Coffee Roast Levels: What’s the Difference?

When you’re making coffee, what’s your go-to roast level? Do you prefer the bright, milder flavor of a Guatemala Medium, or the sweet smokiness of Love Buzz? Have you ever wondered what really makes them different? Here we’ll break down the differences between coffee roasts, from light to dark! Watch the video below to hear an overview from Mike Mowry, our Coffee Quality Coordinator, then read on for more details.



First, it’s important to understand what a “coffee roast level” really means. When we roast coffee, we take raw, mostly flavorless and odorless coffee beans and heat them to bring out different characteristics. The length of time spent roasting the beans determines its roast level, which begins to determine how the coffee ultimately tastes. Different roast levels and methods bring out different characteristics in coffee beans depending on their origin, varietal and seasonality, so every roaster must use their creativity and judgment to bring out the best in every distinct batch.

Coffee roast levels can be judged at a glance by the color of the beans, from light to very dark brown. As you might expect, the darker the beans are, the longer they have been roasted. While there is a wide range of roasts that are possible, at Equal Exchange we offer coffees at the Medium, Vienna, Full City and French roast levels.

Medium: Medium roast coffee is medium brown in color with a non-oily surface. These roasts tend to highlight well the inherent characteristics of the beans, having not yet been overtaken by flavors of the roasting process itself.

Full City: Full City roast coffees begin to take on more of a caramel flavor, with an underlying complexity of taste from the roasting process. We find that the most desirable characteristics of a particular country or region are exemplified in our Full City roast, with the beans at their most complex and most flavorful.

Vienna: Roasted even darker, the Vienna roast coffees start to show light surface oils brought out by the roasting process, with the beginning of dark chocolate flavors and a smoky aroma for a smooth and rich cup.

French: French roast coffee gets into really dark chocolaty and caramelized sugar flavors, with the beans roasted for a longer period of time to bring out a deep richness and intensity of flavor. The beans are a dark brown, with visible oils on the surface.

So what’s the best coffee roast of all? The one you like the most! Coffee is all about preference, so we encourage you to try as many roasts as you can to find your perfect cup.


  1. Shelby | 4th Sep 19

    Is there a difference in caffeine levels in roasts?

    • Kate Chess | 6th Sep 19

      Good question, Shelby! Our lead roaster Sarah says that the amount of caffeine in a coffee bean isn’t really affected by roasting, but that darker roasts lose more weight during roasting. That leads to higher levels of caffeine in a cup of dark roast than a cup of light roast.

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