Roast Levels – What Is The Difference
Copyright © Burwell Beans LLC 2023


The coffee bean is actually the seed of the coffee plant cherry. After cultivating and processing, the secret flavors hidden inside the green “bean” are what coffee roasters love to explore and experiment with.

A single coffee bean has more than 300 aromatic compounds trapped inside and over 650 new compounds that can be created and coaxed out by roasting the bean with passion and care.

In addition, beans harvested in certain regions and varying growing conditions can yield characteristics better suited to various styles of roast.


Light roasts generally have a pleasant and bright acidity and retain more of the natural flavors trapped inside the bean. Beans that generally have more floral and fruity characteristics, work well at this roast level. With its lighter body, lingering aftertaste, and interesting aromas, it is a roast level preferred by many specialty coffee drinkers. These roasts typically stop very soon after the “first crack” and the development is on the shorter side, retaining the natural citrus and malic acidity and flavors.

Try our Ethio Jazz coffee.

light roast


This roast extends the roast slightly longer, allowing the acidity to become fruitier and sweeter. It is a popular roast level in the Northeast for several years, its body is more substantial and complex than the light roast. Contrary to belief, lighter roasts technically retain more caffeine as it is less muted by other compounds, hence the enthusiasm for breakfast blends.

Try our Fazenda Serrinha Direct Relationship coffee.


This popular level is found throughout the United States. Sometimes referred to as City Roast, medium roasts feature aromatics that are at their peak and become complex. Natural acidity is lower than lighter roasts, but the flavor characteristics are still evident. Medium roasts do not reach the “second crack”: and are more developed, bringing out different flavors within the bean.

Try our Bossa Brazil Direct Relationship coffee.

medium roast


Often referred to a Full City, the beans are darker in appearance due to the sugars being more developed. This level is slightly sweeter than medium and dark roast levels. The coffee produces a heavier body and has a more pronounced feel in the mouth. Extremely versatile, this roast can be brewed in many different ways and is also very good for espresso.

Check our shop for coffee. We sometimes have seasonally rotating coffees at this level.


Espresso is a very distinct brewing method and not related to any particular variety or type of coffee bean.

Many roast levels serve well for espresso preparation. Espresso Blends are labelled as such, as they tend to be very complex and balanced with a heavier body, sweetness and aftertaste and are developed to pair well with steamed milks.

Blends or single origins that are crafted for espresso are general on the darker side and sometimes have oily surfaces, depending on the level of development. Many drinkers prefer darker roasts that produce rich chocolate and nutty notes, but may love the fruit and slight acidity that lighter roasts provide in espressos. Espresso is a great way to experiment with any types of coffee as flavors are typically more exaggerated due to the fast and strong extraction levels.

Try Ox Pasture our signature espresso blend.


These coffees finish just before “second crack” or extend even further and bring out more of the nutty, chocolate and spicy flavors and aromas. Acidity is much lower and the beans are more developed, but still retaining sweetness. Dark roasts should not be bitter and generally have oils visible on the outer surface.

Our top seller Dark Timbre is a great start.

dark roast


Extending the roast development produces very dark and oily beans, with flat acidity. Hence, the body is still full, and sweetness is still present. Deeper, more caramelized tones are evident and may mask the other characteristics. However, darker roasts still work well for espresso, for those that prefer this smokier experience. Other terms for the dark roasts include French, Turkish, Italian, and Dark Espresso.

Try our Largo or Sax-Noir blends.