For the meat eaters out there, the analogy may be as simple as equating roast levels to cooking a steak. If you cook a steak rare to medium it tastes very different than cooking it “well done”. Everyone has a preference and there is no right or wrong.
Roasting coffee to different levels produces a similar result. Light roasts will be more acidic (think of dryness in your mouth, not stomach acid), light body (think “thin” on your palate) and contains more vibrant flavors that will either be accentuated or “muddied” based on brewing methods (see Coffee Brewers later). Medium roasts exhibit a balance of acidity and body. A slightly different flavor than light roasts, yet rich, juicy and pleasing. Dark roasts pretty much eliminate all acidic notes, fruit or floral notes, may or may not be heavy on the palate (think “thick”), and most always taste smoky, charry, or what some call “burnt”. Again, there is no right or wrong, simply personal preference when discussing roast levels.
Roast levels for specialty coffee are typically at light and medium to accentuate origin flavors. These are flavors most noted based on growing conditions within that country – kind of like “terroir” with wine. Once coffee is roasted to dark levels, most all of the distinctive origin flavors dissipate.