Strong, dark, bold, and caffeinated! These four words may sound great together but whether they go together really depends on the combination of coffee type, roast, and grounds-to-water ratio when brewing. Coffee can be strong and decaffeinated, bold and light roasted, dark and mellow, or caffeine-high and weak. In this blog, we break these terms down and hopefully, bust the myth that strong and bold means dark and power-packed.
Dark roasted and caffeine-packed
A coffee’s caffeine content is a product of the bean species, variety, and roast. First, species. Robusta beans have more caffeine than arabica beans*. Amongst arabica beans, certain varieties contain more caffeine than others. Kenya AA, for example, tends to have a higher caffeine content per bean than Yemen Mocha Matari. Roast also impacts a bean’s caffeine content as caffeine is burned off during the roasting process. This means that if the same bean is roasted to a light, medium, and dark shade, the light roast has the highest caffeine content.
When discussing coffee, strength refers to the grounds-to-water ratio used when brewing. The higher the ratio, the more concentrated the extraction; the lower the ratio, the weaker the extraction. Any coffee can be brewed “strong” or “weak”, it is entirely dependent on the individual making the coffee. While the high concentration and thick mouthfeel of a strong brewed coffee may provide the sensation that the coffee has more caffeine or is bold, that may not necessarily be true. When you are discussing strength, you are only discussing extraction and texture.
A bold coffee indicates that the cup has intense, defined, dominating base and upper notes. Bold coffees tend to be clean coffees with higher acidity (a.k.a., brightness) that creates a rich, near-tingling sensation on your tongue. While most roasters accept this definition of bold, it is not universally applied and is often confused with strength. Bold is a bean attribute meaning that the coffee is bold regardless of the roast shade or brew strength. Strength, again, is determined by the brew. So, while a coffee may be strong and bold, it could just as easily be weak and bold.
We hope this helps clarify the difference between strong, bold, dark roast, and caffeine-high coffee. For more information on coffee varietals and roasts, please see the bottom of the blog. To learn how to apply the above concepts to your coffee purchasing / brewing, please continue on to the bonus section, below.
Bonus section! Applying the terms to your coffee
Espresso is a great example of a coffee that can span many variations of strong, bold, and caffeine-packed. A short espresso, which has a very high concentration of grounds-to-water (it is an espresso brewed with half the amount of water used to brew a regular espresso) is very strong. A long espresso, which is brewed with twice the amount of water as a regular espresso, is much weaker. Espresso blends often include bold coffees though a company could choose to go for a silky, smooth blend instead. Espresso may also be made from either arabica or robusta beans, or a mix of both. Finally, espresso blends are generally roasted to a Vienna or French dark roast shade but could be roasted to a dark medium / full-city shade. Once you identify which aspects of espresso you enjoy most, seek out the right blend and brew strength — your taste buds will thank you!
Breakfast Blend, the most common morning coffee, is often described as bold and bright AND it is often a caffeine-packed light or medium roast. After dinner blends are often described as smooth and are generally dark roasted. If you are looking to get the greatest caffeine boost out of your morning cup, try a breakfast blend or naturally caffeine-rich coffee, such as a Kenya or Tanzanian. If you prefer a gentler, milder cup, look for a mellow dark roast.
Finally, any additional liquids added to your coffee, such as milk or ice, dilutes the coffee. If you normally drink a strongly brewed iced coffee or take your coffee with milk, you may find the same coffee tastes too strong when drunk hot and black as your grounds to liquid ratio is higher without the liquid add-ins.
*To learn more about the difference between arabica and robusta beans, click here: Bean basics: Arabica vs. Robusta
To learn more about arabica varietals, click here: Beans, beans, beans! Arabica coffee varietals and cultivars.
To learn more about coffee roasts, click here: The Roasts