Coffee Basics: Coffee Brew Strength


Time to read 4 min

The term "strong" resonates with both seasoned baristas and casual coffee enthusiasts. Yet, its usage often conceals a certain ambiguity, leaving many to wonder what exactly is meant by a "strong" cup of coffee. In this guide, we embark on a journey to unravel the intricacies of coffee brew strength, delving into its technical aspects and providing practical insights to empower you to brew a cup that aligns perfectly with your taste preferences.

Understanding Coffee Brew Strength

To comprehend the concept of coffee brew strength, it's imperative to draw a clear distinction between strength and roast level. While the term "strong" is commonly associated with bold and robust flavors, it specifically refers to the percentage of dissolved coffee solids in the beverage. At the heart of this definition lies the brew ratio, a fundamental factor in determining the coffee brew strength. This ratio, indicating the proportion of coffee grounds to water, serves as the guiding principle in achieving the delicate balance between dissolved coffee solids and water, ultimately shaping the character of your brew.

Relationship Between Coffee Brew Strength and Caffeine

Caffeine, an integral component of the coffee experience, is intricately linked to the notion of strength. The assumption that a stronger cup of coffee equates to higher caffeine content is a common misconception. The key lies in understanding the concentration of caffeine. For instance, a shot of espresso may exhibit a higher caffeine concentration, but the overall caffeine content remains comparable to that of a milder brew. Drawing a parallel to the world of alcoholic beverages, it's akin to comparing a beer with a shot of liquor – concentration matters.

coffee brewed in french press coffee brewer

Adjusting Coffee Brew Strength

The brew ratio emerges as a pivotal player in the customization of your coffee strength. By manipulating the ratio of coffee grounds to water in your brewing recipe, you gain the ability to fine-tune the intensity of your cup. For instance, if your French press coffee lacks the robustness you desire, a simple adjustment by increasing the amount of coffee grounds elevates the brew ratio, resulting in a stronger and more flavorful cup. While adjusting the brew ratio offers a straightforward approach, it's essential to recognize that changes in brew methods can also influence the flow of water through the coffee grounds, subsequently impacting the extraction process.

Factors Influencing Flavor Balance

Delving deeper into the complexities of coffee brewing, the extraction percentage emerges as a critical consideration. Approximately 30 percent of coffee is soluble in water, and the successful extraction of these compounds significantly contributes to the flavor profile of your brew. Factors such as grind size, brew time, and water temperature play pivotal roles in this intricate process. Striving for a delicate balance, often aiming for an extraction percentage between 18 to 22 percent, ensures a harmonious blend of sweetness, acidity, and bitterness. This nuanced approach is essential to avoid the extremes of overly sour or excessively bitter coffee.

Temperature and Brew Strength

Brewing coffee is a symphony of scientific precision and sensory artistry, with temperature playing a pivotal role in the alchemical process of extraction. The water temperature during brewing is more than just a number; it's a critical factor that profoundly influences the strength, flavor, and overall profile of your coffee.

Understanding the Thermal Dance:

The extraction process is a delicate dance between water and coffee grounds, where temperature acts as the choreographer. Different compounds within coffee dissolve at varying temperatures, unveiling a spectrum of flavors. Too hot, and you risk over-extraction, resulting in a brew that's bitter and astringent. Too cold, and under-extraction occurs, leaving you with a cup that's weak and lacking depth.

Optimal Temperatures for Brewing Methods:

Each brewing method has its ideal temperature range, ensuring the dance between water and coffee unfolds harmoniously. For instance:

  • French Press: Aim for water temperatures around 200°F (93°C) to allow for a balanced extraction and highlight the coffee's natural oils.
  • Pour-Over: Optimal temperatures range between 195°F to 205°F (90°C to 96°C), striking the perfect balance between extraction and avoiding bitterness.
  • Espresso: The rapid extraction process benefits from higher temperatures, typically ranging from 195°F to 205°F (90°C to 96°C).

Understanding the nuances of temperature for your chosen brewing method is like conducting an orchestra – it requires precision to produce a masterpiece.

shot of espresso brewing from espresso machine

Experimentation and Precision:

Adjusting water temperature is a powerful tool in your arsenal for controlling coffee strength. If your brew tends to be on the bitter side, consider lowering the water temperature slightly. Conversely, if it lacks intensity, a slightly higher temperature might be the remedy.

However, precision is key. Investing in a reliable thermometer ensures accuracy, allowing you to consistently hit the sweet spot for extraction. Remember, it's not just about the initial temperature; maintaining consistency throughout the brewing process is equally crucial.

Exploring the Cold Brew Spectrum:

While we often associate brewing with heat, the rise of cold brew introduces a fascinating twist. Cold brew relies on time rather than temperature for extraction. The extended steeping period in cold water draws out flavors slowly, resulting in a smooth, low-acid brew. Understanding this alternative method broadens your coffee horizons, offering a different spectrum of strengths and flavors.

Modifying Coffee Strength After Brewing

Occasionally, you may find yourself with a cup of coffee that leans towards either extreme – too strong or too weak. In such situations, the techniques of dilution and bypass brewing become invaluable tools. If your coffee is on the stronger side but maintains the right flavor balance, dilution with water provides a means to adjust the strength without altering the extraction. This method mirrors the practices of larger coffee brewers in cafes, often employing a process known as "bypass." Conversely, when your coffee requires a strength boost, quick fixes are limited, necessitating adjustments in the subsequent brew.


In the pursuit of the perfect cup of coffee, a nuanced understanding of the intricacies of coffee strength is paramount. Whether you consider yourself a seasoned coffee connoisseur or a casual drinker, the brew ratio, extraction percentage, and flavor balance are all variables within your control. Embrace experimentation, for the joy of brewing your coffee at home lies in the ability to tailor it precisely to your liking.