Breaking the Dark Roast Paradigm

For years, specialty coffee has been stuck in the dark roast paradigm – roast coffee beans until they are dark and oily, brew the coff and then add sugar and cream to kill the taste. Even better add sugar, cream, flavoring, give it a fancy Italian name and sell it for $6.00.

Fortunately, coffee roasters are learning that while you can sell over roasted coffee to all of the customers some of the time and some of the customers all of the time, you can’t sell over roasted coffee to all of the customers all of the time. * Light and medium roasted coffee sales are on the upswing as customers learn more about coffee flavor.

Every coffee bean has a sweet spot where the aroma, acid, sweetness, flavor and body are maximized. For some coffees that is a light roast, others a medium roast and others a dark roast. However, no bean tastes better by being roasted black and oily.

Coffee beans are mostly cellulose (wood). About two percent of coffee beans are complex organic compounds that contain all of the flavor of the bean. A green coffee bean tastes like wood. It is the roasting process that changes the organic compounds in the bean into a palatable drink . As the compounds are heated they break down and combine into new organic and inorganic compounds. These changes create what we perceive as coffee aroma, sweetness, acidity, flavor and body.

Sweetness As coffee beans roast, organic chemicals in the bean begin to break down and form sugars. Very light roasts are sweet. The sweetness in the coffee increases though a medium roast and then declines as the beans are dark roasted. Over roasted coffees are bitter and have no sweetness.

Acidity A roaster’s maxim is “The lighter the roast, the greater the acidity.” Light roasted coffees have a pH of about 5 which is less acidic than fruit juice, a carbonated beverage or lemonade. As coffee is roasted, the pH increases (becomes less acidic) until in a dark roast it has a pH of about 6 which is a little more acidic than milk (Your skin has a pH of about 5,5.) Acidity is a key factor in the flavor of specialty coffee. Coffees without acid are flat and dull. Coffees with too much acid are bitter and harsh.

Flavor The major advantage of light roasted coffees is the improvement in flavor. Many single origin coffees have unique flavors. As the bean starts to turn light brown, flavor and aroma begin to develop. Fruit flavors are common in light roasted beans as well as floral, spice and nut flavors. As the bean begins to turn dark brown, the flavors begin to drop off. In dark roasted coffees, the flavors are burned wood and ash.

Body Another roaster’s maxim is “The darker the roast, the fuller the body (mouthfeel).” Body is a difficult attribute to describe. Coffee Review describes it as “Body and mouthfeel describe sensations of weight and texture. Body can be light and delicate, heavy and resonant, thin and disappointing; in texture it can be silky, plush, syrupy, lean or thin.”

One analogy is milk. There is a difference in mouthfeel between skim milk, whole milk and chocolate milk. Mouthfeel or body is not a taste. It is a tactile impression in your mouth which contributes to the enjoyability of the drink.

In spite of all of the above, the best cup of coffee in the world is the one you like. If you try light, medium and dark roasted coffee but still like heavy-bodied over roasted coffee then you should stick with the coffee you like.

*No, this is not a paraphrase of a Lincoln truism. He should have said it, but he never did.

Karen Jue Paterson is the owner of Hula Daddy Kona Coffee, a 30 acre coffee farm in Kona, Hawaii. Hula Daddy is the winner of the 2014 Kona Coffee Cupping Competition. Karen is a member of the Hawaii Coffee Association, the Kona Coffee Council, the Kona Coffee Farmers Association, the Holualoa Village Association and the Specialty Coffee Association of America. She is also the author of a number of articles on Kona Coffee including: Coffee Fraud Kona Coffee Farmers at a Crossroad ;How Typica is Your Kona Coffee? ; Are Roasters Eroding the Kona Coffee Brand?; Coffee Cupping Competitions – Real or Random Chance? ; Seven Easy Steps to Become a Gourmet Coffee Taster ; How to Brew Coffee Using a Pour Over Filter; Before You Buy an Automatic Single Serve Coffee Brewer; Siphon Coffee Brewers Suck!; Sweet Coffee;What Color is Your Coffee Roast? You can email her at #huladaddy #konacoffee

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