Coffeegeeking: How Coffee roast degree affects sensory perceptions



You coffee drinkers have probably noticed that many coffee retailers label or market their different coffees with different roast degree (e.g. Dark, Medium, Light roast). And, you may have already decided upon a favorite roast ‘style’ , based on your tasting experiences. Well, to help visually correlate what you may have already observed with different coffee roasts, a presenter at a recent Coffee conference shared the following chart; it’s a simplified way to understand how roast degree changes the sensory impact of a given coffee bean to the drinker:


For those of you who are geeky about coffee like me, no big surprise, eh? Fruit-driven flavors come with less roasting, and as you roast to a higher degree (which is a literal term…a hotter finishing temperature…which also happens to give the bean darker appearance), the artifacts of the roasting process start to take over.

As you consider this effect on your daily coffee, do keep in mind that the roast degree is only ONE variable that affects a coffee’s flavor profile/aroma . Of course, there are others that interplay as well, and they all combine to differentiate one given coffee to another; examples:

  • Coffee origin
  • Coffee species (Arabica, Robusta, Liberica, etc)
  • Coffee processing method used by the producer/farmer
  • Green age (how long was the bean around from farm to roast)
  • Roast age (from roast to you brewing it)
  • Brewing (everything from hardware, to technique)

Personally, i’m a fan of coffees roasted a bit lighter (but not full-on hipster-light) for non-espresso brewing methods, and just a bit on the heavier side (but not Italian/French roast) for Espresso machine.

How about you? Does roast degree ever come into your coffee selection process?

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I like a dark roast espresso. One of my favorites is Starbucks Doppio Espressso. I realize that this puts me on the wrong side with many other coffee lovers. C’est la vie.




I’m way too old to even know what “hipster light” means (I’m still trying to figure out why the previous (aka “my”) generation of hipsters took to Charbucks blowtorch-roast in the first place) but I suspect that’s probably my preference, at least for “morning/random daytime” coffee, which I usually drink, when I drink it hot, with half & half. When I drink it black, like immediately after a full meal, I do prefer a darker, but not super-dark roast. The traditional “French roast” is about right for that, afaic. The only purpose a very dark Italian-type roast serves, imnsho, is making espresso, and for that I’d agree it’s vastly superior to lighter roasts. But I think it makes nasty “brewed” coffee. A roast somewhere in the vicinity of French-dark - a little lighter in the Best of All Possible Worlds - also makes excellent iced coffee imo, which I also drink black, with just enough sugar to take the edge off the bitterness…

I suspect what you’re referring to as “hipster light” is just what the latest generation of hipsters have turned (back) to in (fairly typical cultural) reaction to the over-roasting that Starbucks made (in)famous among their parents’ generation. I don’t think I’ve ever seen a modern-light roast that’s any lighter than the roasts that were most common on the East Coast generally before Starbucks went national… If I ever knew what it was, I’ve forgotten the historical reason for West Coast roasts generally being darker than the East’s before then, but since I grew up in NYC and New England, those lighter roasts (plus espresso) were what I was familiar with until I was in my mid-twenties, when I discovered the delights of postprandial dark(er) roast, black coffee…

All of which makes sense according to the chart you posted, since (a) my guts aren’t at all “sensitive” to the acidity in coffee and I find the taste of very low-acid coffees extremely insipid (cold-brewed coffee is a travesty imo), (b) I’m especially fond of the “fruity” flavors in coffees generally, and (c) I consider the aroma half, or at least a third, of the reason for drinking coffee in the first place… (Aside from the caffeine of course, but in a pinch one can get that from any old instant muck gulped down fast enough to avoid traumatizing one’s taste buds, or from pills…)



hi MattG

I didn’t grow up in the East Coast, so I’m not familiar w/ the standard you mention. By ‘hipster-light’ (i promise, that’s the last time i’ll use that term!) I’m talking as light as the lightest of the so-called Scandinavian roasts …barely coming out of 1st Crack. It’s not uncommon to see here on the west coast at specialty shops. To get a better alignment on roast degree descriptions (Light, Medium, Dark are easy to use, but still all relative…), here’s a fairly good visual guide I found on the internet:


These are common terms in the industry to describe finish degree . Commercial coffees generally range from City to French. (each of these also corresponds to a general endpoint temperature range, which is what roasters actually look at to help dial in their consistency).

the ‘h word’ coffee i mentioned earlier is more or less City Roast. City+ is generally where i enjoy brewed coffees, with my preferred espressos as Full City+ (or, a blend of diff roasts from City+ to Vienna, that average out as FC+).

Enjoy your next cup!



We’re old too . . . at least too old to allow trends to overtake our senses and common sense . . . we’ve waved at third, fourth "waves " as they’ve passed us by (but we’re not passing through – gracias, Johnny Rodriguez.)

That said, medium dark Peet’s Major Dickason in 2 lbs. bags at Costco embodies true value (and we admit to liking hardware stores).

Among the varietals if properly roasted, we will order Kona in high end restaurants, Bright/acidic/lightly roasted (and we know – we had a colleague whose family were Kona growers whose beans we’ve ground at home), though Kona’s far from our usual cups. Same could be said about Jamaica Blue Mountain when we had the real deal (too long ago for our taste), compared to the Blue Mountain “styles”.

Back to Peet’s medium dark roast, Sulewesi always delivers.



Ah, OK. then I’m not sure I’ve ever tasted a super-light/“hipster-light” roast. I suspect I wouldn’t love it, but I’ll keep an eye out for it. I know I don’t like very dark roasted coffee (except as espresso), but back when coffee-snobbery was a much more niche hobby than it’s become and European imports were still generally considered the ne plus ultra, I remember having Scandinavian (brands/imports) I liked very much, so I might surprise myself at the lighter end.

But somewhere between “1st crack/done” and (regular) “City roast” is what I remember growing up with/around, and has always been my preference for hot coffee drunk with cream, though I’ve found that a lot of what’s called “City Roast” these days is closer to what’s labeled on this chart as “Full City”. Which is OK, if not preferable to me, for many coffees, but not all. (The only Kona coffee, for example, that I’ve ever tasted that I thought was worth paying $$$ for was brought straight from Hawaii and iirc, must’ve been somewhere around 1st crack according to this chart. What I’ve bought here has never had the “special” aroma of the straight-from-HI stuff even when it was supposedly recently-roasted…)

And fwiw, it’s the Vienna-Light French that is my “ideal” roast for iced coffee which, somewhat surprisingly, I don’t see very often in Manhattan, but can and do buy at an upscale-ish fruit/deli/grocery store out in Sheepshead Bay (Brooklyn). Since the varietal isn’t identified, it’s presumably a blend of some sort - probably variable, but seems to be mixed to a reasonable degree of consistency.



I’ve always been especially fond of the Indonesian(-ish), but also African, coffees, too. When it’s “real”, I love the once-super-trendy “Mocha-Java”, though like “Kona-style” and “Blue Mountain-style”, it became a mostly, and mostly-poorly, imitated caricature of the original. I “appreciate” good South American coffees, but I could much more easily live without, e.g., Colombian coffee than the others…



Won’t make that mistake again (before our colleague’s time with us) in Honolulu airport.



My nephew has been roasting his coffee for about a year now . Ordering the beans from sweet Maria’s in Oakland. He uses a hot air popcorn maker to roast his beans . Only the old style works . Roasting about 4 oz. at a time . He says you will never by roasted beans from a store again . It’s time for me to make this leap .



I’ve used the popcorn maker method before. I could never figure out why, but it worked super with some beans, yet not so great with other beans. Nowadays I drink mostly water decaffeinated coffee and that is extremely difficult to roast. I leave it to the professionals.

@pushslice, if you are ever in Baltimore, look up Spro. (Disclaimer: I haven’t been in a couple years. I hope they are still at that level.) Back when I was younger, with more disposable income, and drank coffee regularly, I would stop by every chance I could get. Most of their offerings were custom roasted and then paired with a brewing method. Sometimes, the same bean would be roasted and/or brewed differently from the week before. At an average of $6 a cup, it wasn’t cheap, though.

So, I like them all as long as they are brewed properly.

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Been home roasting for about 17 yrs now. Usually shoot for full city+ or just to the end of first crack or beginning of second crack



Do it, emglow101!

I started about 4 years ago, and haven’t looked back. I use Maria’s for some of my beans as well; very good outfit over there

For a naturally curious person, the hands on approach rly helps one correlate different roasting variables with what you experience in the cup.

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What do you suggest for a coffee roaster. Any particular model or type?



Sounds like an interesting place. My kind of geeks!
Likely they are having fun playing with the aforementioned sensory variables, ‘hacking’ their way to a favorite cup so to speak

I enjoy doing a game with my friends when they come over, where I get my hands on two versions of green bean from the exact same farm; one goes thru washed process, the other a natural process. I roast them to the same degree. Then cup them side by side. Friends are shocked to learn (after they taste) that they only differ by processing method! Typically they are convinced the washed bean must be a Kenyan vs the natural bean a South/East Asian; or that the washed bean must be a lighter roast than the other one.

Fun times.



for something turnkey, others have had very good success with either the GeneCafe (air bed based, like a popper); or, the Behmor 1600 (this is drum based, mimicking how most commercial roasters are designed). I don’t have much repetitive experience with these to make further distinction, though. For my hobby stuff I built my own primary out of the guts of an air popper and adding some voltage control for the heat & fan; cheap , but fully manual.

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Thanks for the info .



I have tried a few different brands at home and that of others using freshly roasted beans in a burr grinder. Two were from small local roasters and one was from intelligentsia. I can’t remember the various origins. One was a blend the others were single source. I would rather not drink coffee than what I tried. Sadly, The beans I bought went to compost. Looking at the graph it might be the acidity that bothers me but mostly it is the taste. Perhaps I don’t appreciate the origin flavors. Hints of tobacco and pencil shaving come to mind. Maybe it is because I drink it black. My husband who drinks it with cream and sugar found it drinkable but did not object to me composting the rest once we had some dark roast available. I like what I like and am pretty much used to being uncool :wink:. I might be open to trying a small cup at Stumptown next time I am near one just out of curiosity but I won’t waste any more money on beans.



The Gene does use a small drum. My wife’s uncle has a Gene and I was quite impressed with the coffee we were served on Thanksgiving while visiting them

I have been using the SC/CO (Stir Crazy/Convection Oven) method for years.

Can do 14-16 oz of green per batch but the Gene really turned out a great cup. Batch size is smaller



Organic Temor



Decaf Timor is actually my favorite decaf coffee. I had a locally roasted source that went out of business a couple years ago.

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