Is Specialty Coffee Light Roast?

Specialty coffee is the backbone of the third wave of coffee and has become the darling of the coffee world, but there is a lot of confusion regarding the roast level of specialty coffee, and many wonders if specialty coffee is only very light roast. Can specialty coffee ever be medium or dark roast? Why is most specialty coffee light roast?

Specialty coffee is not always light roast. Medium roast specialty coffee is quite common, but dark roast specialty coffee is rare. Specialty coffee is usually light roast, medium roast, or somewhere in between because the beans are roasted to the optimum level for the best brewed flavor possible.

The roast level of coffee beans significantly affects how the coffee can be brewed, how well the beans grind, and what the coffee tastes like when it is brewed. Specialty coffee has a reputation for being only lightly roasted, but is this true for all specialty coffee? Let’s find out!

Is All Specialty Coffee Light Roast?

Specialty coffee beans are usually light roast. Coffee that is a light roast, in contrast to medium or dark roast, is usually more pleasing on the palate of specialty coffee drinkers, but is all specialty coffee light roast?

The general standard in specialty coffee is light roast beans. However, no rule says specialty coffee has to be a light roast. Some specialty coffee roasters roast their beans to medium or dark roast levels, but these beans are rare in specialty coffee.

It is not uncommon for specialty coffee beans to be a medium roast, and this roast level is a favorite among many specialty coffee drinkers.

However, the truth about specialty coffee roast levels is that the coffee roaster will roast their beans to the level that best suits the beans.

Every specialty coffee roastery has master coffee roasters that will roast small batches of the coffee beans that they receive, to test the beans for their optimum roast level.

These master roasters will roast small amounts of the coffee beans to various levels, allowing them to degas, grind, brew, and taste them. They will then choose the best roast level for the beans based on what the brewed coffee tastes like or adjust the roast level as necessary.

Most coffee beans used in specialty coffee simply taste best and yield the most interesting, complex, ad unique flavors when they are roasted somewhere between light and medium.

However, there are coffee beans out there that do taste better when they are roasted more heavily to develop the flavors on a deeper level. This means that some specialty coffee beans are medium or dark roast if the coffee tastes best at this roast level.  

Why Is Specialty Coffee Light Roast?

The world of specialty coffee is all about getting the most from coffee beans. This means that there is o specific recipe for roasting specialty coffee beans, and every batch of specialty beans from a specialty roaster will be roasted slightly differently.

Specialty coffee beans are usually roasted on the lighter end of the roast spectrum because the coffee beans simply taste best at this roast level.

The more coffee beans are roasted, the more the beans change. Coffee beans that are roasted for longer break down more, and the flavor of the beans changes significantly.

Medium and dark roasted beans release more sugars which caramelize in the roasting process, and the bean itself begins to break down and become aerated and brittle. The more the beans are roasted, the more density and internal matter they lose.

All of this changes the way the beans taste and results in a richer, deeper, more developed, less nuanced, and less flavorful coffee brew.

Dark and medium roasted coffee beans have significantly less flavor and much less complexity when they are brewed, simply because there is less bean to brew, the beans break down and dissolve more easily, and all of the subtle flavors within the beans have been cooked off.

For this reason, when master coffee roasters decide on the roast level for a particular batch of raw coffee beans, they usually find the roast level that highlights the natural flavors of the coffee beans without retaining any raw flavors.

This typically results in lighter roasted coffee beans, sometimes medium roasted, and rarely dark roasted.

Lightly roasting coffee beans is much more difficult, but the reason why most specialty beans are light roast is simply that more of the natural flavors of the coffee beans are retained when the beans are brewed.

Is Light Roast Specialty Coffee Good?

The majority of coffee beans available in the world right now are not specialty coffee beans. Most coffee available to most people is commercial coffee, which is usually dark or medium roast. Most people like the taste of this coffee and find themselves wondering if light roast specialty coffee is even good.

In reality, specialty coffee does not usually taste the same as dark roast, commercial coffee.

Specialty coffee is more nuanced and has flavors in the brew other than the typical ‘coffee’ flavor. This means that when you first try a specialty brew, you may love it or hate it based on the flavors produced by those particular beans.

Some specialty coffee brews have flavor notes of berries and fresh fruit, some bear the taste of chocolate or caramel, and others can taste deeper and sweeter than regular coffee.

Specialty coffee is delicious, but it can be an acquired taste for some people. The good news is that there is a specialty coffee out there that will suit the taste preferences of every coffee drinker, and half the fun of specialty coffee is finding the coffee that you enjoy best.


Specialty coffee is becoming more popular all over the world, and the more specialty coffee is produced internationally, the better specialty roasters get at producing it. This means that as specialty coffee becomes more popular, the more variety of specialty coffee there will be, and the more there will be to enjoy. If you want to try specialty coffee for yourself, try it from a few different sources until you find the beans that you enjoy most. Welcome to the world of specialty coffee!

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