White Coffee is generally a light-roast coffee that a few coffee shops have started to sell. The consensus seems to be that it is simply a seriously under roasted coffee bean. 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 coffee beans are extremely hard a special coffee grinder is required to grind the beans themselves.
White Coffee is actually fairly difficult to roast properly, 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 coffee bean 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. While a company may simply be selling a low-priced coffee, the lack of transparency means that they can price it as high as they want. There’s also no real evidence that white coffee is substantially healthier than a regular, light-medium roasted coffee, or coffee in general.
Those who have tried it typically describe it as having nutty, almost grass-like flavor, which adequately describes the first early stages of coffee roasting.
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.
Once consideration is that the roasting process does transform Chlorogenic Acids (CGAs), which has been attributed to many of the health benefits of coffee.
It’s important to note however, that different origins and blends will have different levels of CGA, and can vary so widely that a light roast of one origin may have the same levels of a medium roast of another origin. Purchasing a non-descript generic “white coffee” therefore doesn’t necessarily mean it’s healthier than another coffee, without the chemical analysis to back up the claim.
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.