffee is created through brewing, not roasting
Okay sure, if you roast a coffee as black as night, it’ll lose most of its caffeine content and much of its original flavor. But you’ll still have flavors, and when you brew it, it’ll still sit on a spectrum of strength.
Strong coffee, then, doesn’t come down to how dark or light you roast your beans. It comes down to brewing ratios. For instance, if you add too much water to your coffee grinds, you’ll dilute the flavor and it’ll taste like dirty water. Add too little and you’ll be left chewing that coffee for hours on end.
Consequently, coffee strength is determined by how you brew your cup, not by how you roast your beans. Get your water-to-coffee ratio right, then, and you can have a coffee and be strong or as weak as you like.