The 6 Best Light Roast Coffee Picks of 2020
You’re here for a particular reason: you have seen the light, sorry I mean tasted it! In a world filled with dark roast, there’s not a lot of us who savor the taste of a more fruity cup of coffee.
Since we’re also fans, we’ve put together a list of some of the best light roast coffee we could find.
Here’s our top pick if you’re in a rush:
alternatives At a glance
Notes of chocolate often associated with darker blends shine here. Makes exceptional milky coffee while being light.
What is light roast coffee?
Let’s start from the outside, going in.
Light roasted coffee beans are light brown in color and have the least amount of oil on the bean’s surface. This is because, in simple terms, they are exposed to heat for the shortest amount of time.
A light roast highlights the most complex and intertwined flavors found in coffee. It’s at this level you will notice fruity undertones complimented with a light and lingering body. As a result, it’s no surprise that beans are the densest when lightly roasted.
Now that we’ve talked about the outside, what about the inside of the coffee beans?
It takes 2 cracks for green beans to make the full transformation from green to medium roast. Coffee beans absorb heat first, then release it. This is when they get crackalacking, so to speak.
Light roasted beans are “cooked” between the first and second cracks. Around this time, the sugars of the bean break down and release those wonderful aromatics flavors you, me and many others have come to savor.
Does light roast have more flavor than dark roast?
Most people agree that light roast coffee beans are USUALLY more flavorful than a dark roast.
But as with many things in coffee, it depends.
We mentioned that the least amount of time you roast, the more you maintain the original acids and sugars. Following this logic, it extracts more of the flavors from the coffee bean.
There is no single recipe for roasting coffee beans from different origins. While there’s a lot of science, there’s even more room for personal preference. Light roast coffee shatters expectations when it comes to complex, fruity, and flavorful notes morphing out of the bean and into your cup.
This is why only the most high-quality beans are roasted lightly and more thought is put on buying whole bean coffee to grind at home vs the roast itself which is a general choice of preference.
Let’s take a look at some of them!
The Best Light Roasts in 2020
Below is a rundown of our favorite coffees so far for light roast coffee.
All the sources below have beans that will produce an excellent cup of joe, but there is always a personal favorite.
As a result, we will be arranging them from the one we liked the most to great alternatives. Keep in mind that our collective preferences are based on the taste and body of the coffee under review.
While this has all the characteristics of a standard light roast (fruity, sweet) it has a cookie finish! This means that their roasting process unlocks a fun flavor before they hit medium roast – Dark roasted coffees usually lose this complexity of flavor.
It also helps that the beans are from Ethiopia, which produces some of the best coffees in the world. It’s an origin that’s renowned for superb light roasts.
We will be providing a general origin guide later on for those of you who want to explore this topic further on your own.
This gem is from Fresh Roasted Coffee. Direct from Tanzania this fruity bag of beans originates from the Mbeya Region and is sun-dried. With a medium body and citrus kick it makes an excellent brew!
- Fruity (lemon and peach) with a sweet (candy-like) finish
- Medium-bodied, pleasant
- Grown in Tanzania, Africa
If you’re in the mood for an adventure, this is a good start. These whole beans are best brewed at a high temperature as a pour-over or french press, in order to maximize the flavor from your coffee.
In our opinion, this is an exceptional representation of light roast. There’s a clear and stark difference from a darker roast, and these are some of the most flavorful coffee beans around.
The Aloha State is generally regarded as one of the best origins for beans of any roast level and the Hawaii Coffee Company doesn’t disappoint with The Lion Gold Roast.
One little-known fact is that they are possibly the biggest whole bean coffee supplier in the state.
- Bright, sweet, smooth
- Medium-bodied, satisfying
Being a medium-light roast coffee, it has a broader body but comparable complexity to the other beans on this list.
In case you didn’t know, everything matters when it comes to producing coffee in Hawaii so you can be sure this is a high-quality light roasted coffee.
From defects to weight to cup quality after brewing. Some even say their worst “real” coffee beans are as good as the best of other origins (we’re not sure if that’s true, but hey coffee is personal!)
Wit the smallest amount allowed for a legitimate Kona blend: 10%, this batch is slightly different from your typical light roast.
- Light, bold, smooth
- Medium-bodied, complex flavor
- Real 10% Kona blend
Hawaiian beans are usually medium or dark roast, so it’s interesting to find a (tasty) City Roast Kona Blend. For those of you who are unfamiliar, “city roast” is synonymous with a light roast.
With this blend, you can get a light taste of premium quality beans (albeit 10%) to see if you enjoy Kona before delving deeper! Friends say it’s good as a first, but it’s good as a second or third cup of coffee for us!
Related Read: Best Kona Coffee
Another entry from Slate Coffee Roasters. This is quite a treat. It’s mind-blowing to taste these chocolate notes in a lighter roast.
Unlike most light roasts, this one’s great with additives. Try pairing it with milk, creamer, and/or sugar to your liking and enjoy the sweet taste reminiscent of cocoa and super sweet caramel.
Notes of chocolate often associated with darker blends shine here. Makes exceptional milky coffee while being light.
- Smooth, silky
- Rich caramel, melted chocolate
It isn’t every day that you get a light roast whole bean coffee that works well with milk or creamer. It’s even rarer to get a coffee that tastes more like caramel or melted chocolate. Especially because these are flavors often only reveal themselves towards a medium roast.
So, if you like chocolate (tick), enjoy a bean which is lightly roasted (tick), and want to enjoy a different kind of milky coffee (tick!) then give this a shot.
The only reason this isn’t up higher in our list is that caramel and chocolate aren’t usually what light roast coffee drinkers look for!
Lifeboost is a coffee company that sources from one farm in Nicaragua, and it’s generally one of our more favored coffee brands regardless of the roast.
They use 100% arabica, high altitude, shade-grown, hand-picked, semi-washed, lightly roasted beans (aka they do ‘all the things’ to make the best coffee and do them well).
- Light-bodied, pleasant, low acidity
- Citrusy, tea-like, no bitterness
- Single origin
You’ll be happy to know Lifeboost live and breathe real good coffee practices, and you rest assured with each cup of coffee you drink you’re supporting fair trade farmers directly.
What’s different is that instead of taste, they advertise health. This is not the usual tone of coffee companies. But, it’s refreshing.
While their marketing focus isn’t on taste alone, only good whole bean coffee can come of the process they shared. Taste is a lead-attention grabber for most, but it is a by-product of good practices.
It should be no surprise that these quality beans from Lifeboost paired with a burr grinder to make ground coffee will deliver an excellent brew using any brewing method you enjoy.
If you are still on the fence about your next coffee adventure, the next section strives to serve as a guide. It will allow you to explore more on how to better-select beans according to your preferences.
Light roast coffee buying guide
Coffee beans are potent, sensitive ingredients. The smallest change in recipe, temperature, brew time, and roast will affect your cup. A gram, a degree, or a roast profile can turn well-roasted coffee to the most memorable cup of joe you’ve ever had.
Real good coffee is not worshipped, but rather it is shared. The coffee industry benefits as a whole when customers are exposed to quality beans like the ones on our list.
Eventually, everyone will learn on their own all the intricacies and details of their favorite coffees and save a few bucks in the process long term!
We’ve narrowed down this guide to tackle light roast coffee. For simplicity’s sake, and a more comprehensive discussion on taste, with you selecting coffee beans in mind.
Light roasted beans are generally less common than dark roast. This is why the usual recipes might not work automatically with this type of ground coffee.
Brewing without understanding one of your more complex ingredients could set you up for failure, aka too much bitterness and a loss of the taste when it comes to ‘good acids’. But don’t worry…We’ve got your back!
What coffees are light roasts best for?
Black. Yep, you don’t need to add anything to enjoy a cup of light roast coffee!
Because the light roasting process allows for the acids and sugars to develop, ready for extraction.
Following this train of thought, roasting can be perceived as a way of cooking. The more you “cook” an ingredient, the more that it loses its mass.
It’s safe to say that lightly roasted coffee beans keep more of what’s in the bean – flavor! They contain a broader variety of acids that have yet to be lost through the roasting process, and natural sugars are still intact.
Given this logic, when it comes to light roast coffee beans vs darker whole beans sticking to a simple cup is best. And yes, that means light roast coffee is best served plain black!
Because black coffees showcase the flavor of your coffee beans with no distractions or ingredients. You get to enjoy it in all its glory.
What’s your favorite way to brew?
Different extraction methods have varying grind sizes and extraction lengths. Each will result in different highlighted flavor profiles. If you don’t have any favorites yet, it would be a fun experiment to use the same beans for each method. See which brings out the best for your light roast coffee beans.
Keep in mind that different beans will work well with different methods. You can’t box one method in and expect all ground coffee to come out the same way!
Factors to consider when buying A Light Roast
Remember to keep an open mind when buying new brews. Hold your biases and have fun. There’s usually an untold farmer story with each bag. Stick to these rules to find the best light roast coffee for you!
Here are a few things you may want to consider before trying new beans. Whether light or dark roast, there are some commonalities to think about in your decision-making process.
At the end of the day, this is what it boils down to for most of us: flavors.
What flavors interest you?
Which flavors are you familiar with? Depending on where you are in your coffee journey, your next bag can make you a believer that your one cup away from greatness!
Light roasts usually bring out fruity, sweet, smooth flavors. Adjust your expectations. Expect less bitterness instead of looking for it.
Ideally, only the best arabica coffee beans are suited to a light roast. These whole beans grow slowly, allowing their acids and sugars to develop by soaking up the nutrients in the soil.
On top of this is where were the beans grown? As we’ve established, coffee beans taste differently depending on how long they are roasted, but their origin also plays a significant factor.
While beans grow on the same ‘coffee belt’ around the world each country has an established flavor profile. But not all of these will be amazing lightly roasted, rather some pair better when dark roasted.
Nonetheless, real good coffee comes from every origin if your roast it ‘right’ for the brew and you pair it accordingly!
Country Flavor Origins
Here are some origins and the general characteristics of coffee beans around the world:
ETHIOPIA: fragrant, fruity, floral, citrusy (commonly used for light roast coffee)
KENYA: intense, citrusy, sweet
INDONESIA: heavy, spicy, sweet
BRAZIL: nutty, chocolatey, sweet
COLOMBIA: fragrant, rich, chocolatey, bright
COSTA RICA: sweet, lemony, syrupy
GUATEMALA: sweet, caramel, fruity
HAWAII: rich, complex, clear, pleasant finish
NICARAGUA: nutty, vanilla, fragrant
YEMEN: deep, earthy, pungent
Notice how some origins will work better as a light roast. Our favorites for light roasted coffee are the light-bodied ones, the sweet ones, and the ones with clear flavors.
You can probably see that coffee is complicated, different, and unique wherever you travel! We hope you start to see coffee as a way to travel the world (i know I do!).
Time From Roast
Since cold brew isn’t the best way to extract acids from your coffee grounds, the roast date becomes an important variable.
Coffee beans are best consumed 1-2 weeks after roasting (depending on the machine), and up to 4-5 weeks after the roast date. This is related to how the roasting process elevates gasses in the beans, and releases as time elapses. In this case, fresher isn’t always better.
Be sure to gauge your consumption as you choose the size of your next purchase of beans. Order too little and you won’t be satisfied. Order too much and they might go stale on you.
What happens if they go stale?
This is where cold brew comes in to save the day. Or in this case your beans. Since the gasses have almost totally been released, you mostly taste the body of the coffee and not tainted gas.
Related read: Cold Brew Recipes
Light Roast VS Dark Roast Coffee
Most of us are already familiar with dark roasted coffee, especially if you drink espresso. This comparison will strive to quickly highlight the differences between the two, starting with the roasting process.
Green beans absorb and give off heat when roasted. As they give off heat, they “crack” or make popping sounds. It usually takes 2 cracks for green beans to go from “raw” to “cooked”.
Whereas light roasted coffee makes it just a bit past the first crack, while dark roasted coffee goes past the second.
There are several physical and chemical changes in between which alter the taste of the brew which alters the way (milk/no milk ect) the coffee is typically best enjoyed.
Is light roast coffee the strongest?
Strength in coffee can mean flavor or caffeine.
In terms of flavor, light roasted coffee retains more acids, and therefore stronger but positive flavors. It’s important to add that brewing hot will better extract acids into your coffee than a cold brew. Light roast wins over dark roasts here.
Sometimes, people associate strength in coffee with how well it keeps them up…Enter the debate of caffeine level.
Caffeine is the functional side of why we drink coffee. And now is as good a time as any to settle the debate.
Believe it or not, light roasted beans do not have more caffeine by weight but maybe a little less than a dark roast.
This goes back to how “well done” dark roasts are, and how some physical and chemical properties are lost in the process due to a reduction in mass. However, the caffeine content remains about the same so overall, darker roasts weigh less per bean but contain the same level of caffeine. Light roast coffee loses here but it’s not by much.
This topic leads us to the next subpoint in this discussion: bitterness.
This flavor is a lot stronger than sweetness. You need just a tiny amount of bitterness to register on your tongue, versus a lot of something sweet. And while caffeine is bitter, the burnt parts of dark roasts add to that bitterness.
So if we’re talking strength in terms of bitterness, darker roasts get the point here. Light roast coffee has acids and sugars drowning out any bitterness.
It is essential to point out that increased bitterness does not yield more caffeine. As we just mentioned, while caffeine is bitter, it’s not the only bitter substance in ground coffee. Real good coffee has balance my friend!
Which coffee is better for you light or dark?
The answer we give these hard personal coffee questions is the same: it depends. On taste. And the bean.
It always depends on what you want. What you prefer. What your diet permits (low acid coffee is the only option for some of us).
If you’re hyper acidic, good quality light roasts are better for you. Why? Top-quality coffee beans are less acidic. They’re usually the only ones good enough to lightly-roast. Point light roast.
If you enjoy your coffee black and sophisticated, light roast is better for you as well. If you don’t associate coffee with bitterness, and you’re open-minded about perceiving other flavor-profiles in your cup, congratulations light roasted beans could be good for you as well.
So when are dark roasted coffee beans better for you?
The bitterness (sometimes mistaken as) the “coffee taste” cuts through milk, creamer, and sugar evenly if you like milky coffee. Roasting darker puts less pressure on the bean to deliver, and allows the outside ingredients to shine.
Dark roasts are also better for you if you like simple, straightforward coffee. If you rely on the taste of bitterness to wake you up, again, dark roasts are your go-to.
The Final Verdict
All in all, it boils down to you and how you define good coffee.
How do you define good? We use taste, body, and finish.
What good is light roast coffee that tastes like lemon if you dislike lemon acidity, to begin with? And while our collective palates have made us agree that Ethiopia Adisu Kidane – Slate Coffee Roasters is the standout on this list of light roasted whole bean, there’s a lot more to be explored across the rest of our list!
Remember that it isn’t a mission of finding of highest caffeine level in search of the best light roast coffee. It’s how the roasting process has brought out the best in the coffee bean to provide a means for customers like you to taste and savor the flavors in it.
Frequently Asked Questions
Is blonde coffee the same as light roast?
As the name sort of suggests, yes, it is the same as light roast coffee beans.
A good cheat sheet is to remember that blondes have lighter hair than others, hence the blonde coffee reference.
There are more alternative names when it comes to roasting coffee! Medium roast whole bean coffee is also known as City Roast. A Full-City Roast is one level higher, usually classified as Dark.
How much caffeine is in light roast coffee?
A little more than dark roast.
We get these inquiries and sweeping statements regularly. The simple answer is just a bit more than black coffee. If we need to put a number to it, the simple answer is 40 micrograms of caffeine per serving of light roast.
Caffeine can add to reactive acids in your tummy, so the trick isn’t in the roast, it’s investing in real good whole bean coffee. Exceptionally good coffee will come from authentic whole bean selections.
Can all beans be made light roast?
Yes and no.
Only the best beans should be used for a light brew. This ensures that you get a good taste overall.
You can use different roast profiles if you feel like adding milk and sugar to your coffee. Light is best with black recipes, while medium to dark goes well with milky recipes.
Barista and coffee writer
Miguel Papa is a coffee fanatic with a passion for brewing. During the weekdays, you can find him experimenting with different drinks while he works as a barista. Otherwise, he’s likely writing here for Sip Coffee or enjoying the outdoors.