The roast profile is one of the biggest factors that can impact the flavor of your coffee once it arrives with a roaster. It will have certain intrinsic characteristics on its arrival thanks to its varietal, growing conditions, and how it was processed. A roaster’s job is to highlight the qualities amongst these that they find desirable.
A good light roast coffee will accentuate the brighter and more fruity notes of a coffee. Light roasts tend to suit single-origin coffees, particularly those from East African growing regions and coffees grown at high altitudes.
You will find light roasted coffee readily available from specialty coffee roasters. Even some second-wave coffee shops have jumped on board now and offer a single-origin, light roasted upsell — whether or not you choose to drink this is entirely up to you.
Stick with us, though, for some guidance on what to look for when shopping for the best light roast coffee and to see a few of our favorites, including this great choice from Intelligentsia.
Our Top Picks
1. Best Overall: Intelligentsia House Blend
2. Best For Cold Brew: Volcanica Coffee – Guatemala Blue Ayarza
3. Best Ethiopian: Counter Culture Coffee – Apollo
A Closer Look At Our Favorite Light Roast Coffees
Below we have a more detailed inspection of our top picks for the best light roast coffee and our tips for making the most of them. You’ll find a lot of Ethiopian coffees amongst those we have featured here. As a rule of thumb, anything light roasted and East African will suit you if you prefer a brighter cup of coffee. Ethiopia, the birthplace of arabica coffee, is king here.
Intelligentsia House Blend – Best Overall
At A Glance
Roast Profile: Light Roast
Origin: Burundi / Colombia
Flavor Profile: Milk Chocolate / Mandarin / Apple
Best Brewing Method: AeroPress
The House Blend from Intelligentsia is a wonderful light roast blend. Consistently excellent, it is full of fruity flavors and sharp malic acid reminiscent of green apples. It keeps pace with some of the better African single origins in terms of fruit delivery, This is thanks to the Burundi present in the mix, while the Colombian beans bring a smooth and rich chocolate to balance the cup.
This coffee is great, prepared almost any way you like, a true all-rounder. For a fresher apple note, we like it as a pour-over. Still, to maximize the borderline tropical fruit sweetness without losing the milk chocolate complexity, we’d recommend giving it a whirl in your AeroPress.
If light roasts are your thing, you will find this coffee does everything right. Managing this without losing its balance in the wildly fruity direction sets this blend from Intelligentsia apart from the single-origins.
At A Glance
Roast Profile: Light Roast
Origin: Guatemala, Ayarza
Flavor Profile: Strawberry / Plum / Nectarine
Best Brewing Method: Cold Brew
The Blue Ayarza from Volcanica is a stone fruit and red berry tropical storm. It is full of jammy sweetness with an edge of peach skin sharpness. The red berries you may detect here are almost over-ripe, and you should find a deep plum aroma when you’ve got it dialed in just right.
Due to its dark fruity sweetness, this coffee actually makes for an exciting cold brew. If you give it a good long steep, you will be rewarded with a sweet and smooth chocolatey coffee with a plum jam lift to it.
The natural process used to prepare the coffee cherries for export allows a lot of the fruity sweetness to penetrate the bean as they dry in their full mucilage and pulp. This leaves the coffee beans themselves with a funkier fruit-forward profile that you don’t often find in washed coffees.
One of our all-time favorites, Apollo from Counter Culture, is a shining example of what it means to be an excellent light roast. The citrus tends to come at the start and is predominantly lemony. This is followed by a faint hibiscus florality, and finishes with its characteristic silky smooth chocolate endnote.
While entirely Ethiopian in composition, Apollo is a blend of different Ethiopian coffees picked seasonally to reflect a particular taste profile. This gives it the consistency that Ethiopian single-origins can lack across a full year but still allows it to profit from the ethereal clarity you’d expect in a single estate East African.
Thanks to its dependable nature and its off-the-charts flavor quality, this coffee is a great choice to have in-store as your go-to espresso blend. If you enjoy the floral complexities and thinner body a light roasted espresso shot will give you, this is a real winner.
One of the most celebrated coffee-producing regions globally, Yirgacheffe routinely turns out some of the most complex and bright coffees available. This example from Stone Street is very typical of a good Ethiopian profile.
The lemon and floral notes give an added complexity here by a fresh herbal sharpness that brings sorrel to mind. The finish here is a little fuller than you might expect from a light roasted East African and has a cacao bitterness that offsets the sweet chocolate tones.
To capitalize on this coffee’s uniquely herbal aspect, we recommend a pour-over like a V60. The clarity you can get from this method will bring out the delicate sorrel and lemon verbena nuances that will get lost in most brew methods.
If you’d prefer to highlight the richer chocolates and bitter cocoa finish in this coffee, it makes a great espresso. You should be able to achieve a wonderfully preserved lemon and dark chocolate effect once you have your parameters dialed in perfectly.
The Morning Blend from San Francisco Bay is a brilliant amalgam of the best that Central America’s coffee has to offer. The sweet vanilla chocolate creams are given a beautiful nutty depth from the roasting tones. This is all complimented perfectly by the bright green apple sharpness necessary to balance this coffee.
For the best chance at really maximizing the complexity on offer here, we found we enjoyed this coffee most as an espresso. In fact, to bring the crisp apple sours to the front, leaning more towards the ristretto end of the brew ratio spectrum gave the best results.
Coffee Bros.’ Kenyan offering is a real tour de force. The sugar plum tones have a real wine gum twang that flags up its characteristic Kenyan style. These are preceded in the cup by an almost zesty lemon, forming of the initial aroma. Think of the spray of oil when you first pierce the skin of a lemon with a zester, and it will bring you close to the experience here.
These brighter notes are rounded out nicely with a sweet but dark chocolate which lends this coffee an exceptionally balanced quality for a single-origin. To bring this balance out in the way it deserves, we enjoyed the slightly fuller body of brewing these beans in a Clever Dripper.
It makes an excellent French press, too, but you risk losing some of the finer nuances with longer immersions.
This blend is a real treat for specialty coffee connoisseurs. The berries present in this one are less over-ripe and jammy, more sharp blueberry or sour raspberry. Although we didn’t test them, the acids in this coffee certainly felt like they were leaning more towards the citric and less malic in character. Four Barrel Coffee has closed the journey out with a devilishly elaborate dark toffee sweetness that almost sticks to your teeth.
These beans are delightful as an immersion brew. However, to really get the most out of the fresh tangerine and redcurrant astringency, you will need to break out your portafilters to get an espresso shot.
The washed process is the main factor that keeps the berry notes from being overwhelmingly sweet.
At A Glance
Roast Profile: Light Roast
Origin: Ethiopia, Kayon Mountain
Flavor Profile: Dark Chocolate / Peach / Nectarine
Best Brewing Method: Clever Dripper
Volcanica’s single estate Ethiopia Guji is grown in the shade of the acacia trees on the slopes of the Kayon Mountain by Ismael Hassan. The beans are then wet-processed to separate them from their pulp and left to sun dry on raised beds giving them an almost floral peach perfume.
The interplay of nectarine sweet and sour with the bitter bite of dark chocolate will put a smile on your face. We guarantee it. Brewed in a Clever Dripper, you should find that you get a fuller body and sweeter result than you might typically expect from a light roast.
Cooper’s Cask’s Ethiopian Light Roast is yet another great example of a single-origin Ethiopian. These beans from the Oromia region bring a lot to the table in terms of the complexity of sweetness. The lemony citric acid is offset nicely by a delicate and transient sweetness that feels like it could literally be sipped straight from a honeysuckle stamen.
This coffee is definitely a single-origin and lacks the balance that some may look for. If this doesn’t bother you and you thrive on a good light roast’s floral and acid nature, this will be the perfect choice for you.
Its flavor profile lends itself ideally to pour-over devices. Aim to keep your extraction times as close to two and a half minutes as you can, using good hot water and not grinding too finely, and you will be rewarded with an exquisite and vibrant cup of coffee.
Our final Ethiopian, and indeed final coffee featured on our list here is another fine specimen, this time from the Sidamo region. The natural process lets the sugars seep into the beans, giving the floral notes a veritable rose syrup feel.
The oranges and lemons bring the whole experience back up with a zingy bright note and a subtle pithy bitterness when you’ve got the extraction right. Contrary to the last one, this coffee does well with a slightly finer grind and a marginally longer brew time in a pour-over.
Something like a flat-bottomed Kalita Wave will pair well with this technique to give you more body that suits this coffee nicely.
What Is the Effect of Roast Profile on Your Coffee?
So you’re looking for the best light roast coffee you can find, but what exactly does the roast profile mean for your coffee? The roast level is one of the most significant contributing factors to the style of coffee you will end up with in your cup.
It doesn’t matter how you brew a dark roast; you are unlikely to find the brightest, zingiest, fruit-forward coffee you’ve ever tried once the beans have been taken this far past the second crack. To make sure you know what to look for, you need to understand the intrinsic qualities given to a coffee by each distinct roast profile.
Light vs. Dark Roasts
Essentially the lighter the beans is roasted, the more of the coffee’s natural flavors will be present. This means you will taste more of the origin, altitude, processing method, and varietal effects.
The darker a roast gets, the more you will be left with strong roast tones. These tend to be the nuttier and deeper flavors, while the floral and fruity flavors you might expect from a lighter roast may be masked.
Related Read: Best Dark Roast Coffee
When light roasting coffee, care must be taken to avoid under-developing the flavor and leaving it prone to too much sharp acidity with no balance. These vegetal flavors are often described as grassy in under-roasted coffee.
What To Look Out for When Shopping for the Best Light Roast Coffee
There are several factors to consider when you are trying to find the right light roast coffee for you. While they will generally have a lot of common traits, there are certain things to bear in mind that could set one apart from the crowd when it comes to your personal preferences.
Broadly speaking, light roast coffee will feature more vibrant and zingy flavors with stronger prominence than the same coffee roasted dark. In a good light roast coffee, you should be looking for fruity and floral notes — bright, crisp, and acidic styles of the flavor profile.
The bitters you can expect in light roasts tend to be more nuanced than in bolder, darker roasts. You will perhaps find more fruity bitterness or gentle cacao nib edges. Conversely, you should find more prominent roasted tones such as deeply toasted nuts and woody astringency in darker roasts.
While coffees from any part of the world can be roasted light or dark, it is more common to see some regions roasted light than others. For example, as we mentioned previously in this article, it is not unusual to find East African coffees roasted at the lighter end of the spectrum.
Coffees from Ethiopia, in particular, are almost always roasted light to medium, while other East African coffee-producing nations like Burundi and Kenya tend towards the more medium roasted end of this zone.
Equally, some Central and South American areas produce coffee beans that are suitable candidates for light roasting. Notable among these is Costa Rica. On the other hand, some of the richest chocolatey and nutty profiles coming out of the region, particularly Brazilians, are unlikely to fare well.
There is no real favorite processing method for light roast coffees. What should be noted, however, is that whichever processing method you opt for when selecting your coffee will be more present in the finished flavor of a light roast.
Darker roasts tend to obscure the differences between washed, natural, and the various types of honey processing behind roast tones. On the other hand, the more gentle treatment they receive with a light roast will really shine a spotlight on factors such as processing methods. This is one of the reasons that light roasts held such a prevalent spot and continue to do so in many cases, in the hearts of specialty coffee roasters, baristas, and enthusiasts.
Frequently Asked Questions
How Do Light Roasts Compare in Terms of Acidity?
Generally speaking, although not the only factor involved in the presence of acids in coffee, light roasted coffees will be higher in acidity than their darker roasted cousins. All other factors equal, a more gentle roast will produce a more acidic coffee.
This rings true in terms of perceived acidity, the presence of acids in the cup, and their effect on sensitive stomachs. If you struggle with acid reflux, you may be more comfortable with a darker roast. On the other hand, if you get a kick out of the bright sharpness you can only find in a light roast Yirgacheffe, then you only really have one choice.
Are Light Roasts Less Bitter Than Dark Roasts?
The simple answer here is yes. Darker roasts tend to be more bitter than light roasts. Obviously, extraction during brewing also plays a massive part in the perceived bitterness of a finished cup, as the compounds responsible for the bitters don’t come out until later in the extraction.
Roast level, however, probably has the biggest effect on the perceived bitterness of properly extracted coffee. Most of the 25 to 30 compounds that can cause perceived bitterness in coffee can be grouped into lactones and phenylindanes. They come from chlorogenic acid as it is broken down during roasting.  As coffee becomes darker roasted, more chlorogenic acid is broken down.
Is There More Caffeine in Light or Dark Roast Coffee?
Contrary to common expectations, there is more caffeine in light roast coffee than in darker roasts. Research using spectrophotometric analysis of different roast levels in different coffees has found that caffeine content actually decreases with longer roasts.  This often surprises people as caffeine is wrongly associated with the bitterness found in darker roasts.
Ultimately, if you are looking for the best light roast coffee, there is a lot to watch out for. Generally speaking, anything East African will lend itself well to light roasting. If you prefer a blend, there are a lot of great examples to be found from third-wave roasters. They can offer you supreme quality and consistency from month to month regardless of the season.
We’d recommend trying the House Blend from Intelligentsia for a guaranteed safe bet. But why not spread your wings? Try a few we have suggested here and see what you can pick up from your local roasters, too.
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