Strong is one of the most common adjectives people use to describe coffee. What exactly is strong coffee though? Although many people often use the word to characterize coffee, they may mean any number of things by it. In the coffee world, however, strong is a specific term with a specific definition.
Strong coffee may be used to describe bitter or highly caffeinated coffee, but this isn’t what the word actually means to us in the coffee world.
Bitterness doesn’t come from brewing coffee “extra strong,” but rather is a negative attribute that arises from the green beans or the roast profile. Sometimes bitterness is also confused with burnt coffee, which may be a result of over-roasting, brewing with water hotter than 205°F, or leaving brewed coffee on a hot plate. Bitterness and burnt flavors do not reflect a strong coffee but one that is less than ideal.
Similarly, highly caffeinated coffee is not strong coffee. It just has a lot of caffeine. While most home coffee drinkers achieve a higher caffeine level by using more coffee, the caffeine level and strength are two different attributes.
Strong coffee is rich, dense coffee. It’s the opposite of a watery, thin brew. It’s a thick cup. It has a full body, like a Cabernet, rather than a light one like a Pinot Noir. Strong coffee is weighty coffee.
Making strong coffee is a simple adjustment of the coffee-water ratio, since those are the only two ingredients used in the brewing process. To make a stronger brew, just increase the amount of grounds used without altering the quantity of water you use. This will alter the ratio and produce a stronger cup.
Most brew methods use a coffee-water ratio that falls between 1:18 and 1:16 (1 part coffee and 18 to 16 parts water). To find the strength you prefer, start out with a 1:18 ratio and slowly increase it until you find the perfect balance.
If you use too much coffee, which is generally any ratio higher than a 1:16 ratio, your brew will be under-extracted. It will have a sour taste because solubles weren’t fully dissolved in the water. You’ve gone too far and won’t be able to produce a stronger cup with this coffee. Try switching coffees to one with a different flavor and roast profile, and re-starting with a 1:18 ratio. You will eventually find a coffee, roast profile and brew ratio that produces the strength you like.
Strong coffee doesn’t mean bitter or caffeinated coffee. It means a rich brew that many people enjoy.
To find your ideal strength, try experimenting with the ratio of coffee to water that you use. You may be surprised how strong you like it. Tell us what you find in the comments.