As a barista you sometimes hear the “big man”, you know the burly bearded no nonsense guy, ask loud and proud for “the strongest stuff you got”. Many a barista roll their eyes and dream of loading a good ol’ 20oz cup with 10 shots of espresso plopping it down on the bar like an old-timey bar tender calling someone’s bluff and watch the guy try to stomach 2000+mg of caffeine! Usually the “big man” ends up with a freaking vanilla latte or something!
Anyway, what is “strong coffee”? Does it taste super bitter so as to elicit a lemon worthy wince at every sip? My grandpa’s definition of strong coffee is coffee so thick it can hold a spoon upright. Let’s figure some of this out, so that next time you want a “strong coffee” you will know what you mean.
Are We Talkin’ Caffeine or Flavor?
Most people think that a dark roast equals strong coffee. But if we are concerned with caffeine, then light roasts contain more of it! The dark roasts are roasted longer and that decreases the amount of caffeine in the coffee.
A dark flavor may have characteristics that we associate with strong such as; woodsy, smokey, and more bitter, but that does not mean the coffee is strong. When drinking a dark roast you are pretty much tasting the roast and not the special characteristics of the beans.
It’s all in the brew!
Making strong coffee comes from how you brew them magical beans. I think most people who work in coffee would say that a strong coffee has a high coffee content. Meaning, how much coffee was extracted from the beans into the water. Let’s say you want to fix up 160ml cup of coffee, if you drip brew coffee at a 16:1 ratio (16g of water for every 1g of ground coffee) you would need 10g of coffee. And then you drip brew coffee at 8:1 ratio (8g of water fro every 1g of ground coffee) you would need 20g of coffee. Which one is stronger? The coffee made with 20g of coffee of course! And since it used more coffee there will be more caffeine and a stronger coffee flavor imparted to the water.
If someone brews weak coffee, that refers to the amount of coffee used to brew, not the roast. You could brew a light roast that would taste sour, or bright and it could be crazy strong, it just depends on how much coffee to how much water you used to brew.
Think about an espresso shot, it takes 7g of coffee to make 30ml (4.3:1) whereas if you used the typical drip brew ratio you would only use 1.9g of coffee to make 30ml! Espresso contains so much more caffeine and is so strong because it uses way more coffee!
What about BOLD coffee?
Sometimes we see the word “bold” on bags of coffee as a way to describe a drink. Bold usually refers to using more coffee in the brewing process. It does not refer to a roast or other such things. “Bold” is also used to describe a flavor or an “attitude” of a coffee, but it’s not a very accurate word to talk about how the coffee will taste. If someone is selling coffee beans that are “bold” that really does not mean anything, because it is how those beans are brewed that will make it bold or not!
Now you can discuss how you like your coffee strong and what you mean by that.