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What’s the Difference Between Black and White Coffee?

Written by Phil

A coffee enthusiast and traveler, Phil primarily spends his days thinking and writing about coffee. He also writes for HittingEject.com where he explores ideas of culture, psychology, and travel, and occasionally dabbles in horror.

People seem to be wondering what the difference is between white and black coffee. There are several types of white coffee, which are addressed below, but the one I am focusing on is the extremely lightly roasted version. So, what’s the difference between white and black coffee?

White coffee is made from coffee beans that are lightly roasted. They are a yellow color and don’t reach “first crack,” which is a basic requirement for most coffee. The flavor is acidic, nutty, and lacking bitterness.

It should be noted that white coffee does not remotely resemble traditional coffee, either in appearance or flavor.

What is White Coffee?

Confusingly to the average person, there are actually three completely different beverages that are all labeled “white coffee”. They are:

  1. Coffee that is made with milk, such as café au lait, lattes, and cappuccinos.
  2. Ipoh White Coffee: a beverage made from coffee beans that are roasted in palm oil margarine and served with condensed milk. The “white” in question is the color of the resulting coffee.
  3. Barely roasted coffee beans, typically more of a yellow color. It is used primarily to make espresso beverages and is said to make a thin, yellow brew with a highly acidic, sour, nutty flavor.

For the purposes of this article, I will speak of the 3rd.

Uses

Since the beans are so lightly roasted, they have not broken down or cracked at all, resulting in a very hard bean. Like most coffee, they are typically made with arabica beans, though it can occasionally use robusta.

For this reason, they are typically bought pre-ground because even commercial grinders may have issues with them, either giving inconsistent grinds or damaging the equipment.

They are typically only used for espresso beverages, though not other standard forms of coffee. Baristas will often use the second espresso pull because it is believed to have more caffeine and a smoother flavor than the first pull.

The resulting beverage is a thin, yellow brew with acidic, sour, and nutty flavors. Some claim that it is particularly good in mocha-based drinks, making it a chocolatey, nutty beverage.

It tastes nothing like traditional coffee, which is why it is described as coffee for people who don’t like coffee.

Roasting and Caffeine

White coffee, also called “half-baked coffee”, is roasted at a much lower temperature and for a shorter duration than standard coffee; 325ºF instead of the usual 450ºF-480ºF.

Because of this, there is a debate about whether it is more highly caffeinated than darker roasts, but this seems to be an unsound assumption based on the myth of a difference in caffeine between light and dark roasts. The myth is related to how the coffee is measured. 

If you measure by volume, light roasts are less dense and can appear to have more caffeine. If you measure by weight, as most aficionados recommend, then the difference disappears. This leads me to conclude that white coffee should not have any significant difference in caffeine content.

Despite this, some claim it contains 50-70% more caffeine than normally roasted coffee. If this were true, it would be easily provable, but I have found no evidence. You’ll notice anyone who makes this claim provides no sources (except one pointing to a Facebook post! How credible. /s)

It seems they’re likely just echoing other blogs. Welcome to the blogosphere.

Spices

Traditionally, it is made with a mix of spices that originated in Yemen. They are called Hawaij spices, which means “mixture” in Arabic. It can include anise seeds, cardamom, cinnamon, cloves, fennel seeds, and ginger.

Origin

The origin is generally attributed to Yemen, originating centuries ago. Though it’s been around for so long, it is claimed to have been introduced to the west by the strangely-named Dr. Smood. I cannot confirm this; it has also been popularized by the chain, Dutch Bros, who offer white coffee espresso.

What is Black Coffee?

Nothing really surprising here – black coffee is the normally-produced and roasted coffee that you know and love – without milk or whitener added. It is simply pure coffee made with light-to-dark roasted beans. 

If you want to purely make a distinction from white coffee, then it could be considered all standard coffee, with or without milk.

Black coffee is roasted at 450ºF-480ºF, stopping between the first crack and just after the second crack begins. It is what we traditionally know coffee to be, and tastes vastly different from white coffee.

Is White Coffee Bad for You?

White coffee is still made of the same coffee beans you know and love, which means that it also contains all of the antioxidants and nutrients contained in normal coffee. This includes the acid that is linked with a reduction in cardiovascular disease, chlorogenic acid.

Where Can You Buy White Coffee?

Dutch Bros or Dr. Smood’s are reported as having white coffee espresso-based beverages on their menus. 

As well, you can find it at a very affordable price on Amazon for about $15-30 USD for a bag. Worth a try if you have an espresso machine, but remember that it is not made in other traditional ways, such as percolation, immersion, etc.

If interested, you could also approach a local roaster and see if they have experience with it.

TL;DR

White coffee is still using standard coffee beans, but it is baked at lower temperatures for shorter times and don’t even reach the first crack.

It does not taste like traditional coffee, and it is more nutty, acidic, and less bitter. It is often made with a spice mix called Hawaij and is said to pair well with milk and mocha flavors.

Rumor has it that it has more 50-70% caffeine, but there doesn’t seem to be any credible sources backing this up. The only logic behind this is purely supported by the myth of light roasts having more caffeine. This is likely false.

Despite its growing popularity, it’s not widely available in cafes. Rumor has it that Dutch Bros and Dr. Smood’s offer it, but you can also try making it by buying it off of Amazon.

Like normal coffee, it is keto-friendly, has all of the same nutrients and antioxidants of standard coffee, and is said to be “coffee for people who hate coffee”.

If you are looking for some and don’t want to support Amazon, I recommend approaching local roasters and asking if they are able to produce it.

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