Breakfast Roast. After Dinner. Regular. City Roast. City+.
Those are just a few names it goes by, all potentially different but all still medium roasts. Will Medium Roast be the roast for you? Your favorite, every morning escape? We can't say - there is no best roast color for everyone - but Medium Roasts have a lot to offer and are a great place to start.
If you're new to the world of specialty coffee - maybe used to grabbing a quick cup at the coffee cart at the cafeteria - medium roast coffee may seem familiar to you. You may recognize it based on its alter egos such as breakfast roast or city roast. However, don't let the familiarity fool you into thinking that medium roast specialty coffee doesn't offer something incredible.
Medium roast coffee is the most common roast found in the United States. So common in fact, it's often referred to as the "American roast," according to the National Coffee Association. We are finally beginning to find our footing as a coffee-drinking nation within the United States - breaking into the top-25 as a per-capita coffee drinking country in 2019.
Beans and Taste Profile
Medium roast coffee beans have a brown color and an occasionally oily surface - a bit more oil on a Medium-Dark Roast. Both the body and acidity typically fall in the medium range, making for a well-rounded taste profile.
For both the new and seasoned coffee drinkers, what often makes these roasts so versatile is that these roasts hold up moderately well to milk and sugar and are adaptable to a broad palette. We find that our Colombian Medium Roast coffee is remarkably versatile for adding heavier milk products to your coffee. This coffee is a slightly darker roast with beans from Medellin, Colombia. The medium roast releases just the right amount of oil to ensure that the beautiful flavor isn't easily lost in the milk.
More about body
Concepts like body can be challenging to understand even for coffee veterans and are not solely the product of the beans or roast. How you choose to brew your coffee can have a significant impact on the coffee body as well. Pablo Vasquez, a contributor at The Perfect Daily Grind, goes into great detail about brewing and roasting coffee for body.
But to summarize the essential parts for the home coffee drinker - different brewing methods can give you significant control. Methods utilizing metal filters or pressure extraction - such as French Press, cold brew, and espresso - can yield high body brews with lower clarity. Our Papua New Guinea Medium Roast coffee is wonderfully brewed as a cold brew. It is directly immersed in the water (or through a metal filter) so that the delicate oils mixed into the water yields a beautiful body and flavor. Alternatively, methods using paper filters tend to more fully extract the coffee's oils - such as pour-over - typically create low-body, high-clarity cups.
You'll notice that I even mention paper versus metal filters make a significant difference in body because of the coffee's oils. This means you can even have control with your automatic drip machine. Swapping paper filters for a reusable gold coffee filter (or the inverse) will allow you to craft to your preference.
Specialty Coffee versus Grocery Store Coffee
It is challenging to standardize roast colors across coffee roasters. Looking at your local supermarket's shelves, you will likely find coffees from large national chains. These mostly consist of Commercial Grade Coffee.
As a generalization, roasters who use commercial grade coffee typically roast on the darker side of the spectrum for their "Light," "Medium," and "Dark" roast designations to hide inconsistencies and imperfections in lower quality beans than roasters using higher quality beans.
For comparison, Hans Tietema of Kaldi Coffee in the Netherlands posted a beautiful chart to understand different coffee quality levels. At Relax and Brew, we use Single Origin beans. We believe it's the best mix of value and taste for everyday brewing and enjoyment.
So, what does this actually mean? A Starbucks Medium isn't the same as a Relax and Brew Medium. Confusing, right?
We see two primary reasons for it.
- Better coffee beans are becoming more readily available. Not only are farmers getting better and better, but international supply chains and coffee sourcing methods are getting stronger. This puts small coffee retailers (like us) in touch with better beans than we could have ever sourced 10 years ago.
- Specialty roasters don't have to hide low quality. The really, really dark roasts (French roasts, Italian roasts, other roasts resembling burns) are designed to cover inferior flavors. As bean quality and consistency improves, this isn't necessary any longer.
This means that the overall roast scale within specialty coffee is moving lighter and better, exposing the taste of the actual coffee bean. Large, global scale operations aren't all there yet. For them, it isn't just a matter of bean quality, but also bean consistency from batch to batch across hundreds of thousands of pounds.
A Great Place to Start
Medium roast coffee is a great place to begin your coffee journey and understand your preferences. By starting in the middle, you can always move lighter or darker while introducing your palette to a balanced cup of coffee. Additionally, the versatility will allow you the ability to experiment with all sorts of brewing methods until you find your favorites.
To end where we started, Medium Roast has a lot to offer and may end up as your favorite roast.