What does roast level mean and what are my choices?
From a coffee drinker’s point of view there are a handful of choices when it comes to roast: light, medium, and dark. Maybe French, perhaps you’ve heard espresso as a roast (it’s not). What does it mean though?
It’s actually not complicated at all. You need to know a bit about the coffee origin though. I’ll use a typical Ethiopian as my example here, but you should know that any origin will be more or less the same.
A light roasted Ethiopian coffee will be almost tea-like. To look at it, it will appear a very light brown and watery. It’s taste will have be very characteristic of its origin, in this case it will be very fruity and high in acidity.
As you get into a medium roast you typically keep a lot of the flavors and aromas from the light roast, but they start to decline. In their place you get a caramel sugar taste. It comes from the natural sugars in the coffee being caramelized in the heat of the roasting process. It will appear much darker in color, probably what most people consider to be the normal color of coffee and will be a little bit thicker than a light roast.
A dark roast continue the sugar caramelization process. Whatever origin flavors there were are likely gone by this point. The coffee will have a somewhat bittersweet taste due to the sugar being changed. Most coffees will take on a chocolate or nut flavor, also due to the caramelization. The body of the coffee will be lighter than a medium roast, but thicker than a light.
The darkest roasts are associated with locations. There is a Vienna roast which is a very dark roast, French roast which is darker yet, almost to the point of charring the bean, and then Spanish which is actually to the point of charring. These darker roasts are relatively uncommon, especially a Spanish roast. Vienna roasts are used in making espresso.