What is White Coffee?

A Comprehensive Guide on White Coffee? Roasting, Caffeine, Flavor, Brewing

If you have the slightest interest in specialty coffee, you may have come across whispers of “white coffee.” It has recently brewed up a storm (see what we did there) in the coffee scene with heaps of praise on its therapeutic properties and its extra burst of caffeine in comparison to the more popular cousin, black coffee.

But what is white coffee? Is it just a fancy term used to charge more? Does it really pack more caffeine to keep you energized to handle our fast-paced society? Read on for an in-depth explanation of white coffee!

What is White Coffee?

White coffee beans

Most of the confusion surrounding white coffee actually stems from its definition. Depending on your source, different coffees go by the name ‘white.’ So before we dig deeper into the topic, let’s clarify what we’re talking about. It’s not any of these beverages:

  • Flat White: Sure, the term ‘white coffee’ stems from its color, but the beverage we’ll be discussing in this article has nothing to do with the Flat White. The Flat White initially originated in Australia, and it describes an espresso drink with milk.
  • Malaysian Ipoh: Ipoh is a unique blend originating in Ipoh, Malaysia – courtesy of Chinese migrants. Regular coffee beans are roasted using palm margarine and later sweetened with condensed milk.
  • Lebanese White Coffee (Ahweh Bayda): A Lebanese White Coffee is not actually coffee. It’s a beverage made from orange blossom, water, and sugar as a sweetener. This caffeine-free drink is often used as a substitute for coffee.

Instead, the coffee we’re talking about originated in Yemen centuries ago- it’s not actually a new concept! 

To make white coffee, coffee beans are roasted lightly in lower temperatures and mixed with hawaij (pronounced ‘huh-why-adge’). But, what is hawaij? It’s Arabic for “mixture,” referring to a distinctive blend of different spices, traditionally including cardamom, clove, ginger, and cinnamon. Hawaij is used to enhance the flavor of coffee and is even touted as offering health benefits. The resulting bean from this low temperature roasting process has a higher caffeine content, is rich in antioxidants, and has a beige color that resulted in it becoming known as “white coffee”.

The White Coffee Roasting Process

Its very light roast is what sets white coffee apart from the regular cup of Joe. Specifically, the temperature used and the point at which the bean is removed from the roaster defines “white coffee.”  But to understand how, we need to explore a few basics of the roasting process itself. 

Coffee roasting is divided into several stages that determine the body, aftertaste, acidity, and flavor of the beverage. The first stage, also known as the “endothermic stage,” typically involves drying out the green coffee beans.  This color gradually changes to brown as moisture escapes during the roasting process.

While the typical roasting temperature of regular coffee is 450-480 degrees Fahrenheit, white coffee is roasted at around 325 degrees (178 degrees Celsius). Using this low temperature roasting process, the beans instead gradually change color from green to a lighter whitish color, then to yellow. The natural sugars in the coffee then begin to caramelize and the color shifts to a light tan, yielding a sweet aroma. It is at this point, before the “first crack” stage of roasting, that the coffee beans are extracted to produce white coffee. The lower temperature and the short roasting period ensure that the coffee retains a greater share of its natural nutrients, caffeine, and chlorogenic acids.

Please Note: Beans used to brew white coffee are expelled from the roaster before they crack and become brittle. This means that you need a commercial-grade grinder to crack them – your home grinder doesn’t stand a chance.

Does White Coffee have High Caffeine Content?

White Coffee

As highlighted earlier, one of the main reasons behind the increase of interest in white coffee is attributed to the higher caffeine content.  Some vendors even claim that white coffee offers up to 50% more caffeine. Are these claims factual? 

According to research, this is far from the truth.  Caffeine content of coffee drops by volume as it’s roasted – just nowhere near as high as 50%.  Findings from a Brazilian study demonstrated that coffee loses only around 5.4 % of its caffeine level going from light (white coffee) to dark roast (black coffee).  So, if you’re looking for a highly caffeinated cup to give that extra jolt of energy, you will have more luck by focusing on the coffee origin rather than opting for white coffee. 

Kenyan or Ethiopian Arabica coffee grown at high altitudes typically has more caffeine than varieties grown in low altitudes. Alternatively, you might consider blends featuring Robusta, which have a higher caffeine content at the cost of flavor.  However, Robusta does tend to be more bitter than Arabica, so you may want to consider just having an extra cup!

Flavor and Aroma of White Coffee

White coffee aroma

What is the first thing that captures your attention when you buy or brew you morning cup of Joe? It’s the tantalizing aroma, right?  But did you know that the smell of coffee is due to compounds and oils in the coffee beans? Tracking back to our earlier discussion, we noted that light roasting and low temperatures prevent the degradation of a number of the compounds in coffee. Consequently, these compounds give white coffee a rich, natural, and smooth aroma that will leave you craving another sip.

If the taste profile is the most important factor for you, then white coffee is definitely worth a try and could become your go-to beverage. Unlike black coffee that often carries some bitterness, white coffee has a pronounced nutty flavor. You’ll also notice that white coffee produces an exceedingly smooth cup resulting from the shorter roasting time and low temperatures preserving the natural sugars of the beans. The un-caramelized sugars also yield a more mellow aftertaste.

Although white coffee is flavorful on its own, it’s the delicate blend of hawaij that packs the hardest punch, making the brew truly stand out in the crowded coffee space. As unusual or new as the concept of adding a spice blend to your coffee might sound, hawaij is actually quite common in the Middle East.  The hawaij spice mix is also customizable to personal preference. Can’t stand cinnamon? Just omit it and find a different, more preferable spice. You can even add some milk to your white coffee, but we recommend almond milk to complement the nutty profile. 

Acidity of White Coffee

A cup of coffee might have a breathtaking aroma and an enticing aroma, but the level of acidity is a deal-breaker to some people – especially if you’re prone to heartburn or other stomach conditions. This makes the difference in acidity a key factor in the choice of coffee. During the roasting process, the break-down of compounds lowers the pH value of the consequent beverage. In simple terms, the more you roast coffee, the higher its acidity. High temperatures and longer roasting times break down oils that are responsible for acidity. 

Where does this leave white coffee which has lower roasting temperatures but longer roasting time? Due to the longer roasting process of white coffee, it is generally less acidic than traditional black coffee.  This may make white coffee easier on the stomach for those sensitive to acidity.

How to Brew White Coffee

Although white coffee is quickly amassing loyal followers, it’s most likely not yet readily available at your local cafe. But don’t let that prevent you enjoying this unique beverage – you can concoct it right at home. Below is a brief guide covering 

As we previously noted, white coffee is removed from the roasting process right before it grows brittle. So unless you’re planning on buying a new grinder every time you want to brew a cup of white coffee or a commercial grinder, it’s advisable to purchase pre-ground coffee. While grinding right before brewing is ideal for freshness, white coffee unfortunately does not present that option for most coffee drinkers.  Additionally, white coffee grounds are denser than typical beans, necessitating the use of a high-pressure coffee brewing technique.

You’ll need hot water running at high pressure to get the most flavor out of white coffee beans.  For this, you can use an espresso machine, AeroPress, or a Moka pot. Larger chunks of the ground coffee might force you to run the espresso twice – we know this might be frustrating for some baristas. You should also keep in mind that white coffee expands rapidly during the brewing process, so you’ll want to only fill the espresso filter halfway.  Other than that, brew your white coffee as you would normal coffee in any of these devices. After brewing, you can then add some almond milk and hawaij spice mix for an authentic cup of delicious white coffee. 

Expert Tip: Ensure that the pre-ground white coffee is vacuum-packaged to preserve flavor.

Spice Up Your Mornings – Is White Coffee for You?

Spices coffee

Maybe now you have an interest in trying white coffee? The product is available in artisan coffee stores, a few online stores, and some big names such as Dr. Smood. However, while shopping for ground white coffee, be mindful of the origin and plant varieties used – and of course, watch out for marketing ploys with exaggerated claims.

We all have our preferences when it comes to coffee, particularly in regards to taste and aroma. Some like a black cup of a dark roast while others prefer a more mild, nutty flavor, and lower acidity of lighter varieties. Whether or not white coffee is for you comes down to your taste buds. However, keep in mind that it won’t be anything like the ordinary cup you are accustomed to! Give a cup of white coffee a try and who knows, it might become your new favorite drink.

Jay Arr

Jay Arr is passionate about everything coffee. What began as a simple interest in the history, production, and brewing of coffee led him to a job as a barista at a national coffee chain. That’s not where Jay’s story with coffee ends, however. Roasting and brewing day in and out, he continued to gather knowledge about all things coffee.

Recent Posts