How do you choose a coffee to buy? Do you base your choice on the roast level: light, medium or dark? The origin (where it comes from) of the coffee? Or, do you leave your cup of coffee to fate by picking the “prettiest” bag?
Unfortunately, more often than not, people don’t know how to select a coffee that they will really like. But we're here to help you figure out how (or at least give you a little bit of insight that might help you make a more informed decision).
So let’s start at the very beginning. What is the difference between light roast, medium roast or dark roast? Raw coffee beans start out as a greenish brown bean and as they are roasted they turn a dark brown. The longer the beans are roasted, the darker they get both in color and in flavor (a dark flavor being more of the stereotypical bitter/burnt flavor). In other words, dark roast beans are darker in color and flavor than light roast beans. Simple – right? However, there is more to it than that.
How and how long the beans are roasted also affects the way the unique flavor profiles of each bean. To explain this a little bit better and go a little bit deeper, we’re going to talk about toast for a minute. That’s right, toast! If you stick around long enough, you’ll hear me using the toast analogy often when I talk about coffee.
If you go out to a restaurant and order breakfast, your server will likely ask you which kind of toast you would like. Examples include rye, white, whole wheat, sourdough, cinnamon raisin, etc. You’ll take your pick and the server will likely bring you back a piece of golden brown toast of your choice. If you ordered a good rye bread, you’ll taste the earthy sour qualities of the bread as you begin to chew the first few bites. If you ordered a cinnamon raisin bread you’ll likely notice a wave of sweet and salty flavors followed by a sour and slightly bitter flavor. This all holds true only if your bread is toasted golden brown. If your toast was burnt the predominant flavor will be a bitter burnt flavor instead of the unique flavor profiles of each bread.
The same holds true for coffee: the darker the roast, the less likely you’ll be able to notice the unique qualities of the beans and more likely you’ll notice a predominantly bitter taste. However, coffee is unique in that the bitter/burnt taste is desired for many coffee drinkers.
Many people believe that the roast level also impacts the level of caffeine. While there is some truth to the statement, it isn’t completely true. Roasted coffee is made up of about 1% caffeine, 12% water and 87% other compounds. Caffeine is hard to remove from a coffee bean. In fact, it’s really difficult to actually roast the caffeine out of coffee. One thing that does leave the bean easily during the roasting process is the moisture. So, the longer coffee beans are roasted the less moisture they retain. Since dark roast beans are roasted longer than light roast beans, the beans lose more moisture, and therefore mass (weight).
More dark roast than light roast beans are then needed to reach a specific mass/weight. So, if you come to Fika you’ll find that a cup of our dark roast coffee will have more caffeine in it than a cup of our light roast, not because dark roast beans have more caffeine in them but because we have to use more beans to make a cup of coffee (we use a specific weight of beans when we brew a batch of coffee or pull a shot of espresso). In other words, the same amount of caffeine is in a light roast bean as there is in a dark roast bean, but more beans are used to create a cup of coffee (or fill a bag).
If you’re really set on getting an extra hit of caffeine, I recommend drinking more coffee or adding an extra shot or two of espresso to your drink.
Even though roast level isn’t the only thing that should influence peoples coffee buying decisions, we know that it is one of the main reference points that people use. So, we’ve been pretty intentional about putting information about coffee roast levels on the labels of our bags to make the selection process a little bit easier for our customers. You find the roast level distinguished by the color of the diamond shapes in the bottom right corner. If one diamond is black in the coffee is a light roast, if two diamonds are black the coffee is medium roast, and if three diamonds are black it is a dark roast.
With all of that said, using the roast level and caffeine content as a purchasing guide is a great way to do if from 30,000 feet, but I believe that it will not play well when you are looking at our coffee and it isn't a good idea to make a purchase based solely on roast level.
All people are different with extremely different tastes. So different people can have a different experience with the same cup of coffee. This aspect of the coffee culture is what we really appreciate here at Fika. We often ask ourselves: Is coffee more objective or subjective? Can we unequivocally call out one aspect of coffee as being “good” or “bad” across the board for all people? I might say yes to some aspects, but those aspects are going to be far and few between. The reality is that someone probably not too far away from me likes the same thing I dislike. But, if someone likes something I dislike, they like it. Who am I to tell someone that what they really enjoy about coffee is “bad”?
So how do we suggest you find a coffee that YOU really enjoy? Think about the things you like when you’re drinking coffee.
- What mouthfeel that you like with coffee?
- Do you like a lighter body like water or a heavier feel like milk?
- Do you like a brightness in your coffee (think of that white wine sparkle).
- Do you like an aftertaste that lingers for a bit or a quick finish to the sip.
The next time you come to the cafe and buy some coffee, try some of these questions out on us. We’ll help your narrow your selection and help you find a coffee that you enjoy most…because at the end of the day, you should be drinking the coffee YOU like, not the coffee we or your neighbor likes. This life is your adventure. Not ours.
Need a little help figuring out which of our current coffee offerings you would like most? Here’s a little guide:
- Costa Rica, Finca La Fila (NEW!)- The sweetness of this coffee is what stands out. It's sweet like strawberries! There is a medium mouthfeel to this coffee. It is very clean and finishes clean.
- Organic Dark Roast, Mexico - This one has that big dark taste and is smooth, not bitter, like some really dark roasts.
- Asprocdegua Coop, Guatemala- I like to say this is a coffee you don't have to think about. This it's a crowd-pleaser with a medium mouthfeel that is sweet like a nice milk chocolate. There is a little bit of brightness in the beginning of the cup but it goes away quickly into a clean finish.
- North Shore Blend - This coffee has a little bit of everything, the mouthfeel is very textured. In the middle of the cup you get a red winey brightness to it that goes into the finish.
- Organic Ethiopia, Tega & Tula Farm - This coffee has a light body and a bright sparkly finish with a taste of a cold green grape. The finish lingers for a bit.
Looking for a place to start? Many people like a nice dark roast, so it makes a great coffee to try when you’re determining which qualities you like and/or dislike about coffee. For the same reason, it also makes a great birthday, holiday or thank you gift.