If I had a dime for every time someone spread a myth about light roast vs dark roast coffee, I’d never need to work again.
People can’t seem to stop making false claims about coffee roast levels.
We can’t fact-check everything we hear, but we do want you to be in-the-know about your coffee because it’s something you spend money on regularly. And you shouldn’t be spending money on things based on myths.
But before we hop into the differences between light and dark roast beans, let’s make sure we’re 100% on the same page:
- Light Roast Coffee — A light tan color with no oils visible on the surface.
- Medium Roast Coffee — A rich brown color with no surface oils visible (usually).
- Dark Roast Coffee — A dark brown color, likely with a thin coat of surface oils.
- Overly Dark Roast Coffee — They’re black as night, drenched in oil, and taste like dirt (video yourself doing a taste comparison if you doubt me). We don’t suggest buying coffee this dark, so we won’t mention it any further.
We’re going to compare: flavor, caffeine, health benefits, and brewing methods. By the end of this article, you’ll be an expert (and immune to myths).
Let’s Talk Flavor: Light vs Medium vs Dark
There’s a dramatic difference in how coffee roast levels taste, but you might not know that if you’re used to legacy grocery store brands (they roast everything so dark it all tastes the same).
Light roast beans have the most unique flavors. You can taste the differences between countries, regions, and even specific farms when coffee is roasted this lightly (which is why lighter roasts have the most flavor diversity). It also means the acids have more zing to them, the aromas are vibrant and fresh, and the body is light.
- Acidity: High
- Body: Light
- Flavor: Diverse, fruity and floral flavors possible
- Aroma: Diverse, vibrant
Medium roast beans are still diverse, but more smooth. The slightly longer roast caramelizes the sugars inside the bean, creating a richer sweetness like caramel or honey. You can still taste the unique characteristics of each bean, but they’re calmed down with a well-roundedness everyone can get behind.
- Acidity: Medium
- Body: Medium
- Flavor: Diverse, well-rounded and rich
- Aroma: Diverse, smoother and sweeter
Dark roast beans tend to have the least unique flavors, but the most richness. They’re not bland or uniform—far from it—but most dark roasts share deep flavors of dark chocolate, spice, woodiness. They are the least acidic, have the heaviest body, and boast a bold, rich aroma.
- Acidity: Low
- Body: Heavy
- Flavor: Deep and rich, chocolate, spice, earthiness, woodiness
- Aroma: Classic, dark, soothing
Now you know the biggest difference between light and dark roast coffee, but read on… we’ve got some BIG myths to bust.
Do Dark Or Light Roasts Have More Caffeine?
Wow—this is a big one. Most people fall into two streams of thought:
- Dark roast coffee tastes stronger, therefore it must have more caffeine
- Light roast coffee is “less roasted”, so there’s more natural caffeine in-tact
But here’s the thing: roasting coffee has virtually no effect on the caffeine level.
Scientists have realized that the brewing method (french press vs espresso), grind size (fine vs coarse), and filter (paper vs metal) all have more to do with caffeine than roast levels.
Long story short: don’t worry about it.
Which Is Healthier?
Health blogs love pointing out that light roast coffee has more antioxidants than dark roast coffee. Delish even has an article titled: Why You Should Always Order Light Roast Coffee.
Both coffee roasts are positively associated with tons of health benefits, including…
- Increased short-term energy and endurance for workouts
- Lower risk of developing Type 2 diabetes
- Lower risk of developing liver, kidney, oral, and pancreatic cancers
- So much on heart health!
- And lots more
So yes, it has been proven that light roast beans have more antioxidants than dark roast coffee (full study for coffee nerds), but you’re making a healthy decision to drink coffee either way.
If you like dark roast coffee, keep on liking it.
Which Roast Should I Use With My ____?
Are you a home espresso lover, or do you stick with your trusty french press? Maybe you sport a classic moka pot or a regular ole drip coffee maker.
Any coffee can taste amazing in any coffee maker, but some brewers can enhance the natural flavors of dark and light roast beans.
Let’s see come typical pairings.
- Espresso / Moka Pot — Most people prefer a darker roast for espresso because the shots turn out less acidic. Light roasts can taste incredible as espresso—thanks to insane fruity and floral flavors—but they’re harder to pull good, balanced shots with.
- Pour Over — Manual cones like the Chemex or Hario V60 have paper filters that result in light-bodied and tangy coffees with a clear flavor. They’re fantastic for tasting all the complex and subtle notes of lighter roasts.
- French Press — The metal filter of the french press leads the coffee’s flavors to blend together into a rich, smooth symphony of flavor. For this reason, darker and deeper notes like chocolate, caramel, and spice tend to really shine with this brewer.
- Regular Coffee Pot — Standard auto drip pots use a paper filter to keep the final brew clean, but they brew more slowly like a french press. You end up with a middle-of-the-road cup of coffee that works well with any roast level.
- Cold Brew — It’s hard to go wrong with cold brew. The flavor profile comes out very different from hot coffee, so it’s really a toss-up. Some people love lighter roasts, but it seems most people would prefer a medium or dark roast coffee for the smoother, more well-rounded flavor.
Remember: all brewers work with all coffees—some just seem to go slightly better together.
If you disagree with any of these brewer/roast pairings… great! Power to you.
Our #1 Tip: Try Both Light And Dark Roast Coffee
Ultimately, it all comes down to your personal tastes.
If you love the complex, unique flavors of light roasts—go for it!
If you prefer the rich, deep notes of dark roasts—that’s amazing!
We just want your coffee to make you happy.
That’s why we suggest trying both light and dark roast coffee to test which one your taste buds take a liking to (it may not be what you expect). Bonus points if you taste them side-by-side.
To make sure the test is accurate, buy only freshly roasted (stale beans taste yuck) and specialty-grade (low-grade beans are always bleh) beans.