Degrees of Roasting Coffee

Degrees of coffee roasting term

As in tasters' terminology, there is no standardized definition of different degrees of roast. "Light", "medium" and "dark" are the most-used terms, but coffees are seldom truly light-roasted, and there are many perceived degrees of medium and dark. (Also, it should be noted that Turkish coffee is not dark-roasted.) A combination of various opinions results in the following possibilities:


Light - This roast is used only for extremely good-quality delicate or high-grown Arabica. Ideal for breakfast coffees when acidic coffees are mellowed by the addition of milk or cream. The American version of this roast, "Cinnamon", is so called because of the color of cinnamon bark. It is high in acidity and low in body. Also sometimes called "half-city" or "New England" roast.


Medium - "American roast"; or possibly "city" if slightly darker than medium. Also called "regular", "brown"; as dark as possible with no oily surfaces.


Viennese - American term meaning slightly darker than medium roast. This roast is speckled with dark-brown spots and a bit of oil on surface; also "light French", or "full city".


Dark - "Spanish"; "Cuban"; there may be some oil on bean surface, "deep brown"; French roast.


Continental - Can also be referred to as "Double roast"; "High"; in America, "French roast", "New Orleans roast" and "European". With a nearly bitter-chocolate coloring, this roast is variously described as very dark; dark French, heavy and Italian.


Italian - In America, darker than in Italy; may be called "espresso" roasts (or may not!); almost black and very oily; the predominant taste is the roast rather than the coffee. Coffee beans should never be burned black.


Even if there were universal agreement on the meaning of the above roasting terms, there would not be general consensus as to how dark certain coffees should or should not be roasted. In America, all roasts are becoming darker, probably because of the emphasis on espresso and espresso-based drinks, which are seen to be the height of sophistication In fact, in many other countries as we there are those who think the goal of roasting is to make the coffee taste pleasant and balanced even if this involves suppressing the more unique and unusual flavors. It must be remembered that dark roasts were originally designed to hide the flaws of inferior coffees, and to bring out the best in cheap blends loaded with inferior-tasting Robusta. Surely true sophistication is to approach every coffee with an open mind, prepared to judge it on its own merits.

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