The Roasting Process
To understand why a light roast is so different from other types, you need to understand the relationship between roasting and growing.
Every type of roast comes from an unroasted — often called green — coffee bean. Coffee farmers extract the green bean from the coffee fruit, which is a small fruit that resembles a cherry and grows on trees. At this point, the raw coffee bean has a green color and cacophony of flavors that are unique to the farm’s nutrients, pesticide-use, and soil and water health.
Green beans can be soaked like tea, but they cannot be brewed like roasted coffee. At this step, someone has to cook, or roast, the bean to make it brewable. Coffee farms sell their beans to roasters, who create different flavors based on how long and hot the beans are cooked.
When brewed as a light roast — or as close to a raw, green bean as acceptable — the cup of coffee has a different flavor and more healthy antioxidants and nutrients. This is because many of nutrients grown into the bean on the farm are not roasted out of it, which happens with darker roasts. If you would like to learn more about the roasting process, read our article : Coffee Roasting Best Practices for Beginners.
On the other side of the light-to-dark roast spectrum, darker roasts also cook out some but not all of the caffeine.
Flavor and Aroma
But how does a light roast impact the drink that hits my tongue? Simply put, more than you might think.
Light roast coffee typically has more citrus acidity, honey sweetness, and floral aromatics. And while it’s a small difference in your cup of java, there is a difference between dark roast bitter and light roast acidic flavors. In all, many light roast drinkers gravitate to the unique complexity found that can vary from farm and roaster.
Light roasts in chain coffee shops are uncommon if not rare. Starbucks, as a classic example, only sells burnt, dark beans. So when you buy a lighter Starbucks or coffee chain roast, you’re getting a lighter dark roast.
So if you’re tasting your first cup of light roast coffee, you may notice that it doesn’t need much to go down smooth. You don’t need the typical creamer, sugar, and syrups that support the chain coffee scene by counterbalancing bitter, dark coffee.
What Type of Brewing is Best with Light Roasted Coffee Beans?
Light roast coffee beans are known for their delicate flavors and bright acidity. To complement these characteristics, here are some coffee drinks that work well with light roast coffee beans:
- Pour-Over: A classic pour-over method allows you to fully experience the nuanced flavors of light roast coffee. The slow extraction process brings out the brightness and floral notes.
- Drip Coffee: Brewing light roast coffee through a drip coffee maker can produce a clean and balanced cup. Adjust the coffee-to-water ratio to your preference and enjoy the subtle flavors.
- Americano: An Americano is made by adding hot water to a shot of espresso. Using light roast espresso shots creates a milder and more vibrant Americano, allowing the coffee's flavors to shine through.
- Cold Brew: Cold brew is a method of steeping coffee grounds in cold water for an extended period. Light roast coffee can produce a refreshing and smooth cold brew with fruity and floral undertones.
- Iced Coffee: Iced coffee is made by brewing coffee using any preferred method and then pouring it over ice. Light roast coffee with its bright and crisp flavors can create a refreshing iced coffee experience.
When brewing your own coffee, most people only consider the water-to-coffee ratio. This works well enough, but there are more factors to consider when extracting flavor from coffee. Don’t forget:
- Grind size
- Water temperature
- Brewing time
- Water quality
Understand these aspects of your brew, and you’ll have all the tools you need to begin experimenting with light roast coffees to find your best light roast coffee.
If you’re first wading into the waters of light roast coffee, I recommend you take it slow. Find a specialty coffee shop with some good baristas and ask them for recommendations. Maybe try a few to get a good sense of what light roasts are all about.
But if you’re in deep and trying to find the best light roast coffee, check out some of the brands we listed. You won’t be disappointed!1