Cup of Espresso

Brewing Espresso With Darker and Lighter Roasts

By Coffeenated Stories | 6 min read

Updated On: MAR 22 2024

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Coffee beans naturally come in a large variety of flavors. The flavors are mainly affected by the type of coffee and the region of the world where it grows.

Apart from the natural flavors, the brewed coffee's taste is also affected by the roasting of the beans. When we roast them, the chemical reactions developed inside the beans enhance those natural flavors and add new ones.

Roasting Coffee Beans
Roasting Coffee Beans
by Maria Orlova · url: https://www.pexels.com/@orlovamaria

For example, suppose the coffee naturally has a lovely light and floral note. In that case, the roaster will usually lightly roast that batch of beans to preserve that flavor and enhance the acidity and brightness.

Or, if the coffee beans have a natural sweetness and caramel aromas, the roaster will want to enrich those by roasting the beans for a more extended period.

A Palate of Coffee Flavors
A Palate of Coffee Flavors
Nathan Dumlao by Unsplash - https://unsplash.com/photos/keTvQFtMYuc

So in that regard, there are three main categories of roasted beans: dark, light, and medium roast.

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Different Roast Types

Dark Roast
Lifeboost Coffee - Dark Roast

Lifeboost Coffee - Dark Roast

Indulge in the best with Lifeboost Coffee's dark roast, where unparalleled taste meets ethical excellence.

  • Ethically sourced and sun-dried beans washed with spring water.
  • Grown in bird-friendly, high-elevation farms of Central America.
  • Low-acid coffee beans for a smooth and satisfying cup without discomfort.
  • Certified USDA Organic and 3rd party tested for quality and safety.
  • "Love It, Or You Don't Owe Us A Dime" guarantee for your satisfaction.
Light Roast
Lifeboost Coffee - Light Roast

Lifeboost Coffee - Light Roast

Experience the exceptional taste and quality of Lifeboost Coffee's light roast - the perfect choice for coffee enthusiasts.

  • Delicious, low-acid, and flavorful coffee made from Non-GMO organic whole beans.
  • Grown in the mountains of Nicaragua, ensuring purity and high elevation benefits.
  • Say goodbye to acidity with our low-acid organic beans, delivering all the benefits without side effects.
  • Certified USDA organic and 3rd party tested for quality and safety.
  • "Love It, Or You Don't Owe Us A Dime" guarantee for ultimate customer satisfaction.
Medium Roast
Lifeboost Coffee - Medium Roast

Lifeboost Coffee - Medium Roast

The medium roast from Lifeboost Coffee is a true gem in the world of coffee.

  • Grown in the mountains of Central America, benefiting from high elevations and shade-grown practices.
  • Meticulously hand-selected beans ensure exceptional quality and purity.
  • Sun-dried and spring water washed for a pure and natural coffee experience.
  • USDA organic certified and 3rd party tested for quality and safety.
  • The "Love It Or You Don't Owe Us A Dime" guarantee reflects their confidence in customer satisfaction.

Roast Levels

  • Dark Roast - The darker and oilier the roast is, the more profound and caramelized smokiness we will taste.
  • Light roast - With lighter roasts, we'll get a fruity, brighter, acidic taste that expresses more of the coffee's original flavor.
  • Medium Roast - We should expect a hint of that roasted flavor with medium roasts, as they tend to place themselves in the middle of the palate of flavors that roasted coffee is.

Dive Deeper: From Bean to Brew: How Different Roast Levels Transform Your Coffee

From Raw Beans to Lighter, Medium, and Darker Roasts
From Raw Beans to Lighter, Medium, and Darker Roasts
nousnou iwasaki by Unsplash - https://unsplash.com/photos/myPzH34VYK4

When brewing espresso, we're taking into account the roast level of the beans mainly because it will dictate our recipe or at least our starting point.

The roast level of the beans will tell us our initial brew ratio and brewing water temperature.

For example, we would want to use an espresso brew ratio for ristretto and the water temperature on the lower setting for darker roasts, contrary to lighter roasts, where we'll start with more of a lungo brew ratio with a higher water temperature.

And from those, we'll begin adjusting the grind setting and checking the time of the shot and extraction. So, hopefully, in the end, we will come up with a recipe that has a perfect balance of saltiness, acidity, and sweetness, all in a cup of syrupy and delicious espresso.

Roast Level and Brewing Water Temperature

When brewing darker roasts, we should set the temperature of the water at the lower side of the range, somewhere between 185°F to 194°F / 85°C to 90°C.

Darker roasts will extract more quickly than lighter ones because the beans themself are less dense.

Roasting the bean for longer will change its cell structure, thus making it more porous, so the water should not have to be as hot to achieve proper extraction.

Being a solvent, the hotter the water is, the more effective it is in extracting the coffee when brewing espresso.

For lighter roasts, we should set the water temperature a little higher than darker roasts, somewhere between 194°F to 203°F / 90°C to 95°C.

Roast Type and Water Temperature
Light RoastMedium RoastDark Roast
Water Temperature194°F to 203°F / 90°C to 95°C190°F to 197°F / 88°C to 92°C185°F to 194°F / 85°C to 90°C

Roast Level and Coffee Density

When measured by volume, different types of coffee beans have different weights.

For example, one container filled with a particular kind of raw coffee beans had not the same weight as when we filled up the same container with different coffee beans. That is because various types of coffee beans, among other things, differ in their densities.

The beans of coffee that grow above 1200 meters or 4000 ft above the sea are considered high-altitude beans, and below that are considered low-altitude beans.

The different altitudes will make the beans different in density. The high-altitude beans are denser than the low-altitude beans.

Also, the roasting process plays a role in a bean's density. The darker roasts are less dense, and lightly roasted beans are more denser.

That is because of the roasting process itself. The cell structure of the bean roasted for longer is more degraded, making it less dense than a lightly roasted bean.

Often, the roasters will provide the origin and the height of the region where the coffee is grown, and we should find it printed on the bag of the coffee.

From the roast level and the origin of the beans, we will roughly figure out the structure and density of the beans and consider them when we are trying to create a brew recipe for that bag of coffee.

Editor's choice

Peak Performance High Altitude Organic Coffee

Peak Performance Organic High Altitude Medium Roast Coffee Beans offer a healthy and flavorful coffee experience. Here's why these coffee beans are worth considering:

Peak Performance High Altitude Organic Coffee
  • These Arabica beans are grown at high altitudes, specifically in the Guatemalan Highlands, resulting in denser beans of higher quality. "Strictly Hard Bean" (SHB) refers to these dense, high-altitude beans. That means we can expect a more robust and flavorful cup of coffee. Additionally, high-altitude coffee tends to have higher antioxidant levels.
  • Single-origin coffee ensures that the beans come from a specific region, eliminating the risk of contamination from different varieties. That guarantees a pure and untainted coffee experience, where the entire batch maintains its quality and integrity.
  • With Fair Trade certification, low acidity, and USDA organic certification, this coffee prioritizes ethical sourcing and supports sustainable farming practices. Going organic is particularly important as conventional coffee is heavily treated with chemicals that can pose health risks.
  • Peak Performance proudly boasts over 500,000 happy customers, a testament to the quality and satisfaction their coffee provides. Furthermore, they have a 1-for-1 donation program in partnership with Vitamin Angels. For every unit purchased, a child at risk of malnutrition receives vitamins for one year. Supporting this cause adds value to your coffee purchase, knowing that you are making a positive impact.

Roast Level and Brew Ratio

When making espresso, the proportion between the grams of ground coffee and the grams of the yielded liquid espresso is what we call the espresso brew ratio.

So as an example, brewing espresso with 20 g of ground coffee and yielding 40 g of liquid espresso is a 1:2 ratio.

Espresso Brew Ratios
Espresso Brew Ratios

We will use the roast level of the coffee and the density of the beans to narrow down the range of the brew ratios that we want to start experimenting with to prepare a brewing recipe.

Brew Ratio for Darker Roasts

We'll generally start making a recipe on the border of a ristretto and espresso for darker roasts, between a 1:1 to 1:1.75 ratio of ground coffee to espresso yield.

The more exposed to the heat and darker the beans are during the roasting process, the more porous they become. Darker roasts give up the acids, sugars, and other soluble materials sooner than lightly roasted beans when making espresso. So brewing them with a higher ratio, we'll risk over-extracting the coffee in the basket.

Darker Roast

San Francisco Bay - Fog Chaser, Medium-Dark Roast

San Francisco Bay Whole Bean Coffee's Fog Chaser Blend is a delightful medium-dark roast coffee with a perfect combination of flavor, balance, and smoothness.

San Francisco Bay - Fog Chaser, Medium-Dark Roast
  • The Fog Chaser blend features a carefully crafted combination of dark and medium roasted beans, resulting in a medium-dark roast that is highly enjoyable.
  • San Francisco Bay Coffee takes pride in using only 100% Arabica coffee beans, known for their superior quality and flavor. Additionally, the coffee is certified Kosher, meeting the highest quality and purity standards. The beans are hand-picked and grown in high-altitude regions, contributing to their exceptional taste and aroma.
  • San Francisco Bay Coffee is committed to sustainability, offering a wide selection of sustainably grown, sourced, and packaged coffee options. Whether you prefer whole bean or ground coffee, flavored or decaf, you can enjoy your favorite brew while supporting environmentally conscious practices.
  • With a rich tradition and a family-owned heritage, San Francisco Bay Coffee company stands behind its products and is dedicated to ensuring customer satisfaction. If, for any reason, you are not happy with your purchase, their customer service is ready to assist and make it right.

Brew Ratio for Lighter Roasts

When brewing espresso with lightly roasted coffee beans, we typically want to choose a brew ratio in the range of a regular espresso up to a lungo.

A good starting point will be a 1:2 to 1:3 brew ratio. Some lighter roasts can be unpleasant to taste at higher strengths.

For lightly roasted beans, it is more difficult for the water to penetrate through the more dense structure of the bean and dissolve the acids and sugars. So when brewing lighter roasts, more work is required than when brewing darker roasts.

That is mainly how the roast level of the beans affects or dictates our brew ratio.

Lighter Roast

Burundi Mugano Coffee Beans, Light-Medium Roast

Burundi Mugano, light-medium roasted coffee beans from Good As Gold Coffee Roasters, offers an exceptional coffee experience. There are several reasons why these coffee beans are worth considering.

Burundi Mugano Coffee Beans, Light-Medium Roast
  • The Burundi coffee beans are grown in one of the highest regions of Burundi, resulting in a longer ripening period for the coffee cherries. This extended time allows the sugars within the cherries to develop and mature, enhancing the overall flavor profile. The result is a bright and sweet brew that will surely please coffee enthusiasts.
  • These freshly roasted beans come with notes of tangerine and dried fruit, complemented by bright, sweet acidity and a smooth body. Each sip provides a delightful and satisfying taste experience.
  • "Good As Gold" Coffee Roasters uses an advanced Air Roaster designed explicitly for their coffee roasting process. This innovative approach produces coffee that is brighter in flavor and cleaner than traditional roasting methods. The result is a cup of coffee that truly showcases the unique characteristics of the Burundi Mugano beans.
  • With over 50 years of experience, Good As Gold Coffee Roasters is a family business dedicated to providing delicious, high-quality coffee. Their commitment to delivering exceptional coffee at a great value is evident in every batch they roast. When you choose Good As Gold, you select a brand with a long-standing tradition of excellence.

Coffee Extraction

Regardless of the brewing method, when hot water flows through the ground coffee, it starts to extract soluble materials from it.

In the following video by Wolff Coffee RoastersDr Monika Fekete from Coffee Science Lab demonstrates the process of coffee flavor extraction during brewing.

yt thumbnailplay button

As the extraction progresses, the taste in the cup changes because, at different stages of the brewing process, additional soluble materials we'll extract from the coffee. And that progression of extraction happens linearly regardless of the type of roast.

The Linear Progression of Coffee Extraction
The Linear Progression of Coffee Extraction

The brewing process initially dissolves the salts and caffeine into the water. They are the most soluble in water. After that, the acids begin to come out from the coffee.

And given a little more time, the complex carbohydrates start to break down into simple sugars, which we'll also extract. At that point, we'll begin to taste the sweet notes from the coffee.

If the water sits even longer with the coffee, it will start to push out the beans' oils, and eventually, it will begin to dissolve the coffee fibers.

So overall, there is a sweet spot in this progression of extraction where we need to stop the brewing when we make an espresso.

As illustrated in the image above, for espresso, that sweet spot or proper extraction falls somewhere in between dissolving the sugars and before dissolving the fibers.

We don't want to start dissolving fibers from the coffee and putting them into our cups. In that case, we might have over-extracted the coffee.

We call anything before this imaginary sweet spot under-extraction and over-extraction after dissolving the fibers.

On taste, an under-extracted shot of espresso will be sour, salty, sharp, and with a flavor that is shortly gone and a deep, bitter taste for an over-extracted espresso.