coffee beans

What is White Coffee?
(Is It Just Another Coffee Fad?)

author gravatar
By Matt Woodburn-Simmonds

White Coffee is popping up all over the internet and as someone who’s always behind on trends, I was deeply confused as to why coffee with milk was suddenly a big deal. But, of course, it refers to something new and entirely different from adding some milk or creamer to your drip brew. So, if you’ve also been questioning “What is white coffee?”, we can learn together!

In short, white coffee is a very lightly roasted form of coffee that resembles sawdust and makes a very malty/bready flavored brew. By only roasting to around 325°F the flavor of the beans is incredibly different to traditional roasts. They’re also too hard to go through your home grinder so can only be bought pre-ground.

Though it’s been around for a while, it’s mostly flown under our radar. And, if I’m honest, I couldn’t really understand why anyone would want it. But I went into this with an open mind to discover what white coffee is, what it tastes like, and what all the fuss is about. Read on as I share everything I’ve learned:

This article may contain affiliate/ compensated links. As an Amazon Associate, we earn from qualifying purchases at no additional cost to you. For more information please see our disclaimer here.

Freshly roasted white coffee beans
Freshly roasted white coffee beans
coffee beans icon

What *Exactly* is White Coffee?

Nope, we’re not talking about just adding milk or creamer to your cup of joe. Nor is it one of the many espresso drinks with milk like a flat white, latte, or cortado.

Instead, white coffee refers to the actual coffee beans. They have a white(ish) color and brew a pale coffee that tastes very different.

They start off as green coffee beans (just like all coffee does) but are roasted for less time and only to around 325°F (163°C). This is much lower than regular coffee roasts – the lightest “light roast” coffee is usually roasted to at least 385°F (195°C) or the “first crack”. At this temperature, the gases start to escape from the beans and they literally crack (it sounds like popcorn popping).

The result of pulling the beans from the roasting process early is very small, pale, and dense coffee beans. They’re so dense that you can’t grind them with a regular home coffee grinder. Instead, you need a commercial grinder with big stainless steel burrs and a hefty motor.

So pre-ground is the only option if you want to try white coffee at home.

As roasting plays a vital role in the coffee’s flavor, “half-baking” the beans means they taste completely different from traditional coffee beans (more on that later…)

Psst… Want to better understand how roasting works and how it affects the flavor of your coffee? Check out this guide:

Is it the Same as Malaysian White Coffee?

Ipoh white coffee (or Malaysian white coffee) is something else entirely. However, it still refers to beans that undergo a unique roasting process.

In this case, the beans are roasted in palm oil margarine to mute some of the more bitter notes usually found in coffee. Instead, it produces a milder, more caramelized flavor profile. Condensed milk is then added to the brewed coffee for frothiness and extra sweetness.

We tried it on a recent trip and loved the creamy mouthfeel and light, almost nutty, flavor. I won’t be replacing my normal coffee with it, but it was fun to try particularly with some kaya toast.

Ipoh white coffee with Kaya toast in the background
Ipoh white coffee with kaya toast in the background
globe icon

Where Does it Come From?

The history of coffee is long and complicated so nobody can be 100% sure. But the most likely origin country for white coffee is Yemen.

Just like the version we’ve described above, white coffee in Yemen is very lightly roasted. Then, it is ground and brewed just like regular coffee. My sympathies go out to anyone who had to grind white coffee by hand 600 years ago!

In a fun twist, Yemeni coffee (not just the white version) is usually mixed with a spice blend known as “hawaij”. This includes ingredients like cardamom, ginger, and cinnamon. So it’s not dissimilar to the spices used to make a chai latte. There are no new ideas, just recycled ones.

Indonesia also has a history of making white coffee – kopi putih. But since coffee didn’t arrive in Indonesia until several hundred years after it was in Yemen, it’s more likely the Yemenis were the first to roast coffee this way.

icon of a man drinking coffee

What does White Coffee Taste Like?

White coffee tastes malty, nutty, and bread-like.

A lot of the flavors we commonly associate with coffee come from caramelization during roasting so without this we get a very different flavor profile. There’s less bitterness and acidity but also more earthy vegetal notes since it’s closer to raw green coffee.

It’s why it’s usually blended with syrups or spices as it just doesn’t taste great on its own. Dutch Bros was one of the first companies to start selling white coffee and even on their website, it says:

“[the flavor]…takes a bit of a taste testing trial to find the perfect flavor combo to pair it with…”

Dutch Bros

Which isn’t exactly a ringing endorsement of the flavor!

I think it tastes pretty awful on its own, to be honest. The die-hard white coffee fans usually enjoy it mixed with creamer and sugary syrups to mask the flavor. But choosing to buy something that tastes this bad and needs so much augmentation is very strange to me.

Two freshly made espresso shots with pale white coffee beans
Espresso made from white coffee beans

What To Pair With It?

To make a well-balanced white drink, you’ll most likely want to add some syrup, chocolate powder, milk, or creamer.

Some of our favorites include white chocolate powder, caramel, vanilla, or raspberry syrup for a sweet and decadent brew. With some half-and-half and a dollop of whipped cream, you’re basically getting a caffeinated dessert.

Or you can lean into the nutty flavors with peanut butter or hazelnut syrup instead.

chemical reaction icon

Does White Coffee Have More Caffeine?

No, white coffee does not contain more caffeine than darker roast coffee. It’s a myth and marketing ploy used to sell this style of coffee.

In fact, the coffee brewed from your white coffee grounds will possibly have less caffeine than darker roasts as it’s much harder to extract caffeine from under-roasted beans.

Sellers back up this “highly caffeinated” claim by talking about the “caffeine by volume” as white coffee is much denser than darker roasted coffee. So “1 scoop” of white coffee weighs a lot more than 1 scoop of dark roast meaning it automatically has more caffeine. But since we brew coffee by weight, not volume, the point is moot.

Barista and font of all coffee knowledge, James Hoffman, did a very good video about caffeine content in different coffee roasts. He found the amount of caffeine extracted from darker roasts was slightly higher than lighter roasts. His theory is that the more porous, less dense, darker roasts make it easier.

Ultimately, it’s the caffeine in your drink that matters, not how much is in a scoop of coffee grounds by volume. And James’ experiment shows that you won’t get more caffeine from white coffee compared to the same weight of darker roasted coffee.

Ground white coffee in a portafilter
Ground white coffee looks a lot like sawdust
chef icon

How to Brew White Coffee

Now you know what is white coffee, it’s time to work out what the heck to do with it.

Having such a different roast profile introduces issues with trying to brew it. Unfortunately, it’s harder to extract the flavor from white roast coffee than from the regular roasts you’re used to.

This means pressure extraction methods are the best. But it will take a lot of dialing in to get right.

Usually, we prefer buying whole beans and grinding them ourselves. But that’s just not possible with white coffee as it won’t be through a home grinder. So it’s usually sold finely ground, ideal for an espresso machine, Moka pot, or AeroPress.

For me, white espresso is the way to go. However, regardless of which of these 3 types of coffee maker you use, you’ll need to lengthen your extraction time to get the best from white coffee.

If you’re using an espresso machine, I recommend pre-infusing for around 6 seconds, stopping the shot, waiting another 20 seconds, and then pulling your shot as normal. This should help to counter the fact that white coffee beans are less absorbent than darker roasted coffee.

Alternatively, using inverted AeroPress methods should help overcome issues with the lack of solubility by combining steeping and pressure.

It’s much harder to control the speed of water through the grounds when using a Moka pot. So you may need to use trial and error to get the best results. Keep your Moka Pot on a slightly lower heat to try and get slower extraction.

shopping cart icon

Where to buy White Coffee?

There’s not a lot of choice if you want to give white coffee a try at home. As we prefer to stick with ethical coffee brands, it only really leaves us with this one from Poverty Bay.

Another popular choice on Amazon is Wired Willey’s. But we couldn’t find any decent information about their supply chain so decided not to give it a try.

White Tornado, Poverty Bay Coffee Company

White Tornado, Povery Bay Coffee Co. (Espresso Grind)

What to Expect:

Source: Blend

Roast: White

Aroma: Grass, malt, and nuts

Tasting notes: Earthy and nutty with yeast notes

Important notes: Shade Grown and Direct Trade

There aren’t a lot of specialty coffee roasters offering white coffee right now. But Poverty Bay Coffee Co. is a great roaster based near Seattle that sells its shade-grown, direct-trade coffee in this ultra-light roast.

Most of the recommended white coffee drinks from Poverty Bay include the addition of flavored syrups to augment the beans’ natural flavor. For example, a White Caramel Latte using caramel syrup and white chocolate powder; or a Peanut Butter Raspberry Latte made by adding both peanut butter and raspberry syrup.

The coffee comes finely ground, ready to be used in an espresso machine and it brews a nice white coffee. Though we haven’t had a lot of white coffee so that’s very subjective!

final thoughts icon

Final Thoughts

What is white coffee? Honestly, I think it’s a fad.

It’s not very nice to drink, it’s difficult to brew, it has to be pre-ground, and it’s not proven to be better for you than darker roasted coffee.

But, if it sounds like something you’d enjoy then you can grab some from Poverty Bay Coffee Co and start making your own white coffee drinks. Maybe try adding some nut flavors from peanut or hazelnut syrup, or add a little cream and raspberry for a dessert-like drink.


Matt Woodburn-Simmonds

Matt's coffee obsession started in 2006 when working as a Barista. A tendency to turn up to work hungover kickstarted his coffee journey which quickly turned into a love affair. As he moved on to work as a Restaurant Manager and Sommelier, the obsession continued to grow. Now, his passion is helping others to enjoy better coffee at home.

You Might Also Like