Viennese roasts: What are they & why are they so popular?

Matteo Pavoni
October 4, 2021
viennese roast

Once roasters have sourced green beans, it’s their job to unlock the full potential of the coffee, keeping their customers’ tastes firmly in mind.

For example, if their target market prefers espresso-based coffees with milk, then they must roast according to this preference, while trying to maintain the best of the coffee’s distinct characteristics. Striking this balance is often the key to any successful roastery. 

Viennese roasts are among the most popular roast profiles for precisely this reason. Broadly defined as coffee dropped in the early moments of second crack, they tend to have a heavy, syrupy body with rich flavours and muted acidity.

It’s this roast profile that can be found in most Starbucks, but it’s by no means exclusive to the US coffee chain; the smooth, balanced flavours with a mildly intensified degree of bitterness make viennese roasts a popular choice for consumers all over the world.

To find out more about this roast profile, I spoke with 2019 World Cup Taster Champion and founder of Sumo Coffee Roasters, Daniel Horbat.

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Colour is a useful indicator of a coffee’s development during a roast

Using colour to determine roast profiles

A roast profile is a set of parameters that define how a coffee should be, or has been, roasted.

Most roasters are fitted with a probe to measure the temperature of the beans in the drum, a probe to measure the exhaust gas, and an adjustable heat input. Coffee roasters can use these three data points, along with time, to build a reliable roast profile.

However, one of the most obvious indications is bean surface colour. When coffee beans enter the drum, they go from green to yellow to progressively darker shades of brown.

“Colour reading is an important parameter in our roastery.”

By observing the colour of the beans at different stages of the roast, roasters can form a generally accurate idea of the coffee’s development.

While colour alone isn’t enough to provide the whole picture of how the coffee will taste, it tends to offer a reliable indicator for roasters.

“Colour reading is an important parameter in our roastery,” says Daniel Horbat, founder of Sumo Coffee Roasters in Dublin, “but we judge and choose the roast profile by using it alongside cupping.

“By itself, a colour reading will not be a wholly effective method – maybe you achieved the desired roast profile, but that doesn’t mean that that coffee will automatically taste the way you want it to.”

In an attempt to standardise the way in which roast profiles are communicated, the coffee industry has spawned a number of different terms, such as “cinnamon”, “city”, and “full city”. 

The purpose of these are to create a common language around roast profiles and divide broader classifications (light, medium, and dark) into more detailed subcategories.

Viennese roasts are dropped in the early stages of second crack

What is a viennese roast?

Viennese is the term commonly applied to medium-dark roasts, usually with signs of oil migration on the surface of the bean.

In order to develop a coffee to this point, the beans are dropped early into second crack (around around 224°C or 435°F). 

This style of roast usually leads to lower acidity and a higher level bitterness in the cup. According to coffee expert Scott Rao, coffees dropped at this point tend to have a heavy body, with nutty or spicy notes and a relatively high bitterness. However, they don’t usually have the same carbonised, smokey flavours of darker roasts, such as “French” and “Italian”.

According to some, viennese roasts are the point at which origin character begins to be eclipsed by roast character. For this reason, many third wave specialty roasters turn their noses up at this roast profile, instead preferring the high acidity and lighter body of light roasts.

However, that’s not to say viennese roasts don’t have a place in the specialty market. In fact, some coffees perform best when developed to second crack, particularly those intended for espresso.

This is because the added sweetness (brought about by caramelisation of carbohydrates in the beans), heavier body, and lower acidity mean they pair well with milk drinks, such as cappuccinos, macchiatos, and flat whites. The oils, meanwhile, provide a good level of crema, which is essential for espresso-based drinks.

As such, they’re often dubbed “crowd pleasers” thanks to their widespread popularity among coffee consumers. In a recent study, the SCAA found that 65% of coffee consumers in the US add milk or sugar to their coffee, for an average of three cups a day.

Coffee roasting expert Scott Rao refers to viennese roasts as “crowd pleasers”

Should roasters offer viennese roasts?

For many years, “light roasts” have more or less dominated the third wave specialty coffee sector.

Generally considered superior due to both the clarity and the complexity of their flavours, they involve little influence from the roaster, with the aim to bring out the natural characteristics of the coffee rather than impart anything during the roast.

As a result, darker roasts have been pushed aside by many within the specialty coffee community, who believe the balance tips too much towards the roast when the beans are developed much beyond first crack.

“Once you roast dark, you limit yourself to a certain target market.”

This is often the argument when it comes to viennese roasts – that roasting to second crack hides the unique flavours of a well-sourced and processed coffee, highlighting bitterness and body in place of natural acidity and sweetness.

Daniel is someone who shares this view. “Viennese roasts have less of the origin characteristics and less of the original flavours of the bean,” he says. “Really dark roasts are designed to mask low-quality flavours (like leathery, musty notes) and green defects.

“With coffee constantly changing and light roast becoming more and more popular, I will say once you roast dark, you limit yourself to a certain target market.”

High-quality packaging is essential for preserving the distinct characteristics of coffee

Whether roasting dark, medium, or light, the packaging you choose for your coffee is one of the most important decisions for roasters. Not only is it essential for preserving freshness, it can also help reflect your brand identity and showcase your commitment to the environment.

At MTPak Coffee, we offer a wide range of coffee packaging solutions that will help highlight the distinct character of your coffee, from cinnamon to viennese roasts.

Our selection of fully sustainable coffee bags can be customised according to your needs, including additional components such as degassing valves and resealable zippers.

For information about our recyclable coffee bags, contact our team.

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