Roast Depth Explained

Much like wine, coffee preference can be very different from person to person.  While many in the coffee industry have strong opinions about what is right and wrong when it comes to roasting and roast depth, all that truly matters is each coffee drinker’s unique preferences.  Some prefer a delicate light coffee with bright pleasant acidity that truly honors and represents the unique characteristics of the bean while others prefer a bold dark coffee that provides a deep roasted flavor and a slightly bitter finish.  Maybe one of those descriptions resonates with you or perhaps you might prefer something in between.   

Roasting specialty grade coffee is a craft that is honed and developed by someone who cares about your unique coffee preferences.  We aim to develop the best flavours in each of our different roasts to ensure that you have a great experience and enjoy your cup of coffee.   

We truly do not have a favorite – we love each coffee for its unique flavour and characteristics.  For us, great coffee is a great experience and is always worth the time and effort - hence our company tag line: 


Now, just for fun, lets dive into the many categorizations of coffee roast depth! 

Let’s start with the green coffee bean itself.  Not all beans are the same and there are many things that can impact the flavour potential of the final roasted product.  First is the varietal which is the specific type of bean – very similar to different wine grapes. This is a topic all on it’s own!  Next is the specific growing conditions of the coffee cherry such as the altitude of the coffee tree, (yes, it is a tree!) where it was grown, the climate, the soil the tree is grown in and the amount of sun or shade the tree gets.  Finally, the processing method for the bean once the coffee cherries are harvested - washed, fermented, natural etc.  This is also a topic all on it’s own! 

Simply stated, roast depth is a factor of temperature and time.  Roasting for a longer time and finishing at higher bean temperature will give you a darker roast.  

 Oddly, there is no real industry standard in defining the roast depth.  When researching this topic, we found many different people and organizations using different methods to classify roast depth - it was mind boggling! 

The easiest and most commonly used method of describing coffee is by color - light, medium, medium-dark, dark, extra dark. Below is a quick chart of commonly used descriptors and some industry equivalents.  


Common terms 

Industry terms 

Light Roast 

Light City, Half City, Cinnamon Roast 

Medium Roast 

Regular Roast, American Roast, City Roast, Breakfast Roast 

Medium Dark Roast 

Full-City Roast, After Dinner Roast, 

Dark Roast 

Vienna Roast, French Roast, Espresso Roast, Continental Roast 

Extra Dark Roast 

Vienna Roast, French Roast, Italian Roast, New Orleans Roast, and Spanish Roast 

Nearly burnt… 

Grab your fire extinguisher!


The depth to which coffee is roasted is one of the most important factors that determine the flavors the coffee will bring to your cup. Fresh green coffee beans have a grassy smell like fresh hay in the spring. Through application of heat and time the green coffee bean (it is actually a cherry seed) transforms into the light crunchy full of flavor roasted coffee bean that we know and love.   

What makes a light roast? 

Light roast coffees are light brown in color and free of surface oils.  Once brewed, the coffee is typically light-bodied with pronounced acidity. The origin flavors of the bean - often fruity and floral - are very pronounced which makes the coffee bright and complex.  As a bonus for those looking for an energy boost, light roasts also retain most of the caffeine from the coffee bean. 

What makes a medium roast? 

Medium roast coffees are medium brown in color and free of surface oils.  Once brewed, the coffee has more body than light roast the flavor is typically well balanced. There is a slightly lower caffeine level then light roast coffee.

What makes a medium-dark roast? 

Remember when I said I like all coffee roasts? While that is true, if I had to choose my favorite it would be a medium-dark.  In my opinion, this roast has it all.  It is richer and darker in color with some oil beginning to show. It has a heavier body in comparison with the previous roasts yet still has some hints of origin flavour.  In addition, it is the most versatile roast as it can be brewed by any method and produce excellent results. 

What makes a dark roast? 

Dark roast coffees are dark brown can even have a black appearance.  These coffee beans will have a sheen of oil on their surface.  In fact, depending on your brew method, you may see a sheen of oil on the surface of the coffee in your cup. This coffee tends to have a bitter and smoky taste with very little origin flavors remaining, so the flavor is mostly from the depth of roast.  Caffeine level is substantially decreased. 

At the end of the day, the best roast for you is the one that gives you a cup of coffee that brings you enjoyment and fills you with energy and life. 

Always remember - there is always time for great coffee!




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  • susan robichaud on

    needed to reread this very well explained next time i am trying a medium dark roast!

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