Our favorite beverage, in its simplest form, is just ground coffee beans mixed with water. What determines how good it tastes – whether we get a sweet, complex, balanced and aromatic coffee or a sour or bitter one – depends on two things: the quality of the coffee beans and water, and how we choose to mix them. That last element can get pretty elaborate: the grind size, brew time, water temperature, brewing device, and more will all impact on our final cup.
And then, of course, there’s the brew ratio. This is the ratio of ground coffee to water, something that will affect your beverage’s strength, mouthfeel, and more. So, let’s take a look at the importance of brew ratio to making great coffee.
Lee este artículo en español Ratios de Preparación de Café: Lo Que Necesitas Saber
Using an AeroPress and Clever coffee dripper to brew Salvadoran beans, roasted by THE BARN Berlin, in Estudio de Café, Barcelona. Credit: Coffee Capital
Why Is Brew Ratio So Important?
A coffee’s flavor will vary depending on the recipe. Yes, the recipe – brewing coffee is like baking a cake. The amount of each ingredient you use matters. Just by adding or decreasing the amount of water or coffee, you can alter the coffee’s taste, viscosity, and more.
This is why many baristas and coffee aficionados use scales and timers when brewing.
Some baristas use recipes such as “50 grams of coffee per liter of water for so many cups.” But others will talk about ratios, such as 1:14 – 14 ml of water for every gram of coffee – or 1:16 – 16 ml of water for every gram of coffee.
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No matter the brew ratio, most baristas try to keep it consistent. This means that they can work more effectively and efficiently. They also know that, if they like how a coffee tastes, they can replicate it in future.
Tasting filtered coffee at Finca Soledad, Intag, in Ecuador. Credit: Coffee Capital
Different Brew Methods, Different Brew Ratios
Let’s say that you have a high-quality, specialty-grade coffee that has been masterfully roasted to highlight its best characteristics – perhaps its jasmine aroma or red apple flavors, its rounded body, or honey sweetness. So, how would you brew it?
You have a few options: filter coffees are, for many people, the ideal way to taste the nuances of your coffee. (They’re also my preference.) With a longer and more diluted drink, the flavors are clean. In contrast, an espresso is a shorter, more intense beverage that excels at displaying two or three main flavors.
And with this comes a different ideal brew ratio, grind size, extraction time, and more.
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For espresso, you’ll be using an extremely fine grind and short brew time (often around 25–30 seconds) and very little water – you’ll probably have a ratio somewhere between 1:1 and 1:3. And then you have your ristretto and lungos, shorter and longer versions of the espresso.
Generally speaking, for immersion coffee (such as the French press, AeroPress, or coffee cupping), you’ll want a coarse grind and longer brew time. For drip or pour over, there’s some variance in ideal grind sizes and brew times. Immersion and drip require a lot more water – and a lot more coffee! You might see 1:15 or 1:18, for example. In general, with immersion, you’ll need less coffee than with drip/pour over.
Learn more! Check out Extraction Wars: Espresso vs Ristretto
However, all of these are guidelines. They’re good starting places for developing your brew recipe but, to really know what’s best, you’ll have to experiment. Try different brew ratios with different coffees.
Luis Armijos brews coffee with a Bodum coffee maker at Cafe Traviesa. Credit: Felipe Cisneros
Is There an Ideal Brew Ratio?
Yes, and no.
First of all, it’s a good idea to learn about how different cultures like to prepare their coffee. Some countries prefer more delicate brews; others, more intense ones.
Secondly, while many people will recommend different ratios, it always depends on the coffee.
So how do you know what brew ratio to use? Well, a filter coffee made at 1:20 would be a weak, diluted cup. 1:10 would be extremely intense. These are the extreme ends of the scale; your aim should be to find the right balance for each cup. You want to be able to perceive the fragrances, aromas, flavors, and acidity, and all the notes that a refined palate can taste – and you want to enjoy them.
Additionally, some people choose to bypass brew. This means that they brew their coffee with a relatively small amount of water to get the intensity. Then, to avoid the heavy mouthfeel, they dilute the coffee with more water.
Luis Armijos tastes coffee at Estudio de Café, Barcelona. Credit: Gee Varella
It’s Not Just About Brew Ratio…
Your coffee brew ratio is important, but there are other things you should consider: the type of water, grind profile, temperature, how you’re pouring the water… there are so many variables.
If your coffee isn’t tasting right, you should start by changing one variable at a time and keeping everything else consistent. The easiest one to start with is the grind size:
- If your coffee is sour, salty, or lacking body, grind finer. This will increase the contact area, in turn increasing the speed of extraction, and allowing you to get more of those sweet coffee flavors in the cup.
- If your coffee is too bitter, grind coarser. This will decrease the contact area, reducing the speed of extraction, and preventing too much bitterness from entering the brew.
Note: rate of extraction (the speed at which compounds enter the brew from the grounds) and brew time (the amount of time the water and coffee grounds are in contact) may sound similar, but are very different. Be careful not to confuse them.
Learn more! Read Understanding Coffee Extraction & Other Key Brewing Concepts
It’s not always easy to make great coffee, especially filter, because there are so many variables. But when you master it, it’s worth it. You’ll be able to taste all those subtle notes written on your coffee bag, be they jasmine, red apple, raspberry, or honey.
And when you’ve extracted this delicate beverage perfectly – when you’ve got the right brew ratio, grind size, and more – then you’ve hit the sweet spot. And I mean that quite literally.
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