What makes coffee stronger?

More and more people enter a coffee shop and ask for a “stronger coffee” or a “strong coffee.” However, it is not understood what the client means by this because what the term “strong” means for them, speaking of coffee, the barista can interpret it in another way. 

The strength of coffee does not depend on the roasting technique, the cultivation, the processing, or even how we prepare it. There is only one way to give more strength to coffee: adding another espresso shot.

What does strength in a coffee mean?

There are a lot of different definitions regarding the strength of coffee. Still, the one that interests us, in particular, goes like this:

(of a solution or drink) containing a large proportion of a particular substance; concentrated. “a cup of strong coffee”

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This definition emphasizes concentration, mercilessly pointing to the amount of caffeine in the beverage. It does not talk about the texture, the flavor notes, about how anything is perceived, thus alluding that the strength of a coffee is clearly about its concentration of caffeine.

Note: Commercially speaking, we have two main species of coffee; Robusta and Arabica.

The two species of coffee that determine its strength

Robusta coffee has a higher concentration of caffeine, but the species that we use more regularly is Arabica coffee. This is because it is a sweet coffee with more nuances than Robusta.

The coffee plant
The coffee plant

Most people, coffee shops, and online stores, unless otherwise specified, use 100% Arabica coffee. Although there are also blends with both species of coffee, they are not consumers’ favorite.

However, even though Arabica coffee is the favorite of the great majority, regardless of its origin, it will always contain much less caffeine than the Robusta species, and it is the caffeine that determines the strength of the coffee. But I am almost certain that if you are a customer and you go to a coffee shop to ask for a strong coffee, the last thing you want to be served is a Robusta coffee.

Due to its high concentration of caffeine, Robusta coffee is very intense, bitter, and with burnt flavors. But the solution to obtain a stronger coffee does not always have to dispense with a better flavor in favor of a greater intensity.

What should you ask for when you want a stronger coffee?

Now you may be asking yourself, how should you express what you want as a client so that you are not served a coffee with a high concentration of caffeine but a horrible taste? But rather a beverage that feels more intense on the palate and tastes great. 

So I will explain a term you may have used before when ordering a coffee: “body.” It is used to talk about coffee, and sometimes wine, or other foods, and it is defined as a heavy feeling in the mouth that is especially noticeable on the tongue.

If you’ve drunk something like a smooth wine, you’ll notice that it’s quite silky and light, but then you get a really rich, full-bodied taste, and it will feel heavier on the tongue. The same thing happens with coffee, which is what most people mean when they ask for a strong coffee; in reality, they want a fuller-bodied coffee.

This is the term with which anyone in the coffee industry will understand you; if you ask for it this way, any barista will know exactly what you mean. They will recommend coffees with deeper and darker tones, perhaps those coffees with notes of dark chocolate that give the impression of having more strength.

But remember that the caffeine level does not vary; it is only a perception of that sensation in the mouth.

How to turn coffee into a stronger, more full-bodied beverage?

One way to make coffee with more body is by adjusting the proportion between the espresso shot and the water or milk you add. If you add less milk to your espresso, it will have more body and give the sensation of being stronger, although, in reality, it will have the same caffeine.

30ml (one fluid ounce) of coffee contains approximately 63 milligrams of caffeine. To this shot of espresso, you can add as much water or milk as you want because it will always have the same strength (caffeine), although it will have less body as you add water or milk.

Proportion of caffeine in a dose of coffee
The proportion of caffeine in a dose of coffee

For example, if you want a stronger coffee with milk, you need to use a double espresso for the same amount. This drink will be stronger because it has twice as much caffeine, and it will also have more body because it will be less diluted.

Note: Always remember that no more caffeine exists in any coffee unless you change the coffee species or add more coffee to the preparation.

Can you get more strength or body in a decaffeinated coffee?

Many times baristas have to explain to customers that all coffees have the same amount of caffeine. Even reducing the amount of milk in which some drinks are prepared can give the sensation that the coffee will be stronger because there is less milk, but in reality, it is not.

This is something really interesting that happens all the time with consumers of decaffeinated coffee, since they think that by increasing the dose of coffee, they will have more caffeine in the beverage and that the same thing happens if the amount of milk in which it is prepared is reduced, forgetting that there is no caffeine in decaffeinated coffee. 

Suppose you are a consumer of decaffeinated coffee and want a coffee with a more intense flavor or body. In that case, you can be sure to order your drink with a double or triple dose of decaffeinated coffee since you get the satisfaction of the stronger flavor in your drink without the strength of the caffeine.

Conclusion

Now with these concepts clear, you should start substituting the word “stronger” for “more body” when looking for a coffee that feels heavier on the palate and tastes great. When entering a coffee shop, ask them which coffee with more body, and they will surely understand what you are looking for.

The expression “strong” should only be used if you need a more concentrated level of caffeine in your coffee, and this is determined by the species of coffee used, either Robusta or Arabica.

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