This is generally a proprietary coffee that a few coffee shops have started to sell. The general consensus is that it is seriously under roasted coffee. The advertising hype that goes with it would agree with this assumption although the people selling this product will not say anything about how it is made. Because barely roasted beans are extremely hard a special grinder is required to grind the coffee beans.
White Coffee is actually fairly difficult to produce, given that roasting imparts many of the flavor changes most people associate with what a “coffee” is. Light roasts retain many of the prominent single origin flavors, along with more of the plant-based chemicals and organic acids that aren’t the most pleasant tasting. This higher volume of organic acids and other compounds is exactly what purportedly makes it healthier however, and is impacted to a great extent by the severity of the roast.
Unfortunately there’s no consensus on what a white coffee really is – companies that produce their private branded coffee obscure the origin as well as roast level intentionally to create consumer lock-in. There’s also no real evidence that white coffee is substantially healthier than a regular, light-medium roasted coffee, or coffee in general.
White Coffee Caffeine Content
One of the common claims about white coffee is that it is higher in caffeine than normal coffee. In theory, coffee loses caffeine by volume as it is roasted so it probably does have more caffeine by volume. This point is negligible compared to the variations between different origins – a high grown Ethiopian coffee bean for example would have more caffeine than a low-altitude Brazilian coffee because it takes more time to develop on the tree and therefore gains more nutrients.
In reality, there’s only minor losses going from a light roast and a dark roast – just 5.4% – not enough to have a noticeable impact on caffeine levels and certainly not enough to justify choosing a coffee based on roast alone.
Caffeine did not undergo significant degradation with only 5.4% being lost under severe roasting.
One theory that has been proposed is that the blend may be all or mostly Robusta coffee beans to boost the caffeine. This would indeed boost the caffeine content, and cost less to manufacture as Robustas are typically less expensive. The significant problem with this theory is that Robustas are generally not great tasting, and a light roast would do nothing to cover those flavors.
Other “White Coffee” Drinks
In Australia a white coffee or a “flat white” can be any number of different espresso and milk of coffee and milk drinks. Starbucks has introduced the “flat white” into North America, but does not refer to it as a white coffee.
In the US and UK you will from time to time hear coffee with milk or cream referred to as white coffee, but has nothing to do with the coffee roast.
White coffee can also refer to a cup of instant with a dash of cold milk.