There are two fundamental differences between a darker and lighter roasted coffee, and then there’s several reasons “why.” So, let’s start with the fundamentals and then we’ll get into the reasons.
Fundamental #1: Caffeine Content
This is probably the most misunderstood part of the whole equation. Lighter roasted coffee contains significantly MORE caffeine than darker roasted coffee. This is because the caffeine resides in the water content of the bean. When we roast coffee beans, we’re burning off the water content and carbonizing the bean, thus burning off the caffeine contained within the water trapped inside. The less water content we allow to escape the bean, the more caffeine that remains within it… This is tricky balance though because under-developing a coffee bean can give you some nasty wheatgrass flavors that will make you cringe. This is why at Foxen Coffee, the lightest we go is called a “City Roast.” There are lighter roast styles out there, but this is when it gets dangerous and potentially inconsistent as the water content in the bean changes over time with age and climate.
Fundamental #2: Taste
This is where the confusion about caffeine usually stems from. A bitter taste is often considered “stronger” or “bolder,” or I like to call it “tart,” and all those words are often mistaken for “caffeine.” The darker we go with our roast, the more we carbonize the bean, resulting in a more tart flavor but not necessarily a higher caffeine content. So, when it comes to taste, it’s all highly subjective. Personally, I really enjoy the varieties when drinking coffee and being able to identify where in the world coffee comes from by just tasting or smelling it. The variety is what gets me with specialty coffee, and when you go darker on your roast, you lose some of those varieties in place of that traditional tart many people are looking for in their brew. This is why Medium Roasts are the most popular, because you get the best of both worlds… You still get some of the flavor varieties, but you also get some of the tart. Medium Roasts are the most popular in commercial spaces, and often what you’re drinking when you go out to order a coffee at a café or restaurant.
So, let’s get into the WHY, which is my personal Favorite part of the equation.
We roast coffees in different ways to create dynamic flavors, and we design those flavors to be applied with specific brewing methods. For example, our lighter roasted coffees are designed for Espresso, because espresso is a highly concentrated shot of coffee. You wouldn’t want to concentrate a dark roasted, bitter taste into an espresso shot, because it will have no flavor. It’s just going to be bitter and low caffeine. With a lighter roast, we can concentrate the flavors within the water content of the bean and into your espresso, and you’ll find that an espresso can be thoroughly smooth, full of flavor, and you can drink it black.
Espresso comes from Italy; this is all they drink. I dare you to try ordering an “espresso,” because they will probably laugh at you. Espresso is just coffee in Italy. That’s it. This is also why Italian Coffee beans are almost ALWAYS roasted light for the reasons I described above. They don’t concentrate bitterness into their coffees.
Now we are getting into the other methods that are more commonly used in other parts of the world, like here in the USA. This is Brewed coffee, whether that’s a pour over, drip, Moka Pot, or whatever else. This is where you can get some great flavors from any type of roast style – and is personally my favorite way to drink coffee. I love espresso, but I love brewed coffee far more. The reason being is that I enjoy tasting the flavors of the soil, the climate, and the processing methods of different parts of the world. I pride myself on being able to blind taste any coffee on our catalog and tell you exactly what it is without fail. This variety of coffee is what I love, and this is why at Foxen we carry so many different origins and will continue to add more over time.
Sometimes I like a dark tart Mexico bean that’s giving off hints of chocolate, and sometimes I like a light African bean that’s giving me a mouth full of berries. Sometimes it’s nice to have a Naturally processed bean, with a full body, and other times it’s nice to have a Washed Coffee with nutty forward notes. The variety is what I have come to love so much about the specialty coffee world, and this is something that we will continue to explore as we grow here at Foxen.
I will bring you new coffees as often as I can, when the flavors speak to me, I will speak them to you. We can taste the world with Foxen together, one cup at a time.
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Nicolas M. Co-Founder,
Foxen Coffee Company