8 Best Light Roast Coffee Beans (More Flavor, No Oil)
Light roast coffee is in the midst of a renaissance, thanks to improved growing, processing, sourcing, and roasting practices. With the availability of such high-quality beans, it only makes sense to use a light roast to really showcase their character. Plus, consumers are developing a taste for these sweet floral and fruit notes.
If you like your coffee with a mellow body, mild flavors, and a bright acidity charged with a hint of citrus, a cup of light roast coffee is probably right up your alley. Keep reading for everything you need to know about the best light roast coffee beans.
- What is light roast coffee?
- The Top 8 Light Roast Coffees in 2020
- 1. Kicking Horse Coffee Hola – Best Overall
- 2. Onyx Coffee Lab Roaster Sample Box – Best Gourmet Coffee
- 3. Cafe 1820 Tueste Claro – Best Blend
- 4. Real Good Coffee Co. Breakfast Blend – Most Versatile
- 5. Starbucks Veranda Blend – Best for Espresso Drinks
- 6. Cameron’s Coffee Breakfast Blend – Best Budget
- 7. Bulletproof Luminate – Best for Coffee Geeks
- 8. Stone Street Coffee Ethiopian Yirgacheffe – Best Single Origin
- The Verdict
What is light roast coffee?
To understand light roast coffee, you need to know a bit about the coffee roasting process. This process converts a pale green coffee bean into the richly flavorful brown beans that you use for brewing. The roasting profile dictates which aroma compounds are formed in the beans. Hence, the flavor notes to expect in your cup (1).
The first part of the roast is the drying stage. Here, the beans lose much of their humidity. The second stage is the browning stage, when the green beans turn brown and release a toasted aroma. Near the end of this stage, the beans will begin to pop, and this is known as first crack. If the roast is continued, the result will be medium and dark roast beans, with increasingly dark colors and oilier surfaces.
Light roast characteristics
Light roast coffee features crisp acidity, mellow body, and bright flavors. Such features are due to beans not being roasted long enough to produce caramelized sugars or oil. With a light roast, you are tasting more of the natural flavor profile of the bean itself. Differently, a dark roast offers more flavors from the roasting process. As a result, lighter roasts are popular with single origin coffees, allowing you to experience more of the subtle flavors of the growing region (2).
A denser coffee bean will give you more caffeine, more brightness, and more fruit-forward, herbal flavors. There will be more going on in terms of complexity in a light roast coffee.
Light roast coffee should be brewed using techniques that allow these subtleties to shine through, like pour over methods and drip coffee. With their mellow body and lack of oil, they are also well served by immersion brewing techniques. They make some of the best coffee for French press and cold brew. In contrast, dark roast coffee beans make some of the best low acid coffee, and their heavier body and stronger but less complex flavors are ideal for espresso.
It is a common belief that light roast coffee has more caffeine, but this is a myth (3). In truth, light roast whole bean coffee is simply more dense. So, provided you are measuring your coffee by weight rather than volume, the caffeine content is unrelated to the roast. What affects the caffeine in much larger percentages is the type and quantity of coffee used for brewing. In fact, with their complex flavors and acidity, light roasts can be some of the best decaf coffee beans.
Organic light roast coffee
Farmers grow certified organic light roast coffee in a way that supports biodiversity and enhances soil health. They use only approved substances and organic farming methods. Buying the best organic coffee beans is an excellent way to promote sustainable growing practices. Most importantly, it may offer benefits for your health.
How to choose the best light roast coffee
Aside from the roast profile, there are many factors that can influence the flavors in your cup of coffee. Let’s delve into a few of the most important ones, so that you know exactly what to look for when picking out the best coffee beans.
Coffee beans can be classified as single origin or blends. Single origin beans stem from a single growing region. On the other hand, blends consist of a variety of beans, sometimes sourced from around the globe.
Single origins are unique and exotic, showcasing the flavors of a specific area, like the famed Jamaican Blue Mountain coffee beans. However, they have nothing to tone down any harsher notes or strong acidity. In a blend, different types of beans mellow out the overall flavor. The blending makes them a bit more approachable but less exciting.
Lighter roasts are often favored for single origin beans. In short, they allow the inherent bean flavor to shine. If you want to try single origin beans, light roast coffee is a great place to start.
Arabica and robusta are two commercially grown coffee varieties. Each is with unique characteristics (4). In general, most current commercial crops are arabica. Arabica beans are regarded as the higher-quality bean. They tend to have a more pronounced acidity and a sweeter, softer taste, with notes of sugar, fruit, and berries. Robusta beans have a harsher, grain-like taste, with a nutty finish and twice as much caffeine. They are easier to grow because they can thrive at lower elevations and are more resistant to pests and weather fluctuations.
While robusta beans have typically been used in low-end coffee, some producers are experimenting with higher quality robustas. Such robustas offer their own unique flavors that appeal to some palates. Thus, they are a popular addition to blends, with their rich and dark flavors providing balance to the fruity and acidic arabicas. Interestingly, they are also part of the best instant coffee or as single origin beans.
When it comes right down to it, the most important factor is whether your coffee tastes good. Yet, the flavor of a coffee is incredibly complex. It’s made up of thousands of unique compounds. Some of these are inherent in the beans themselves, while others are formed during the roasting process (5).
The level of roasting impacts aroma profiles. Research has suggested that lighter roasts preserve the herb and fruit notes, whilst smoky and burnt aromas are increased, and acidity reduced, in darker roasts.
Flavor is a spectrum that ranges from tastes to aromas. We perceive tastes solely with the tongue and aromas solely with the nose. In most cases, our tongue and nose work together in producing a flavor.
While a coffee’s origin and processing will have an impact on its taste, certain roast levels tend toward certain characteristics. Light roasted coffee generally has a pronounced acidity and no bitterness, with fruity taste notes like citrus, berries, and stone fruits. Light roasts are frequently described as floral or herbal, subtle flavors that are masked in darker roasts. They are usually sweeter than dark roast coffee beans, with brown sugar, honey, and milk chocolate flavors.
Coffee is a drink to be experienced with all the senses. Surely, the aroma contributes as much to the experience as the taste. Light roasts rarely have the typical toasted aroma that we associate with coffee. This is because toasted aroma is a product of the roast more than of the coffee itself. Instead, they offer a more subtle sensory experience, with floral, herbal, and sweet aromas. The most common are honey, brown sugar, vanilla, lavender, and caramel.
The Top 8 Light Roast Coffees in 2020
Now that you’re an expert on light roast coffees, here are eight of our favorites from this year. Whether you’re looking for a brightly acidic single origin or a richly layered blend, we have the perfect suggestion.
1. Kicking Horse Coffee Hola – Best Overall
- Aroma: Ripe berries, nougat, brown sugar
- Taste: Dark chocolate, cacao nibs, brown sugar, roasted hazelnuts
Use for: Drip coffee, pour over, cold brew
Based in the Canadian Rocky Mountains, Kicking Horse Coffee has made a global name for itself in the 25 years since its founding. They offer a range of roast profiles, all of which have been received with critical acclaim. Even better, all their coffees are organic and Fair Trade certified. Thus, you can rest assured that the coffee growers and their environment were well treated in the making of your morning brew.
Kicking Horse’s light roast is called the Hola, a blend of beans from across Central and South America. It tastes of rich dark chocolate, cacao nibs, brown sugar, and roasted hazelnuts. All this with accompanying aromas of ripe berries, nougat, and brown sugar.
A juicy currant acidity is balanced by a creamy honey body, making it a great choice for a pour over brewer. The mellow body and smooth flavors of the Hola beans make them one of the best coffees for cold brew.
2. Onyx Coffee Lab Roaster Sample Box – Best Gourmet Coffee
- Aroma: Varies
- Taste: Varies
Use for: Pour over, cold brew
At less than ten years old, Onyx Coffee Lab is a relatively new company operating out of Arkansas. Their founders couldn’t find any coffee in the region good enough to drink black. Therefore, they set out to produce their own. The result is coffee so good it needs no disguise. They also offer some of the best subscription boxes.
Impeccable sourcing is the reason for their success. They travel to coffee growing regions seeking the top green beans for a clean, flavorful, and interesting cup. Their sourcing is then backed up with rigorous laboratory testing to optimize roast levels and produce the perfect blends.
Their light roast sample pack varies, as they strive to deliver only the freshest seasonal whole bean coffee. At present, that includes three single origin whole bean coffee packets and a finely crafted blend. But you can rest assured that no matter the season, you will be getting top quality specialty coffee.
The single origin Peru Vilcaniza features flavors of molasses, concord grape, and juicy apple. Differently, the Colombia Aponte Village offers raw honey, papaya, black tea, and plum. The Ethiopia Bensa Shantawene is characterized by notes of peach, honey, kiwi, and cream soda. The Tropical Weather blend consists of two different Ethiopian beans. It balances flavors of mango, pineapple, peach sweet tea, and floral honey.
To really showcase the sweet, fruit forward flavors of these coffees, Onyx recommends brewing using a pour over technique like the Kalita Wave and serving the coffee black. At least for the first taste. These beans would also make a delicious foundation for a slow-steeped cold brew.
3. Cafe 1820 Tueste Claro – Best Blend
- Aroma: Vanilla, honey, red fruits
- Taste: Brown sugar, citrus, apricot
- Use for: Drip coffee, pour over, Aeropress
Cafe 1820 is a Costa Rican coffee roaster. They source and roast their whole beans in the highlands of Costa Rica. The name 1820 is significant as that was the first year that Costa Rican coffee beans were exported to Panama, jumpstarting Costa Rica’s fledgling coffee industry. That industry is now globally recognized, known for its remarkably high quality and variety.
Their light roast is the newest addition to the line up. It’s a blend of coffees from around the country, all sourced above 3,600’ to ensure the dense, high-quality beans. With 8 main growing regions, Costa Rican coffee offers considerable diversity. Moreover, this blend takes advantage of that to yield a balanced and versatile brew. It features a moderate body and pronounced acidity, with flavors of brown sugar, citrus, and apricot. The mild aroma is soft and sweet, reminiscent of honey, vanilla, and red fruits.
Like many light roasts, this one benefits from a paper filter brewing technique, like a pour over or drip coffee maker. For a more intense brew, it also does well in an Aeropress, as the immersion technique better extracts the subtle sweet notes.
4. Real Good Coffee Co. Breakfast Blend – Most Versatile
- Aroma: Milk chocolate, cream
- Taste: Citrus
- Use for: Drip coffee, espresso maker, Aeropress, pour over, moka pot
The Real Good Coffee Company lives up to their name when it comes to their signature breakfast blend. Based in Seattle, a city at the forefront of coffee innovation, they have 30 years of experience when it comes to importing and roasting coffee.
The breakfast blend is made from premium quality arabica whole bean coffee without any additives or preservatives. The beans are sourced in Central and South America. They’re then craft roasted to a perfect light roast in Seattle, and packaged sustainably in fully recyclable materials.
The result is a brew with smooth flavor, mild body, and vibrant acidity. Its dominant tasting note is citrus, which is nicely balanced with aromas of milk chocolate and cream. The combination makes it a perfect pick-me-up to start your day.
We love this coffee for its versatility when it comes to brewing methods. This well-balanced blend will taste equally delicious from a drip coffee machine, Aeropress, pour over brewer, or moka pot. It can even be used for espresso, with its creamy aroma making for a particularly appealing latte.
5. Starbucks Veranda Blend – Best for Espresso Drinks
- Aroma: Floral, caramel
- Taste: Soft cocoa, toasted nuts
- Use for: French press, espresso machine
Light roasts aren’t usually the best espresso beans, as their acidity too often verges on sour. However, the Starbucks Veranda blend is the rare exception. It features beans sourced from across Latin America and perfectly balanced to a medium acidity with a mellow body.
The predominant flavors are the cocoa and nut notes often highlighted in a typical espresso. Sweet floral and caramel aromas offer something a little out of the ordinary. If you’re looking for an espresso with a bit more brightness than you’re used to, consider this blend.
Starbucks is known for roasting coffee a little darker at each grade than is standard, and this blonde roast is no exception. While this can lend a burnt flavor to their dark roasts, it serves the Veranda blend very well. Though it claims to be a blonde roast, it actually trends closer to a light-medium. This profile emphasizes the chocolate and nut tones without lending any additional bitterness or smokiness.
If you don’t have an espresso machine, the richer flavor of these light roasted coffee beans is also nicely highlighted by an immersion brewing method or a cold brew.
6. Cameron’s Coffee Breakfast Blend – Best Budget
- Aroma: Earthy
- Taste: Bright, fruity
- Use for: Drip coffee, pour over
Cameron’s Breakfast Blend may have caught our notice for its remarkably low price. Still, it held our attention with its arresting flavor. Made of beans sourced from Central and South America, this smooth blend has a surprisingly rich flavor for a light coffee roast, tasting of bright and juicy fruits. At the same time, its aroma tends toward earthy, providing the perfect counterbalance.
Cameron’s is a family company based in small-town Minnesota. Their coffees are sustainably sourced, putting an emphasis on the well-being of farmers and their environment. They use only arabica beans and choose only the top 10% from around the globe. They updated their state of the art roasting facility to reduce water consumption. Moreover, the beans are roasted in small batches to ensure you are getting them as fresh as possible.
With its fruit forward flavors, the Breakfast Blend ground coffee is brewed most effectively using a drip coffee machine or a pour over method. Both methods will maintain the blend’s mild body and juicy mouthfeel.
7. Bulletproof Luminate – Best for Coffee Geeks
- Aroma: Vanilla, hazelnut
- Taste: Milk chocolate, berry, orange, citrus
- Use for: Drip coffee, French press, Bulletproof style
With their focus on scientific research and claims to improve both your health and mental acuity, Bulletproof Coffee has developed a loyal following (6). While not everyone is thrilled with the idea of blending butter in their morning brew, these light roast beans have some appealing qualities no matter how they’re consumed.
Bulletproof was built around the notion of offering the healthiest, most life-enriching coffees. They have certainly developed some valuable practices as a result. All of their beans are certified organic and hand-picked by skilled farmers. They employ a proprietary roasting process that minimizes the formation of mold toxins. Mold toxins are present in small quantities in most coffees, particularly in lower priced ones. After roasting, the beans are lab tested to ensure they meet rigorous purity standards.
The single origin beans used in the light roast are meticulously harvested from high altitude estates in Guatemala. Their tasting notes include berries, orange, citrus, and milk chocolate. These notes are accompanied by aromas of vanilla and hazelnut for an overall sweet and soothing coffee experience.
Bulletproof’s ground coffee should be brewed in a drip coffee machine which will emphasize their natural sweetness. If you’re feeling adventurous, try them Bulletproof style. Add 1 cup of coffee, 1 tablespoon of MCT oil, and 1 tablespoon of unsalted butter to a blender and blend for 30 seconds until it resembles a latte.
8. Stone Street Coffee Ethiopian Yirgacheffe – Best Single Origin
- Aroma: Dark chocolate, floral lavender, aromatic cedar
- Taste: Ripe strawberry, pineapple, and guava
- Use for: Pour over
Lighter roasts are perfect for highlighting the complexity of single origin coffee. This is certainly the case with the award-winning Ethiopian Yirgacheffe from Stone Street Coffee. Founded in 2009, Stone Street is a micro-roasterie based in Brooklyn, New York. They specialize in small batch roasting, using start-of-the-art equipment to enhance the flavor profiles and unique characteristics of their single origin beans.
The Yirgacheffe region in southern Ethiopia, the birthplace of coffee, is known for producing floral and fruit toned coffees. Their coffees are highlighted by their natural processing method. Uniquely, much of the crop is harvested from wild coffee trees, for an exotic and complex flavor with pleasant acidity (7).
This whole bean coffee is a medium body brew with brilliant acidity and a plush mouthfeel. Fruity flavor notes like ripe strawberry, pineapple, and guava dominate. Still, there are also tones of dark chocolate, floral lavender, and aromatic cedar in both aroma and taste. An expertly done pour over brew is the perfect way to experience the nuances of this single origin bean.
Experimenting with light roast coffee is an excellent way to get to know the inherent flavors of coffee beans and how they vary by region. In general, light roasts offer a rich sweetness in taste and aroma that is balanced by a bright acidity and mild body.
Our favorite this year is Kicking Horse’s Hola. This carefully crafted blend tastes of dark chocolate and roasted hazelnuts, while offering sweet aromas of berries, nougat, and brown sugar. Brew some in a pour over device or slow steep a batch of cold brew, and we guarantee you won’t be disappointed.
A blonde coffee is a relatively new term that refers to a roast that is actually lighter than the typical light roasted coffee. However, some companies use the term generically to mean light roast, which can be confusing.
Dark roast coffee is more bitter. However, the type of coffee bean and the method of preparation can also play a role in perceived bitterness.
Yes, light roast coffee is more acidic than dark roast. Still, this can also be influenced by the type of bean as much as the darkness of the roast. If you want to reduce the acidity of your light roast, consider adding a pinch of salt during brewing or a splash of milk to your finished cup (8).
- Latvakangas, S. (2017, May). Coffee Roasting Basics: Developing Flavor By Roasting. Retrieved from https://www.baristainstitute.com/blog/sampo-latvakangas/may-2017/coffee-roasting-basics-developing-flavour-roasting
- Delany, A. (2019, February 5). What’s the Difference Between Light and Dark Roast Coffee? Retrieved from https://www.bonappetit.com/story/difference-between-light-and-dark-roast-coffee
- Caffeine Myths: Dark vs. Light. (n.d.). Retrieved from https://www.kickinghorsecoffee.com/en/blog/caffeine-myths-dark-vs-light
- Balwin, J. (2009, June 22). Arabica vs. Robusta: No Contest. Retrieved from https://www.theatlantic.com/health/archive/2009/06/arabica-vs-robusta-no-contest/19780/
- Aroma and flavour descriptors. (n.d.) Retrieved from https://www.coffeeandhealth.org/all-about-coffee/aroma-and-flavour-descriptors/
- Rubin, C. (2014, December 12). The Cult of the Bulletproof Coffee Diet. Retrieved from https://www.nytimes.com/2014/12/14/style/the-cult-of-the-bulletproof-coffee-diet.html
- Charles, S. (2019, September 25). Yirgacheffe, Sidamo & More: A Guide to Ethiopian Coffee. Retrieved from https://perfectdailygrind.com/2019/09/yirgacheffe-sidamo-more-a-guide-to-ethiopian-coffee/
- Pocasangre, F. (2018, May 16). Why Are Some Coffees More Acidic Than Others? A Brew & Roast Guide. Retrieved from https://perfectdailygrind.com/2018/05/why-are-some-coffees-more-acidic-than-others-a-brew-roast-guide/