Is Dark or Light Roast Coffee Healthiest?

Every cup of coffee is unique. Why? Because people have different tastes, preparations, and styles in drinking coffee. Coffee lovers know that coffee beans are not created equal. There are different blends, different origins, and different roasts. If you visit coffee shops, you will also be acquainted with the different types of coffee beans harvested around the world.

People drink coffee for its taste and the caffeine. In the United States, over half of its population cannot live through the day without drinking at least one cup of coffee. It can be a form of habit or a love affair with this bittersweet drink.

Among coffee drinkers, it is not an issue whether coffee is healthy or not. However, coffee has become a subject of several medical research and studies. Experts have speculated on whether coffee is really healthy or unhealthy.

Several questions regarding coffee have surfaced. People were asking whether coffee can cause dehydration, heartburn, high cholesterol, and constipation. Aside from confirming that coffee does not cause any of the aforementioned health problems, it turns out that coffee is actually beneficial in preventing risks of some cancers, liver disease, Alzheimer’s, Parkinson’s and kidney stones.

While these studies have established the fact that coffee is healthy, people are still curious whether the type of coffee roast has an effect on our health.

Why become interested? People have more access to information today. With the wealth of data available, people become more curious and they want to find out more.

So, let’s answer the question: is dark or light roast the healthiest?

Dark roast vs light roast – how is it done?

Coffee beans are roasted in different ways. These methods yield different kinds of coffee, so you can enjoy a different cup, depending on your mood.

Coffee Crossroads provided a guide to know how coffee is roasted and what is needed to get light, medium and dark roast coffee beans.

Coffee roast provides a baseline guide for determining the aroma and taste of your cup of coffee. Even coffee beans from the same field can yield different tastes when roasted differently. The age of the coffee, the processing method, the grind, and the brewing method will also affect the taste. However, it is the coffee roast that gives the basic idea.

Coffee roast is subjective. People, depending on their location, enjoy different kinds of roast. In the United States, residents on the West Coast have traditionally preferred darker roasts than those on the East Coast. Europeans have also favored dark roasts, lending their names to the so-called French, Italian, and Spanish roasts that dominate the darker end of the roasting spectrum.

There are no standard roast names and descriptions in the coffee industry. In the case of Starbucks, they have a Starbucks Roast Spectrum ™ to categorize coffees within three roast profiles: Starbucks® Blonde Roast (for a light roast like its Veranda Blend™), Starbucks® Medium Roast and Starbucks® Dark Roast. California-based roaster Rogers Family Company, on the other hand, has five roasting levels ranging from medium to extra dark. (San Francisco Bay Fog Chaser blend, for example, is a medium roast coffee.)

Light Roasts

Light roast has a light brown color and light taste. No oil is present on the surface of the beans and it tastes more acidic because most caffeine and antioxidants are retained.

Lightly roasted beans generally reach an internal temperature of 180°C – 205°C (356°F – 401°F). At or around 205°C, the beans pop or crack and expand in size. This is known as the “first crack”. So a light roast generally means a coffee that has not been roasted beyond the first crack.

Medium Roasts

Medium roasted coffees have medium brown color with a bolder taste than light roasts. Like the lighter roasts, they have no oil on the bean surfaces. However, medium roasts lack the grainy taste of the light roasts, exhibiting more balanced flavor, aroma, and acidity. Caffeine is somewhat decreased, but there is still more caffeine than in darker roasts.

Medium roasts reach internal temperatures between 210°C (410°F) and 220°C (428°F) — between the end of the first crack and just before the beginning of the second crack.

Dark Roasts

Dark roasted coffees exhibit dark brown color, similar to chocolate, or somewhat black.  You will notice an oil sheen on the surface. This is more evident when you brew a dark roast coffee. The roasting process decreases the coffee’s original flavor. It will have a smoky, bitter taste when brewed. Dark roast also contains the least amount of caffeine and has a more neutral pH making it a common starting point for roasteries that make low acid coffee blends.

To reach the level of a dark roast, coffee beans are roasted to an internal temperature of 240°C (464°F) — about the end of the second crack — or beyond. They are seldom roasted to a temperature exceeding 250°C (482°F), at which point the body of the beans is thin and the taste is characterized by flavors of tar and charcoal.

Light or dark roast, which is healthier?

In a new study, published in the Journal of Medicinal Food, Korean researchers found that light roast is healthier than dark roast. Light roast coffee retains much of the chlorogenic acid present in coffee beans. This compound is known to have anti-bacterial and anti-inflammatory properties that help prevent several diseases like Alzheimer’s, Parkinson’s, diabetes, some cancers and heart problems.

Inflammation is one of the leading causes of chronic diseases. If light roast coffee can preserve most of its chlorogenic acid in its coffee beans, drinkers can maximize the consumption of this anti-inflammatory compound.

“People drink coffee for flavor and for caffeine and for many other reasons, and many people won’t even want to start their day without it,” Sampath Parthasarathy, PhD, interim associate dean at the University of Central Florida School of Medicine and Journal of Medicinal Food editor-in-chief, said. “Most people don’t consider antioxidants or anti-inflammatory properties, but this study brings to light that the benefits of coffee—especially certain types of coffee—may be beyond what most people think.”

In another study, new research in Molecular Nutrition & Food Research found that dark roast coffee had better benefits because it restored blood levels of the antioxidants vitamin E and glutathione more effectively than light roast coffee. The dark roast also led to a significant body weight reduction in pre-obese volunteers, whereas the light roast did not.

Conflicting findings?

At first glance, it may seem that these studies are conflicting. However, both studies are pointing out healthy aspects of the each kind of roast. Light roasting preserves the anti-inflammatory properties of coffee, while the dark roast is best for weight loss and anti-aging, due to the high presence of vitamin E and glutathione.

As mentioned earlier, the coffee roast is subjective. Therefore, you may want to ask yourself which health benefit in coffee is more important to you. Do you want to prevent the risk of developing chronic diseases? Then, opt for a light roast. If you want a bolder taste and you want to lose weight and fight aging, opt for a dark roast.

Light roast is healthiest if you are after the antioxidants found in coffee. If you prefer coffee for its taste and weight loss management benefit, drink dark roast.

In the end, you choose the health benefits you want from coffee.

Brian Mounts

Head blogger, editor, and owner of "Top Off My Coffee", a website that has been educating readers about coffee brewing techniques and equipment since 2012.

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