How to Select Coffee
Roast Color Determines 80% of a Coffee’s Flavor
Select a Roast Color to Learn More
This roast color is where good things begin to happen. Balance between acidity and flavor, fruity nuance, lively mouth feel, and long finish all are achievable at the true light roast. When purchasing a single origin coffee, the great ones are best at this roast color.
They are very forward on your palate, because the carmelized sugars are at their highest level and because the roasting process has not yet begun to burn the vegetable matter. Thus, if you are looking for differences between the coffee from one country or region and one from another region, taste them in their light roast form, for that is where the differences show up best and most clearly.
About 20 degrees Fahrenheit higher than the light roast, the color shifts into a chocolate brown. It might have only taken less than a minute to go from light roast to a medium roast but the chemical reactions at ±440°F are much more developed. The bright and lively acidity of the light roasts morph into a smoother, deeper, and more balanced mouth feel. Dark chocolate notes may appear, acidity is reduced, and the flavors are experienced a bit further back. A certain mellowness and maturity prevails.
Dark Roast (Vienna Roast)
A Vienna Roast is also know in some quarters as a Full City roast. It is considered a Dark roast, but on the lighter side. Bean color is still more brown than black, but in fact, dark brown is a better description, more like the color of bakers chocolate. Hints of red/orange colors brighten the dark brown bean. Fresh Vienna Roast coffees have a shiny coat of coffee oils on their surface.
Hint: if Vienna Roast color beans have no shine or oil patina on their surface, or if the oil lacks shine, the beans are most probably older than three weeks and are probably stale. Move on to a Vienna Roast that shines!
How Vienna Roast are made: any fine coffee bean can be roasted to a Vienna Roast so there are single origin Vienna Roasts and there are Vienna Roasts made up of coffees from various origins – what you need to know is that once a bean gets to the Vienna Roast color 80% of its flavor is related to roast color; not its terroir or country of origin.
Very Dark (French Roast)
There are many names for the dark roast that is more black than brown, has rich and copious levels of surface oil and is roasted to produce deep carbony, smoky, flavor notes with perhaps only 10% of the actual coffee flavors remaining. You see this dark roast called Italian,Italian Expresso, and a host of other proprietary names like Rocketman Blend, Foglifter, etc.
A roaster can make a French Roast out of one single origin coffee or from a blend of many coffees of different origins. What you need to know is that 90% of the flavor is derived from carbonization of the coffee beans, not from the careful cultivation of the coffee tree by a caring farmer.
Note: be careful with this dark colored coffee because often it is a dumping ground for mediocre and less expensive beans whose flaws are easily masked by burning them out at the high heat needed to make a French Roast.
What to look for: large, uniform, shiny beans. Single origin French Roasts are rare, but if you see a bin card that defines its French Roast as from a single origin, one country, select it before you select a French Roast blend. Chances are the roaster is proud of that coffee and your selection has a better chance of being of pedigree stock.
French Roast is a strange name for the darkest of roasts. Do the French drink coffee this way? I doubt it. I believe early artisan roasters during the 1960s created this designation, believing erroneously that this carbonized vegetable matter was a European approach to coffee. The beans do not originate in France.
A well-made French Roast should have burnt sugar notes, licorice and roasted chestnut flavors and a long wet (not ashy) finish.