How Roasting Affects Flavor

Light, medium, or dark? Those three words create the sum total of knowledge that a vast majority of coffee drinkers have regarding the roasting process (granted, they are very important words, as few as they are). As a part TCCPR’s mission to help you develop your love and further your knowledge of coffee, we’d like to use this post to peel back the curtain of coffee roasting and show how it can affect coffee flavor.

Let’s start at the very beginning. Coffee beans are actually the seed of a fruit, and before they can be used to make a coffee drink, they have to be roasted, which changes them from their natural greenish color to the brown that most of us are familiar with (it changes a lot of other things too, but we’ll get to that). The terms “light”, “medium”, and “dark” that we used at the beginning of this post refer to the degree of roasting done. Essentially, how long were the beans roasted, and how hot did they get during the roasting process? The longer and hotter the roast, the darker the beans look at the end of the process (thus the various names for roasts).

When the beans are heated during the roasting process, there’s a host of chemical reactions going on inside the beans, and how these reactions take place can be changed depending on the choices the roaster makes, one of the first being what degree of roasting will be done (how long and how hot).

All of the coffees roasted by TCCPR are going to be on the light to medium side of the roasting spectrum because roasting coffee this way accomplishes a very specific goal we mentioned in our previous post. Namely, it preserves the flavors that naturally present in the coffee bean, and accentuates certain ones, depending on other choices the roaster makes. The darker the roast, the more the coffee’s natural flavor gets buried by smoky, earthy notes that are added via the roasting process, but that isn’t necessarily present in the bean.

That doesn’t mean that a light or medium roasted coffee can’t be full-bodied and bold, though. Some coffees do have naturally bolder flavors, and the roaster can highlight and accentuate those by slowing down the roasting process, making the beans take longer to get to the appropriate temperature. The slower and longer the roast, the more body the beans will have. This comes at the cost of some of the sweeter, brighter notes that might be in the coffee, as they will become harder to detect as the coffee gains more body, and vice versa.

The art of roasting is manipulating the chemical changes that are taking place in such a way that it balances all the flavors present in the bean, preserving the most quality possible, ensuring the final product is able to create a complex, balanced, flavorful cup of coffee.

It’s not the roaster that’s doing that final step of brewing a cup of coffee, however, and in our next blog post, we’ll discuss the role of the barista in preserving that complexity, balance, and flavor.