Coffee is one of the most popular beverages in the world, with billions of cups consumed every day. But not all coffee is created equal – some coffee can taste weak, watery, or flavorless if not brewed properly. A recent opinion piece in The New York Times titled “Why I Like Watery Coffee” sparked debate among coffee aficionados about the merits of weak versus strong coffee. The author argued that weak coffee allows more nuanced flavors to come through, and that strong coffee can overpower the subtle notes that make coffee special. However, others argue that properly extracted coffee should not taste watery, and that weak coffee is simply under-extracted.
The Appeal of Weak Coffee
For some coffee drinkers, a light, mellow coffee is appealing because it is smooth and easy to drink. The author of the NYT article claimed that powerful, bitter coffee can numb the taste buds after a few sips, while weak coffee allows the taster to experience the complex range of flavors. Acidity, sweetness, fruitiness, and other notes can be more pronounced when the coffee is not intensely concentrated. Those who prefer weak coffee may enjoy picking out flavors like blueberry and chocolate that can get lost in an intensely dark, robust brew. For others, weak coffee may simply be a matter of taste or habit. If you grow up drinking mild dinner coffee, you may just become accustomed to the lighter profile.
The Case Against Watery Coffee
Most specialty coffee experts argue that properly brewed coffee should not taste watery or weak. If beans are high quality and brewed correctly, the result should be a balanced, flavorful coffee that is rich but not bitter. Under-extracted coffee can taste flat and dull instead of lively and bright. The flavors muddle together instead of popping. Subtle flavors don’t have a chance to emerge if the overall flavor is hollow and vague. Likewise, bitter, over-extracted coffee can also flatten out the acidic notes that give coffee its vibrancy. When coffee tastes watery, that is a key sign that it is under-extracted and needs to be brewed with more grounds, hotter water, longer steep time, or otherwise adjusted to draw out the full spectrum of flavors.
Achieving Proper Extraction
So how can you achieve a flavorful coffee that is not watery but also not bitter? The key is balancing the extraction to hit the “sweet spot.” Using the proper coffee-to-water ratio, grind size, water temperature and brew time releases the coffee’s full flavor potential. For automatic drip coffee makers, a good starting point is 2 tablespoons of ground coffee per 6 ounces of water, or 1:15 ratio. Grind size should be medium to fine, and water just off boiling between 195-205F. With a French press, use a coarser grind and steep for 4 minutes. Espresso methods require very fine grinds and high pressure. Taste and adjust these factors to optimize extraction for the beans and brew method you are using. When brewed correctly, coffee should taste rich, sweet, and almost syrupy, never weak and watery.
Personal Preference Reigns
At the end of the day, whether you enjoy mild coffee or intense coffee is simply a matter of taste. If lighter, subtler coffee brings you joy, then don’t let snobby baristas make you feel bad about it. But also know that weak coffee is technically under-extracted and that well-extracted coffee has a spectrum of flavors both bold and nuanced. Try coffee brewed to specialty standards and you may find yourself falling in love with the complex flavors. But never feel ashamed for enjoying coffee your way.
The debate over the merits of weak and strong coffee will surely continue. But the most important thing is that your morning cup brings you comfort and happiness. Savor it and share it with friends – coffee tastes better when enjoyed together!