The Color of Coffee: Why Are Beans Different Colors?

This article explains the color of coffee, with pros and cons. It also covers what to look out for.

You’d be surprised how the color of coffee beans affects your coffee’s taste, texture, and strength. Most coffee lovers buy coffee beans without thinking about their color, but this is a mistake. So, why are different coffee beans different colors, and which is best for me?

Well, grab your cup of coffee, and let’s find out!

4 Factors Behind A Coffee Bean’s Color Palette

Light and dark coffee beans

Several factors affect not only the color of your bean, but the coffee’s body, taste, and smell. 

1. Location

There are over 70 countries that grow and produce coffee beans. Each country has preferred farming techniques and production methods which affect the color of coffee beans produced.

Ethiopia is the birthplace of the coffee plant, and their beans are often light brown. They have a wide coffee gene pool, meaning you can find almost any type of coffee in Ethiopia. 

This region doesn’t have the best coffee infrastructure so they cannot mass produce to the same scale as other countries. So they put in the effort to ensure that the beans they produce are high-quality.

Colombian coffee is mainly grown from the Arabica tree, which contains less caffeine and more flavor. This region is also known for dark brown coffee beans.

Kenyan coffee is mainly produced via the washed method, which gives it a crisp feel, an acidic taste, and a sweet aftertaste. Most African coffees are famous for their sweet and fruity notes.

And lastly, Brazil. Brazil produced over 2 million metric tons of coffee beans in 2016 and has over 27,000 square km dedicated to growing coffee. Unlike other Latin American countries like Colombia and Peru, Brazil’s coffee isn’t grown high in the Andes mountains. It’s grown at lower elevations which gives it an earthy, rustic taste and brown color.

2. Grade

The grade is defined by how big and ripe the coffee beans are. The biggest beans are the ripest and most flavorful. In Kenya, the top grade is AA and AB while in Colombia, it’s called Supremo.

Generally, the riper the coffee bean, the darker it is. More extracted oils equate to more flavor. 

Think of it as a peach, if you pick it too early, you won’t be able to bite into it, and it’ll lack flavor. But if you pick later, it’ll be softer and more flavorful. Coffee is the same.

3. Altitude

Altitude has a powerful effect on a coffee bean’s color and flavor profile. Most high-quality coffee is grown above 3500 feet.

Coffee beans grown on a flat, low plain will experience greater heat and less ventilation, giving it a more earthy and rustic flavor. It also darkens the coffee bean.

Low altitude coffee is often seen as low-quality coffee with less bean density. It also loses its flavors and goes stale quicker than high altitude coffee. 

This isn’t always the case. A famous example is Kona, Hawaii. It has a low altitude. Their coffee beans are grown far below 2000 feet, and they still produce high-quality coffee that’s hard to beat, even for 5000+ feet growers. But this is an exception, not the rule.

High altitude coffee beans experience more rain and clouds and get more intense heat from time to time. Growing coffee beans at a high-altitude mean more difficult accessibility, greater difficulty planting, and fewer yields per year, making it more expensive.

High altitude coffee beans have a more fruity and floral taste. It also lasts longer.

4. Roast

The roasting process is by far the most important factor behind the color of a coffee bean.

The longer the coffee bean is roasted, the darker it gets.

Light roasts have more of its original flavors and natural qualities that coffee has to offer. It contains multilayers of flavors like fruitiness, sweetness, and rustic. It also has a lighter body because it hasn’t been roasted long enough to produce caramelized oils and sugars.

With dark roasts, the bright tones and original flavors disappear and are overwhelmed by the oils released in the roasting process.

Darker roasts often have a fuller body and texture making them great for creating espresso crema.

It also offers an oiler, bittersweet, and chocolaty aftertaste.

Think of roasting coffee like saucing your food. Too little, and you’ll end up wanting more flavor, too much and it overwhelms the taste of your food. Coffee is the same.

If the roast is too dark, then a lot of natural flavors will be overwhelmed by the oils extracted from the roast. Too light and it will taste bland.

Dark Coffee Beans

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Pros

  • Darkly roasted coffee beans are better for fast extraction processes where water only touches the coffee for a few seconds e.g. espresso or AeroPress
  • More oil is released from the coffee beans because of the longer roasting process
  • Darkly roasted coffee beans have low acidity and a heavier body, making them better for creating espresso crema
  • Dark coffee beans offer a great balance between the coffee’s original flavors and natural oils.
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Cons

  • Roasters will roast low-quality coffee for longer to hide any defects.More oil is released from the coffee beans because of the longer roasting process
  • Natural flavors can be overwhelmed by the caramel flavors released by a longer roasting process.
  • If it’s roasted for too long, there will be no natural flavors left. This can leave an unpleasant burnt taste in your mouth.

2 Common Myths Surrounding Coffee Bean Colors

1. Darker Roasts Of Coffee Is Stronger

How strong your coffee is, depends on your coffee to water ratio, not the color of your beans. 

This myth is popular because dark roast beans are famous for their charcoal, toasty, and caramel notes which can make them appear stronger.

Also, roasters will roast beans for longer to make up for any defects. They often roast it for too long, and this removes most flavors while replacing it with a taste of burntness. It isn't the barista who burned your coffee, and it's the roaster.

2. Darker Roasts Of Coffee Contains More Caffeine

All beans have a similar amount of caffeine in them, whether they’re roasted for long under high heat, or for a short while low heat.

Coffee is roasted at 400 degrees Fahrenheit and this isn’t enough to break down or degrade the caffeine within the coffee bean.

Light Roasted Coffee Beans

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Pros

  • Contains natural flavors
  • More acidic and has a brighter flavor than darker roasts.
  • Roasters cannot hide defects by roasting it for longer
  • Better for slow-extraction methods like Chemex Brewed Coffee since water is in contact with the coffee grounds for longer
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Cons

  • Isn’t recommended for espresso
  • Less oil released due to the shortened roasting period, resulting in less flavor
  • Has a light body, so you won’t get that thick crema on your shot of espresso

So, Which Coffee Color Is Best?

If you’re a coffee aficionado and you only want the best quality beans possible, then lighter roasts are better. Most dark roast beans are only roasted to cover up any defects but, lighter roasts don’t have this privilege. So the bean must be on point.

If you’re an espresso junkie like me, then dark roasted beans are best. They have a fuller and heavier body that’ll give your espresso shot that famous crema on top that we all love and enjoy.

Color of Coffee: The Final Word

Good coffee comes in all different colors. Although color can reveal a lot, the quality of the main types of coffee beans are determined by where and how they were grown. Also consider your preferred coffee drink when selecting those beans.

Author

  • A E Inman is a direct response copywriter and humor blogger. When she's not poking fun at her attempts to start a writing business, she can be found in the tea aisle of her local import store, arguing with strangers over the merits of rare tea varietals. She enjoys writing copy while consuming copious amounts of coffee and gunpowder tea.