Kona Coffee being roasted
Now that we’ve learned how Kona coffee is grown, harvested and processed, it’s time to learn about roasting Kona Coffee, and what the different types of roasts entail. While a coffee’s origin has a significant influence over its flavor, the roasting process is where these flavors are drawn out, enhanced and complemented. With heat, time and experience, our master roasters can take what used to be a humble coffee cherry and transform it into your favorite cup of coffee!

Types of Coffee Roasts

Coffee roast levels typically fall under three main categories, each with variations, gradients, and names that you may or may not have heard of before. Some coffees, like our 100% Kona Estate, are roasted to a custom “roast profile” which is like a unique recipe based on what roaster settings work best with the beans origin flavors, density, moisture content and what the desired result is.

1. Light Roast

Light roasts can be characterized as having a lighter body and a higher acidity, with no obvious “roasted” flavor. If you want to taste the differences between origin characteristics, light roasts are ideal since they are not overpowered by the roast. Some varieties of light roasts are Cinnamon Roast, New England Roast, Half City Roast. A light roast is typically light brown with no surface oil.

2. Medium Roast

With medium roasts, the acidity has been reduced and the natural sugars contained in the bean have been caramelized – this imparts some of the roast flavor characteristics, but does not overpower the origin attributes. Some varieties of medium roasts are American Roast, City Roast. Medium Roasts are medium brown, and with some medium-dark roasts may have a degree of surface oil visible.

3. Dark Roast

Dark roasts can be bittersweet, with the flavors of the roast being most prominent. This is not a roast where you will be able to taste origin characteristics, but rather muted acidity, rich smoky flavors and aromas at the forefront. Varieties of dark roasts are Italian Roast, Vienna Roast, French Roast. These beans are much darker in color and will have a shiny surface with visible oil.

Different levels of coffee roasts

Beans at different roast levels from raw/green to dark roast.

Stages of the Coffee Roasting Process

Roasting Kona Coffee is a quick process, with roasting times of around 12 to 18 minutes, but it is a process resulting in many chemical reactions that require a combination of skill, experience, and science to perfect. Coffee beans are roasted inside what are essentially heated rotating drums, almost like a giant clothes dryer. Modern roasters are connected to electronic equipment or laptops for accurate temperature monitoring, control, and data collection.

  • Yellowing: During the first few minutes, the green beans start to absorb heat and emit a raw grassy aroma as the beans begin to turn light yellow.
  • Steaming: As the beans heat up, their internal moisture begins to be released as steam. The beans can lose around 15% of their weight as the water evaporates.
  • First Crack: This is the first of two audible indicators of the roasting process. This is the stage where the beans are emitting their familiar coffee aroma. Almost like making popcorn, the beans release a cracking sound as the remaining moisture disappears, sugars are caramelizing and oils release as the bean “breaks”. The beans are now a chocolate brown color and less dense. If the required result was a light roast, this would signal of the end of the roasting.
  • Caramelisation: Most roasts cease somewhere during this stage – as the roast starts to darken and the oils migrate, this stage is also known as the development stage – where stopping at different points can yield subtle (or not so subtle) variations in results.
  • Second Crack: This is the second audible indicator of a roasting stage. The cellulose is weakened and the cellular matrix of the beans breaks apart under the extra heat and more oils migrate to the surface. This stage is where roast flavors can become more prominent than origin flavors.
  • Darkening: Once past the second crack, we enter the realm of French and Italian roasts, where the beans become dark brown or even black and have visible oil on the surface. This is a delicate stage where sugars start to burn and the roast flavor is dominant. It is critical to cease the roast before the beans burn.

Roasted coffee beans

At Royal Kona Coffee, we believe in roasting Kona Coffee with maximum care and attention to make the most of the natural characteristics of the beans, with just the right amount of enhancement from the roast process. We hope that when you sit down to enjoy that cup of brewed coffee, you can fully experience the full body and smooth aromatics provided by 100% Hawaiian Kona Coffee.