Coffee Basics: What does 'Strong Coffee' really mean?

Thursday, 10 October, 2019

How many times have you had a really tough morning and walked up to your local barista and asked for a really strong coffee. Maybe it's the start of the school year and everyone is trying to get back into routine. Maybe you're back from a relaxing holiday and work has hit you like a ton of bricks. Maybe it's just the pace of life in general. We need our coffee to help with that!

As simple as it sounds, asking for a 'strong coffee' really is up for interpretation. So here are a few facts to help make your next order a bit more specific.

'Strength' generally refers to the kick you're going to get from your morning pick me up ie the amount of caffeine your coffee delivers, but that isn't really related to how dark your coffee beans are, but more importantly how your beans are brewed. Though dark roasted coffee beans taste 'stronger' because they generally have that bitter, eye-twitching edge, this doesn't necessarily mean you're getting any added caffeine benefit. 

If we're talking espresso based beverages, your barista will likely add an extra shot of espresso to your chosen order to give it that extra kick. And while you may think that adding more milk is diluting caffeine, it's not! While the coffee flavour is altered to be smoother, the caffeine remains the same and as the milk fats take longer for our metabolisms to break down, the caffeine  may even stay in your system for a bit longer than if you drink it black. 

When it comes to filter coffee, the longer the water is in contact with the grounds, the more caffeine is able to be extracted, so full immersion methods like the French Press contain more caffeine than the equivalent amount of coffee brewed through a pour-over, where the coffee passes through the grounds quickly to the carafe below.

If you're after coffee designed specifically for caffeine strength, you're not alone, apparently there is quite a demand for the stuff! The 'Strongest Coffee in the World' title was long held by Death Wish Coffee from the United States, but over the years this title has been won by newcomers to the market. We get the jitters just thinking about the kick these coffees can administer, but whatever floats your boat! There's even an SA company in there making waves.

The secret to most of these extra-strength coffees is in the varietal of coffee they use. Robusta has a higher caffeine content /mg than the Arabica strain. A lot of the Italian brands like Illy and Lavazza have great success with blending Arabica and Robusta to consistently deliver crema and caffeine to their brews.

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