Roast Levels Explained

WRITTEN BY: Ted Stachura


Coffee roasting is a form of tribute. We’ll be the first to shower praise upon our coffee production partners, the lands that yield their harvests, and the communities that have thrived upon both. To make good on our vision of Better Coffee, Better World, we approach coffee with the same reverence as the rest of our partners in the Chain of Well Being and draw out all of the flavor within for your brewing pleasure. Roasting is our legacy, it is our signature, and it is our promise.

A given coffee can be roasted in different ways depending on its interpretation of the roaster, each version exuding its own distinct taste and cup quality. There is a plethora of roasting terminology used throughout the coffee industry but no uniform agreement on their definitions. One roaster’s Full City can be another roaster’s French Roast and so on. At Equator, our overarching goal is to develop and maintain sweetness in our coffees – no sour light roasts and no bitter darks roasts. We gravitate toward simplified terminology when referring to the degree of roast that is easy to understand by all (think Light, Medium and Dark), including those who do not care to research the idiosyncrasies of enzymatic browning and the Maillard reaction. We’ve detailed our interpretation of these terms below and the ways in which we apply them to the coffees we offer.

Light Roasts – With light roasts, we focus on highlighting the complexity and aromatic intensity inherent in each coffee. We roast through the first crack stage, when the bean expands in size and makes an audible cracking sound, while controlling the roast development time to maximize sweetness and eliminate sourness.

Medium-Light Roasts – Similar to light roasts, medium-light roasts highlight the complexity and aroma of the coffee. We modulate the roast development time somewhat to mellow the coffee’s brightness a bit. This adds more caramel character to the cup, while retaining complex flavors and aromatic interest.

Medium – We go a bit deeper into the roast, taking the coffee closer to the second crack stage without crossing that threshold completely. The coffee’s aromatic intensity is dampened slightly in exchange for silkier mouthfeel and flavors tending toward milk chocolate. 

Medium-Dark – At this stage the coffee enters second crack, the degree at which a coffee officially becomes a dark roast. The cellular structure of the bean begins fracturing and for the second time the bean makes a perceptible crackling sound. Aromatic nuance is exchanged for a distinct roasty tone in the cup and semisweet chocolate flavors.

Dark – The bean is taken further into the second crack stage. At this point the dominant flavor of the coffee becomes the roast itself, while starches in the form of oil form on the surface of the bean. What a dark roasted coffee lacks in complexity and nuance it makes up for in intensity of flavor, often taking on a baker’s chocolate-like character.

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