This article was first published in July 2000 and was updated with new text and photos in August 2011.
Professional coffee roasters will often use a color chart put out by the Speciality Coffee Association of America (S.C.A.A.) in order to define their roast color levels. The chart is called the “SCAA/Agtron Roast Color Classification System”, which includes high resolution color tiles. The kit runs $290 and can be purchased on their web site. Most home roasters have better things to spend their money on, namely more coffee beans. But, like professional roasters, they also need to be able to articulate roast color levels to other roasters or for their own roasting logs.
In the article Coffee Roasts: Notes from a Non-Roaster, we learned using common terms can be problematic. What is dark to one person may be medium to another. What we need is a common color language that we can speak. And that is the motivation for this page. It is to help home coffee roasters and coffee drinkers communicate roast level preferences based off photos.
Viewing distinct roast colors is not ideal for a computer monitor. Our monitors may differ in the numbers of colors viewable and it is likely that our brightness levels vary as well. So the photos in the roast below may slightly look different from screen to screen. When this article was first published way back in 2000, the variations were much greater. It should be less of an issue in 2011. With that said, below is a budget coffee roast color chart. This is not a replacement for the SCAA Agtron chart. The SCAA chart is much more specific, and there are far more than eight different colors of roasts represented on it.
- Home roasting logs or journals. Important for duplicating blends.
- When roasting for someone else. (Example: “Dad told me he likes his coffee roasted to Level 4.”)
- Combining color information with time to detect faulty roasting equipment. (Example: It took 8 minutes to hit Level 2 using a ….)
The Home Roaster Color Chart
When I first began home roasting back in 1998, I pretty much roasted everything to Level 7 and if I wasn’t paying attention it went to Level 8. Over the years, my tastes have changed and these days I favor roasts between Level 4 and Level 5. You can also vary the Level based upon the region of the bean or brewing method. Take notes and experiment.
Roasting Coffee in a Popcorn Popper – Tutorial on home roasting coffee using a popcorn popper.
Coffee Roasts: Notes from a Non-Roaster – A follow-up article on the language of discussing coffee roast colors.
In 2007, Michael moved to America's coffee capitol Seattle, Washington. He has visited close to two hundred different coffee places in Seattle, Portland and Vancouver and met many of the top roasters and baristas in the country. Since 2009, Michael has been the Organizer of the Coffee Club of Seattle, which is a Meetup group of over 600 coffee enthusiants. Besides the social aspect of the group, the Coffee Club of Seattle partners with local coffee professionals for educational events such as coffee cuppings, brewing demonstrations and roasting tours.
Unrelated to coffee, Michael has a personal blog at CriticalMAS.com which covers several topics including fitness, cooking and finance.