Tuesday, January 27, 2009

How Well Do You Know Your Coffee?

Many people grind their beans themselves, to ensure a fresh and flavorful cup of coffee. But not as many people roast their own. Whether you are a home-roaster or not, knowing the different roast levels and their taste characteristics can be helpful when purchasing coffee.

As beans are roasted, the sugars, fats and starches that are within the bean are emulsified, caramelized and released. This creates the delicate coffee oil. This oil is what gives coffee its distinctive aroma and taste.

In general, lighter roasts are sharper and more acidic than the darker roasts. Darker roasts have a fuller flavor. Beans that have been over-roasted will take on a burned, smoky or charcoal flavor. Also, there is less caffeine in the darker roasted coffees than in the lighter ones.

The roast alone doesn't determine the resulting coffee taste or quality. The origin of the beans makes a big difference.

Here are the basic roast types. Many are used interchangeably, so be careful.

Light Cinnamon
The lightest roast for coffee. Beans are a pale cinnamon brown and dry with no oil on the surface of the bean. The flavors of the coffee are barely developed, and the brew has a bready, baked taste (also sometimes known as a ‘pale roast’).

Cinnamon Roast
The color is pale orangey brown and dry with no oil on the surface of the bean. The flavor is a bit more polished than a light cinnamon, slightly grainy in taste.

New England Roast
A light roast popular on the Northeast coast. The flavor is light and slightly acidic with a hint of sourness.

American Roast
The color of American roast is a medium brown with no oily patches on the beans. It delivers a light tasting cup of coffee with no sour notes, but less coffee flavor than slightly darker roasts. It’s considered an optimal roast for coffees that are brewed from a single type of coffee bean because it lets the flavor of the bean come through without imposing the flavors of the roasting method.

City Roast
At this roast, the coffee beans are a medium brown with darker brown marbling or cracking lines showing distinctly. The flavor is rich and full-bodied, with the individual flavor of the coffee variety still very much in evidence.

Full City Roast
Slightly darker than City roast, the Full City is a uniform brown, with a strong coffee aroma and no burnt or caramelized flavor to the coffee.

Light French (Viennese) Roast
A deep, rich brown roast with slight patches of oil on the bean surface. This roast is rich and full-bodied, and is generally considered to be the point where the flavor of the roasting process begins to eclipse the unique flavors of the coffee’s origin. For many, this is the darkest roast that should be used for making espresso.

French Roast
The beans are so dark that they appear nearly black, and the entire surface of the bean is oily. French roast coffee has a sharp, bright flavor to it with a light acidic overtone. Most French Roast coffees will have more in common flavorwise with other French Roast coffees than they do with lighter roasts of the same type of coffee bean.

Italian (Dark French) Roast
Italian roast beans are fully caramelized, black in color and very oily. They can make very burnt tasting coffee, depending on how fast they reached the dark roast stage and how well controlled the process was. It is the roast most favored on the Southern Italian peninsula.

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