Light versus dark roast

There is no common definition of when a roast is “light” or “dark”.

In the U.S.A they call it a light roast when stopped before the Second Crack, but they always complete First Crack. This would be considered a medium roast here in Nothern Europe. Here we call it a light roast when it’s stopped before the First Crack is over, or just around the end.

Boenner uens overflade 12sep2016

These light roast are very different from the dark roasts. For many coffee consumers tasting light roast for the first time is strange. But many coffee people loves it.

If you are curious to try there is a few things to know … because it’s different to work with. Below is a list with the differences.

We also talk about it in Episode 8 in the Coffee Roasting Navigated podcast. Comparing coffee roasted to 2nd Crack and light roast stopped before First Crack is over.

Here is a list with the differences to pay attention to:

1. Roasting
Not all beans taste good in a light roast. High grown beans is a good place to start if you want to explore roasting light.

Not any light color roast taste good. You have to explore to find what roast profile suits the given bean.

2. Dosage
When you brew a light roast: updose = use more coffee.
Light roast has less solubles than dark roast.

Exactly how high dose depends on the roast and what you prefer in the taste – so go explore.

For filter/drip and french press, I mostly use a dosage around 60 grams pr liter – but goes from 57 up to 70 grams pr liter. I even know people who do 85 grams pr liter ! On the other hand I know people brewing very dark roasts at 35 g/liter.

3. Grinding
Grind light roasts finer than for dark roasts. I don’t know if it’s because light roasts are less porous or again this less-solubles. But you get more of the good taste by grinding finer.

4. Brew water
If your tap water is hard = has a lot of chalk … then it can make a light roast brew taste boring – compared with filtered water. This is a whole science in itself. Look up “third wave water”


5. In the cup
When you taste it – pay attention to how the taste change as the coffee cools in the cup. Very light coffee do not have much taste around 60-70ºC but get very interesting around 50ºC.

6. Milk and sugar
Be cautious with the milk. Some light roasts taste great on it’s own … but if you poor milk into it – the interesting taste will all be gone.

The same with sugar. Lighter roasts can be sweeter in itself than darker roast. So taste before you ad anything.

7. Espresso
Brewing espresso of a light roast is more difficult than filter or french press. The window where it taste good is narrower than with darker roasts.

Because light roasts has less solubles than dark → the same amount of coffee gives less resistance in the puck. If you only grind the coffee finer it gives an over-extracted shot. The trick is to also use more coffee in the basket → that gives more resitance as well. Like 20-22 grams in a 18 grams basket. I don’t know anyone using 14 grams basket for light roast.

But still grind finer. And then longer preinfusion.

Many like to pull really long shots, like 40 seconds instead of the traditional 25 seconds.

On the other hand – I have tried a great shot of light roast espresso that ran only 18 seconds to achieve the 1:2 brew ratio.

And it depends on you equipment. Christian says he goes for brewratio 1:2 with conical burr grinders but 1:3 for flat burr grinders. Conical burrs gives a more spread out particle distribution.

Lots to play around with.

8. Storage
Light roasted coffee often gets better when rested a bit longer. Maybe 4-5 days (try out for your self). And sometimes light roasts first peak at 3 weeks after roast date.

Dark roasted coffee (roasted to 2nd crack) is best between something like 2 and 10 days. Later the oils will get rancid = taste bad (well, some people don’t notice this).

When you roast to Second Crack the oils will come out. If you stop at the beginning of Second Crack the oils may not be visible right away, but will appear as small wet dots on the bean surface. If you roast longer the beans will be completely covered with oils = look wet.

When the oils has come out they are more degraded and exposed – and so they quicker go rancid than in lighter roasted coffee.

James normal dark roast

But as always; taste for yourself. This is just guidelines to inspire you. Here are lots to explore.