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Some people like their coffee sweet or complex. Others just want it to kick them into high gear. If you like your coffee strong, then that’s exactly what you should get. So let’s go over some tips and common misconceptions about how to make strong coffee. Along the way, I’ll also toss in some tips for making your coffee richer and more flavorful.
What Is Strong Coffee?
I have to clear up a bit of confusion here. When people say strong coffee, they mean one of two things: more caffeine or more flavor. Those two don’t always go hand-in-hand, so I’m going to address the caffeine lovers here. More caffeinated coffees do tend to be more flavorful, too, so you will often get both effects from the same tips.
What if I want more flavorful coffee?
If you were looking for a way to ramp up the flavor of your coffee instead, stay tuned — that article is coming soon. In the meantime, check out the best coffees for cold brew and automatic pour-over coffee makers, both of which can be used to enhance the flavor of your coffee.
Oh, and I’ll be sure to point out which tips below will make your coffee more flavorful along with increasing its caffeine content.
Can You Make Coffee Too Strong?
The US Food and Drug Administration (FDA) certainly seems to think so. They suggest a limit of 400 mg of caffeine per day for the average adult. With regular coffee, that’s about four cups or six shots of espresso.
Most of these tips won’t make your coffee that strong, and I’m assuming you aren’t overly sensitive to caffeine if you are still reading this article.
Is Dark Roast Coffee Stronger?
No, it’s not, but the answer is more complicated than that. There is so much confusion out there when it comes to the caffeine content of dark vs light roast coffees.
Some people assume that the stronger flavor of a dark roast means that it also has more caffeine. That’s wrong. Other people think that caffeine burns off during the roasting process, so dark roasts should have less caffeine since they roast longer. That’s wrong, too.
Let me put my chemist hat on for a second to explain what’s going on.
When you roast coffee beans, the temperature should never get high enough to burn off significant amounts of caffeine. Caffeine is completely stable at temperatures below 392 degrees Fahrenheit and doesn’t completely decompose until 545 degrees Fahrenheit. Roasting is done almost entirely below 392 degrees Fahrenheit and almost never exceeds 545 degrees, so little if any caffeine is lost during the process.
Is Espresso Stronger Than Coffee?
Ounce for ounce, a shot of espresso has more caffeine than coffee. However, a cup of coffee is a lot larger. If you make the espresso into an Americano or long black coffee by diluting it with water, you’ll end up with a drink that has less caffeine than a cup of coffee. The same is true if you make the espresso into a cappuccino or latte.
The only way espresso is stronger than coffee is if you drink it straight. Well, there’s one other way, but we’ll get to that in a minute.
5 Tricks for Making Stronger Coffee
Trick #1: Buy stronger coffee beans
Not all coffee beans are created equal. The roast level may not be the key to stronger coffee, but you can easily increase your caffeine intake by at least 2–4x by buying the right coffee beans.
Some types of coffee beans are naturally stronger than others. Coffee lovers tend to seek out Arabica for its sweeter flavor and complexity, but Robusta beans have about twice as much caffeine. Vietnamese coffee brands are a great source of Robusta, and Lavazza offers some Robusta-heavy blends, which is one of the major distinctions between Lavazza vs Illy, the two largest Italian coffee brands.
You can also just cut out that complication and buy one of the highest-caffeine coffees from a brand that specializes in strong coffee. Although there are stronger coffees, Death Wish is a great starting point. It has about four times the caffeine of typical coffee beans, and it’s easily the best-tasting strong coffee I’ve ever tried.
Higher-caffeine coffee beans tend to have stronger flavors, although really high caffeine coffees are often more bitter than flavorful. One of the biggest upsides of Death Wish is that it has an amped-up flavor without the extra bitterness.
Trick #2: Grind your coffee the right way
If your coffee is weak, that often means you are under-extracting the coffee grounds. In other words, you are leaving too much caffeine in the grounds. Incidentally, that also means you are leaving too much of the sweet, complex flavors in the grounds, too, so your coffee is probably too sour, salty, or acidic.
You can control the extraction level with the temperature of the water, brew rate, coffee grind size, and the coffee-to-water ratio. However, most automatic drip coffee makers (the regular coffee makers most people have) don’t give you any control over the water or brew rate. Thus, the grind size (this tip) and coffee-to-water ratio (the next tip) are your best levers.
The right brew size will depend on your coffee brewing method. If you are using a drip coffee maker, a medium grind is usually best. To increase your extraction, try a slightly finer grind. Don’t go too far, though, as too fine a grind can lead to over-extracted, bitter coffee. If you are using a blade grinder, you won’t have any real control over the brew size, so definitely go with a burr grinder.
Optimizing your grind size will also improve the flavor of your coffee, and grinding your own coffee beans guarantees freshness — which is another huge boost to the flavor of your cup of joe.
Trick #3: Use the perfect amount of coffee grounds
To make this one easy, I put together a coffee-to-water ratio calculator. Just like with grind size, your perfect ratio is going to depend on what brewing method you are using. For strong drip coffee, 1:15 is usually a good starting point. Be careful going too far beyond that as too little water will result in an under-extracted, sour brew.
If you want to get serious about measuring your coffee grounds properly, you really should pick up a coffee scale. Even some of the best coffee scales can be quite cheap, and they offer the most consistent coffee-measuring method. You can just use your kitchen scale if you have one, as almost any kitchen scale is better than using a coffee scoop.
The coffee-to-water ratio will impact the flavor along with the caffeine content.
Trick #4: Brew concentrated coffee
There are several brewing methods that produce concentrated coffee. Some of my favorites are espresso, cold-brew, AeroPress, and Ninja.
- Espresso machines — Espresso is the classic concentrated coffee option, so you really can’t go wrong down this path. While it’s the most obvious option, it’s also the most expensive. You can buy a good espresso machine for under $1000, but if you try to go too cheap you’ll end up with a sub-par machine.
- Cold-brewing — Cold brew coffee is about 2-3 times as concentrated as regular coffee, and it is incredibly easy to make. The best part is that you can make cold brew with no extra equipment or you can get a cold brew coffee maker for under $100. If you really want to go all-out, you can even make nitro cold brew at home!
- AeroPress — The AeroPress makes a concentrated coffee that is absolutely delicious, especially if you try an AeroPress espresso recipe. And the AeroPress is one of the cheapest coffee makers on the market.
- Ninja coffee maker — Some of the best Ninja coffee makers have up to five coffee strength options, the strongest of which should satisfy even the most dedicated caffeine junkie.
Obviously, concentrated coffee will be more flavorful, too.
Trick #5: Try stronger coffee drinks
Most people go straight for the lattes or cappuccinos on a coffee shop menu. Those drinks have far more milk than coffee. You could go with a straight shot of espresso, but sometimes you still want a full cup instead of just a shot.
Fortunately, there are options.
If you want just a hint of something more in your espresso, you can try a macchiato, which is just espresso with a splash of milk.
But let’s talk real caffeine intake. What could you dilute your espresso with that actually adds more caffeine? If you said “coffee”, you are absolutely right! A red-eye coffee is the caffeine junkie’s best friend. It’s literally a shot of espresso diluted into a cup of coffee. If that’s not good enough, you can go for a black-eye (two shots in coffee) or a green-eye (three shots in coffee). Needless to say, those drinks offer a kick that you won’t get from any regular drip coffee.
Expect more flavor from these drinks as well, since you’ll be trading in the flavor of milk for even more coffee flavor.
The best part about these tips is that you can absolutely mix and match them. Just be careful not to go overboard. Coffee is all about balance. Death Wish is good, as is a red-eye coffee, but a Death Wish red-eye is probably more than you bargained for.
Looking to drink stronger coffee everywhere you go? Consider getting a small coffee grinder and a budget coffee maker that can travel with you. That way, you can show off how you make strong coffee anytime, anywhere. You could also get a small Keurig coffee maker and some of the strongest coffee k-cups. Or, if that sounds like a hassle, maybe you’d be interested in checking out the strongest coffees at Starbucks.
You never know where the quest for delicious, high-caffeine coffee might take you, so just enjoy it one sip at a time.