Is Coarse Ground Coffee Stronger? Optimizing Your Grind Size
Brewing coffee is a lot like alchemy. We need to understand how different factors affect the chemistry of a coffee bean, and how they all come together as flavor and aroma. One of the most important determinants of how your cup tastes in the grind size. There are about 18 different settings on a coffee bean mill, that go from extra fine to extra coarse, so which one has the most flavor? The highest caffeine? And is coarse ground coffee stronger?
You’ve come to the right place! In the next sections, we’ll answer all these questions and much more. We’ll go over the different types of coffee beans and which ground is best for them, as well as the right way to grind your coffee beans.
What Exactly Do We Mean When We Say That a Cup of Coffee Is ‘Strong’?
“I need a strong cup of coffee!”
How many times have said that, or heard people repeat it? It’s always earnest and has a true yearning for the hot beverage. So what exactly defines a ‘strong coffee’? In fact, if you asked people, you’ll get a wide array of definitions!
The common answers usually revolve around being bold, full of flavor, hot, having a full-form, and loaded with caffeine. Interestingly, the definition that the Specialty Coffee Association (SCA) has for strong coffee is a bit different.
Technically speaking, the strength of the coffee is related to the amount of dissolved solids in a cup. A ratio of coffee to water should range from 1.1% to 1.5% for a cup of coffee to be appealing. Less than that is too lacking in taste, and the above is totally unpalatable.
The above scientific jargon is a fancy way of describing coffee extraction. In even simpler terms, it’s how much goodness you can pull out of your coffee while keeping a cup tasty and energizing.
What Are the Different Factors that Make Coffee Strong?
First things first, and the best place to start, is understanding where the flavor of coffee comes from. Here are the main factors.
The Freshness of the Coffee Beans
Coffee is either wholesome and rich, or muddy and stale. I can’t think of a middle ground when it comes to my beverage. And it’s actually not too far from the truth.
The compounds that give coffee its distinct taste, aroma, and punch, are quite elusive. And once they are exposed to the elements they quickly degrade. That’s why we keep our coffee away from direct light, humidity, heat, and air.
The last one is actually the arch-enemy of coffee. Once the grounds, or even the whole beans, are in close contact with oxygen, their inherent fatty acids and oils start to oxidize. That’s when the stale taste sets in, and the coffee becomes a muddy flavored drink.
Freshness matters and that’s why we constantly hear the recommendation to roast and grind your coffee right before brewing. And if you’re using readymade grounds, then storing them in a dark dry place is essential. Fresh coarse ground coffee is stronger.
The Type of Coffee Beans
What we generally perceive as strong coffee comes from two things: a clear flavor and a high content of caffeine.
In that regard, the type of coffee beans plays a crucial part in whether a coarse ground coffee is stronger. Arabica coffee beans are known to have nuanced rich flavors, with a low content of caffeine. In contrast, Robusta coffee has a rigid earthy flavor, but it comes loaded with caffeine. Its content could easily reach twice that of Arabica coffee.
Many coffee producers, thus, create coffee blends to get the best of both worlds. It’s worth noting that Arabica coffee is far more expensive than Robusta varieties, as it’s harder to plant and process.
The Roasting Grade of the Coffee
Coffee beans are roasted to bring out their inherent flavors and prepare them for extraction. There are several grades of roasting coffee beans, and each level affects two things: how much the flavor of coffee is highlighted, and how much of the caffeine remains. In general, the lighter roast coarse ground coffee is stronger.
Here are the most common roasting levels, according to the National Coffee Association:
1. Light roasts
- Light City
- Half City
2. Medium roasts
3. Medium-dark roasts
- Full City
4. Dark roasts
- New Orleans
Light roasts generally retain more of the natural flavors inherent in the coffee beans and have a slightly acidic taste. Dark roasts, on the other hand, have a slightly bitter taste, and the natural nuances of the beans might get an extra layer of smokiness.
Most people think that dark roasts make for a stronger coffee, but that’s highly debatable. In fact, the caffeine content of light roasts is higher than that of dark roasts. So if the extra punch in your cup means more caffeine, then light and medium roasts should be your thing.
The flavors get a varied profile though, and it becomes a matter of personal taste whether a light, medium, or dark roast adds richness to your cup.
The Coffee Grind Size
This is among the most important factors that determine how strong a cup of coffee can be. That’s because the extraction of flavors and oils from the coffee beans is dependant on how much of the coffee is exposed to water. This is what’s commonly referred to as the surface area.
It’s not used in strictly geometric terms though. By using a simple example you can visualize this better: If you pour water on a whole coffee bean, it’s not likely that you’d get much flavor pulled out of it. If you split it into two parts, the water reaches more of the coffee bean. The slight increase in extraction is because you doubled the exposed surface of the bean.
Now consider what happens when you go on dividing the bean into smaller parts. The water is now in contact with a larger surface area of the coffee bean compared to the whole one. As you reach an extra-fine consistency, the coffee extracts with the slightest exposure to water.
Coffee grind sizes go from the extra-fine powdery grains used in Turkish coffee, to the extra coarse grounds best applied in a cold brew or Cowboy coffee.
The strength of coffee you’d get is also dependent on how much you leave the coffee to steep, and the temperature of the water you’re using.
If you leave coarse grounds in hot water for a long time, that’s similar to leaving fine grounds in warm water for a shorter amount of time. Both processes will probably render the same strength in your cup. But not the same flavor, form, and aroma.
The Extraction Time
How much time the coffee sit in the hot water changes the flavor profile by the minute. Initially, the beverage would look pale and underdeveloped. That’s because the pull-out hasn’t come to its prime. In a few minutes, the brew darkens and the aroma starts to fill the room. This is the perfect extraction. So what happens if you leave the coffee grounds longer?
That’s what usually happens in offices. The coffee carafe is left to over-extract and soon becomes bitter and ‘muddy’. This is also why there’s a strong recommendation when using a French press, to pour the brew to another thermos, as soon as the coffee reaches its optimal profile.
The Flow Rate of Water
How quickly the water goes through the coffee grinds is another critical factor that affects the strength of the brew. It’s also frequently overlooked, as it’s a part of the internal machinery of coffee making devices.
The best example is the Espresso machine. If the hot water passes too quickly through the coffee grinds, then the extraction would be less than the optimal level. And it takes its time, the brew would taste bitter and over-done.
Most Espresso machines have a variable pressure option to adjust the flow rate of hot water over the coffee grounds. It might take a bit of trial and error to adjust the best pressure that goes with specific grind size.
The Temperature of Water
The water temperature used in making coffee goes from lukewarm for a cold brew, to steaming hot for Americano coffee.
At low temperatures, the coffee is rather slow to extract. That’s because the fatty acids in the coffee grounds don’t have sufficient motivation to release and dissociate into the water. The opposite happens as the water heats up. And around the boiling point, the coffee flavors seep out en-masse.
The Brewing Apparatus
The device you use would also play a part in whether or not the grinds you’re brewing would develop into a strong beverage.
For example, extra coarse coffee grounds in a French press would take too long to extract, and by the time the coffee is ready for serving, the brew would probably be much too weak. Contrary to that, the same grounds would make a high octane cold brew or Cowboy coffee.
Is Coarse Ground Coffee Stronger?
As we demonstrated above, there are several factors that come into play as you make a cup of coffee. But let’s say that we would unify all of these parameters, and vary the grind size only.
If you use a coarse grind then a fine grind in a regular drip coffee maker, what do you think the result would be? Which grind would give the stronger brew?
The finer grind coffee is the one with the higher surface area. That’s why when you use the same water temperature, and extraction time, the cup made with this grind is often stronger. It could actually extract a bit more than you’d like.
The Bottom Line
In a toe-to-toe comparison with fine grinds, evidently, the coarser texture doesn’t produce the strongest coffee. However, you can get a perfectly strong cup of coffee using a coarse grind. But here’s the catch, you need to know which conditions would extract coarse grinds optimally to make that rich cup.
Remember to use the best beans, with the richest flavors. And make sure they are as fresh as they get. After all, strong coffee is an experience, it’s ultimately how that cup of coffee makes you feel.
Stay caffeinated friends!