Quick Recipes and Easy

Dark Roast Vs. Light Roast

Consider the last time you bought a bag of coffee. Perhaps it’s incorrect of me to assume, but would I be right in guessing the coffee you bought was a dark roast?

Most of the coffee available to the home consumer today is a dark roast. And by watching coffee commercials and reading the ads, without hesitation, one would easily believe the dark roast is, by far, a superior coffee. But when it comes to the roast of your coffee, while a fantastic deal of it simply has to do with personal taste, don’t believe mass marketing that says the dark roast is the ultimate expression of quality coffee. It’s not. In fact, it’s often quite the opposite.

There are reasons the dark roast has become so well loved. For one thing, the coffee industry is extremely large. It’s the second most-highly traded commodity next to oil. Just reckon of the massive volume of coffee that hits the consuming market each year. Then consider this: only 10 percent of that coffee qualifies as brilliant in quality. The remaining 90 percent is considered somewhere between average to poor. Meaning there’s nothing very special about it, no inherent flavors that set it apart from any other coffee. And if there are intriguing flavors, most likely they aren’t desirable. For instance, a typical low-grown Robusta coffee can taste medicinal, even rubbery.

So, if so much of the coffee grown is of mediocre quality, why is it that people so happily consume so much each and every day? The answer: The Ubiquitous Dark Roast. (Well, and a lot of cream and sugar too. I’ll cover that some other time.)

Dark roast simply means that the coffee bean has been roasted to a higher temperature and typically for a longer period of time. This process causes all of the flavor molecules stored within the coffee beans—both the excellent and terrible flavors—to be burnt away. By roasting so dark, the end consumer (you) can’t tell whether it’s a excellent bean or a terrible bean because all the natural flavors have been turned to charcoal.

Reckon of it this way: a fine filet mignon and a strip of utility beef; if they’ve both been very overcooked, even a culinary expert would never be able to tell the difference between the two. Same with coffee.

So if you’re a large coffee company, what do you do? You roast dark, then, market the heck out of it and try to convince the mass market that it’s a wonderfully rich and complex coffee. Now you can’t really blame them can you? What else are they supposed to do, admit why they’re roasting your coffee so dark?

Not to be misunderstood, I’m not saying a dark-roasted coffee is always poor quality. There are some wonderful dark roast single-origin coffees and blends out there. Just don’t assume the dark roast is as “rich and flavorful” as many roasters say it is. Most of the time there is a reason it’s roasted so dark.

Instead of going with a dark roast next time you’re picking up your bag of coffee, consider trying a freshly-roasted bag of something slightly lighter, perhaps a “city” roast or even a “full city” roast (nearly a dark roast) if you’re not wanting to leap into lightness with reckless abandon. When shopping, keep in mind that the lighter the roast, the more confidence the roaster is showing in the quality of the raw bean.

– Denver Wilkinson is founder, and currently head roaster of cafeavion.com Cafe Avion, a roasting company based in Coeur d’Alene, Idaho, that specializes in small-batch roasting of exclusively organic and honest trade coffees. “There’s a whole world of coffee out there (quite literally) and so many natural flavors to experience, don’t settle for the mediocre stuff. The darker the roast, the less likely you’ll experience the subtle apricot flavors in a fantastic Ethiopian Yirgacheffe, or the blueberry notes in a wonderful Harrar, or the earthy, ripened notes of a fantastic Sumatran Mandheling.” Adds Wilkinson: “I’m on a personal mission to undo the myth of the dark roast.”

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