If light roast is characterized by preserving the natural flavours and aromas of the coffee bean. And Dark roast is generally thought of as accentuating the flavors of the roasting process. Medium roasts can be the best of both worlds. Characterized by both the natural flavors like citrus, earthiness, and nuttiness, along with the roast flavors like smokiness, and woodiness, the Medium roast can be a great option to start exploring what you like best in your coffee beans. Additionally, the mix of these two distinct elements creates flavor combinations that simply cannot be expressed in simple light or dark roasts.
This is possibly the most popular roast type in North America, particular on the East Coast, and appropriately, popular names for these types of roasts includes American Roast, City Roast, Breakfast Roast, Regular Roast, or just plain Medium Roast.
The Roasting Process
Initially the beans are heated up to 329 °F (165 °C); this can be thought of as the drying phase. During this time, the beans lose their moisture, expand, and begin to resemble the coffee beans we know and love. Once they’ve lost most of their moisture the coffee beans will emit an audible cracking sound; this is appropriately called, the “first crack” and it’s when the process starts to speed up. It’s a sound that coffee roasters listen for carefully as it signifies the end of the drying process and the beginnings of a light roast.
As the roast continues, and the beans heat up to between 410 °F (210 °C) and 426 °F (219 °C) we reach the area of what we traditionally think of as “Medium Roast”. Some examples include American Roast, and City Roast.
Once the coffee beans reach roughly 435 °F (224 °C) it’s time for the “Second Crack”! This is another big milestone for the roaster and marks the beginning of the dark roasts. “Medium-Dark” roasts are removed immediately at the second crack. Some examples include Full City Roast and Vienna Roast and, After Dinner Roast. Vienna Roast is removed at the midway point of the second crack, and is sometimes characterized as a Dark Roast.
In a medium roast the beans’ natural characteristics are still discernable but the brightness of the beans will begin to be complimented by the complex, full bodied aromas and flavours produced by the roasting process. The acidity will begin to become muted. You’ll still be able to taste the natural flavours of the raw beans but those flavors will begin to share the stage with the roast aromas. A master taster could still tell you the origin of the bean.
This is the preferred roast for coffees that are naturally sweeter as the high temperatures ensure we get a nice caramelization on the beans, bringing out the inner sweetness. The acidity will be noticeably lessened, meaning flavors like citrus will be the first one roasted out.
If you heat the beans a little more you will have a medium dark roast. At this point the natural flavours of the coffee beans are beginning to be overpowered by the flavours of the roast. The beans will begin to display a slight sheen as their essential oils begin to break out of the skin and coat the beans. The high temperatures means the beans begin to take on a smokey quality from the roasting process and the beans begin to become bittersweet. This acidity is substantial lower and the beans are now a medium dark brown.
All in all, medium roasts, as the name implies, gives you a little glimpse in the flavor profiles included in both light and dark roasts. It’s a good starting point if you’re new to the world of coffee tasting, and will give you an idea which direction to head in to find your preferred beans. Happing brewing!