What Is White Coffee?

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.

What is white coffee? When you think about that question, does black coffee with milk or cream spring to mind?

Perhaps you think about Ipoh white coffee from Malaysia? The drink made from beans roasted in margarine and served with sweetened condensed milk.

There's another option: a more recent innovation that's becoming increasingly popular. That type of white coffee is all about the roasting process and the roasting temperature.

Read on to find out more.

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 of many. In fact, according to research, coffee is the third most popular beverage in the US. Where does white coffee fit into that picture?

You may have seen white coffee as an option in a coffee shop recently, 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. There's no specific recipe, much like Chai in India.

White Coffee Production

Not to be confused with the flat white or any other coffee that uses a whitener, white coffee refers to an extremely light roast. That explains why it's sometimes referred to as light coffee.

The coffee beans are roasted at around 325 Fahrenheit and for half the time of regular coffee The result is an incredibly hard bean that needs to be grinding with a specialized grinder.

For that reason, if you buy white coffee to brew at home, it will most likely arrive pre-ground. For comparison, 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. Note: white coffee comes from the same green coffee beans as traditional coffee and can be robusta or arabica beans.

The Flavor of White Coffee

Because of the way it's roasted, white coffee beans do not take on some of the characteristics you find with traditional roasts. The consistency of the ground beans is the same as a regular roast. It's after brewing that you'll notice differences.

Taste-wise, white coffee is described as nutty. The natural sugars found in coffee beans don't carmelize at lower temperatures, meaning there's low bitterness.

What's more, the short roasting time stops organic chlorogenic acids in the beans from evaporating. The result? Pronounced acidity that gives the beverage a distinct punch.

And the specialized process results in a smooth and luxurious coffee. 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 brew. Furthermore, it means the flavor will also depend on the origin of the bean. And as with all coffee, the quality of the bean is vital.

Some people say that white coffee tastes stronger than their usual cup. You may see white coffee advertised as containing 50% more caffeine than regular coffee.

Caffeine content indeed reduces with roasting. That means ultra-low roasted white coffee retains a higher caffeine level. However, the gains are minimal – more like 5%.

If you're a coffee lover and you want a highly caffeinated coffee, source a particular bean rather than the light roast of white coffee.

How To Prepare White Coffee

what is white coffee
White coffee can be prepared in an espresso machine

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

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

If you don't have an espresso machine, any device that produces a concentrated brew will work. For example, an AeroPress or a Moka pot. And if you fancy trying the Yemeni version, add some hawaij.

Because white coffee has gained in popularity, as well as brewing it at home, you'll be able to order it from a barista in some coffee shops.

The Health Benefits of White Coffee

Marketing strategies make bold claims with regards to white coffee. It's considered that the low roast increases chlorogenic acid levels which in turn helps the body's natural defences 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 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.

The Final Word on What Is White Coffee?

In this article, we're not defining Malaysian white coffee or coffee with creamer. The white coffee we're referring to is a type of coffee originating in Yemen, where lightly roasted beans are mixed with hawaij.

That white coffee refers to a very light roast, where the beans are roasted at about 325 Fahrenheit and for less time than regular coffee. There's a nutty taste, acidity, and little bitterness.

Some of the claims made about white coffee do not hold up. For instance, a cup of white coffee doesn't contain 50% more caffeine than regular coffee. And science has shown that the health benefits are marginal.

What it comes down to are experimentation and personal preference.


  • 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.