According to statistics, light roasted coffee is gaining popularity, with over 35% of Americans reporting that they prefer light roasted coffee. Another 19% responded that they prefer light roasted coffee over any other kind.
In sharp contrast to the general consensus of coffee, most people have preferred dark roasts and have deemed them to reign superior in the past.
Of course, to produce the light roast perfection that coffee connoisseurs and specialty enthusiasts are embracing, you have to achieve perfection when preparing light roast coffee.
Light roast beans need to be prepared in such a way to show off their highlights, and this should be applied to both the roasting process and brewing. Close attention must be paid to both the roasting and brewing process of a light roast coffee, or the result will be a sour, flat, sub-par result.
Fortunately, there is a science that can be followed to tweak and perfect your preparation of light roasts—until you hit the sweet spot. Read on to find out everything you need to know to get started with roasting and brewing light roast coffee.
Why Light Roast Coffee Is Becoming so Popular
Ask most people 20 years ago and they would have told you that dark roast coffee is both stronger and more flavorful than ‘insipid’ lighter roasts.
However, this perception is quickly changing, with only 43% of people preferring dark roasts, according to research. As coffee production quality increases, growers are able to produce beans with many fewer flavor issues.
In previous times, coffee was often roasted very dark in order to disguise unpalatable flavors within the bean. Nowadays, coffee—and specialty coffees especially—do not have these problems. Nowadays, most flavors are delicious enough that any roaster or barista would want to highlight them.
With this improvement has come the rise in popularity of light roast coffee among roasters, baristas, and coffee drinkers alike. With light roast coffee, higher levels of complex flavor profiles are possible, which is an appealing promise for any connoisseur.
The Flavor Profiles of Light Roast Coffee and Its Caffeine Content
Before we go on to discuss the preparation of light roast coffee, let us quickly touch on the flavor possibilities and the fact that light roast coffee contains slightly higher levels of caffeine than black coffee.
Dark roasts typically sport rich smoky tones with hints of caramel and chocolate, which can lean towards charred flavors. Light roast coffee, on the other hand, is characterized by brighter, more acidic flavors, with floral and fruity notes.
The consistency of dark and light roasts differ. Dark roasts have a signature thickness in mouthfeel, while light roasts are typically thinner and have a consistency closer to tea.
When it comes to caffeine content, dark roasts traditionally are considered to be ‘stronger’ and are thought to boast higher caffeine levels. This, however, is untrue.
When considered in weight, light roast and dark roast coffee contain roughly the same amount of caffeine. However, light roast coffee is denser than dark roast coffee. Because of this, one scoop of light roast coffee will have on average 70mg of caffeine, while one scoop of dark roast coffee will usually contain around 65mg of caffeine.
How to Prepare Light Roast Coffee
Now that we have explained the qualities of light roast coffee, let us get into how light roast coffee is prepared.
As opposed to medium and dark roast (which are roasted at temperatures of between 437-480 degrees Fahrenheit), light roast coffee is typically roasted to an internal temperature of 350-400 degrees Fahrenheit. Some roasters like to increase this slightly to a temperature range of 356-401 degrees.
To put it into roasting terminology, most light roasts rarely reach the first crack, which is the stage when the vapors within the bean break through the outer wall and produce a cracking sound.
To truly reveal particular flavors within different types of coffee beans, you will need to tweak the roasting variables to draw out the flavor profiles that you are aiming for.
How to Brew Light Roast Coffee
To highlight and intensify the desired notes within light roast coffee, baristas and coffee brewers typically tweak three things.
The first is the ground size. The darker that beans are roasted, the more porous they become. This means that light roast beans are less porous, which makes it more difficult for compounds to be extracted during the brewing process.
To ensure full extraction of all the flavor compounds within a light roast coffee, a common practice is to decreased the ground size. The smaller the ground size, the quicker the flavor compounds can be released by the grounds, ensuring that you get a well-rounded extraction.
The next variable is water temperature. To further assist the release of compounds from light roast coffee, you can increase the water temperature to optimize the temperature range for brewing. A good temperature to start experimenting with is 203 degrees Fahrenheit.
Lastly, to optimally extract compounds, you can also increase the brew or extraction time, depending on whether you are utilizing an espresso machine, pour-over method, or French press. Because French presses and pour-over coffee makers naturally increase brew time, they lend themselves to light roast coffee brewing.
Beans Types for Light Roasting
When selecting beans for light roast coffee it is important that you try out bean varieties that are ideal for light roasting.
Here are a few regions of coffee that are known for yielding beans that work best for light roasting:
- Africa (especially Rwanda and Tanzania): yields varieties boasting bright and fruity flavors with a floral capacity ideal for light roasts.
- Hawaii (especially the Kona region): mild, delicate, and fruity flavors make these varieties a hallmark in light roasts.
- Costa Rica: bright and smooth flavors well suited to light roasts.
South American beans, in general, hold a superior level of flavor complexity, which makes beans from this region a good candidate for most levels of roasting. Roasters should have the required skill to tease out flavors in light roasts, however.
One region which beans are not ideal for light roasts are Asia, as these varieties tend to have the lowest levels of acidity with most of the flavor coming from the oils, which are not expressed in light roasts.
Where to Order Green Coffee Beans
Now that you are familiar with the process of preparing light roast coffee, the only thing left to do is experiment until you achieve the interplay of flavor profiles that light roast coffee is known for.
If you are a roaster, you will need to procure the right green coffee beans to do this. Because light roasting does not disguise undesirable undertones, we advise that you order only the best beans.