One might think this post would be about calming down on the coffee intake and switching over to drinking more herbal teas. Wrong. I love coffee too much to ever suggestion such preposterous advice. You’ll have to look elsewhere for guidance on subduing the addiction. Rather, today I wanted to share a fun fact with ya’ll about the difference of caffeine in lighter to darker coffee roasts.
The other night, while sitting around the dinner table with friends, discussing coffee and what type of roast is our absolute favorite, the subject of light versus dark was integrated.
In explaining our reasons for enjoying either the deeper flavors of a dark roast or the lighter, citric flavors of the light, it was brought to attention that lighter coffees contain more caffeine.
It was I who had shared this unknown fact.
This surprised our dear friends as it does most coffee consumers. I told them how I would regularly run into this conversation while working in coffee shops. Customers would ask me for the “strongest” coffee and when I asked for further clarification – whether they meant in flavor or caffeine – they looked at me questionably, their eyes asking “is there even a difference in the two”.
My friends then suggested that I blog about the subject in order to spread the news and get people on the right track in their search for caffeine.
They had a point, and as I sat down today to write what I thought to be a witty and informative post about silly coffee knowledge, a sudden pang of worry rattled my excited countenance. What if I was about to spread false information? I’d heard it said many times before but I had never read up on the matter.
I went straight to Google and typed in the following search: Dark vs. Light Coffee
(This has become one of my favorite parts of blogging. In hopes of being not merely a source for entertainment but also helpful information, I aim to get the facts and only share what I find to be actual truth, rather than just common knowledge or popular belief. )
It’s a good thing I wasn’t feeling too proud this morning because what I found was quite different from my so-called coffee knowledge from the other night.
I clicked on the first few sites that came up in the search engine. I tried my best not to be swayed away with bad site design – this is a common frustration of mine. I find it hard to poke around a site that screams “Help! I’m stuck in the 90s!” when there’s so many great resources to create a site with a welcoming and professional presentation. Anyways back to the subject of matter. Once I got past the bad first impressions I was able to find some very helpful content.
Kicking Horse Coffee located in Invermere, Canada wrote about this very subject. They said caffeine depends on quantity of coffee beans, not on roasts at all. Writer, Maddie, explains an experiment she did of weighing out light and dark coffee, counting the beans, and finding that a pound of dark roast has roughly a 90 bean difference. She expounds on this subject stating that coffee beans lose about 90% of their water content during the roasting process, decreasing their density as the procedure lengthens. Therefore, darker roasts are less dense. Maddie concludes that when coffee is properly brewed, according to weight as opposed to scoops, there should not be much difference in caffeine if the same amount of grounds are used.
The second site took me to Zagat, an online resource for finding great restaurants and night life for 18 large, global cities. They featured an article on the matter written by Danya Henninger. In most of the article, Henninger takes time to direct you away from the phraseology of “light” and “dark” and encourages you to instead explain your preferences in terms of flavor profile – full bodied, rich, nutty, crisp, or bright. (Go here for a better understanding of flavor profile.) She further explains how the darkening process of roasting affects these flavor profiles. Lighter coffee has a brighter more acidic tone; medium roasts present a more full-bodied, bitter flavor with less acidic notes; and darker coffee has little, to no brightness with a stronger sense of bitter-rich qualities. Henninger does finally mention towards the end of the article that dark roasts not only decrease brightness but also caffeine levels.
I appreciated the lesson on coffee terminology, but I got the feeling that Kicking Horse had a more precise perspective on the matter of caffeine.
I made my search more specific as to get a well-known and reliable voice in the conversation. I added to the search Verve Coffee Roasters, a coffee establishment in Santa Cruz, CA, that from my experience, knows their stuff. Their FAQs page led to a straightforward answer in the matter, stating plainly that the amount of coffee to water is where the strength comes from, not the roast level.
I felt I had the answer I was looking for, but thought I’d read just one more article to be extra confident.
Red Rooster Coffee Roaster from Floyd, VA is where I ended up next. Their article explained that lightly roasted beans are smaller since (in their words) “their cellular fibers haven’t been blown apart and expanded” like they are when roasted longer. Once again I read how roasting changes the density of a bean and if weighed, not scooped, all roasts present the same amount of caffeine, therein concluding that caffeine is based purely on the amount of coffee used not on roast.
To finish off my research I looked up the meanings of “strong” and “bold” in terms of coffee and was put straight by Nate. I found that the words strong and bold are not means to describe roast qualities, but instead, are adjectives for describing the ratio of coffee to water. The more grounds you use in one brew, the stronger (bolder) the flavor will be.
Ahhh I finally felt at ease and confident to share what I now knew to be the truth of the matter. So here it goes:
- light, medium, and dark roasts all have roughly the same amount of caffeine per coffee bean
- lighter roasted beans are more dense, meaning that they have more mass per volume than darker roasted beans (they weigh more)
- depending how your coffee is prepared, weighed or scooped, will depend on the caffeine levels between pots, “brews”
- strength and/or boldness of coffee refers to how much grounds are used per ounce of water
- dark roast coffees are not necessarily “stronger” than light roasts
- light roasts do NOT have more caffeine than dark roasts
Now you know how to properly aid to your caffeine withdrawals – throw some extra grams in the french press tomorrow morning.
Hopefully these facts find you pleasantly surprised and feeling like a more knowledgable coffee consumer.
Do what you wish with this information. I find it quite interesting myself, but I’m a devout coffee lover, so what do I know!