Which Coffee Roast Is Healthiest?

coffee beans on a supermarket shelf in Paris
So many coffee roasts to choose from, but which is healthiest?

by Matt Gibson

There are three main types of coffee roasts which are light, medium, and dark. The type of roast is determined by the amount of time that the coffee beans are kept in the roaster. Light roasts are kept in the roaster for the shortest amount of time, while dark roasts are left in the roaster for the longest amount of time, resulting in their darker shade and smokier flavor. Dark roasts are oily and robust, while light roasts are more acidic, and bright.

But which roast type makes the healthiest cup of coffee? Which roast type has the highest caffeine levels? Which roast type has the best flavor? The quick answer is that that light roasts contain the highest levels of antioxidants compared to medium and dark roastsbut dark roasts have a few specific advantages of their own that we will also explain. Find out the answers to these questions and more in this short article. 

What Is The Difference Between Light, Medium, and Dark Roasts?

Aside from where coffee beans are grown and sourced, coffee roasting is one of the ways in which manufacturers can create different types of coffee. The roasting process is a major factor in determining the aroma, flavor, and quality of the coffee we drink. After coffee beans are harvested and sorted, they are then moved to a facility to be roasted before they are packaged for retail sales. 

Most coffee manufacturers have at least three different types of coffee available for sale, typically a light, medium, and dark roast option. Larger companies have all three roasting options for each type of coffee they sell. Often, the different roasts are created simultaneously in the same roaster. 

The coffee beans are spread out evenly on roasting pans and placed into the roaster, which heats up slowly. The roaster is typically set to a temperature between 400 to 450 degrees Fahrenheit. The roaster heats up slowly, and as it gets hotter, the beans begin to toast. When temperatures reach about 385, the first crack occurs, which causes the beans to make a popping sound similar to the sound of popcorn popping in the microwave. 

The beans that are removed from the coffee roaster just after the first crack are what is considered light roast coffee beans. These beans are usually removed when they reach temperatures between 385-390 degrees F. Beans that are left in the roaster for a little bit longer, reaching temperatures near 420 degrees, are considered medium roast. Though only a few minutes of time goes by between the removal of the lightly roasted beans and medium roasted beans, there is a noticeable difference in the two roasts, both visually and in terms of flavor. 

However, the greatest difference is between the dark roast and it’s fellow beans. The beans are kept in the roaster until the second crack, or just afterwards, reaching temperatures of near 450 degrees before removal. Dark roast beans are significantly darker than light or medium roast coffee, and have an oily sheen on the surface of the beans. 

Darker roasts are more robust and bold, with smoky, charred notes, and more of the roast is present in the flavor. Lighter roasts have more true coffee notes and less roast characteristics in the flavor. Light roasts have a more acidic taste and bright flavors, compared to dark roasts, which are more bitter. The medium roast is somewhere in between the two extremes, with a more balanced flavor, acidity, and aroma. 

What Coffee Roast Is Healthiest? 

The health benefits of coffee have been debated for ages. Coffee has typically been given a bad wrap when it comes to health problems. When consumed in large quantities, too much coffee was thought to be bad for heart health. This is most likely due to how coffee causes a spike in blood pressure. Doctors warned people not to drink too much coffee, claiming that it would stunt growth, lead to heart disease, damage the digestive tract, and cause addiction and dependency issues. The digestive problems which were believed to be caused by coffee’s high acidity levels which increased gastric acid secretion, included heartburn, stomach ulcers, and irritable bowels. 

Recent research has shed a more favorable light on the original energy drink, showing that coffee drinkers do not have a higher risk of heart disease or cancer than non coffee drinkers. Studies have also shown that there is no link between the caffeine in coffee and cardiovascular disease like high cholesterol, heart attacks, or stroke. 

Recent studies have not only dispelled the myths about coffee’s negative effects, but have shone a light on several health benefits associated with drinking coffee, namely the drink’s naturally high levels of cancer fighting antioxidants. A recent report from Korea’s Journal of Medicinal Food that compares the different roasts of coffee to determine their antioxidant levels showed that light roasts contain the highest levels of antioxidants compared to medium and dark roasts. The new study showed that the lighter the roast, the higher concentrations of chlorogenic acid. In addition light roasts were the best sources of antioxidants. .In addition to antioxidant benefits, the study also found that lighter roasts were superior in anti-inflammatory properties and in fighting cell damage

Aside from antioxidant levels, health professionals have found that coffee drinkers are less likely to be susceptible to heart attacks and strokes, due to coffee’s effect on blood vessels, helping to keep them healthier, and more flexible. Studies have also shown that coffee can help fight age related health issues like dementia and Alzheimer’s disease due to its anti-inflammatory properties. Though more research is needed, there is evidence that coffee can even slow down the aging process. 

Roasting exposes more surface area of the coffee beans to air, speeding up the natural oxidation process, which is what depletes the antioxidant levels in the beans. In effect, roasting coffee beans wastes their antioxidant properties. 

While lighter roasts have a higher concentration of antioxidants than darker roasts, dark roasts are not entirely without merit when it comes to health benefits. Dark roasts contain higher levels of the amino acid N-methylpyridinium, which reduces the amount of excess acid produced in the stomach. Those who suffer from acid indigestion issues when drinking coffee should select dark roasts to combat excess acid buildup. 

The bitter taste that comes with darker roasts is due to the higher levels of Phenylindanes, which are good for brain health. Phenylindanes are responsible for blocking the buildup of protein compounds that cause nervous system problems, such as Alzhimer’s and Parkinson’s disease. Dark roasts are also good at replenishing the red blood cell Vitamin E and glutathione levels. Vitamin E can help protect your body’s cells from damage, while healthy levels of glutathione can reduce inflammation, fight aging, and prevent mental health issues. 

In short, though lighter roasts have higher levels of antioxidants, darker roasts have their own set of health benefits. Since both types of coffee have healthy attributes, why not drink both? Another option is to drink more medium roasts. Not only do medium roasts have a more balanced taste and finish, they also have a more balanced combination of healthy perks. 

When there are so many positive elements to a product, it makes you wonder what’s the catch? Well, with coffee, the catch might be that caffeine is addictive, and coffee drinkers can develop a dependency on coffee that can have a negative effect on their day to day lives. If you are a long time coffee drinker, you have probably noticed that you get headaches, or become irritable if you haven’t had your daily dose of caffeine. However, the withdrawal symptoms and dependence issues of coffee are nowhere near as severe as addictive drugs, and will go away within a few days. 

As with any other substance, the best practice is moderation. Even with healthy elements considered, drinking too much coffee can be hazardous to your health. But how much coffee is too much? Professionals suggest that drinking an average of four eight-ounce servings of coffee per day is perfectly safe, but in excess of four eight-ounce servings, coffee can begin to have negative effects.

Which Coffee Roast Has the Most Caffeine?

There’s quite a bit of controversy surrounding the question of which coffee bean roast has the most caffeine. Some people believe that darker roasts have more caffeine than light or medium roasts due to the stronger flavor of the dark roasted beans. Others say that caffeine is lost during the roasting process, so because dark roasted coffee beans are exposed to the heat for longer, they lose more caffeine while roasting, making lighter roasts higher in caffeine than medium or dark roasts. However, both of these ideas are misconceptions. The truth is a bit more complicated.

The roasting process itself does not normally have an impact on the caffeine level of coffee beans. Coffee beans are normally roasted at a temperature of about 470 degrees Fahrenheit. In order for caffeine to be lost to the heat, the coffee beans would need to be roasted at a much higher temperature: something in the neighborhood of 600 degrees Fahrenheit. That just isn’t done, so the amount of time spent roasting does not result in changes to the caffeine content of your coffee beans. So why do these myths persist?

Although caffeine is not burned off while coffee beans are roasting, the beans size and weight does change as it is being roasted, and this change is where fluctuations in caffeine content come from. As the beans are browned and get darker with a longer roasting time, they are also becoming lighter (losing weight) and growing larger (increasing size). The discrepancy in caffeine content between roast levels is really due to the way these changes in weight and size affect how the coffee is measured to be packaged. 

As coffee beans are roasted and get darker, the level of caffeine increases if it is measured by weight. But if the amount of caffeine is measured by volume, it does the opposite, decreasing the longer the beans are roasted. So when coffee beans that are dark roasted are measured by volume, their larger size (as compared to beans that are more lightly roasted) will result in less caffeine per brewed cup of coffee than beans roasted to light or medium. But remember that as the coffee beans roast and grow larger, they are simultaneously becoming lighter as well. When dark roasted coffee beans are packaged according to their weight, then, the package will contain more coffee beans than a package of light or medium roast. With more beans, the package measured by weight will also have a higher level of caffeine. 

So as you see, the way a coffee bean’s level of roast impacts its caffeine content is not very straightforward. Just remember that when dark roasts are measured by weight, they have more caffeine than lighter roasts, and when they are measured by volume, they have less caffeine than lighter roasts.

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