Roast Level Perspective from 1975 Book : Coffee


I found an old book titled, “The Book of Coffee & Tea” written in 1975. Within, the American preference for lighter-roasted coffees is described. I find it interesting to read the perspective of a time before Starbucks swept the nation, nearly 50 years ago. I thought you might as well. Specifically, this line makes me grin:

“A thick syrupy decoction of dark-roasted beans is the choice, nay, the passion of coffee lovers throughout Europe and Latin America. We Americans should treat ourselves more often to the pleasures offered by this vigorous brew.”

Here are links to photos of the pages, and the transcribed text:

The Variety of Roasts

The roasting of coffee turns the beans brown; the longer they’re roasted, the darker they get. Coffee roasted too light won’t have much of a coffee taste at all. Coffee can also be roasted so dark that it tastes burnt. Between these two extremes are a variety of roasts all tasting like coffee, each appealing to particular tastes.

Simply put, the darker coffee is roasted, the darker it tastes. Is any one roast the optimum? No, just as it would be silly to say that steak should only be broiled “medium.” Is dark-roasted coffee stronger? No. It is common to credit dark-roasted coffee with producing a very, very strong beverage, but this is not accurate. It would be best to say that dark-roasted coffee has a characteristic “dark-roasted” taste, even if that may seem to be begging the question. The strength of coffee is directly dependent on the amount of soluble solids in the brew, that is, the solution of coffee in water. If coffee is “strong” it should be because more coffee is used, resulting in a stronger solution, not because of the roast itself. Espresso is in fact usually brewed with twice the amount of coffee normally recommended.

Not only does coffee get darker in color the longer it is roasted, but it also loses more weight and swells more in size. Oils held within the beans of a lighter roast are driven to the surface in a dark roast. Dark-roasted beans appear shiny. They have very slightly less caffeine and are somewhat less acidic than light-roasted beans. They are slightly more susceptible to becoming stale because surface waxes that remain intact on light-roasted beans are destroyed by more prolonged heating. The characteristic dark roasted flavor tends to overshadow the more subtle flavors produced by lighter roasting. Some of the more delicate flavor oils and aromatics are in fact destroyed by dark roasting. What dark-roasted coffee may lack in subtlety, it more than makes up for in force. A thick syrupy decoction of dark-roasted beans is the choice, nay, the passion of coffee lovers throughout Europe and Latin America. We Americans should treat ourselves more often to the pleasures offered by this vigorous brew.

Detailed Roast Levels

Light city roast: In sections of the West, this is the standard. The bean is not fully developed, the color more cinnamon-like than brown, the flavor thin.

City roast: The most widely used style in this country. Also called brown roast or American roast, it is the preference of most consumers here. This roast yields a beverage that may lack brilliance and come up on the flat side.

Full city roast: Favored by some regional roasters in cosmopolitan centers, particularly New York City. Slightly longer roasted, the bean is dark brown, shows no oil on the surface, and gives a deeper heartier cup. The American roasts of specialty shops are likely to be full city rather than city.

Brazilian: Don’t confuse this with the name given to coffee grown in Brazil. Just darker than full city, this roast has the faintest hint of dark roast flavor. A trace of oil shows on the bean.

Viennese roast: There seems to be the least consensus on what this roast is, probably because there are many variations, even in Vienna. It falls midway between full city and French roasts. Mix half and half of these two roasts.

French roast (New Orleans roast): With this roast oiliness is quite apparent on the bean’s surface and the color is burnt umber, the color of semi sweet chocolate. The flavor is remarkably different from any of the lighter roasts. It approaches Espresso flavor but remains smooth. It is French roasted coffee to which chicory is added for Louisiana style coffee. Two commercially prepared examples of this coffee/chicory mixture are Luzianne and French Market.

Spanish/Cuban/French-Italian roast: Darker than French but not quite Italian, this coffee is great for those who want Espresso without the bite. Mix French and Italian roasts, if this happy medium is not available, and you’ll get very close to the flavor. Commercially prepared versions of this roast are Bustelo and El Pico. Some A&P stores have coffee in this roast in the bean.

Italian/ Espresso roast: This roast is the highest, heaviest, darkest. Almost to carbonization. The bean surface is shiny and oily, the color black, the flavor Italian. Medaglia D’Oro is a commercially prepared example of this roast.

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