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Evolution of the Northwest Espresso Bar, Part 4

Roast Color

Welcome back to a look at the evolution of the Northwest Espresso Bar over the past twenty-five years! Past topics included marketing coffee beans and cup sizes. Today, let’s take a look at changes in desired Roast Color.

Twenty-five years ago, Specialty Coffee was mainly defined in the Northwest by coffee that was roasted very dark with pungent oil. Over the years, roasting styles are changing. For this piece, I will begin discussing the darkest roasts and move to the lighter. Note there are more names and definitions of Roast Color but this highlights the major categories.

COLOR vanilla bean


dark brown black
ROAST FLAVOR herbal, floral nut chocolate


OLD NAME Shit Light Roast Full City French Roast
NEW NAME Light Roast Dark French Shit

Let’s start by discussing the darkest roast. In the early ’90’s, we called this “French Roast”. Today, many baristas call this “shit”. At this roast color the coffee is pungent and the flavor of burnt toast, lacking all varietal distinction. Thankfully, more and more espresso bars moved away from this roast over the years.

The next level below this darkest roast was called “Full City” which twenty-five years ago was the “holy grail” that required the master roaster to pull the coffee out just before the natural oils surfaced. This roast highlights the flavor of chocolate and some varietal distinctives which may include citrus and floral notes, and became the espresso roast of choice for most espresso bars.

Then, backing away from “Full City” was what we used to call “Light Roast”, (the lightest color one dared to roast and serve coffee). This roast will bring out more of the varietal distinctives that may include citrus, floral, herbal, or nut notes.

Today, you see espresso bars and baristas challenging all these old notions and definitions of roast color and flavor of coffee. The “Light Roast” 25 years ago is considered by many today as “Dark”.  So definitions are changing as well as our flavor preferences.

What is this new “Light” roast?  This roast typically brings out exotic flavors including spice, flowers, and previously-undiscovered nuances.  Some coffee beans are better lighter and some darker; each slight change in roast color will highlight something inherent about the particular bean.

So, don’t be afraid to taste different roast colors. You might be surprised in what you discover. Just don’t serve me “shit”.


Pete Miller started in the coffee business 24 years ago. In a personal quest for community and an interest in the emerging coffee house scene, Pete opened a thriving espresso bar in Newberg, Oregon. When he stumbled upon an old cape cod house for sale on Highway 99W near George Fox College (now University), he moved his family of four into the house and opened the coffee shop in the one car garage.





The post Evolution of the Northwest Espresso Bar, Part 4 appeared first on Caravan Coffee.


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