What's the Difference Between Light, Medium, and Dark Roast?

Are you getting confused about the difference between light, medium, and dark roast? Whether it's Kona or a regular type of coffee, roasting significantly affects the taste. We're helping you differentiate the 3 kinds of coffee roasts so that you can choose the right kind for your next brew.

What's the Difference Between Light, Medium, and Dark Roast?

Light roast has a grainy taste, dark roast makes a bitter profile, while a medium roast finds the balance with mild acidity. Light roast retains the most caffeine, and the caffeine content decreases from medium to dark. Dark roast has a dark brown color, whereas light and medium roasts appear brown.

Lava Lei coffee beans
  • Light roast coffee tends to be the most acidic yet has the lightest body. Depending on the blend, it can have a floral or sweet aroma.
  • A medium roast has a more balanced flavor with an increased body and better aroma.
  • A darker roast is typically the most aromatic. It also comes with more chocolaty, malty, and caramel-like notes.

Light Roast Coffee Beans

Light roasting brings out the bright and vibrant flavors of coffee. Also called the Light City roast or New England roast, the beans retain much of the natural flavors to a much greater extent than in darker-roasted coffees.

A light roast aims to preserve the unique characters of the beans. With proper cultivation, processing, and roasting, light roast coffee beans can produce various flavors and aromas.

Light roast coffee beans
  • Color: Light coffee roasts usually have a light brown color, which is also why it's sometimes called a cinnamon roast. In other cases, it could have yellow pale to light tan hues. A light roast level features a light body and no oil on the surface of the beans themselves.
  • Aroma: Light roast beans start with a grassy smell. As the beans roast, they produce a slightly sweet, floral, and citrusy aroma.
  • Texture: Light roast beans have a dry and brittle texture, especially since they won't undergo too much heating. Since they are pretty dense, they are often difficult to split between the fingers.
  • Taste: Light roasts have a toasted grain taste with pronounced acidity. This roast highlights the unique characteristics of a coffee's origin more than other roasts and offers more complex flavor profiles overall. 
  • Caffeine: Compared to other roast levels, a light roast generally retains more caffeine from the beans because of a shorter roasting time at a lower temperature.
  • Roasting process: Light roasts are coffees that have not been roasted beyond the first crack, which is the stage where the vapors inside the beans break through the outer wall expand and create a cracking noise. This happens once the internal temperature reaches between 350 to 400 degrees Fahrenheit.


Light yet poorly roasted coffee beans may have an unpleasant taste. It may have a vegetal taste, often lacking in body and nuances. Additionally, poor light roasting may produce wrinkled beans with a very light color.


Lighter roasted beans, particularly Arabica beans like Kona coffee, show the brew's most poetic tasting notes. It's also deemed free of defects or taints, especially when brewed properly.

Light roasts like Lava Lei's Kona Blend produce a more dense body with hints of sweetness and nuttiness with a bright flavor profile.

Medium Roast Coffee Beans

A medium roast coffee bean is less intense than light roast coffees yet can still showcase a coffee’s natural flavor profile. Aside from less pronounced acidity, it does not have any oil on the surface of the beans, making it a staple among most households.

For a variety of reasons, medium roast is the most popular roast style among coffee drinkers. Specialty coffee roasters tend to use medium blends because they're less intense and acidic than dark coffee roasts.

Medium coffee roast
  • Color: A medium roast coffee tends to have a brown to dark brown color and a thicker body than a light roast. It usually has a matte finish since it's not roasted at high-level temperatures to extract too much oil.
  • Aroma: Similar to light roast, medium roast beans start with a grassy smell. Since medium roast strikes a balance between light and dark, it tends to have a bittersweet aroma that smells borderline malty.
  • Texture: Medium roast is also quite dense, although slightly more brittle than light roasts. It has a smoother texture yet won't appear shiny even under direct light.
  • Taste: It lacks the grainy taste of lighter roasts and exhibits a more balanced flavor, aroma, and acidity, allowing for a well-rounded flavor. A medium roast preserves many of the unique flavors of the coffee's origin yet also reaches into a deep caramel sweetness and the full-body profiles of a dark roast.
  • Caffeine: Also known as American roast or breakfast roast, medium roast coffees have somewhat decreased caffeine. However, this coffee roast level tends to have more caffeine than darker roasts.
  • Roasting Process: Medium roast reaches between 400 to 430 degrees Fahrenheit. It's typically roasted a little beyond the first crack and just before the beginning of the second crack.


It can sometimes be difficult to achieve consistency in medium roasting, which can affect the taste. This inconsistency also means it can be challenging to brew a creamy coffee since the roasting won't produce too much oil.


Medium roast beans are more accessible and flexible for brewing, especially when you want to add sweeteners and other flavors. Its taste is highly palatable, making it an easy-drinking coffee for beginners.

Like the Medium Roast Lava Lei 100% Kona, popular medium roasts carry a balanced flavor with the right amount of caffeine. Because of Kona's unique flavor and aroma, you can also taste bright floral notes that mask the usual bitterness in coffees.

Dark Roast Coffee Beans

Also known as Italian roast, continental roast, or espresso roast, a dark roast coffee has a robust, full-body flavor profile due to its oily surface. While light roast coffee offers bright, acidic flavors, a dark roast level often doesn't have many of its original characteristics left.

During the roasting process, the flavors that form tend to overpower the bean's original flavors. Basically, the darker the roast, the less mass the beans contain. This may affect the color, taste, and scent.Dark coffee roast

  • Color: Dark roast coffee has a dark brown color, sometimes almost black, apt for its deeper, darker flavors. However, the oil tends to form a shiny finish as opposed to the medium roast's matte finish.
  • Aroma: Dark roasts often produce the most pungent smell due to the abundance of oil in the coffee.
  • Texture: The beans are generally smoother in texture. Dark roast beans have low density, so they are the easiest to crack using fingers. They are also shinier and oiler to touch.
  • Taste: Compared to light and medium roasts, a dark roast requires the longest roasting time. The longer the beans roast, the more they lose moisture, producing a smoky and bitter taste. The flavors brought out during the roasting process conceal the bean's original flavors, so the coffee itself may have a burnt taste.
  • Caffeine: Caffeine decreases from light to dark roast, so dark roasts are good options if you are sensitive to caffeine.
  • Roasting process: Dark roasts reach about 430 to 450 degrees Fahrenheit toward the end of the second crack and sometimes even a little beyond. If the beans roast beyond 465 degrees Fahrenheit, the coffee may taste more like charcoal, which is sometimes called a French roast.


Darker roasting is traditionally used to mask lower-grade or defective beans, which is why it's vital that you only source from reputable brands and check the roasting date. Other than that, its ability to conceal complex and delicate flavors may not be to everyone's liking.


Because of these characteristics, darker roasts have rich, nutty flavors that taste like dark chocolate. However, dark roast coffees like Lava Lei 100% Kona provide a sweeter taste than traditional dark roast coffees.

The perceived strength of the dark coffee roast makes it appealing to coffee drinkers who are looking for a strong kick and straightforward flavors.

Why Do You Need to Differentiate the Roast Levels?

To help you better choose what roast level of Kona coffee to use, it's best to understand what makes these coffee roast levels differ from each other. The coffee roast levels influence factors like color, taste, aroma, and caffeine content

While coffee beans start with a light shade of green, they expand and get a darker shade when they absorb heat from roasting. This is also why the darker the roast, the weaker the caffeine.

As the beans roast, they release acids, caramelize sugar, and form oils, with each adding nuance to the flavor profiles. 

Frequently Asked Questions

Why Is Kona Coffee Special?

Kona coffee is so special because of its full-bodied flavor and pleasing aroma that only comes because of its unique growing environment. The coffee beans only grow in the volcanic soil of Hawaii's Kona slopes. The weather, soil, and manual harvesting contribute to what makes Kona coffee exceptional.

What's the Best Way to Brew Coffee at Home?

The best way to brew coffee at home depends on your equipment, time, and budget. However, aside from the pour-over method, you can use a coffee maker, Espresso machine, French press, or an Aeropress. Try to experiment until you find what suits your taste.

How Do I Keep My Coffee Beans Fresh?

To preserve the freshness of your beans, it's best to store them in a non-transparent, airtight container at room temperature. Light, air, and moisture can compromise the quality of your beans.


Which is your favorite coffee bean roast? Ultimately, it all comes down to the taste, the flavor, and the aroma. Now that you have a greater understanding of the differences between light, medium, and dark coffee roasts, you can better decide what roast of Kona coffee beans to brew.