Wednesday, January 4, 2012

"Strong" coffee

    “Just give me some of your strong coffee” customers say...and everybody means something a little different by that.  Sometimes strong coffee is about the caffeine content, sometimes about the flavor profile or roast level, and some people seem worried that they would get a watered down version of coffee if they don’t specifically ask for the real stuff – from us?...really??

    So – what makes coffee strong?
The water to coffee grounds ratio can make coffee taste strong:  Espresso is made from a bit of hot water pressed through a compacted puck of coffee grounds – the result is a coffee concentrate and most people prefer it mixed with steamed milk etc.  
    Drip coffee is brewed with a lot more water.  
So – espresso is stronger than drip coffee, right?  Yes, but did you know a cup of drip coffee has significantly more caffeine than a shot of espresso?  That is because espresso extraction takes just seconds, while the drip coffee takes several minutes allowing more time to saturate the brew with caffeine.
So the caffeine is what makes coffee strong – yes, in it's effect on your body.  The picture above shows the chemical description of caffeine.

    And what about strong taste?  Well, that is – a question of personal flavor preference.  The coffee in your cup has quite a story behind it before it hits your taste buds and then enters your blood stream.  Many things contribute to the coffee's aroma: the variety of the coffee shrub, the dirt and climate it grows in, the elevation, the amount of care the coffee farmer gives to his crop, etc.  After harvesting the coffee cherries the further processing, storing and roasting of the coffee all affect its taste as well as the way it is brewed.

    Certain regions are often known for a certain kind of flavor profile: Sumatran coffees are rustic, earthy and pungent– strong flavors?  Some excellent Kenyan coffees have strong aromas and resemble strong red wines. Some coffee drinkers feel really dark roasting makes coffee taste strong- but excessive roasting also burns up a lot of the flavor components and makes coffee less complex.  If you never had a great, lighter roasted coffee, try a few.  They can also be really strong, but in a different sense than carbony, ashy, bittersweet and smokey flavors that are generally associated with dark roasting.
Think more along the lines of caramel, floral, vanilla, citrus, graham cracker, chocolate, tangerine, nutty, butterscotch and blueberry toaster waffle (Bet you didn't think this one was in coffee! Some Ethiopian Sidamo coffees scream blueberry toaster waffle.)

    Careless coffee brewing techniques can bring out really strong, but unpleasant flavors: bitter for example if the water is too hot, sour if too cold.  Using beans that are stale can result in some other unpleasant strong flavors.  On occasion you will find beans in this state to acutely resemble old fish.  Yeah, that gets strong flavors in your coffee - the kind of strong coffee I cannot stand!  Try some really fresh roasted coffee: Such vibrant and lively aromas will surely knock your socks off!