Have you ever feel disappointed about the way your coffee looks? Have you accidentally brewed a weak, tea-like cup of coffee?
The way a coffee looks might not be the most important thing about it—but after the way it smells, it’s the second attribute we perceive.
And, we can’t forget its appearance. If we think it’s weak, we won’t appreciate its taste and aroma because we already feel discouraged by its color and watery looks.
... But coffee should be as dark as your soul, right?
Well, you might find this article counterintuitive if you believe that coffee should be “black as night, black as coal”-yes, I just quoted Sir Michael Phillip Jagger.
A few things play a bigger role than roast types when it comes to black coffee darkness, but how you brew your coffee can make a difference too.
Keep reading to find out why black coffee doesn’t need to be as black as your soul to be good. And how to get it as dark as it gets if that’s what you want!
Coffee Roasts and Color
If I may be blunt, roasting coffee is like cooking meat. Most conventional coffee lovers like dark roasts (well done), some people like medium roasts (medium), and a few like light roasts (rare).
The same chemical reaction that occurs when cooking meat happens when roasting coffee beans: the Maillard reaction. Let’s spare us the chemistry class. Coffee beans are full of sugars and roasting transforms them into caramel. The longer the sugars are “cooking,” the darker and bitter they will become.
Green coffee and roast types from light to dark. Credit: Nousnou Iwasaki from Unsplash
On the other hand, medium and light roasts are not for the faint of heart. They can look, smell, and taste very different from what we are used to.
Dark roasts are the most traditional ones, and big commercial brands offer them by default. On the contrary, specialty coffee roasters use medium to light roasts, unless they say it explicitly.
For this reason, if you want to try new coffee beans you have to check the labels. This way, you’ll have a better idea of the kind of brew you are going to get, before opening the bag.
Once you open a bag of coffee beans you can easily discern if they had a light, medium, or dark roast.
You can know a dark roast for its color because it looks dark brown—if it looks too black, it’s a bad sign. Additionally, if you get whole beans you’ll find a shiny oily surface in dark roasts most of the time. Although people previously considered oily beans as a good thing, dark oily beans aren’t necessarily the best option because they stale faster. Furthermore, they lose most of their natural taste and aroma after a certain point.
Brew Strength: Ratio, Devices, and Grind Size
Although many brands use strength to express darkness, it doesn’t mean that it’s purer or stronger. Darker roasts don’t have more caffeine than other roasts. Caffeine is naturally bitter but its taste is different from the ashy, burnt taste that dark roasts develop.
Some recent brands use blends to increase caffeine content. But, the only thing in common between high-caffeine coffee and dark roasts is bitterness. Coffee with high caffeine content tends to have Robusta in its blends, a coffee plant species that grow at lower altitudes.
Robusta coffee has a bad reputation because big brands have been using it for low-quality products like cheap instant coffee. However, experts have been working to get high-quality Robustas for some time now.
Getting back to the point, you can make completely different cups of coffee depending on the amount of coffee you use. For instance, if you use four scoops of coffee grounds, you’ll get a stronger brew than using two scoops, assuming that you are using the same amount of water.
In specialty coffee, there are standards to create coffee recipes. This set of standards express in weight the relationship between coffee and water and we call it brew ratio. We can talk about it in another post, but the gist here is that the more coffee you have per part of water the darker your brew will be.
Another quite important thing to pay attention to is the brewing device you're using. Using a Moka pot or a French press tends to produce a bolder cup of coffee than using a regular coffee maker or a dripper, like a V60. Furthermore, espresso machines get you stronger brews because they use pressure to extract the goodness from coffee grounds. In this regard, to get a good espresso you need finely ground coffee, which takes me to the next point.
If you want to enjoy most of your coffee, I strongly suggest having freshly ground coffee. To learn more about the importance of grind size, you can read another great article from our team here.
Supermarket coffee comes ready for coffee makers (drip coffee) unless they state otherwise (i.e. “Espresso grind”, “French press”, or “Turkish grind”). So, if you use regular coffee, grind size isn’t an issue most of the time.
On the contrary, if you grind your coffee you must know that the coarser the grind size, the lighter your brew will look and be. And the opposite is true. Fine grounds like espresso and Turkish get you a bolder, stronger brew, with solid coffee residues in your drink and some pleasant viscosity.
Tips to Brew a Really Black and Thick Coffee
A cup of coffee is only as good as the grounds you use. A top-class espresso machine will get a bad espresso with low-quality coffee. Likewise, a cheap French press will get good coffee with high-quality coffee.
If you want black and thick coffee, choose a dark or a medium roast. I recommend medium over dark roasts because they display more of the coffee beans' natural complexity and richness. Still, be ready to experiment with more acidic notes, which tend to be out of the picture with dark roasts.
Another simple way -yet inefficient- to get darker coffee is to use more grounds per part of water. This handy calculator is very useful, but the best way to tweak brew ratios is using a digital scale. Usually, using a 12:1 with a dripper will get strong coffee with a dark and thick body.
Drip coffee tends to be cleaner and lighter. Credit: Marcella Mumlek on Unsplash
A French press will give you a stronger cup with the same brew ratio and Moka pots can offer a very rich cup with a pleasant viscosity of a 14:1 ratio.
Developing coffee recipes with these ratios can sound a bit overwhelming, but it’s quite simple using the calculator above. If you want to be more precise, using a kitchen scale will help. Digital scales with a tenth of a gram increment are better for this task, and you can find affordable options out there.
In short, if you want a bold, black, thick coffee:
- Use medium to dark roasts
- Choose medium to fine ground sizes
- Make coffee using brew ratios below 12:1
- Try using Moka pot and French press to get stronger coffee than with drippers
“Black as night, black as coal” isn’t the best
Ok, I explained to you how to get the darkest coffee possible, but that doesn’t mean that it’s the best coffee you can have.
Sadly, good dark roasts are not the standard. Big brands use dark roasts to hide poor quality attributes in their coffee beans. It’s easier to standardize a bitter blend than other complex attributes naturally present in coffee.
Choosing medium roasts generally means that the coffee beans are of higher quality and they don’t need to obscure troublesome flavors.
That said, I hope you enjoy your next cup of black coffee!