What level of coffee roast is the best? Is a light roast better than a dark roast? Is a medium roast the best because it should appeal to the widest audience?
The answer is that one roast is not inherently better than another – it is all a matter of personal preference and what brings out the best flavor in the coffee beans being used. Using one roast as a “catch all” for every bean means that you are definitely going to lose out on a lot of unique flavors (and therefore better cups of coffee) that you could be enjoying, so it is good to approach coffee drinking and coffee roasts with an open mind.
In general premium coffee companies – from Starbucks down to very small, boutique roasteries – pay a lot more attention to bringing out the nuances in the beans, so you will be able to experience a wider range of roasts and a wide range of coffees when you choose their beans (and learn about why they opted for which type of roast, if you can ask someone who does the roasting!). A premium coffee roaster will roast the beans to different degrees depending on them beans themselves. If they are using Central American beans, it could turn out that they require a light roast that lets their natural citrus notes shine through. If they are using Sumatran beans, they might have to go to a dark roast in order to find the rich chocolate flavors that are in them. And both roasts will probably be excellent.
Inexpensive coffee producers typically want their coffee to taste exactly the same from batch to batch – so that a huge tub of classic Folgers, for instance, will taste about the same as it did 10 years ago – and they roast the beans to try to minimize flavor disparities, not to highlight the uniqueness of a given bean.
It is easy to make a blanket statement and say “I prefer light roasts” or “I prefer dark roasts,” and while it might be true most of the time, you might end up missing out on some very good, very drinkable coffees by sticking to one roast type across the board.