Roast Level and Flavor


Issue No. 4, Ethan Cullingworth

Roast Levels, Strong Coffee, and Flavor

“Ill take your strongest, darkest coffee; no cream or sugar” —

I’ll do my best, I ponder as I prepare my ‘dark’ drip coffee. It’s not a dark roast.  At Black Dog we don’t serve dark roast, the reasons for which I’ll explain over the next few pages. Most often I will let you know we don’t carry dark roast and offer my closest option, saying we judge the coffee we carry by their flavour profile rather than roast level. This alludes to the fact we enjoy lighter roasts at our cafe. We do, and I’ll share exactly why! 

“Dark Roast Is Stronger”

I think we have all heard this before, used to say it, or maybe still do. I know I did. Though I couldn’t tell you where I first heard it I recall it being a known fact that the dark, bitter, vaguely petrol like taste of coffee was present in only the strongest brews. But are these traits actually synonymous with ‘strong coffee’? That depends on your definition of strong or an interesting technicality. 

If you are of the opinion that the taste of the coffee (namely those intrinsic of dark roast) is a telltale sign of it’s strength, you’re right. Sort of, and not for the reason you’d think. But if you think the caffeine content is what makes coffee strong, you’re also right. After making sure I land safely in the middle ground, I’m going to drop the bomb on everyone. 


Most of us drink coffee for that subtle buzz and wakefulness that comes from the caffein found in coffee; it gets us going in the  mornings and keeps us going late at night. I’ll dive into the (if I’m being honest kinda scary) details on how caffeine works in a later issue, but for now I’ll let you know that it doesn’t actually give you energy — caffeine simply blocks your body's tired signals from reaching your brain.

Light, Medium, and Dark

The compound caffeine stays very constant during roasting, barely changing during the process. Meaning longer roasting doesn’t magically make more caffeine appear inside the coffee bean, nor does it remove any. The caffeine content of coffee depends on the actual coffee itself, not how it’s roasted. The same coffee roasted light, medium, or dark, will give you the same buzz.

How Then Is Dark Roast Also Technically ‘Stronger’?

Coffee is, at it’s core, extraction; we grind the beans so we can expose more surface area to allow the water to start extracting those tasty molecules we love. To monitor this extraction, we note our ‘grind size’, how coarse/fine we grind the coffee, and the weight of ground coffee used. As an example, we might grind out eighteen grams of coffee on the number three grind setting, and pull a shot of espresso. In this example let’s say one medium roast coffee bean is equal to one gram. There’s eighteen coffee beans in the shot we just pulled, and eighteen grams worth of caffeine. 

Now let’s take this same batch of green coffee and roast it nice and dark. During the extended time spent being roasted more mass was lost, literally making the beans physically lighter in weight. Keeping in mind our example explained above, because our beans are now lighter, in order to get eighteen grams worth of ground dark roast coffee we’re gonna need more than eighteen beans. That means more than eighteen grams worth of caffeine. 

For another perspective, check out ‘The New Rules of Coffee’ — we have this  book in store, and I would highly recommend picking a copy up. Written by the founders of Sprudge, a longstanding company well known in the coffee world, there’s a rich amount of information brought forward in a very accessible way, including the topic I am covering here.

Why Use Light and Medium Roast Then?

Because it taste better. Or, at least, there’s more to taste. Coffee carries over 800 flavour capabilities at the molecular level. In dark roast those are narrowed down to like… four. Ashy, astringent, rubbery, and bitter. Perhaps I’m being too harsh. However, the true flavour, body, and overall taste of coffee is cooked right out when roasted above medium, and you find yourself tasting the same few notes every time regardless where you got the coffee. If that coffee had been pulled by the time it was considered medium, it would have a much brighter, sweet, and complex flavour profile. Hopefully. On thing dark roast will do is keep your coffee tasting consistent. If you buy cheap, poor tasting coffee and roast it dark, it will taste about the same as dark roasted expensive, good tasting coffee. If your coffee wasn’t great when sourced, you might as well burn it — there’s huge demand for dark roast anyway. And, if you enjoy it, who is anyone to say it’s worse? It certainly isn’t weaker.