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For a drink that so many of us consume on a daily basis, there are countless myths about coffee. First and foremost, I’d like to tackle some misunderstandings around “dark roast” coffee. In no way, shape or form, is dark roast coffee “stronger” than lighter roasted coffee. Heavier on the palate, perhaps, but certainly not stronger in any functional sense of the word.
Strength, in coffee terms, is solely and directly a result of the ratio at which you brew. The more coffee you use, the stronger that coffee will be. The reason dark roasts are perceived to be stronger is that the longer a coffee is roasted, the more moisture is roasted out (coffee actually pops or cracks like popcorn when being roasted). Without getting terribly technical, that means that darker roasts are less dense and more soluble because they become more carbon than they are coffee. Dark roasts have higher proportions of dissolved solids, but less distinguishable coffee flavour. The flavours most commonly associated with dark roasts are ash and smoke, which are easier for your tongue to perceive than the delicate nuance of a finely crafted light roast.
So, if I was to phrase it as an existential question, at what point on the roast spectrum does coffee stop being coffee?
If you like some heft to your cup of joe, use a scale (next to a grinder, the most important tool for a coffee brewing set up) and simply brew any light or medium roast with a higher coffee to water ratio (try 16mL of water to every 1 gram of coffee) and you will get a much more pleasurable iteration of “strong” coffee.
Along with the theme of strength, there is some confusion around caffeine content – do dark or light roasts have more of it. Chemically, caffeine is actually a very hearty compound and its presence maintains relatively stable, regardless of the roast level. It does vary from coffee to coffee, but that has to do with a host of factors that we will get into another time. So for those of you who drink coffee wholly or in part for utilitarian reasons, believing that dark roasts have more caffeine, you actually aren’t doing yourself any favours.
And now, with all that said… some subjectivity. While I firmly believe that there is no wrong way to drink a cup of coffee and no preference too impure to totally rattle my cage… light roasted coffee tastes better. At a lighter roast, you are able to taste so much more of what a coffee has to offer – the “terroir” created by its growing conditions: sunlight, soil composition, precipitation, altitude, processing method, and so much more that we still don’t fully understand. A coffee’s nuance becomes very difficult to detect at a darker roast, so do yourself a favour and divest yourself of the notion that light roasted coffee is weaker or inferior to a dark roast. It’s all in your head.