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The ultimate guide to explaining coffee types & strength

mycuppa explains coffee strength

Every day, we receive a request from a person asking for this.

"There is a particular type of coffee I want. It is a bold, strong, dark-roasted coffee. Give me the strongest one you have!"

Surprisingly, there are quite a few consumers out there belonging to the "Must Be Strong" or "Hit Me with a Hammer" coffee club.

Let's explain what this means regarding coffee types and how it has become confusing for many coffee drinkers.

At a technical level, when we talk about a coffee's strength, it is described as the caffeine content of a particular amount of coffee.

Coffee strength is not the coffee bean origin (but the type, e.g. Arabica or Robusta), nor is the strength of a coffee related to how the coffee was roasted, such as light, medium or dark roasted. 

Over time, coffee drinkers have referred to strength as a higher or "stronger" flavour.

Unfortunately, there can be many different distinctions between these meanings.

The first myth we will bust here is the strength rating.

Strength as a rating or grading system does not exist.

When you see a "strength or intensity" rating for a coffee, please remember that rating is purely marketing created by brands such as Nespresso or supermarket retailers.

At the point of coffee bean grading, where coffees are evaluated and graded for quality and taste, there is no "strength or intensity" score.

That means coffee roasters can't ring up their raw coffee broker and ask to buy "strong" coffee beans. 

It's not how coffee beans are classified, categorized, traded, priced or purchased.

Strong has never, ever been a type attribute or feature of coffee.

Flavor is indeed an attribute. Some coffees have different flavours from others.

Generally speaking, a coffee's strength is the caffeine content.

It may surprise you that all arabica coffees have the same relative caffeine levels.

That means it does not matter whether it was grown in Brazil, Colombia or Kenya; if it's an arabica coffee, they all have the same level of caffeine and hence the same equivalent "strength".

Robusta, on the other hand, has between 2 and 3 times more caffeine per gram compared to arabica coffee.

Therefore, robusta coffees are going to be stronger than Arabica.

But there is a big downside here, folks - Robusta is grown at lower altitudes, with heaps of chemical pesticides and fertilizers, and tastes like wood, rubber, tar and spice. 

Dark Roasts do not mean stronger.

A common myth that is a nuisance hangover from the past is when people refer to strength as a roast depth rating, e.g. I want a dark roasted freshly ground coffee.

Roasting darker means a reduced acid level, increased bitter and ashy taints and a shorter shelf life (a smaller optimal usage window).

That is not what strong is about, unless, of course, what you are trying to say is you like (or are accustomed to) a lot of "bite" (some bitter taints) in a coffee.

Dark-roasted coffee is not strong. The darker or longer a coffee is roasted will not create extra flavour.

Darker roasting creates a rougher edge or a dirtier cup. Unfortunately, dark-roasted coffee is just what some people have become accustomed to drinking.

There is a point in roasting coffee where the maximum "clean" development exists.

Beyond that point, everything goes downhill. Think of toasting bread and leaving it in too long. That's dark-roasted coffee for you.

Roast depth is also very highly subjective.

What one person calls dark might be medium to another person.

Acids are the important pathways of flavour. When you roast the acids out of coffee, it becomes boring, lacklustre, sour, mild, and weak.

So, what creates "strength" in a coffee? Let's look at caffeine content first.

Robusta And Arabica Types Of Coffee

You may already know that two primary types of coffee beans are grown around the world.

These are Robusta and Arabica. There are many varietals in each type of Robusta and Arabica. 

Unfortunately for poor old Robusta, the marketing of coffee in Australia (ironically by the players at the bottom end of the quality scale in the market) has deliberately tried to brainwash consumers over the last 16 years into believing Robusta is bad.

By the very inference that marketing claims Robusta is bad, they are implying that Arabica is good.

Like an episode of Star Wars, there is this good versus evil with poor cousin Robusta cast as the dark side of the force.

Some old-school roasting companies love Robusta, and they can't shake the habit of relying upon Robusta's heavier body payload.

You can always expect that Robusta will be used in Italian-style coffees to enhance the espresso crema and tame acid levels.

It also provides a lower-cost filler in the blend for those cost-competitive commercial retail offerings.

Some Australian coffee roasters (Supermarkets, old school cafe suppliers) still use Robusta today for a perceived "kick and crema".

Sadly, this old myth remains an unshakable practice for those brands.

The use of Robusta is unnecessary in modern coffee except for its higher caffeine content. That is often the case for smaller-dosage beverage applications such as pods and capsules. 

Robusta coffees can have a "burnt rubber" tar or woody flavour in the cup. 

Even the best grades of Robusta have tastes that could be cleaner, sweeter, or acidic compared to quality arabica.

At mycuppa, we do not use Robusta. 

Why would we add something to a blend of coffee that will make that coffee blend taste worse? 

It makes no sense in a competitive market where taste is a critical factor in a coffee buyer's choice.

Why Arabica

Arabicas have lower yields than Robusta due to the higher altitudes and delicate nature of Arabica.

Farmers receive higher prices for Arabica due to the increased effort and difficulty in producing a quality lot of Arabica. 

But that also comes with plenty of high risks of the delicate arabica tree experiencing damage from pests, frosts, and drought.

Arabicas are grown at much higher altitudes, and they are harder, denser beans with higher acidity.

But it is this fine and sweet acidity Australian coffee drinkers love, and when paired with steamed milk (think Latte, Cappuccino, Flat White), it makes a delicious combination.

Given that the caffeine levels of most arabica coffees are reasonably similar, what gives us the "flavour" in a cup of coffee?

Coffee flavour results from applying the perfect balance of time, heat, and pressure during brewing or extraction, which extracts oils from the beans.

The key to unlocking maximum flavour is extracting and brewing the most oil.

It is a complex and difficult dynamic to manage - even for the best baristas who might have worked in coffee shops for years.

Some mornings, I confess myself to almost admitting defeat when I try to dial in a new sample of coffee. Frustration levels can run very high, especially at 5 a.m. when you are in a hurry.

There is plenty of swearing and banging of the portafilter when it's not right!

It does not matter what brewing method you see using - espresso, stovetop, filter, plunger - the whole equation is affected by variables such as grind, dose, temperature, and time.

The most common problem we see daily is grinding and dose for domestic espresso machines and the issues relating to under and over-extraction.

Correlation Between Grinding Settings & Coffee Flavor

The #1 fault I frequently see with home espresso environments is a failure to adjust the grind to suit the coffee bean/blend.

Most home users leave their grinder at the same setting all the time.

Of course, this depends upon the capability of your grinder (some grinders have big steps between settings and others have a smaller, micro-fine adjustment).

As coffee ages, the ideal grind setting and dose for the best extraction changes.

Typically, it would be best if you made fine adjustments every couple of days.

Of course, you can cheat by a slightly higher dose level, and this is a technique I use to compensate for coffee aging.

It's a lot simpler and easier to dose higher than it is to grind finer. Remember, each grind adjustment needs at least 2 or 3 coffees to run through before it is in play.

When you open a new pack of coffee, the pressure inside the bag is different to the atmosphere. The beans behave differently for the first few hours until they equalize the oxygen balance.

If the grind is too coarse or the dose too low (remember that grind and dose work together and against each other), the espresso will "gush", and the shot is completed in a short time (less than 20 secs, for example).

That type of result is called "under-extraction".

The resultant coffee brew is weak, thin, lacking flavour, body and sweetness, with varying bitter notes.

An under-extracted coffee has low levels of flavour, and you will notice the crema is likely to be very pale. 

It may also dissipate very quickly.

A weak-tasting coffee is not the fault of coffee beans or roasting. 

The weak taste of coffee often results from incorrect extraction techniques.

When the grind is too fine, or the dose and tamp too high, the coffee may over-extract, pour very slowly, or "choke".

The coffee may taste or seem burnt as the coffee has been in contact with hot water for too long.

Typical notes of over-extraction are baked flavours, sourness, bitter taints, lack of sweetness, and dark, oily marks on the surface of the crema.

The colour of the crema may also be pale, with darker, oily stains on the surface.

When you get the extraction right, the flavour can be wonderful.

The crema will be a rich yellow/brown/orange colour, and the cup will have body, sweetness and, of course, flavour.

Coffee types for non-espresso brew methods, such as filter plunger.

It is important to have the correct ground type that suits your apparatus.

It is equally important to ensure that you have an accurate dose and brew time that will enable the extraction of coffee oils/flavour to be released.

Once you master and adapt your brew and extraction techniques to suit the coffee, then you can look at coffees with higher natural levels of flavour if you have a preference for more taste.

Origin Notes

Kenya Clean, intense, citric, winey, dark chocolate with a long finish

Tanzania Dark berry, bold body

Monsoon Malabar AA is a Powerful classic coffee flavour with chocolate notes, a massive body and a long, persistent finish.

Guatemala Coffee Dark chocolate and cocoa with a Swiss chocolate finish.

Ethiopia Harrar Strong blueberry and long choc-chip cookie finish

Ethiopia Sidamo Wild berry, lemon and citrus notes, high acid

Nicaragua SHG Strong toffee and caramel

Colombia Excelso or Supremo Heavy caramel with red berry mid-palate and milk chocolate in the finish.

Sumatran Coffee Beans: Spicy, massive body, pawpaw and papaya, very sweet, long finish.

Rwanda Chocolate, toffee and caramel.

If you are looking for strong coffee beans, we hope this Buying Guide helps you understand the differences in coffee for sale in Australia.

Types of Coffee - Arabica

Arabicas have lower yields compared to robusta so farmers receive higher prices for smaller crop volumes. But there are also risks of the delicate arabica plants being damaged by pests, frosts, drought, etc.

Arabicas are grown at much higher altitudes and therefore are hard, dense beans with higher acid. It is this acid we find very enjoyable in Australia for our steam milk-based espresso drinks (think Latte, Cappuccino, Flat White, etc.).

Given that caffeine levels of most arabica coffees are reasonably similar, what is it that gives us the "flavour" in a cup of coffee?

Coffee flavour is an oil that is extracted when the perfect balance of heat and high pressure are applied during the brewing stage.

The ability to correctly extract the most oil, is the result that ends up with greater levels of flavour.

Fear not, this is a very complex and difficult dynamic to manage. Even the best baristas who worked in coffee shops for a long period, can struggle with this from time to time.

Some mornings, I confess to almost admitting defeat when I try to dial in a new sample of coffee. Frustration levels can run very high. Plenty of swearing and banging of the portafilter when it's not right!

It does not matter what type of brewing method you are using - espresso, stovetop, filter, plunger - the whole equation is influenced by variables such as grind, dose, temperature, time, etc.

The most common problem I encounter every day is grind and dose for domestic espresso machines, and the issues relating to under and over-extraction.

The Correlation Between Grinding Settings & Coffee Flavour

The #1 fault I see most frequently with home espresso environments is a failure to adjust the grind to suit the coffee bean/blend.

Most home users just leave their grinder at the same setting all the time.

Of course, this depends upon the capability of your grinder (some have very big steps between settings and others have micro-fine adjustment and others have very small range of adjustment if they are automatic machines).

As a coffee ages, the grind required and dose for the best extraction changes.

Typically, you would need to make fine adjustments every couple of days.

Of course, you can cheat by a slightly higher dose level.

When you open a new pack of coffee, the pressure inside the bag is different to the atmosphere. This means the beans will behave differently for the first few hours until they equalize the oxygen balance.

If the grind is too coarse, or the dose too low (remember that grind and dose work together and against each other), the espresso will "gush", and the shot is completed in a short time (less than 20 secs for example).

This is commonly referred to as "under-extraction". The coffee is weak, thin, lacking flavour, body and sweetness, with varying levels of bitter notes.

An under-extracted coffee has low levels of flavour and you will notice the crema is likely to be very pale. It may also dissipate very quickly.

This is a weak coffee and is not the fault of the coffee beans or the roasting, but caused by the extraction being incorrect.

When the grind is too fine, or the dose and tamp too high, the coffee may over-extract, or pour very slowly, or "choke".

The coffee can be burnt because it has come into contact with the hot water for too long.

Typical notes of over-extraction are baked flavours, sourness, bitter taints, lacking sweetness, dark oily marks on the surface of the crema.

The colour of the crema may also be pale with darker oily stains on the surface.

When you get the extraction right, the flavour can be wonderful.

The crema will be a rich yellow/brown/orange colour and the cup will have body, sweetness and of course flavour.

Coffee types for non-espresso brew methods, such as filter, plunger, etc.

It is very important to have the correct ground type to suit your apparatus. It is also very important for the accurate level of dose, and brew time to enable the appropriate level of coffee oils, or flavour, to be released.

Once you master and adapt your brew and extraction techniques to suit the coffee, then you can look at coffees with higher natural levels of flavours if you have a preference for more taste.

The 10 Coffee Types With The Highest Flavours

Here are my tips for the top 10 types of coffee beans with the highest flavours.

Origin or Bean

Notes

Kenya

Clean, intense, citric, winey with a long finish

Tanzania

Dark berry, bold body

Monsoon Malabar AA

Powerful classic coffee flavour, chocolate notes, massive body and long persistent finish

Guatemala Coffee

Dark chocolate and cocoa with a swiss chocolate finish.

Ethiopia Harrar

Strong blueberry and long choc-chip cookie finish.

India mysore nuggets

Ethiopia Sidamo

Wild berry, lemon and citrus notes, high acid

Nicaragua SHG

Strong toffee and caramel

Colombia Excelso or Supremo

Heavy caramel with red berry mid-palate

Sumatran Coffee Beans Such As Blue Batak

Spicy, massive body, pawpaw and papaya, very sweet, long finish.

If you are looking for strong coffee beans, we hope this post has helped you understand the differences in coffee for sale in Australia and how to choose what you like most. If you have any questions about the type of coffee you prefer, feel free to contact us.