The Art & Science of Brewing Strong Coffee

February 10, 2017

by Remy Bernard

When it comes to coffee, everyone has his or her particular preference. There are so many variables at play when you start to dissect brewing and serving coffee, that from one person to the next, the “perfect cup” can look very different. One person might like their coffee black, while another prefers a bit of sugar. I like my coffee strong and piping hot, while my husband prefers his “light and ready to drink.” The point is, when it comes to personal coffee preference, there is no “right” way. It is a preference, after all. However, in my experience, one sought after aspect of coffee that most everyone can agree on is a cup that is high in flavor and aroma, but not bitter and intensely acidic.

Where most people seem to get this wrong when brewing coffee is in their belief that more coffee equals better coffee, when it reality this tends mean a brew that is over extracted and hard to drink. In this post, I’m going to go over just a little about what gives coffee its flavor in the first place, how to avoid bitter coffee while still letting the right aromas come thorough, and then some more practical suggestions that apply to making good coffee in general, no matter how you brew it. If this already sounds like too much coffee jargon for you, don’t worry, this post is geared toward the coffee newbie and connoisseur alike.

A Little Background (Science Alert!)

Believe it or not, roasted coffee has over 800 aromatic compounds, 20 of which have the largest impact on the desirable aromas of coffee. These 20 compounds typically posses the caramel-like odors, with the next three largest groups offering up scents like roasted, walnut, cereal, toasted, sweet and mushroom. The list or aromas goes on and on, but these are a few that the casual coffee drinker is probably most familiar with.

However, like in life, with the good sometimes comes the bad. Along with these sought after aromatic compounds, a less desirable compound exits in roasted coffee– Chlorogenic Acids, which are commonly known as tannins or Tannic Acid. While these acids serve the evolutionary purpose of protecting plants by making them unpalatable to grazing animals, they don’t exactly help our mission to brew a delicious cup of coffee. The bitter taste that comes from poorly made coffee is a direct result of too much of these acids.

The Art of Brewing A Flavorful Cup 

So what does all this mean for brewing great tasting coffee? Well, knowing that coffee contains both desirable and not-so-desirable compounds, the real trick is maximizing extraction of the best aromatic compounds without extracting the worst of the Tannic acid to brew a strong, but non-bitter coffee.

In all my years of drinking coffee, the best method I have found to do this consistently is extracting grounds with a well-designed espresso maker. This is because with the right grind size, and the proper amount of grounds and water pressure, only the most delicate and desirable aromatic compounds are released, leaving the Tannic acids behind. The 20-25 seconds of brew time is also short enough to not allow the bitter compounds to follow the delicious ones. Now, I understand that not everyone owns or wants to own an espresso maker. The good news is that you can still make great coffee in your traditional drip coffee maker as long as you consider a few simple things:

Use the freshest coffee you can find – the staler your coffee is, the more bitter it will taste. Coffee that has been exposed to oxygen and other elements for too long takes on a pungent, smoky and ash aromas that contain rancid traces. If you want to learn more about what happens to coffee as it goes stale, check out this post. It’s a very interesting read.

Opt for a darker roast instead of light – with medium to dark roasts of coffee, you will find much less acidity as opposed to their lighter counterparts. Additionally, the caramelized sugars take on a bittersweet flavor that is similar to dark chocolate. Knowing how roast levels affect your brewed coffee is important, so I suggest learning as much about this as you can.

Experiment with aged coffee – not to be confused with stale coffee, aged coffee is an intentionally aged green been coffee that is meant to reduce acidity and enhance the body and flavor of coffee. These aged coffees can be harder to find, but the list wouldn’t be complete without them. 

Make sure your brewing equipment is clean – this one is actually the easiest way to clean up the taste of your coffee over the long term. When you combine the oils found in coffee with the heat from your machine, you will find an inevitable buildup of burnt coffee residue inside the apparatus that leaches right into the coffee you’re drinking. Any machine or brewing method you use will come with cleaning instructions, don’t forget to use them.

Find coffee blends that have Robusta beans – Robusta vs. Arabica is a debate that’s nuanced and full of varying opinions, but I’ve found that Robusta beans are superior for character and flavor.

Brewing great coffee is absolutely a science and an art, but that doesn’t mean it can’t be done by anyone right in their own kitchen. It is not reserved for fancy coffee shops and if you have the desire, you will find the right way for you. I promise. By following the above recommendations, you are well on your way to brewing up the most deliciously strong coffee you’ve ever tasted!


Remy Bernard – Owner and Editor at Miss Mamie’s Cupcakes

A baker, chef and writer, Remy started as a way to deepen and spread her passion for making delicious food.

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