In this cornnnnerrrr: a bright, citrusy competitor, light-bodied but spry and refreshingly complex. And in the corrrrnerrr: a big, bold cuppa Joe, full-bodied and somewhat simple, but remarkably consistent and versatile.
Talking about dark vs light roast coffee can be pretty polarizing. It tends to pit first and second wave traditionalists - those with a coffee-is-coffee, two-creams-and-a-sugar, Dale Cooper-style “damn fine” diner brew, big-chain skinny-mocha-latte types - against third (and fourth??) wave geeky purists - those preparing their coffee in as meticulous a manner as a smart dealer might with a tiny scale, alongside a Japanese grinder and hand-made pour-over funnel, seeking to brew the “juiciest” cup with notes of perhaps fresh stone fruit or Florida oranges.
But what is the actual difference between light and dark roasts and, crucially, which one has more caffeine?? Hinterland investigates!
As you may have guessed, light roast coffee is less roasted than it’s darker-hued counterpart, meaning it sees less time in the roasting drum, lower heat, or both. The shorter time and lower heat make for less moisture evaporation and less oil traveling to the surface of the bean. The beans look dry and light brown in color, and are heavy for their volume. A light roast is often described as “bright” and “acidic”, though importantly the somewhat sour taste is not indicative of a higher acid profile, chemically-speaking. The reason coffee nerds tend to prefer light roasts is because they show nuance: region of origin, growing style and climate are all highly perceptible and left intact during the less arduous roasting process, making it possible to select for a wide variety of interesting tasting notes.
The longer a coffee is roasted, the more uniform in flavor it becomes across regions or growing styles; the roasting process usurps all other variables. Folks that enjoy dark roasts enjoy the uniformly deep, rich, smoky, chocolatey flavors developed during the more intense roasting process, resulting in a bigger-bodied brew particularly well-suited to the addition of creams and/or sweeteners. Dark roasts are the norm across much of the states, particularly the West Coast, as well as Europe (think French and Italian roasts). Dark roasting removes most of the coffee bean’s moisture and brings the oils to the surface, resulting in a dark brown or nearly black, shiny bean that is light for its volume.
Many-a truckstop will have extra-dark roasts labeled as Trucker’s Blend or Red Eye Blend available by the styrofoam cupful. Conversely, hip, white-walled coffee shops will tell you you’ll get more of a jolt from a thin, juicy Ethiopian than trucker’s sludge. So who’s to trust? Turns out, both the grizzled and the bespeckled are onto something. What we can definitively say is that caffeine is neither created nor destroyed during the roasting process. It’s a highly-stable chemical compound that remains the same whether in a pale bean or a coal-black one. The difference in how much of that caffeine makes it into your cup is based on the coffee’s preparation. As we mentioned above, light roast coffees are heavy for their volume, meaning there are fewer beans per gram of coffee because of their higher water content, SO if the coffee preparation favors volume (say, 2 Tbs of grounds per 6 oz of water), you’ll get more caffeine from the denser light roast beans because there are simply *more* ground beans in that scoop. Conversely, if the preparation utilizes mass as a unit of measure (say, 12g of grounds to 6 oz of water), there will be a greater quantity of the less dense dark roast beans per gram resulting in a more caffeinated cup.
The difference, however, is pretty nominal, especially in a cup-sized preparation (we’re talking a difference of something like 2 to 4 beans) so...if you, like us, are a caffeine fiend, rest assured that no matter which roast level you prefer, it will deliver the come-to-Jesus, I-can-live-another-day, brain-fog-clearing, mood-elevating stimulant hit you crave.
Hinterland offers the rare ability to choose your preferred roast level when ordering online, whether for one-off orders or subscriptions. We encourage y’all to try out all sorts of roast levels, paired with a variety of growing regions and find your favorite, and if that all sounds like a loud-a’ nerdy hooey, or if your alignment skews “chaotic”, there’s always Trash Soup (an ever-changing blend of all origins and roast levels we have on hand for a delicious surprise every time!)
As a starting point and little get-to-know-us, here’s our house favorites:
Trinia: Mexican Chiapas, medium roast
Georgia: Guatemalan, dark
Alex: Ethiopian, light
The Hinterland Crew
Contributions made here by either Trinia, Georgia or Alex.