Coffee Roasts Glossary

Confused about all the different names for different types of coffee roasts? Not sure whether a city roast is darker than a medium roast or an espresso roast is more full-bodied than a French roast? There are some generally accepted standards of roasting that can help you choose the coffees that you like to drink.

Often, you can judge a coffee roast by color. The longer and hotter coffee is roasted, the darker and more oily the beans appear. The roasting process helps develop and refine the flavors of the coffee bean, bringing out the differences between different varietals of coffee. At some point, though, the very process of roasting affects the flavor of the coffee and the darkest roast coffees have more in common with each other than they often have with lighter roasts of the same kind of coffee bean. These are the most commonly seen roasts in the US. Keep in mind that there is no standardized guideline for naming coffee roasts other than tradition.

The Stages Of Coffee Roasting
The Stages Of Coffee Roasting – Coffee Roasts Glossary | image copyright Theunabonger via Flickr.com

Thus, one roasters espresso roast may be darker than another’s French roast. There are regional differences as well. On the West Coast, for example, French Roast is darker than Viennese Roast. On the East Coast, it is usually the opposite. Despite all that, you can usually rely upon the following roast terms:

Light Cinnamon

The lightest roast for coffee. Beans are a pale cinnamon brown and dry with no oil on the surface of the bean. The flavors of the coffee are barely developed, and the brew has a bready, baked taste (also sometimes known as a ‘pale roast’).

Cinnamon Roast

The color is pale orangey brown and dry with no oil on the surface of the bean. The flavor is a bit more polished than a light cinnamon, slightly grainy in taste. A light roast popular on the Northeast coast. The flavor is light and slightly acidic with a hint of sourness.

American Roast

The color of American roast is a medium brown with no oily patches on the beans. It delivers a light tasting cup of coffee with no sour notes, but less coffee flavor than slightly darker roasts. It’s considered an optimal roast for coffees that are brewed from a single type of coffee bean because it lets the flavor of the bean come through without imposing the flavors of the roasting method.

City Roast

At this roast, the coffee beans are a medium brown with darker brown marbling or cracking lines showing distinctly. The flavor is rich and full-bodied, with the individual flavor of the coffee variety still very much in evidence.

Full City Roast (Also known as City+)

Slightly darker than City roast, the Full City is a uniform brown, with a strong coffee aroma and no burnt or caramelized flavor to the coffee.

Light French (Viennese) Roast

A deep, rich brown roast with slight patches of oil on the bean surface. This roast is rich and full-bodied, and is generally considered to be the point where the flavor of the roasting process begins to eclipse the unique flavors of the coffee’s origin. For many, this is the darkest roast that should be used for making espresso.

French Roast

The beans are so dark that they appear nearly black, and the entire surface of the bean is oily. French roast coffee has a sharp, bright flavor to it with a light acidic overtone. Most French Roast coffees will have more in common flavorwise with other French Roast coffees than they do with lighter roasts of the same type of coffee bean.

Italian (or Dark French) Roast

Italian roast beans are fully caramelized, black in color and very oily. They can make very burnt tasting coffee, depending on how fast they reached the dark roast stage and how well controlled the process was. It is the roast most favored on the Southern Italian peninsula.