What Is White Coffee?

What is white coffee? We delve into the pale beige drink that originated in Yemen and has a distinct nutty flavor, pronounced acidity, and low bitterness.

Malaysian white coffee
A Malaysian white coffee made from beans roasted in margarine

What is white coffee? When you consider that question, you probably think of black coffee with milk or cream. Or perhaps the Ipoh white coffee, a Malaysian white coffee made from beans roasted in margarine and served with sweetened condensed milk.

However, this article focuses on another type of white coffee, which goes through a roasting process at a different roasting temperature than the regular coffee you are used to.

There are claims that it has health benefits, along with the bonus of containing more caffeine than you would get in your regular cup of joe.

The Origins of White Coffee

What is white coffee?
White coffee origins lay in the Middle East

With a centuries-old history, coffee is the drink of choice for many. In fact, according to research, coffee is the third most popular beverage in the US. And let’s be honest; it’s a fantastic drink that helps millions of people across the country start their day with a little boost.

However, where does white coffee fit into the picture, and if it’s so good, why isn’t it considered the status quo drink for American coffee drinkers? Well, the answer is that it’s growing in popularity, and more and more people are actually choosing this type of coffee. To understand its future, you have to look at its past.

You may have recently seen white coffee as an option in a coffee shop, but its roots go way back to the Middle East and Yemen. There, the roasted beans are flavored with a spice mix called hawaij. The mixture usually contains ginger and cardamom.

Other flavors, such as cinnamon, cumin, black pepper, nutmeg, and turmeric, may also be present. And if you are looking for a specific recipe for it, then you should stop, as there isn’t one that is universally cited.

Instead, similarly to chai in India, people make it while considering their own tastes and preferences. White coffee’s long history is discussed by the small-batch coffee company Poverty Bay Coffee on their website.

It reads: “The process behind roasting white coffee has been around for at least 50 years. In the past, you could find it here and there but it wasn’t until 2015 that word started to spread that this “other” kind of coffee was perfect for lattes and had a better caffeine kick.” It’s definitely growing in popularity and does have many benefits. At the same time, it is also not the panacea that some claim it to be.

White Coffee Production

Not to be confused with the flat white or any other coffee drink that uses a whitener, white coffee refers to an extremely light roast. That explains why it’s also sometimes referred to as light coffee. However, the bean isn’t really white, but more of lighter brown type color.

White coffee is made when the coffee beans are roasted at around 325 Fahrenheit for approximately half the time of regular coffee. The result is a tough roasted coffee bean because the usual roasting procedure does not soften it. Therefore, it also has to be ground with a specialized grinder.

For that reason, if you buy white coffee to brew at home, it will most likely arrive pre-ground and ready for you to brew with. For comparison, coffee beans are usually roasted between 450 and 480 Fahrenheit to achieve standard light-to-dark roasts. Brewing at a lower temperature results in a cup of coffee that is pale, beige in color, and unique-looking.

It is also worth noting that white coffee comes from the same green coffee beans as traditional coffee and can be robusta or arabica beans. As per usual, the quality of the coffee is also dependent on the quality of the coffee beans.

The Flavor of White Coffee

There are several key differences between white coffee and black coffee. However, the most significant contrasts are in roasting temperature and flavor. Both of them begin with a green coffee bean, although the white coffee bean is roasted at a lower temperature, allowing it to keep slightly more caffeine than is in black coffee.

Because of the way it’s roasted, white coffee beans take on some different characteristics than what you find with your typical pour-over morning brew. Of course, the consistency of the ground beans is the same as a regular roast. It’s after brewing that you’ll notice differences.

Taste-wise, its coffee flavor it is often described as nutty. And because the natural sugars found in coffee beans don’t go through the usual caramelization process at lower temperatures, it retains a sweetness and is also low on bitterness.

In fact, some say that it is ideal for coffee for those who aren’t crazy about the taste of strong coffee. Moreover, the short roasting time stops the organic chlorogenic acids in the beans from evaporating. The result is a pronounced acidity that gives the beverage a distinct punch and aftertaste when compared to the regular brew you get in your local coffee house.

And the specialized process results in a smooth and luxurious coffee that you also don’t really get in darker roasts. If the white coffee taste is too different for you, it is recommended that you mix it with your regular coffee as you get used to the change.

Given that white coffee is all about the roasting method instead of a specific bean, it can be brewed using beans from around the world. That makes it a versatile type of coffee with an interesting flavor profile.

You may see white coffee advertised as containing 50% more caffeine than regular coffee too. However, that is simply not true. Caffeine content is reduced with roasting. However, the ultra-low roasted white coffee retains only a slightly higher caffeine level. Generally speaking, this is thought to be about 5 percent more than your typical roasted coffee. Of course, if you have a few cups every day, this can definitely make a difference.

How To Prepare White Coffee

How to prepare white coffee?
White coffee can be prepared in an espresso machine

White coffee is best brewed as a shot in an espresso machine. However, that doesn’t mean you have to sip white coffee as espresso. The brew can be used as a base for a macchiato, americano, latte, or even a cappuccino.

Despite the name, the pale beverage doesn’t need milk or creamer. Ironically, most regular white coffee drinkers consume theirs black or with almond milk. The latter brings out the nutty flavor even further.

Any device that produces a concentrated brew will work if you don’t have an espresso machine. For example, an AeroPress or a Moka pot. It’s not the ideal type of coffee for a french press, but if that is all you have, then that’s fine too. And if you fancy trying the Yemeni version, add some hawaij.

Because white coffee has grown in popularity, there are many baristas and coffee shops that offer it now. It really is a type of coffee that has traveled the world, with its popularity also growing in the likes of Indonesia, Europe, and the US.

The Health Benefits of White Coffee

Marketing strategies make bold claims regarding white coffee. And while some of these claims about this specialty coffee are true, others quite simply are not.

One of the claims is that the low roast increases chlorogenic acid levels, which in turn helps the body’s natural defenses against cardiovascular disease. And thanks to chlorogenic acid’s antioxidant properties, inflammation is said to decrease.

But scientific studies have shown that although there is some benefit, it’s only marginal. If you’re prone to heartburn or acid reflux, adding dairy may be a good idea to counteract the high acidity of white coffee. But as with all coffee, how you drink it is a personal choice.

Also, if there are health issues associated with consuming a beverage, you are far better consulting a medical professional rather than simply switching coffee types.

There are also previously mentioned claims about increased caffeine. Although there is some truth in that point, it should also be taken with an ounce of cynism as the extra caffeine usually comes in at around 5 percent.

That is not the 50 percent that is claimed by many of the coffee companies. However, it does provide a noticeable difference from the usual dark roast coffee.

It also provides coffee lovers with an alternative to their usual brew and an avenue to explore the world of ground coffee in a way they may not have done up to this point. The low-temperature lightly roasted coffee certainly seems to be gaining more fans every day.


  • Laura E

    Laura Evans is a sucker for the smell of freshly ground coffee beans and won't say no to a steaming mug of amber-hued Thai tea.