Coffee Roast Levels

To put it simply, think of popcorn in a popper. The longer it pops, the darker the popcorn. The different stages of the roasting process are given names, they indicate at which point the roasting was stopped and how much moisture the coffee bean has lost from green to roasted. The bean, originally a seed that comes from a (typically) red berry, starts as a green bean and ends as a browned bean.

Here’s a brief breakdown of the official terms for the different roasts and how they correspond to the popular terms “Light”, “Medium” and “Dark” given to coffees:



This coffee has completed what’s called the First Crack, a light, audible cracking noise.   As you can tell, there are multiple cracks that can take place as the beans heat up. This one hasn’t reached the second crack, but has become browned. The natural sugars in the bean have not yet caramelized all the way. Imagine corn on the cob in the BBQ that isn’t blackened, but has a little browning, so it’s still sweet, yet has a delicious browned flavor. The coffee has both flavors so it’s multi-dimensional. Many times this bean looks more “dry” than dark roasted coffee because no oil is visible on the surface. However, the oil that is seen on the surface of a dark roast coffee is actually still inside of the bean in a lighter roasted coffee.

This stage is usually referred to as “Medium” roast coffee. Anything lighter than this is a “Light” roast coffee, sometimes referred to as an American or New England Roast. 


The coffee has become medium dark brown and has some oily sheen. This coffee is now at the very beginning of the second crack. This roast brings out more bittersweet flavors.

This stage is usually referred to as “Medium Dark” roast coffee. 


The Vienna Roast goes past the Full City + and the taste of the roasted coffee starts to replace the distinctive flavors of the coffee and it’s origin.

This stage is usually referred to as “Dark” roast coffee. 


At this point the sugar present in the coffee is almost completely caramelized. You’ll see oil visible on the bean. The bean itself is becoming carbonized. If you were to weight the coffee, it would be much lighter than where it started. A French Roast cup of coffee is much thinner and lighter than lighter roasts. Many people think that a dark roast is a strong cup of coffee, but it is quite the opposite. Lighter roasted coffees have more variety of flavor present and more caffeine. They also have more body, since the roasting process depletes the body (the thickness or mouth-feel, if you will) of a cup of coffee