Coffee 101: What's Up With Roast?

August 17, 2022

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Roasting coffee is not so dissimilar from cooking or baking. When you cook at home, you’re thinking about the quality of your produce, the equipment you use, your experience, and the technique you use to cook. Coffee roasters take unroasted green coffee beans – the dried and hulled seed of the coffee cherry – and over the course of roughly 10-15 minutes, will roast them to perfection. In this post we’ll break that down a little more, as well as shed some light on what makes a roast light, medium, or dark.

The important thing to remember when thinking about light, medium, or dark roast is that the goal is always to bring the coffee to its fullest, most delightful expression. While you won't see Stumptown coffees categorized by their roast, you can rest assured we roast each batch to its peak balance and sweetness so that it delights every time it touches your lips.

It’s easiest to think about our beloved roasting machines as highly specialized ovens. Much like baking at home, you preheat the oven, bake or roast your ingredients, and get something delicious on the other side. In roasting coffee, we preheat the roaster to about 400F, then fill the roaster with green coffee.

For the first 7 or so minutes of roasting coffee, the goal of the roaster is to remove any remaining moisture from the beans. Part of why coffee tastes so good is the caramelization of sugars and the flavor development from the Maillard Reaction, and those flavors won’t happen if there’s any water left in the beans.

Around 9-10 minutes or so, the beans will arrive at what is colloquially known as “first crack” and will start releasing energy stored inside. Typically, after first crack is where a coffee roaster can really have control over what the finished product tastes like in what is known as “development”. As coffee roasting progresses after this point, typically acidity or fruit notes in the coffee will start to fade, while sweet flavors such as caramel or chocolate will develop and take prominence. This is where we can see some separation between light, medium, and dark roasts.

A light roast will be roasted for a relatively short time after first crack, typically only roasting for 10-11 minutes. These coffees usually have higher acidity or fruit flavors, as well as a generally lighter body. This type of coffee is perfect for those who enjoy tasting coffee to find complexity and unique flavors. Most of our single-origin coffees, or coffees from a single place, farm, or co-op, tend to fall around a light roast category, as our roasters want to preserve the inherent characteristics of those coffees.

Medium roasts will roast for longer than light roasts, and retain some fruit flavors and acidity while having more sweetness. This style of coffee is great for those who enjoy a cup of coffee that tastes more like chocolate, with just enough acidity to keep things lively. A number of our blends fall into this category – such as Homestead Blend or Founders Blend – as they make great everyday sippers.

Finally, dark roasts will be roasted the longest out of the three, typically around 15-16 minutes. These coffees will usually have even less acidity than medium roasts, and predominant flavors of caramel and dark chocolate. For those who like a bold cup of coffee that you can pour some milk into, dark roasts will be perfect. A handful of our roasts – such as French Roast – will fall into this category as sturdy breakfast coffees.

In truth, there are no set boundaries as to what defines a light, medium, or dark roast. Some of our coffees straddle the line between these roast categories in order to achieve balance. At the end of the day, our goal is to provide you with a balanced and sweet cup of coffee, and give you some options to find what brings you the most delight in your cup. Cheers!