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What is a brown coffee?

What is a brown coffee?

Coffee is one of the most popular beverages in the world, with over 2.25 billion cups consumed per day. Most coffee drinks start out with brown coffee beans that are roasted, ground, and brewed to produce a brown liquid coffee. But what exactly causes coffee to be brown in color? Let’s take a closer look at the roasting process and chemical reactions that give coffee its distinctive brown hue.

What Makes Coffee Beans Brown

Coffee beans start off green in color. They are the seeds of the coffee cherries grown on coffee plants. When coffee beans are roasted, their green color changes to various shades of brown. This is due to chemical reactions called the Maillard Reaction and caramelization.

The Maillard Reaction occurs when the natural sugars and amino acids in the coffee beans are heated. The heat causes these compounds to react, producing hundreds of new flavor and aroma compounds. This reaction also produces brown pigments called melanoidins that color the coffee beans.

Caramelization is another process that takes place during roasting. It happens when the sugars in the beans crystallize and brown. As these sugars brown, they produce nutty, sweet, and smoky flavors.

By varying factors such as temperature, time, and roast degree, roasters can control these reactions to produce beans with different shades and intensities of brown color. Darker roasts undergo more extensive Maillard browning and caramelization, resulting in a darker brown color.

How Roasting Develops Brown Coffee Beans

Coffee beans are roasted using machines that control temperature and roast time. In general, there are four stages of roasting that produce varying shades of brown:

Light Roast

A light roast involves roasting at lower temperatures for a shorter period of time. The beans will reach an internal temperature of approximately 355-400°F. Light roasted beans have a light brown color and maintain more of their original aroma and acidity.

Medium Roast

Medium roasts use moderate temperatures and roast time. The beans are roasted to an internal temperature of 400-430°F. They will be a medium brown in color and exhibit more body and sweetness compared to light roasts.

Dark Roast

Dark roasts use higher temperatures and longer roast times. Beans are roasted to 455°F or higher. They reach a dark brown or almost black color. Oils appear on the surface. The flavor profile displays more roast character than acidity.

Very Dark Roast

A very dark roast continues roasting to just before the point of burning. Beans are extremely dark brown, nearly black, and quite oily. At this roast level, the original bean flavor is eclipsed by roast characteristics.

As you can see, the degree of roasting transforms the beans’ color from light brown to very dark brown. The roasting process not only changes the color of the beans, but also develops their distinctive flavor, aroma, and mouthfeel.

How Roasting Affects Coffee Flavor

The Maillard reaction and caramelization are responsible for the formation of coffee’s complex flavor and aroma compounds. Here’s an overview of how roasting influences coffee flavor:

  • Light roasts preserve more bright, fruity, and floral notes from the bean.
  • Medium roasts develop sweeter notes like caramel, cocoa, and nuts.
  • Dark roasts feature roast-dominant flavors like bittersweet chocolate, charred wood, and smoke.

Acidity diminishes as the roast gets darker. The acids transform into sweeter, smoother flavors. Body also increases with darker roasts. Oils present on dark roasted beans give the coffee a fuller mouthfeel.

The brown color of coffee beans correlates with the development of the flavor. Therefore, the degree of roasting strongly influences the overall flavor profile and experience of the brewed coffee.

Does Roast Level Indicate Caffeine Content?

Many people assume that dark roasts contain more caffeine because they taste stronger. However, the roast level does not actually correlate with caffeine content. In fact, lighter roasts contain slightly more caffeine.

Here’s an overview of how caffeine content relates to roast level:

Roast Level Caffeine Content
Light roast Higher caffeine
Medium roast Moderate caffeine
Dark roast Lower caffeine

During the roasting process, caffeine is one of the first compounds to start breaking down. Therefore, the longer the beans are roasted, the more caffeine is lost. While the difference in caffeine content between light and dark roasts is relatively small, light roasts do end up containing a bit more.

How is Coffee’s Brown Color Preserved?

To maintain the fresh brown color and prevent degradation of the beans, proper storage is essential. Here are some tips for preserving coffee bean color and freshness:

  • Store beans in an airtight container away from light, air, heat, and moisture.
  • Refrigerate or freeze beans if storing for more than 2 weeks.
  • Buy beans in small batches and use within 1-2 weeks for optimal freshness.
  • Avoid clear containers or bags that expose beans to light.
  • Don’t store beans near strong-smelling foods that can impart odors.

With proper storage, you can retain the beans’ distinctive brown shades and prevent them from fading or whitening, which diminishes freshness. Proper storage also maintains the aromatic oils in the beans so their flavors and aromas don’t degrade.

Brewing Methods that Produce Brown Coffee

While roasting gives coffee beans their brown hue, the brewing method influences the color of the final liquid coffee. Common methods that produce a brown coffee brew include:

Drip Coffee

Drip coffee makers heat water and drip it over ground coffee in a filter. The filters contain paper that absorbs oils from the coffee, resulting in a lighter brown brew.

French Press

With a French press, coarse coffee grounds steep directly in hot water. The mesh filter allows more oils to pass into the final brew, creating a darker brown coffee.

Moka Pot

Moka pots force hot water and steam through coffee grounds to produce an extract. The brew often has a rich, dark brown color.

Cold Brew

Cold brew involves steeping ground coffee in room temperature or cold water for 12-24 hours. It makes a very smooth but highly concentrated brown liquid.


Espresso is made by forcing hot water under pressure through very finely ground coffee. Good crema on top can give espresso a rich, thick brown color.

Factors like roast level, grind size, and contact time with water impact the brown tones exhibited by these brewing methods. But in general, most methods will extract and suspend enough coffee compounds to achieve familiar brown colored coffee.

Does Adding Ingredients Change Coffee’s Color?

Adding other ingredients besides water to brewed coffee can alter its natural brown color. Some additions make the color lighter, while others make it darker. For example:

  • Creamer or milk – Lightens the coffee’s color and adds opacity.
  • Sugar – Slightly lightens clear/black coffee to tan/lighter brown hues.
  • Vanilla syrup – Tints the coffee slightly tan or lighter brown.
  • Caramel syrup – Produces a darker, reddish-brown coffee color.
  • Cocoa powder – Darkens the coffee with chocolate brown tones.

The intensity of the color change depends on the amount of added ingredient. More creamer gives a lighter brown while more cocoa powder makes it very dark. Additions like spices (cinnamon, nutmeg) and herbs (mint) typically don’t noticeably alter the coffee’s brown color.

Common Types of Brown Coffee Drinks

Many popular coffee drinks incorporate brown coffee along with other ingredients. Here are some storied brown coffee beverages:


Cappuccinos exhibit beautiful layers of dark brown espresso, steamed milk, and milk foam. Cocoa powder can be sprinkled on top for additional brown tones.


This drink features espresso topped with hot water creating a lighter brown color. Adding cream can lighten it further.


Lattes contain espresso and steamed milk with fine foam. The milk tames the brown espresso to produce a tan or mocha-colored beverage.


Blended Frappuccinos combine coffee, milk, syrups, and ice. They exhibit swirled patterns of light and dark brown colors.

Irish Coffee

Irish coffee incorporates black coffee with Irish whiskey and cream. The whiskey adds brown-red hues while the cream lightens it.

The next time you enjoy one of these popular coffee drinks, take a moment to appreciate the lovely brown colors provided by the coffee itself. The shades of brown signify coffee’s rich flavors and aromas.


Brown coffee gets its distinctive color from chemical reactions called the Maillard Reaction and caramelization that occur when coffee beans are roasted. By controlling temperature and time, roasters can achieve different shades of brown that correlate to the coffee’s flavor profile. While ingredients can alter the final color, brewing methods allow the brown hues to carry through to your cup of joe.

So for coffee lovers who crave full-bodied taste along with rich visual appeal, few things surpass a freshly roasted and brewed cup of brown coffee.