It’s not uncommon to joke about taking coffee “black, like my soul.” It implies that the coffee is a dark roast, right? No, not necessarily. “Black coffee” just means without cream, sugar, or any additives. That’s why, today, we’re going to talk about light roast coffee and how it’s not quite what everyone thinks it is.
In fact, there are a number of reasons to lean towards a light roast coffee, including the fact that it retains more of its original flavor. It also might have a little more caffeine, as a little bonus. If you’re a stranger to anything other than beans as black as tar, you can let out a relieved exhale, because I’m here to let in you in on the best light roast coffee.
It’s actually as simple as it seems — light roasted coffee is roasted for less time. There are obviously a lot of variations to coffee beans depending on where they’re grown, the altitude, etc., but there’s always a scale of light to dark based on the brand.
Every brand has their own scale for roasting — some stick with a standard light, medium, dark, while others offer extended options such as medium-dark, extra dark, and any other number of roast levels.
We’ll talk about what a standard light roast means, though, to keep this post from being longer than the time between Cleopatra’s life and the erection of the great pyramids (like 2500 years, if you’re curious).
Roasts are determined by what are called “cracks", which are exactly what they sound like.
When the coffee cherry is picked, the bean in the center is green, soft, and tasteless. Roasting brings out all of the deliciousness that we’ve come to know and love.
As it’s roasting, the beans harden. Most light roast beans are removed from the roasters before they reach the first milestone — aka, the first crack. Some versions hit that first crack and are then removed, but rarely is it considered a light roast much longer than that.
The temperature of the roasting process also differs between the varieties. Light roasts are typically subjected to between 356-401 degrees Fahrenheit. It only gets hotter from there as the beans get darker and darker.
It’s an interesting conversation. For years, I was under the impression that darker roasts all came with a massive jolt of caffeine. Leave it to me not to Google-verify that up until a few years ago, only to come away with the idea that light roasts have more coffee — less roasting, less caffeine is lost. Totally makes sense.
Both versions of me were, inevitably, wrong.
Don’t snicker; you’re wrong, too.
The only variations in caffeine depend (mostly) on how you measure your coffee. If you scoop, like most coffee consumers, then, yes, your light roast mug of the good stuff has more caffeine. Light roasts are denser than dark roasts, which ups the ante. However, if you weigh your coffee, like a true connoisseur, dark roasts will end up with the higher caffeine level for the exact same reason.
It’s also worth being said that Arabica beans (the beans you’re looking for when making a hella fine brew) vary wildly in caffeine content depending on its genus.
That being said, you’re focusing on the wrong thing.
The caffeine content difference is nearly negligible — let’s remember the flavor boost here. Light roasts really highlight a bean’s origins, whereas, on the other end of the spectrum, dark roasts frame the roaster’s specialties.
So let’s countdown the best light roasts, with some serious emphasis on the cupping notes.
Kicking Horse Coffee has been kicking for 20 years now and is known for their whole beans. Roasted in the Canadian Rocky Mountains, it’s the sort of coffee you can sip on without the weight of the socio-economic or environmental impact on your mind because it’s fair trade and organic. It’s also kosher, if that’s a concern.
There’s something to be said for aptly-named coffees that don’t state the obvious and Kicking Horse Coffee crushed it when naming their Light Roast. They went simple when naming this bag, and Hola just fits. It’s bright, it evokes something Hawaiian and sunny, and it’s just definitely a light roast, right?
There are two different profiles we want to highlight when talking about light roast coffee: the aroma and the taste. The beans come from Central and South America, which the beans definitely harken back to with their aroma of brown sugar, rich nougat, and cocoa powder.
And we’re just talking about the smell here. We haven’t even taken a sip, yet. That’s quite a start to the morning, don’t you think?
When it comes to savoring that first sip, Hola has tasting notes of juicy red fruit acidity and a creamy honey body to create a perfect balance. When it comes to brewing this bean, it’s recommended for a wide variety of methods including: French press, drip machine, pour over, espresso, and cold brew.
Couldn’t ask for more, could ya? Eh?
Setting the right mood in the morning can be tough. If you want to be awake, you need an aggressive alarm clock, sunlight, and a bright cup of coffee. Don Tomas can lend a hand there — their light roast is fruity with a citrusy finish, and it really wakes up those senses.
These beans are grown at an elevation of 4500 feet (awesome), they use shade trees for better coffee plant growth (super awesome), and they have a really commendable dedication to social responsibility — a portion of their profits goes to housing, education, and medical clinics for their works (#respect) (and outstandingly awesome).
Made for women, by women is a serious statement that Perky Perky makes. Brewed in Austin, TX, this coffee company is woman-owned and caters to the needs of the everyday, world-conquering female.
Wakey Wakey by Perky Perky may sound like something too annoying to drink at the crack of dawn, but Costa Rican bean has tasting notes of chocolate, caramel, and hazelnut that are pretty alluring. There’s an even bigger finish to this light roast, though: it’s extra caffeinated.
Do I need to say more?
Fine, just a little bit.
This light roast is great for espressos and doesn’t hold the bitter aftertaste that some dark roasts can. It’s responsibly sourced and the company is owned by a badass woman we can all look up to.
Starbucks is a household name, more often than not for their frappucinos, but we shouldn’t forget that the base for those drinks is some good ol’ joe. They offer a number of flavors from a variety of different countries, but they typically keep three in store: Pike Place Roast, the Verona dark roast, and a Blonde Roast, otherwise known as Veranda.
Veranda prides itself on its mellowness. Just because you’re drinking coffee in the morning to wake up doesn’t need you need to be jolted like you’ve been electrocuted. Veranda has notes of soft cocoa and lightly toasted nuts and it’s a nice way to ease yourself into the day.
The Claro Light Roast is the newest edition to this company that’s been around since 1820, and it strikes a balance between tart and bitter for a morning brew that won’t let you laze around for too, too long.
This company grows their coffees at high altitudes from seven regions throughout Costa Rica, and, on top of it, they put emphasis on packaging to preserve all of the goodness.
The Tueste Claro may be the youngest member of the Cafe 1820 family, but it’s aroma is an homage to where it’s roots: the coffee fruit. With a citrus acidity and red fruit flavor, this light roast will coax your motor into running.
This is another one of those bags I have to commend for the title. Luminosa is a cool word to start off with, and it encapsulates the light roast feel. Just let that word roll around in your mouth a bit. Luminosa.
Peet’s Coffee has been roasting coffee in Berkeley, CA, for more than 50 years. Roasted in small batches, by hand, Peet has nine roasters where they roast to order each night and ship each morning.
These beans come from Huila, Colombia and Ethiopia, and they’re sweet and bright. Harvested at 4,500 feet and in the birthplace of coffee, Huila, these two beans come together to create something sweet and unique You can even crack jokes about “taking a break to smell the flowers” because of the delightful floral scent that comes standard with a well-brewed cup of Luminosa.
I can always give an appreciative nod to upfront names. Real Good Coffee Co. has a commendable mission “As a Seattle coffee roaster we make coffee that is good to drink, good for the planet, and good for your wallet.” This is the sort of claim that sucks me in, and Seattle Coffee Co. backs it up with 100% recyclable packaging, even on their single serve pods.
They have “good to drink” right on the money, too, since the Breakfast Blend comes in strong with a chocolatey and creamy taste that tops off with something pleasantly citrusy.
Made with 100% Arabica beans sourced from Central and South American, it’s roasted right here in the states, in Seattle.
Cameron’s Coffee is a company that’s proud to say it focuses solely on the heart of what a good morning brew is: the beans. They don’t operate coffee shops or manufacture machinery, they’re focus is on bringing out the best flavor of each coffee bean for a smooth, never bitter taste. The Breakfast Blend is no exception; it’s roasted in small batches before promptly being cooled to prevent over-roasting.
A blend of Colombian Supremo, Kona Blend, and Gold Roast Breakfast Blend, this bag strikes a unique, clear, and bright tone. Earthy, 100% Arabica, and sustainably grown, there are just a lot of words and practices here that make Cameron’s Breakfast Blend an enticing option for perkier mornings.
Showcasing s a fruity note, it's always a nice way to begin the day — even if that day starts at the crack of way-too-early dawn.
Lemon, orange, and cocoa might seem like an interesting combination of flavors, but Tiny Footprint has really found a way to balance this trifecta into a single cup of what can only be described as “brightness made drinkable.”
Tiny Footprint is the world’s first carbon-negative coffee company, and it really makes each sip of caffeine just that much more enjoyable. By partnering with Roastery 8 and Mindo Cloudforest Foundation, Tiny Footprint counters the 4 lbs of CO2 emitted during the production of coffee by planting trees to reforest Ecuador’s Mindo cloud forest! If you’re about throwbacks, they use a vintage 1960s German-built Probat roaster retrofitted with some future technology to hit peak perfection on the roasting process.
The Bean Coffee Company has been fresh roasting coffee since 2007 and they do it all in micro-batches so that it’s never bitter or over-roasted. They are 100% organic and natural and process right here in the states.
This Breakfast Blend is comprised of 100% South African Arabica beans that have a “smooth roundness and clean finish,” which sounds like an indulgent reason to be late for work. It’s hand roasted in small batches by California Certified Organic Farmers and then packaged at peak freshness so that you can really treasure your morning brew.
If you haven’t given light roast coffees a go, you might want to give one of these brands a chance to win your heart.
To be honest, I’m having a difficult time picking the ultimate choice on this list. There's some serious competition in this round up, and I’ve thoroughly thought this through: any of these bags of beans would likely make you a happy camper.
My top two votes, if I must, would be: The Bean Coffee Company Organic Breakfast Blend and Wakey Wakey by Perky Perky. I like my morning joe with a side of a good company story, so these both satisfy my cravings.
If I could make a sampler of every single one of these and send it to all of you, I would. For now, you’ll have to make up your mind and give one these beauties a go. Enjoy!