Is there a difference between strong coffee and bitter coffee?
Isn’t bitter coffee just stronger?
Well…...as always, it’s not quite so black and white. Sure, you might like a bitter coffee, a particularly dark roast can tick all the boxes for me sometimes!
But the roast isn’t the only thing that makes coffee bitter, and it certainly doesn’t mean that it’s stronger.
Let’s start with how/why your coffee might be bitter (for the purpose of this piece, we’ll not be using instant coffee as an example!)
Coffee can be bitter for a good few reasons:
The darker the roast, the more bitter and possibly burnt it can taste. Proper roasters can balance the flavours against how they roast a bean. But cheap and nasty coffee can be roasted really dark to try and hide potentially awful flavours.
If those beans are really dark and shiny (Starbucks anyone?!), chances are someone is trying to hide something. Then you get hit with some bitterness.
Brewing coffee can be an art. Getting water to coffee rations right, temperatures correct and so on.
One thing that I know I’m very guilty of, is letting the coffee brew too long and extract too much out of the ground coffee. If you overdo it (classic case is a cafetiere stood for too long), you pull more out of the bean than intended. It’s normal, but a few seconds can be the difference between a well-balanced cup o’ joe, and a bitter tasting mug of mud.
Burning during brew
Another that I’ve been very guilty of. Particularly when using the Moka pot. Getting your brew tools to the right temperature is really important, but you have to treat the coffee with care, too! #
Getting a Moka Pot hot, trying to boil the water, is fine, but if it’s sat too long and the water still isn’t boiled. You’re potentially cooking and burning that coffee!
Be careful, and try to look for some online guides to mitigate that if you can.
This isn’t always a direct cause, to be fair. But more a part of the over-extraction process.
If your grind is too fine, and it takes too long to get the water through your ground coffee. It’s going to have the same effect as leaving the cafetiere too long.
Bitter extracts aren’t always what you want. If you’re making an espresso and the grind is too fine, and perhaps tampered too much. Water can take too long to pass through, and bring with it more of the coffee than you want. It sounds ridiculous, but the grind of your coffee is one of the most important parts of your brew!
Strong or not?
Like I’ve written before, strong coffee can mean different things. A strong taste? Yep, absolutely. Bitter might very well equate to a strong cup of coffee. Would a bitter coffee mean more caffeine, though? It depends on what roast you’re using to make your brew!
A dark roast means that the beans have been in the roaster for longer, and will likely have less caffeine, because you’re literally cooking through the contents of the bean. A light roast might actually have more caffeine in it! So…..if you were to perhaps over-extract a lightly roasted coffee. Yeah, you might have a bitter and objectively “strong” coffee in terms of caffeine content.
People worry too much about coffee strength. Relying on arbitrary numbers on bags of off-the shelf coffee. It’s not really a useful scale, and nor is thinking that bitterness equates to strength.
Coffee is about nuance. You could have a dark, bitter coffee with relatively low caffeine, much like you could sit with a really fruity, sweet coffee that might be high-caffeine.
Find out what flavours you enjoy, try as many coffees as you can. Just enjoy the drink. Perhaps enjoy the many ways in which you can make a brew.
Don’t worry about the “strength” it implies a lot, and means very little. If you want a big caffeine hit, go to a place like Cannonball Coffee for a naturally high-caffeine roast. Where flavour is considered, and not just an afterthought.