Exploring Roast Levels

Exploring Roast Levels

A customer wrote to us a few weeks ago and expressed an interest in exploring roast levels by having the same bean roasted at three different finishing points. While we normally have a 2.5 kg minimum for custom roasts, we’re all for exploring coffee so we were happy to oblige his request.  In doing so, we roasted ourselves a bit extra as we thought this would be fun exercise to document and we chose to use the Bibi Plantation arabica beans.


The same bean, roasted to the exact same level, will taste very different depending on how it’s brewed.  Light roasts generally don’t work well in espressos as the acidity becomes overwhelming. Since pourovers are best suited for black coffee, a pourover made from a vienna or french roast is bitterly unpleasant for most people’s palattes.


The Lineup:

Light Roast – Just to the tail end of first crack – 211 C finish point


Medium Roast – The first few pops of second crack  – 224 C finish point (our normal Bibi Plantation AA roast which is available on our site)


Dark Roast – Well into second crack – 237 C finish point


So how did the various roasts taste? To start out, we tried the coffees using the traditional cupping method of pouring hot water over medium coarse grounds. We followed this up by brewing espresso shots for each roast.


Traditional cupping tast profiles:


The light roast had a sweet aroma, reminscient of slightly fermented grapes and the cinnamon spiciness of apple pie.  The body was very thin, and the acidity was at the forefront, with a green apple like pucker. It had a faint malty flavor and almost no bitterness.


Next we tried the medium roast.  No surprises here as we’ve been drinking this coffee for months.  The sweet aroma comes through strongly of grape, while malt flavors become more pronounced and taste slightly caramelized.   The acidity is reduced quite a bit with a red wine dryness rather than a sour pucker.

Ground coffee prior to cupping 


Last was the dark roast.  The aroma was very smoky, with a faint burnt rubber smell and just a hint of carmalized fruit.  The smokiness was also apparent when we took our first sips, with a bitter, classic dark roast flavor.  There was a hint of sweetness and vanilla in the finish, and a rich body.


Next up we tried espresso shots of each of the 3 roasts.  Most espresso roasts tend to be on the darker side as the concentrated nature of the drink means that the acidity in light roasted coffees can result in an overly sour flavor.  However, in the past few years, roasters have been going lighter to emphasize the bright, fruit flavors in coffee, much to the chagrin of traditionalists.


Espresso taste profiles:


The light roast had a very nutty aroma that led to a peanut-brittle like flavor in the coffee.  However, once the coffee cooled, the acidity became overwhelming reminiscent of sucking on a lemon rind.


In comparison, the medium roast still packed an acidic punch, but the overall flavor was much more balanced with roasted malt and caramel flavors coming through.


The dark roast produced a bit of a surprise. While the smoky aroma, strong bitter kick and lack of acidity were all expected, the body was thin and the crema was non-existent. Espresso roasts are traditionally quite dark in nature, but the combination of this particular bean at this dark a roast level seemingly fell flat.


Despite being brewed last, the dark roast on the far right has no lingering crema after a few sips.


So where is the sweet spot?  As a fan of brightness in coffee, my personal preference would lie a few degrees lighter than the medium roast for both drip and espressos (read more about brightness and the attributes of a good cup of coffee here).  However, I’ll be the first to admit that this would probably be an unpleasantly acidic coffee for most people, which is how we determined our medium roast level in the first place.  Nonetheless, it was an interesting exercise and we’ll be offering a special tasting sampler pack shortly for our customers who are interested in testing out flavours of different roasts on the same beans.

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