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Coffee Strength Numbers

What does “strength” mean with coffee?

This blog is guest written by Ben Kirby, the founder of Ninja Refinery

In life, the grind comes in many forms.  Ben at ninjarefinery applies this to both coffee and to gaming. Grinding those beans and grinding for XP go hand-in-hand.  Head over to www.ninjarefinery.com for coffee reviews, gaming reviews and pieces around both subjects.

Drinking and enjoying coffee is a very personal thing.  A matter of personal tastes and preference.  I know that I’m as happy with a bitterly dark-roasted bean, as I am a masterfully-roasted bean bringing out a wealth of flavours.

When starting to get into coffee, the one thing I always looked out for was the strength on the packaging.


Growing up on instant coffee, and chucking in an extra half-teaspoon I always wanted it to be a bit stronger than people would generally have it.  But what did that mean?


I figured that more-coffee meant more caffeine, and, eventually, by default came to believe that the more bitter the coffee, the stronger it was.
 

That kind of primed me to take a long way around, to understanding the strength of coffee, and what it actually meant.
 

Sure, the more coffee you put in, the more caffeine you get out.  But balancing water to coffee ratios to get the best flavour out of every cup is a massive part of coffee making.  Just chucking more in isn’t necessarily going to give you a decent cup.

Strength numbers on coffee bags

The solution is simple, right? Buy the bag of coffee that says it’s the strongest (usually strength 5, or on rare occasions, 6 or 7!).


Actually no.  I always thought this was the case, but in truth, those numbers are more about how darkly roasted and bitter-tasting the coffee is. Remember how I taught myself to assume that the more bitter coffee was, the stronger it was?


It turns out that coffee roasters know this.  So they use an arbitrary number scale as a means to sell their coffees, with us, the consumer thinking we’re getting an extra kick or boost out of the “strong” bag.

 
Now, don’t get me wrong.  They’re not lying or anything.  Those coffees are stronger in taste, and that dark roast comes through above other flavours.  So in terms of taste/flavour, it is stronger and more pronounced. The number refers to the strength of the roast as opposed to the bean.


To be honest, after years and years of buying these dark, bitter roasts, I love them.  It doesn’t mean you shouldn’t drink and enjoy things (personal tastes after all!).  I think it’s just better to have an understanding of what it is you’re buying.


We could talk about how massive roasters practically burn their cheap beans to hide the lack of quality (looking at you Starbucks).  But I think that deserves a piece of its own.  Here we’re looking at “strength”.

Strong coffee itself, is surely more than bitterness?

Strong coffee?

So, we’ve established that the more coffee you put in, the stronger it would be in terms of caffeine, right?  But we’ve also come to the conclusion that taste and flavours in coffee are better brought-out through the brewing process, and ratios of coffee to water are important too?

 

Dark “strength 5” coffees, aren’t actually any stronger, either.  They just taste more bitter.

 

What does “strong coffee” mean then?


Caffeine! The reason coffee is so loved is its ability to keep us going throughout times of fatigue and tiredness, right?  One cup to start the day and give me a kick.  Perhaps to help start the metabolism.  Another to help me get through the mid-morning slump, and perhaps another to give me the edge on the afternoon.

Coffee is a constant in my day to day life.  And the strength, to me, comes down to how much caffeine I can get without sacrificing flavours.

 
I want something to kick me in the ass, and not taste like crap.  Which is surprisingly hard to find.
 

As someone that reviews coffee over at ninjarefinery.com I go through a lot of different beans and roasts, and have had some lovely cups to write about.  Honestly, some of the flavours and the things I’ve learned to look for in a brew, are excellent.


But, not all of those cups give me a massive kick.  Some days you just need actual “strong” coffee, and let’s be fair, that’s why we’re all here on the cannonball coffee site, isn’t it?  Great-tasting, properly-roasted, high-caffeine, whoop-ass in a cup.

There are plenty of “world's strongest coffee” gimmicks out there, believe me, I’ve tried them.  But they usually taste like they’ve been over-roasted and look to have had caffeine added.

If strength = caffeine and good coffee = flavour, you’re in the right place with Cannonball Coffee.

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