What makes coffee stronger?

Have you ever walked into a coffee shop wanting a “stronger coffee” and been met with a puzzled look from the barista? When talking about coffee, the term “strong” can mean different things to each individual.

In this article, I’ll unravel the mystery behind coffee’s intensity and explore the key factors that truly define a strong cup of coffee. So whether you’re looking for a caffeine rush or a fuller-bodied coffee, I’ll dive into the science of what makes a coffee stronger.

What does strength in a coffee mean?

The concept of coffee strength has often been the subject of confusion, with diverse interpretations among coffee lovers. When referring to coffee strength, it is essential to understand that there are several definitions, but one, in particular, captures my interest:

According to the Google definition, a “strong coffee” is described as:

(of a solution or drink) containing a large proportion of a particular substance; concentrated. “a cup of strong coffee”

Google 3.c

➡️ This definition emphasizes concentration, with a clear focus on the caffeine content of the beverage. However, it falls short of capturing the intricacies of coffee, as it does not take into account factors such as texture, flavor notes, and overall perception. As a result, the common notion of coffee intensity revolves solely around caffeine concentration.

The two species of coffee that determine its strength

The strength of the coffee (caffeine content) depends largely on the type of coffee species used. Robusta and Arabica beans play a fundamental role in the characteristics of the final infusion.

The coffee plant
The coffee plant

Robusta coffee has a higher concentration of caffeine, which differentiates it from its counterpart, Arabica coffee. While Arabica coffee is preferred for its sweet and nuanced flavors, the intense and bitter taste of Robusta, with burnt nuances, is not so appreciated.

In the specialty coffee sector, preference is inclined towards 100% Arabica coffee, due to its superior flavor and nuanced taste. However, at the retail brand level, Robusta remains the most popular option, mainly due to its lower cost. This affordability factor has made Robusta a familiar and accessible flavor for many domestic coffee consumers.

With this in mind, it is likely that when customers order a strong coffee at their local coffee shop, they are most likely looking for a flavor profile similar to that of the Robusta bean without necessarily desiring the intense bitterness associated with Robusta coffee.

What should you ask for when you want a stronger coffee?

You may be wondering how to convey your desire for a more intense coffee without ending up with a high concentration of caffeine and an unpleasant taste. The key is to understand the term “body” when ordering your coffee.

“Body” is a common term used in coffee, wine and other foods, describing the weighty sensation experienced in the mouth, especially on the tongue.

Just as when drinking a smooth wine that is initially silky and light, but later reveals a rich, full-bodied taste, coffee follows a similar pattern. When most people order a strong coffee, what they are really looking for is a fuller-bodied coffee.

By using the term “body”, any barista will instantly understand your preferences. The barista will be able to recommend coffees with deeper and darker tones, often accompanied by touches of dark chocolate, which create the impression of greater strength.

It is essential to remember that the caffeine level remains constant, and that the focus is simply on the perception of a more satisfying mouthfeel. Thus, by expressing your desire for a coffee with more “body”, you will be able to enjoy a richer and more intense coffee experience without compromising on taste.

How to enhance coffee’s strength and body?

One effective method to achieve a stronger and more full-bodied coffee is by adjusting the proportions of espresso, water, or milk. By reducing the amount of milk added to your espresso, you create a coffee with more body, imparting a sensation of increased strength, even though the caffeine content remains the same.

A standard 30ml (one fluid ounce) shot of coffee contains approximately 63 milligram of caffeine. Regardless of the amount of water or milk you add to this espresso shot, its caffeine strength will remain constant. However, as you add more water or milk, the coffee’s body will decrease.

The proportion of caffeine in a dose of coffee
The proportion of caffeine in a dose of coffee

The caffeine proportion in a dose of coffee remains unchanged, regardless of dilution. For instance, if you desire a stronger coffee with milk, opting for a double espresso for the same quantity will achieve this result. The double espresso will contain twice the caffeine, giving it an intensified strength, while also maintaining more body due to reduced dilution.

Remember, adding more coffee or switching coffee species are the only ways to increase caffeine levels. Otherwise, the key to a stronger and fuller-bodied coffee lies in mastering the proportions of espresso, water, or milk during preparation.

Can you get more strength or body in a decaffeinated coffee?

Baristas often explain to customers that all coffees, including decaffeinated coffees, contain the same amount of caffeine even if the amount of milk added is reduced. Although in certain beverages it can create the perception of a stronger coffee due to a lower dilution, the reality does not change: the caffeine content is still absent in decaffeinated coffee.

This misconception arises frequently among consumers of decaffeinated coffee. Some believe that by increasing the coffee dose or reducing the milk they can raise caffeine levels, without realizing that decaffeinated coffee lacks caffeine.

If you desire a more intense flavor or fuller body in your decaffeinated coffee, there’s a simple solution. Ordering your beverage with a double or triple dose of decaffeinated coffee guarantees the satisfaction of a bolder flavor profile without the added caffeine strength.


Once these concepts are understood, consider substituting the term “stronger” for “fuller-bodied” when looking for a coffee with a rich mouthfeel and intense flavor. When entering a coffee shop, ask for coffees with more body, and the baristas will understand your preference.

Reserve the term “strong” only for those cases in which you want a higher concentration of caffeine in your coffee, determined by the species of coffee used, whether Robusta or Arabica.

Written by Pablo Barrantes Nevado
I am Pablo Barrantes, a coffee lover. I decided to start this website to solve all the doubts that arise every day when preparing our favorite drink: coffee. I am an industrial engineer by profession, but I have worked in coffee shops for many years, where I have learned all the secrets about coffee machines and coffee. My passion for coffee has led me to investigate and study beyond the obvious, and thanks to this, I can offer solutions and give news about coffee and coffee makers. I hope you enjoy reading as much as I research, document and write here.

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