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The word “strong” means several things depending on who you ask. Even applying it to your favorite all-day beverage, different people mean different things when they say they like strong coffee. We often mean coffee that we can respond to, it wakes us up with plenty of caffeine, or it hits the spot with bold flavor. So whether you get your stong coffee from the coffee shop or you make it at home, read on to find out more.
What does “Strong Coffee” Actually Mean?
Coffee has been a part of daily human life for centuries. It is grown and harvested all over the world. A dozen or more brewing processes developed around the roasting, grinding, and preparation techniques that were available to different cultures throughout history.
Coffee in the present day is subject to defined standards of quality and description. The process of making coffee from coffee beans is called extraction. No matter where you are in the world, coffee is made from only two ingredients ground coffee and water. The differences are in the size of the grind, the ratio of grounds to water, the pressure with which the water passes through the grounds, the water temperature, and the amount of time the grounds are exposed to water.
Joseph Robertson at Extracted Magazine crowdsourced what people mean when they say “strong coffee” and created a comprehensive guide to making your personal perfect cup no matter what you prefer.
The espresso brewing process is known for producing a strong cup of coffee. What makes it stronger than coffee from a different extraction? Counter Culture Coffee describes espresso as a process that “amplifies” the qualities of coffee. For example, it extracts more caffeine per ml.
Because of the larger serving size that filter coffee drinkers typically enjoy, they actually get more caffeine per serving than espresso drinkers. Its caffeine content is not what makes espresso stronger than filter coffee.
Every brewing variables affects the flavor, but strength really means one thing: a high ratio of coffee solids to water within the final extracted beverage. The people who say they want their coffee “strong enough to stand a spoon up,” are accurately describing coffee strength as a matter of thicker coffee texture.
In the coffee industry, strength is measured in TDS the ratio of total dissolved solids to water.
The Barista Institute explains how TDS ratios are measured and list the TDS ranges considered ideal for different brewing methods. Different brewing processes have different acceptable TDS ranges. Espresso is a stronger form of coffee than filter coffee not because the process extracts more caffeine, but because of espresso’s higher ratio of Total Dissolved Solids.
Darker roast does not make your coffee stronger
The roast on the coffee beans influences the flavor, aroma, and caffeine content, but a dark roast does not describe coffee strength. Coffee beans develop into a bouquet of complex and prominent flavors.
The National Coffee Association has a wonderful guide to coffee roasts.
According to those standard-bearers, the growing region and the roast are the main creators of the coffee beans‘ potential flavors. In general, lighter roasts maintain more caffeine, so true caffeine junkies will want a light or medium roast regardless of what strength they prefer. Lighter roasts create a more fruity, acidic flavor profile.
Anyone looking for a more chocolatey and rich flavor might like a darker roast better, and it might take a greater quantity of coffee if you are hungry for caffeine.
The brewing method is the king of coffee strength
Coffee strength the ratio of dissolved coffee solids to water is determined by the chosen extraction process aka brewing. Brewing refers to the physical ratio as well as the method by which the water is delivered through the grounds, and at what temperature.
Coffee obsessives are in a daily ritual of the deep, authentic flavor experience. Longer extraction processes like pour-over and French Press are easy to overdo, and they take some practice to get right. Like the burnt tastes that can occur in mishandling coffee at the roasting stage, the flavor that results from over-extraction should not be confused with the genuine or ideal flavor of the coffee.
A shorter extraction or brewing time at higher heat is ideal for brewing the technically strongest coffee with the best flavor. The National Coffee Association also produces a useful brew guide to walk through these critical decisions.
The espresso process is famous for opening the coffee’s perfect bouquet of flavor and aroma while creating beautifully textured coffee. Espresso machines use a fast, high pressure, high heat extraction process through very finely ground coffee beans. The grind, handling, temperature, and timing are explained in detail in this How-To video.
As explained here, you can adjust the flavor of coffee beans roast at various levels with small tweaks to the grind and timing. Thereby giving you the possibility to get a perfect cup of coffee.
Grind finer for more strength
The National Coffee Association has guidance on the best grind for each brewing process. The strongest coffee the kind you can stand a spoon up in has the highest ratio of dissolved solids to water. The most reliable way to extract a high ratio of solids is to grind the coffee as fine as possible.
Turkish coffee is famously extra-strong coffee because it is made by stirring powdered-sugar-fine ground coffee into boiling water. There is no filter or straining process. The coffee must be quickly stirred, and then it must be quickly drunk while as hot as tolerable. If you wait too long, it over-extracts into intensely bitter flavors, and it stratifies into flat, watery coffee with heavy sludge at the bottom of the cup. For most coffee drinkers, this method sacrifices flavor for the sake of strength.
With its slightly coarser grind, sieve, and pressure extraction, espresso strikes the perfect balance of the strongest coffee with the best flavors.
And remember to grind coarse enough if you want a cup of coffee from your french press. There is nothing more irritating than not being able to press down that dahm filter because you put fine ground coffee in the french press. (I know from experience).
Bolder is not bitter
Another aspect of a strong coffee flavor is whether or not it has a “bold” taste or aroma. There is a lot of bad coffee in the world, and tragically, coffee with a burnt taste that has sat on a hot plate for hours or was made with over-roasted beans passes for “bold flavor” to some people.
The professionals at Camino Island Coffee Roasters use a higher grounds-to-water ratio in the brewing process to produce bolder tasting coffee. The espresso process applies a small amount of water through very finely ground coffee that is tightly packed together in a puck the perfect recipe for coffee as bold as it is strong.
Espresso has it all
Espresso is the ideal brewing method for coffee no matter what “strong coffee” means to you. A quick caffeine punch, bold flavor, espresso is a cup of coffee that has it all.
If you would like to read more about different espresso beans then check out our article on “How To Find The Best Espresso Beans”.
Even if you generally prefer hot water combined with pour-over, French press, or auto-drip, you can get to know your favorite roast all over again with the espresso process. Your local barista will be excited to help you amp up your usual cup.