The Problem with Blonde Roasts

Blonde roasts are one of the fashionable trends in coffee, and while it seems that many consumers do have an appetite for these, we see a lot of confusion in print and media about this “lighter than Light” roast level. We also have concerns about the high levels of acidity seen in extra-light roasts and wonder, “Are they even healthy?”

In the past, this level of roast has often been called Cinnamon Roast, but that term has fallen out of favor because too many consumers confuse the word Cinnamon with a flavoring and not just a color.

While Starbucks® promotes the term Blonde Roast, they define it in their advertising as not related to color so much as “light bodied and flavorful – our easiest-drinking coffee” and “a true light roast”, yet when we pour the beans onto any number of standard roast charts, they match more to a Medium Roast level. And we see many roasters offering what we would call a true Blonde, yet they either do not provide a term for that roast level or seem to make up their own.

So for the sake of defining a roast genre here and possibly reducing confusion in the print media, we are defining Blonde as beans roasted to the very light level shown in the opening picture and defined in roasting terms later in this article. This level of roast results in higher acidity and a very different taste profile from other roasts, because certain physical changes have not taken place in the beans that would take place further along in the roast time for darker roasts.

What is the Attraction of Blonde Roasts?

Human beings vary greatly in the makeup of their tasting apparatus. Just as some people are “color-blind”, and some people are “tone-deaf”, we find that people have a wide spectrum of taste preferences and sensitivity levels. Some like hot and spicy food, while some recoil from it, for instance. And it seems that people prefer a widely different level of acidity.

Blond Roast will always be more acidic than darker roasts of the same coffee, simply because heat breaks down the acidity more as it roasts longer and hotter. The high acidity of Blonde Roast is generally perceived as a lemony, citrusy or sour taste, and seems to be craved by some people. Darker roasts experience more of the “Maillard reaction”, which primarily refers to the caramelization of sugar and reactions with the beans’ amino acids that produce buttery, caramel tones, while the citrusy notes are being reduced.

Why would some people crave citrusy character in coffee that others may find unappealing?


The “Tongue Map” and Why People Taste Differently

Research shows that the historical “Tongue Map” first presented and popularized by German scientist David P Hänig in a 1901 paper titled Zur Psychophysik des Geschmackssinnes is not really accurate, even though we see these diagrams in Physiology classrooms even today. The Tongue Map defined regions of the tongue that are highly specialized in how they respond to essential components of taste such as sweetness, sourness, bitterness, etc.

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