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Coffee Roast Profiles: A Breakdown

Posted on August 26 2021, By: Woodnote Coffee

Different Coffees

Have you ever heard of Cinnamon Roast coffee? Perhaps Breakfast Roast? Full City? You've likely heard of many others, but most people have no idea what any of the names mean.

Coffee sellers tend to name their own roasts, with many general titles across the board. But what is the difference between these roasted coffees? Light, medium, dark? What's your flavor? Here, we'll go over the basics of the roasting process and the flavor profiles of the four biggies: light, medium, medium-dark, and dark roast. 

The Basics

Coffee is harvested as a fruit, de-husked, fermented, and dried. When the coffee beans are transported to countries around the world and arrive at a roaster, they are soft and squishy, and usually green in color. The beans are then roasted at high temperatures to "replicate a ripening" of the coffee, as well as caramelize the cellulose. During the roasting process, the coffee expands and pops — or cracks. Most coffees have up to two cracks.

During the roasting process, the coffee beans lose a majority of their water. Most green coffees contain 10-12 percent water; the roast reduces the water to 2-3 percent. Coffee beans have some of the strongest cell walls in the plant kingdom, but the roasting process will transform the rigid cell walls into a rubbery consistency. This occurs because the high heat of the roast changes the water in the green coffee into a gas, forcing the coffee volume to expand while the density reduces. The longer the coffee is roasted, the more the oils are drawn from the beans' core to the surface.

Light Roast

Typically, light roasts are heated to an internal temperature of 350-400 degrees, and are often taken to the first crack. Roasters will use this as an indicator that the green coffee has reached a light roast. 

Since light roasts spend the least amount of time under heat, they will usually retain the most flavors unique to the green coffee, as well as the original acidity, sweetness, and intricacies. Specialty coffees are often roasted as a light roast for this reason.

Our Kenya coffee is roasted as a light-medium roast and brings out a unique sweetness. 

Common names for a light roast are Light City Roast, New England Roast, or Cinnamon Roast.

Medium Roast

As a rule, medium roasts are heated to a higher temperature than light roasts. They are removed from the heat just before the second crack, at around 410-430 degrees. Medium roasts will still be less oily, unlike their dark roast counterparts. 

Medium roasted coffees tend to lose some of the acidity found in light roasts, yet they don't quite achieve the caramelization and charcoal flavors of darker roasts. Medium roasts are the most preferred in the United States, usually for their balance between the bright, fruity flavors of light roasts and the caramel, earthy flavors of dark roasts. 

Our Ethiopia is a perfect example of a balanced coffee. We highly recommend this sweet, chocolatey selection. 

Common names for a medium roast are American Roast, Breakfast Roast, or High Roast.

Medium-Dark Roast

Increasingly common in the U.S. are the medium-dark roasts, as 44 percent of coffee drinkers have dark roast daily. Medium-dark roasts are heated to about 440-460 degrees, removed from heat in the middle of the second crack. This temperature, lower than a full dark roast, helps retain a touch of the medium roast sweetness, while preserving much of the earthy dark roast flavors.

Our Honduras is a prime example of a medium-dark roast that bridges this gap. 

Common names for a medium-dark roast are City Roast or Full City Roast — albeit a Full City Roast is roasted darker than a City Roast. 

Dark Roast 

Last, but not least, is the dark roast. This is the most common home coffee roast on the market. Many roasters will use a dark roast because the flavor profiles tend to be the most uniform across all coffees. Whether Robusta or Arabica coffee, whether from Brazil, India, or Indonesia, the flavor profiles are similar: caramel, nutty, earthy, bold, and smoky.

To be classified as a dark roast, the internal temperature of a coffee must reach 465 degrees. This usually happens at the tail end of the second crack. With the longer exposure to higher heat, the oil inside the beans is forced outward, creating a more noticeably oily coffee than the light and medium roasts.

Many espressos are roasted to a dark roast, since the expansion of the coffee — when brewed under pressure — produces a delightful crema. A dark roast as an espresso not only looks fantastic, but brings out a bold flavor commonly placed with espresso.

Try our Six Bean Blend for a great dark roast brewed as a delightful espresso. 

Common names for a dark roast are French Roast, Italian Roast, New Orleans Roast, Continental Roast, or Espresso Roast.


Whether you choose a light or dark roast, each profile is unique. This was written in generalities, and there are always some oddballs in each roast profile, but we hope this acts as a guide to help you determine your preferred coffee roast. Cheers!