Now, a lot of die-hard coffee drinkers prefer their steaming cup of Joe to be black. By this we mean, no milk, no sugar, no cream, or any other rubbish that may taint the flavor and aroma of the gorgeous coffee beans.
However, just because it’s a black cup of coffee, it doesn’t mean you’re sipping on a dark roast.
This then begs the question; what’s a light roast, and how do I find the best one?
Luckily for you, we’re going to break that down for your here in this article. Let’s dive in!
What’s a Light Roast and What Makes It So Good?
As the name so aptly suggests, a light roast is a coffee that’s just been roasted for a shorter amount of time- simple right?
Although coffee beans vary massively from brand to brand (namely, the origin and altitude of where they’re grown), they usually all boast a ‘roasting scale.’ This starts from ‘light’ and gradually creeps over to ‘dark.’ However, this scale will vary depending on the brand of the coffee.
Here are some of the common roast types:
Light Roast: Also known as a blonde roast, these coffee beans are roasted for the least time, are light brown in hue, have little to no oil on the surface of the coffee beans, and are considered light bodied. Normally, beans are roasted to about three hundred and fifty to four hundred degrees fahrenheit, or until they first crack.
Medium Roast: The versatile medium roast coffee beans tend to be a medium brown in color, also have little to no oil on the surface, and reach a temperature between four hundred and four hundred and thirty degrees fahrenheit. These roasts tend to be more full bodied, though not as full bodied as light roasts.
Dark Roast: Dark roast coffee beans tend to be a rich, dark brown to nearly black and often have noticeable sheen, from natural oils. Unlike the other roasts, dark roasts often are referred to by a plethora of names and variations. French, Italian, Espresso, Continental, New Orleans, and Spanish roasts are all considered dark roasts. Dark roasts are the most full bodied and must reach a temperature of four hundred and sixty to four hundred and eighty degrees fahrenheit.
One of the best things about light roast coffee is that it retains more of its original flavor in comparison to darker roasts- yum, right? So, you can expect to relish a cup that boasts a slightly more acidic and citrusy note to it.
Fun Fact: It’s a myth that light roast coffees have a higher caffeine content to them. So, if you’re looking for a coffee that gives you a greater jolt in the morning, don’t make your choice based on the darkness of the roast.
However, you should note that it’s true that a scoop of light roast coffee contains more caffeine than a same-sized scoop of dark roast coffee. This is because light roast beans are smaller and denser than darker roasts because they don’t shed as much water during the roasting process.
As the light roast bean is more compact, you don’t need as many to make a cup of coffee. This results in the caffeine content equating to roughly the same, no matter which roast you opt for.
What are light roasts best for?
While dark roasts are the preferred roast type for specialty drinks light espressos, and even cappuccinos and macchiatos, light roasts are preferred for specialty drinks that tend to be flavored or contained sweetened notes. If you like your coffee sweet, or if you enjoy coffee dessert drinks, chances are you’re drinking more light roasts than dark roasts. Light roasts are also excellent for flavored coffee beans because the flavor can truly shine through without being masked.
Light roasts are also great options for anyone who enjoy the general aroma of coffee but don’t want anything with more bitter and rich notes. If you’ve had coffee before in mostly dark or even medium roasts and are on the edge of whether or not you like coffee, it might be time to try out a lighter roast.
Is there a nutritional difference between light, medium, and dark roasts?
From a caloric basis, there is no substantial difference between light, medium and dark roasts: the calories in the coffee beans themselves are negligible. But now studies suggest that there may be an advantage to lighter over darker roasts.
Chlorogenic acid is an antioxidant present in coffee beans. Interestingly enough, the caffeine content was modest in differences, but the levels of chlorogenic acid, the antioxidant, were notably higher in the light roast. This suggests the higher caffeine content in lighter roasts may be overstated, while the levels of antioxidants may have been overlooked.
While it’s too early to make specific conclusions, and while positive impacts would likely only apply if you are a heavier coffee drinker, the level of antioxidants is noteworthy. Higher consumptions of antioxidants, for instance, is associated with protection against inflammation.
Inflammation, in turn, is at the root of many serious, chronic illnesses, such as diabetes, heart diseases, certain cancers, and even neurological disorders.
While you may not be reaching for your light roast for health benefits, the message is that lights roasts could potentially offer even more health perks than dark and medium roasts.
How do I decide if I am a light roast drinker?
The best way to know if you prefer light roasts is simply to compare. Try light, medium, and dark roasts–and drink as you normally would. That means if you drink it with milk and sugar, try different roasts in that way. Black coffee, unless you drink it that way, won’t give you enough of an idea of what you like. And you may find you prefer light or blonde roasts for certain things, such as sweet drinks, and dark roasts for an espresso.
How do I find the best light roast coffee?
The key to finding the best light roast coffee is first understanding what a light roast is, its general flavor profile, and what it looks like. But aside from that, there are many other factors you’ll want to consider.
What’s important to you may differ from what’s important to others, but the key to finding your best cup of light roast coffee is to know about the following factors and make sure you’re fully informed.
Fresh Roasted: Fresh roasted actually isn’t just a marketing ploy. Freshly roasted beans mean that the coffee beans have been packaged right after roasting and sealed. Instead of sitting in a warehouse or somewhere else exposed to elements, these beans have been lightly roasted and sealed immediately, making them fresher and less prone to potential issues.
Organic: This one is technically a matter of preference: in terms of taste, some consumers swear that organic coffee beans taste brighter and fresher. There are also health benefits: conventional coffee beans are often grown with an array of pesticides and fertilizers, and though these have been approved by the Environmental Protection Association, consumption of too many pesticides has been linked with detrimental health effects, in large quantities over time. While it’s true that the research is ambiguous at this time, there is an indication that such chemicals can cause both skin and digestive issues, among other things. At very least, with light roast coffee, it may be especially worth going organic. The reason? Because light roast more directly brings out the flavor of the original beans, you want that flavor, without the mask of a darker roast, to taste as fresh as possible. Organic coffee must be certified USDA organic to be considered organic.
Whole Beans: Though this advice applies to any kind of coffee roast, for the freshest taste, you’re also better off investing in the whole bean, as opposed to ground coffee. Whole bean coffee is going to have a fresher taste because the minute you grind coffee, oxidation occurs, and, in fact, if it is not sealed immediately, up to over half of the aroma can also be lost.
Enhance the Best of Light Roasts: Light roasts naturally tend to have fruity or citrus flavors, but if you go for light roasts noted for fruity or citrus flavors, it’ll enhance the very aspect to a light roast. Light roasts also tend to have a pleasant but not heavy aroma and high acidity; look for all of these aspects when testing the light roast or checking out the label. And if it’s your sort of thing, go for flavored beans for a light roast. If you like flavors, now’s your best chance to try it in a light roast.
Roast Date: For blonde and dark roasts alike, the roast date is important. In general, you want to use coffee within a week of the roast date. While this is not realistic for most, you should still try to buy coffee with a clearly printed roast date and as close to that date as possible. If you tightly seal your coffee and buy the whole bean, you should be safe to consume a few months after the roast date for still fresh coffee.
Origin: The very best light roast coffee is coffee that whose origin is clear and from a reputable location. Single origin coffee is generally most prized because it tends to have a distinct flavor. It also tends to be more clear as to where it was grown, and under what conditions.
Coffee Grade: The lower the grade of coffee, the fewer defects it will have. If you find a package that tells you what grade of coffee it is, that’s a plus–aim for a grade one, or at worst, grade two coffee.
Sourcing: How the coffee beans were sourced and grown is also important, at least to some consumers. Fair Trade coffee is coffee that adheres to fair labor standards, in accordance with the Fair Trade Organization.
Small Batch: Small batch coffee beans get more attention during the roasting process and tend to be less mass produced, meaning you’re more likely to get a nice light golden touch to your light roast coffee beans.
Don’t Fall for Marketing Ploys: Coffee tends to come with many labels, even when several of them are not particularly meaningful. Labels like 100 percent coffee, or roasted in a vague region, do not tell you much of anything. Instead, focus on looking for the factors we mentioned above. More labels do not necessarily mean that it will be a better light roast coffee.
Match Your Desired Flavor with a Region: if you do want to go for those fruitier flavor notes, East African and Arabian locations are best for light roasts. Light roast coffee also can have earthy notes; if you’d rather emphasize that, look for Asian growing regions. Columbian coffee, meanwhile, is better for floral notes.
Does the Coffee Brand Make a Difference?
In short, yes.
As we’ve already alluded to, each coffee brand has its own scale for roasting. Therefore, the quality of the roast varies from brand to brand.
So, how’s the darkness of a roast determined?
The roast of coffee is guided by “cracks” in the beans- spoiler alert, these are precisely what they sound like.
When a coffee cherry is picked, the bean inside is green, soft, and has next to no taste. It’s when the bean is roasted that it develops that beautiful coffee taste we can’t get enough of. Unsurprisingly, the longer the bean is roasted, the harder it gets.
When it comes to light roasts, they’re usually put in a roaster that’s set between 356-401 degrees Fahrenheit (higher temperatures are generally used for darker roasts).
Lightly roasted beans are then removed before they hit the first crack. However, this depends on the bean. Occasionally, a light roast will reach their first crack, at which point they’re then removed. If they’re left in the roasters for much longer than that, the bean wouldn’t usually be considered a ‘light roast.’
What’s the Best Light Roast Coffee?
Now you know more about what a light roast coffee is, it’s time to explore how to enjoy the best possible cup of Java.
Use Whole Coffee Beans
Like all other perishable foods, the state of coffee can be tainted by the air, temperature, light, and moisture. Therefore, as light roast coffee granules are smaller and denser, they’re more likely to expire quicker. Needless to say, this will pollute the delicious flavor and aroma of the coffee.
So, buying and using whole coffee beans is one of the ways you can enjoy fresher coffee for longer. Whole beans can withstand more prolonged periods of exposure to the air and light in comparison to pre-ground coffee. So, bite the bullet and start purchasing freshly roasted beans. You’ll be amazed at what a difference it makes to the quality of your cup of Joe.
Top Tip: Once you’ve opened the bag of beans, store in an airtight container and put this in a cool, dry place like a kitchen cupboard or pantry.
Watch for the Roast Date
More and more specialty roasters now put their roasting dates on their bags of coffee. So, look out for this before parting with your hard earned cash. You want to purchase whole coffee beans as close to the time they were roasted as possible- ideally, within the same week. Again, this helps to ensure you enjoy a fresher cup of coffee.
Where Should I Buy my Light Roast?
Our best advice is to start your coffee search, locally.
There are tons of advantages to doing this:
- You’ll usually get quicker access to your coffee because you don’t have to wait for the mail to arrive. Instead, you can just pop out and get it.
- You’ll also support your local economy- which is never a bad thing to do!
- Most importantly, due to the proximity of a local roaster, you get coffee that’s freshly roasted- which as we’ve already said, dramatically increases the overall quality.
Where Are These Independent Roasters?
Independent roasters sometimes have their own shops and cafes. Or, you might even find them stocked on the shelves of one of your nearby grocery stores.
Top Tip: Use Yelp.com to get to grips with all of the best local roasters in your area.
Just visit the homepage and search for things like “coffee roaster”- and you’re good to go!
Alternatively, you can try subscribing to one of the multi-roaster coffee services. This is your best option if you’re looking for a little more variety. There are tons of coffee subscription services out there where you can sample coffee from tons of different roasters. This is amazing if you’re new to drinking high-quality coffee because a subscription service enables you to discover which light roast works best for you.
Or, if you’re looking for recommendations for bags of lightly roasted coffee beans, you can try ordering any of the below. You should be able to purchase them on Amazon, or directly from the roasters themselves.
If you’re looking for an organic blend, this option is ideal. It honestly doesn’t get much better than this. These beans are grown at incredibly high altitudes in the Marcala region of Honduras.
You can be sure there hasn’t been a single chemical or insecticide that’s touched your precious coffee beans. This works wonders for protecting the integrity of the coffee bean and keeping the beautiful flavors entirely intact.
As light roasts go, it boasts a slightly deeper tang with lower acidity levels than other brands. You can mainly put this down to the premium growing conditions these coffee beans are subjected to. Some say, they even detect a hint of chocolate in this roast- delicious!
2. Kicking Horse Coffee, Hola, Light Roast, Ground, 10 oz - Certified Organic, Fairtrade, Kosher Coffee
Just like the name of this coffee so aptly suggests, the taste is best described as ‘bright.’ You could easily envision yourself watching a Hawaiian sunrise as you sip on this delightful cup of java.
This roast uses a combination of beans sourced from Central and Southern America, which are famous for exuding a rich nougat, and chocolatey taste. So if you’re looking for a coffee with a slightly sweeter note to it, you’ll love this one!
Not to mention, it’s also fair trade and organic- what more could you possibly want?
This roast is a blend of central and South American beans roasted in Seattle. We all know how incredible Seattle-based coffee is, so it’s no wonder this roast is impeccable.
The flavor of the coffee is incredibly smooth and boasts a citrusy hint with slight notes of chocolate and cream.
Plus, you can use it with virtually any coffee machine. It doesn’t matter whether you prefer a drip machine or a pour-over, you can enjoy steaming cup of coffee just how you like it.
This light roast really packs a fruity punch and secretes citrusy afternoons, needless to say; it does a terrific job of waking you up in the morning.
These beans are grown at an altitude of 4,500 feet and kept cool under the shade of nearby trees (which is said to help aid their growth).
Not to mention, this company is dedicated to social responsibility. Did you know, a portion of their profits goes towards paying for housing, education, and medical clinics within the community where their coffee beans grow? How awesome is that?!
5. Tiny Footprint Coffee Organic Signature Blend Light Roast - Ground Coffee , USDA Organic & Carbon Negative - You Drink Coffee, We Plant Trees, 2 Pack
Tiny Footprint became the world’s first carbon-negative company, and they’re making a massive effort to help with reforestation in the Ecuadorean Andes. If you want to shop ethically for an organic light roast, this is the coffee for you.
Tastewise it’s undoubtedly on the milder side. It has a slight sweetness and a moderate acidity to it. However, it’s incredibly rich in caffeine, making it a perfect first cup of the day!
This is one of the most cost-effective light roasts on the market -but you don’t have to compromise on quality. They use beautiful Fair Trade Arabica beans which have a much stronger flavor than most light roasts. Plus, most drinkers detect rich overtones of cherry and cocoa.
Plus, there’s no need to worry about additives or chemicals because there isn’t a trace of these nasties in this coffee.
7. Wakey Wakey ☕ Gourmet Coffee (Light Roast) Whole Bean Costa Rican Beans, ☕ Fresh Tarrazu by Perky Perky
If you like the sound of savoring a hint of chocolate, caramel, and hazelnut in your coffee, then this won’t disappoint. Best of all, it’s extra caffeinated. So, if you need an extra kick to get going in the morning, give this a try.
Not to mention, it makes the best espresso. It doesn’t give off the bitter aftertaste that some of the darker roasts do.
This coffee does precisely what it says on the tin; it makes for a fantastic cup of Joe alongside your brekkie. There’s a pleasantly smooth and chocolatey note to this drink which is rounded off with a yummy citrusy taste.
Made with 100% Arabica beans, you can savor this coffee safe in the knowledge that you can recycle all the packaging it came in. Again, this is another brand that makes ethical shopping easier!
9. City Girl Coffee Organic Fair Trade Honduras Single Origin WHOLE BEAN, Medium Roast, 12 oz Resealable Bag, Sourced from Women-Owned Farms:
This light roast coffee comes from a single origin in Honduras and is both Fair Trade and USDA certified organic, as well as produced in small batches. It is noted for a smooth and fruity and floral finish, and it also the whole bean for the freshest taste. In addition, the company name is not empty marketing: the coffee is produced by women-owned farms and cooperatives. Though the coffee is grown in Honduras, it’s freshly roasted in Minnesota. Customers on Amazon gave it four and a half out of five stars and loved it for its fresh taste, aroma, and even as a cold brew.
10. Peru Light Roast Wild Coffee from Wild Coffee:
This coffee from Wild Coffee is another great choice for a light roast. The single origin, Arabic whole bean coffee is single origin from Peru and described as having a nutty taste with a smooth finish. It’s also certified Fair Trade and USDA Organic, plus there’s a free exchange, money back promise if you’re not satisfied. The package also suggests that it’s great for making the popular butter coffee.
11. Ethiopia Heirloom-Single Origin Coffee from Groundwork:
Groundwork offers a fine light roast, single origin coffee from Ethiopia. It’s described as clean, sweet, bright and smooth with notes of both florals and citrus, from Arabic beans, with a silky texture. The beans are roasted in Los Angeles California, with roasting taking place five out of seven days of the week.
12. Café Britt - Costa Rican Light Roast Coffee (12 oz.) - Ground, Arabica Coffee, Kosher, Gluten Free, 100% Gourmet & Light Roast (1 Year Shelf-Life):
This light roast coffee from Cafe Britt it’s a bit on the heavier roast side, and just shy of a medium roast. Flavor notes include caramel, apricot, and malt and it’s grown in high altitudes, which is the best conditions for growing good coffee. It’s also considered to be both well balanced and a bit more full-bodied than some other light roasts.
13. Ethiopian Bright Light Roast Grade 1, Whole Bean Coffee, Natural Dry Processed Origin, Intense Bright & Bold Coffee Beans, Gourmet Coffee - 12 oz Bag:
This is one of the few coffees that openly lists the coffee grade on the very front of the label. As a Grade One coffee, this is the highest quality sourced bean, and it is also a single origin and roasted in small batches. Flavor notes include tart lemon, nectar, and honey, with a bright, clean taste. You can also return for a refund within thirty days if you’re not satisfied. Plus, customers on average give it a four and a half star rating.
It goes without saying, determining the ‘best light roast’ coffee is somewhat subjective, because personal preference has a lot to do with it. And if you’re still stumped when it comes to actually prepare your coffee, you can always head over to our A to Z Brewing Guide.
However, as we’ve said throughout this article, if you use freshly roasted whole coffee beans from a decent quality roaster, you shouldn’t go too far wrong. Enjoy!
Rosie Greaves is a professional freelance writer and content strategist. She specializes in all things coffee, lifestyle, and business. You can find her work on Contena, Judicious Inc, and E-commerce Platforms- just to name a few! Please feel free to reach out to her via her website.