What Is White Coffee? A Niche Way to Enjoy the Magical Bean

Hi! My name is Arne. Having spent years working as a barista I'm now on a mission to bring more good coffee to the people. To that end, my team and I provide you with a broad knowledge base on the subject of coffee.

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Writing this article was a truly educational experience! Admittedly, I’ve never found myself wondering "What is White Coffee?" So when it came to my attention that white coffee is a blossoming fad in North American coffee culture, I realized I needed to do some digging.

Writing this article was a truly educational experience! Admittedly, I’ve never found myself wondering “What is White Coffee?” So when it came to my attention that white coffee is a blossoming fad in North American coffee culture, I realized I needed to do some digging.

When I say blossoming, I mean the tiniest blossom you can imagine – like an individual bloom on a lavender stalk. Really, white coffee is very niche.

Still, I’m fascinated by all things coffee, no matter how small. And now that I’m on the subject, I am quite curious. What is white coffee? How is it different from regular coffee? What does it taste like?

Join me on this journey into the newest subculture in the coffee industry: the white coffee fan club!

What Is White Coffee Anyway?

So, what is white coffee?

My first thought was a super milky cup of drip coffee, or perhaps a new name for Australia’s beloved flat white. Nope, two strikes there. Before I totally struck out, I decided to ask my trusty friend Google.

A quick search did turn up a milk-related definition, and I’ll get to that in a second. But the white coffee we’re interested in today doesn’t include milk at all. Rather, it’s the coffee beans themselves that are white.

White coffee beans start out like any other green coffee beans. But white coffee beans are roasted to a much lesser degree than traditional coffee, so they have a white-ish color.

Because white coffee beans spend less time rolling around in a roaster, they don’t undergo all the caramelization and chemical reactions that regular coffee experiences. As a result, white coffee tastes pretty different! More on that later.

Aside from these super lightly roasted beans, other iterations of white coffee typically involve a lot of milk.

Malaysian white coffee is coffee that is roasted in margarine or oil, and then enjoyed with sweetened condensed milk. Malaysian white coffee is also sometimes called Ipoh white coffee. This type of coffee roasting is common in Malaysia, but hasn’t picked up popularity in the global market.

Origin Story

After I’d figured out what exactly white coffee is, I began to wonder: who the heck started this trend?

Turns out, white coffee became a thing long, long ago. Two different countries have a history of white coffee roasting, so the actual origin is unclear.

Yemen Coffee Regions

Historically, traditional white coffee may have originated in Yemen. There, white coffee means a very light roast like I described above, which is then ground and brewed like normal coffee.

Here’s the fun part: Yemeni white coffee is also mixed with a spice blend called hawaij, which often contains cardamom, ginger, cinnamon and other warming spices. As it happens, the delicate character of white coffee beans jives well with these particular spices.

A similar version of white coffee is also present in Indonesian coffee history. There, white coffee is roasted the same way, but it’s called kopi putih.

All this goes to show that coffee people all over the world have been curious innovators for centuries!

White Coffee vs Regular Coffee

Now that we know what white coffee is and where it came from, we can get more into the nitty-gritty. In today’s coffee scene, what makes white coffee different from regular coffee?

Well, white coffee comes from the same green coffee beans as any other coffee. The only difference is that roasters drop (stop roasting) white coffee beans at a much lower temperature than usual.

Most roasters drop regular batches between 390 and 480 degrees Fahrenheit (198 and 260 degrees Celsius), depending on their machine and their desired roast level.

First crack, which generally starts around 385 degrees Fahrenheit (196 degrees Celsius), is an energetic release of moisture and gas from the dense core of the coffee bean, caused by a buildup of intense pressure. If that confuses you, just imagine a popcorn kernel bursting open; it’s sorta like that. Dropping the coffee beans during, or just after first crack generally signifies a light roast coffee.

White Coffee vs Regular Coffee

That said, if roasters want a lighter-than-light roast – I suppose we could call this a “white roast” coffee – they’ll drop the beans well before first crack. Most often, white coffee beans are dropped at around 320 degrees Fahrenheit (160 degrees Celsius).

So, what does that mean for the beans?

Since coffee beans lose mass and density as they roast, white coffee beans are much denser and harder to extract than regular coffee. They are also lighter in color; a yellow-white shade (hence the name).

Incidentally, during a longer roast the Maillard Reaction caramelizes natural sugars inside the coffee beans, turning the beans a chocolate brown color. If you keep roasting to second crack and beyond, those sugars will carbonize and the coffee will turn black.

If you stop the roasting process before the sugars have had a chance to caramelize, the end result will be white coffee.

Which Has More Caffeine?

The short answer here is white coffee … kind of. White coffee beans may have marginally more caffeine than their darker counterparts. But the idea that white coffee is super-duper caffeinated is largely a marketing ploy.

Some white coffee brands like to claim that white coffee has significantly more caffeine than regular coffee, but this isn’t true. Yes, a wee bit of caffeine is burned out during the roasting process, but the amount is pretty negligible.

Caffeine Formula

The caffeine content of a coffee depends more on the species and variety of coffee, as well as its particular growing conditions. Your chosen brewing method has a big impact on the caffeine content in your cup, too.

Here are my two cents: drink the coffee you like to drink. If you’re sensitive to caffeine, drink smaller cups or consider a half-caff blend. If you want caffeine to punch you in the face, you can chug a few shots of espresso.

By and large, don’t let brands trick you into thinking white coffee has a lot more caffeine than regular coffee!

White Coffee Benefits

So, other than satisfying your curiosity, what’s the point of drinking white coffee?

I’ll say this: any reported benefits of white coffee are mostly speculation. Our coffee science friends haven’t done much research on white coffee, since it’s not a very popular beverage. 

Still, it does make sense that white coffee would retain more of the qualities of green coffee beans, since white coffee is roasted for such a short period.

In particular, it’s likely that white coffee retains more chlorogenic acid than darker roasts. This type of acid is naturally found in both green and roasted coffee. Health benefits of chlorogenic acid include a significant antioxidant effect.

Some consumers also claim that compared to traditional coffee, white coffee is less acidic (in terms of its actual pH, not its perceived flavor) and won’t cause an upset stomach. However, the acidity of a coffee is tied to its variety and growing conditions, so we can’t make generalizations in this regard.

How to Brew White Coffee

If I’ve convinced you to give white coffee a try, you may be wondering how to brew it.

Well, forget anything I’ve said in the past about the woes of pre-ground coffee. In the case of white coffees, buying pre-ground coffee is unfortunately non-negotiable.

White coffee beans are so hard and dense that they would break typical coffee grinders. You definitely wouldn’t want to try grinding white coffees with ceramic burrs or a grinder with a weak motor.

So, you’ll have to rely on the roaster to grind the coffee for you. They’ll use their commercial grinder, which has powerful stainless steel burrs and a strong motor.

The ground white coffee is then shipped to your door. At that point, what do you do with it? Two words: white espresso!

Technically you can use other brewing methods, but most roasters grind the coffee for espresso makers. There’s a good reason for this.

Brewing methods like espresso, moka pot, and Aeropress are the best fit for white coffee. These pressure brews offer a higher extraction than drip machines or immersion methods. Since ground white coffee is so dense, it’s harder to extract than fully roasted coffee.

Fortunately, you can pull your white espresso shot just as you would any other ‘spro.

What Does White Coffee Taste Like?

How to Buy White Coffee

At this point, I’m sure you’re itching to know what this pale coffee drink tastes like!

As with any coffee, the flavor profile depends on the coffee’s species, variety, growing condition and processing methods. Still, there are some general tasting notes to speak of.

White coffee tends to be nutty and herbaceous, so I can see why the Yemeni spice blend would go well with these flavors!

The body of white coffee is quite tea-like. Incidentally, white coffee drinks have a notable lack of bitterness and a pleasant herbal sweetness.

Honestly, this sounds pretty tasty to me. I do love tea-like light roasts, so why not take it a step further?

How to Buy White Coffee

White coffee is pretty uncommon, so you likely won’t find it at your local coffee shop. That said, where can you buy white coffee?

For better or worse, Amazon’s got everything these days. Yes, even these obscure, super lightly roasted coffee beans.

The most popular white coffee is Poverty Bay White Tornado Coffee. This is available only in an espresso grind, since that’s the most common brewing method for white coffee.

The same goes for the next most popular white coffee, Wired Willey’s White Coffee.

White Coffee Direct Trade Mode

If you don’t want to brew the white coffee yourself, the chain coffee company Dutch Bros also serves white coffee as an espresso.

But now we’re getting into the commercial underbelly of the coffee industry, where transparency and ethical sourcing is often out the window. You all know how I feel about this.

Since white coffee is so uncommon, you can’t be picky about quality and transparency. Personally, this makes me rule out drinking most white coffee. After all, I only buy coffee from roasters that follow the direct trade model.

Fortunately, Poverty Bay Coffee Company does have transparency information on their website, so you can trust them for your white coffee needs.

Final Thoughts

Now that I’ve answered all the ins-and-outs of “what is white coffee,” I can ask myself a final question. Do I actually want to drink white coffee?

I’m going to keep an open mind here and say that I’ll try this unique coffee roast for good measure. Really, I’ll try anything once, especially if it’s some sort of coffee bean.

Still, you won’t catch me drinking white coffee everyday. Ultimately, my true love is a cup of joe with those sweet and caramelized notes of traditionally roasted coffee. I can’t get enough of it!

Have you tried white coffee? Do you have any recipe suggestions? Share your ideas in the comments section!

Your coffee expert
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Arne Preuss

Hi! My name is Arne. Having spent years working as a barista I'm now on a mission to bring more good coffee to the people. To that end, my team and I provide you with a broad knowledge base on the subject of coffee.

More about Arne Preuss

Hi! My name is Arne. Having spent years working as a barista I'm now on a mission to bring more good coffee to the people. To that end, my team and I provide you with a broad knowledge base on the subject of coffee.

More about Arne Preuss

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