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Strong Coffee Brands: Should You Sacrifice Flavor For Caffeine?
Written by: Garrett Oden
There’s a quote from author Greg Egan that says, “Widespread caffeine use explains a lot about the twentieth century.”
Through clever marketing and advertising, we’ve been taught that we need to guzzle strong coffee and caffeine to live productive, fruitful lives. This strategy worked and now consumers are hooked on coffee as their main caffeine source.
Over the last several years, strong coffee brands have joined the coffee scene. These brands claim to offer blends with extra caffeine, leaning heavily into those claims as their main marketing differentiator.
After all, who wouldn’t want an additional jolt of energy from their daily cup of coffee?
But, as with most things in life, there’s a catch.
By purchasing a strong coffee brand, you’re sacrificing coffee’s natural flavor for low-quality beans and marginally more caffeine.
(Someone had to say it!)
We believe that drinking specialty coffee should be an exciting, flavorful, and aromatic experience. And, as a bonus, we get an energy boost from each sip.
Let us show you:
- What’s really in the blends marketed by strong coffee brands
- Why extra dark, bold roasts do not *always* equal more caffeine (+ why the caffeine buzz depends on your tolerance!)
- 3 key things you’re missing out on when you purchase a strong coffee brand.
Let’s get buzzing.
What’s Really in a Strong Coffee Blend?
The strong coffee brands typically use a blend of coffees from around the world, as do specialty coffee blends.
However, the catch is that they use beans from both Arabica and Robusta coffee plants.
Read: The Differences Between Arabica And Robusta Coffee
Arabica (Coffea Arabica) and Robusta (Coffea Canephora) are two separate species of the Coffea plant. There are over 120 different coffee species, but Arabica and Robusta are the most commonly used.
Arabica coffee beans contain 1.5% caffeine along with a diverse flavor experience, with possible notes ranging from floral to citrus to sugar sweet tastes. This is due to their naturally high acid, fat, and sugar content.
With this naturally delicious flavor, Arabica beans are highly sought after, leading to the statement that coffee blends are “100% Arabica.”
On the other hand, Robusta coffee beans boast roughly 2.7% caffeine content in a single bean—about 70-80% more caffeine than Arabica. This clear increase in caffeine is why strong coffee brands opt to use Robusta beans in their blends.
However, this caffeine increase comes at a price: quality.
Robusta beans traditionally yield an overwhelmingly bitter, burnt, and almost rubbery taste and chewy or dirty bodies.
This underwhelming taste profile is what led to Robusta beans being used in low-grade commodity coffees or as filler in instant coffee.
Specialty Robusta coffee is available. However, these beans still fall short in comparison to the mind-blowing flavors possible with freshly roasted Arabica coffee.
Specialty vs. Premium vs. Gourmet Coffee Blends
In addition to using low-grade Robusta coffee, strong coffee brands also rely on lower quality Arabica beans to keep their costs manageable.
When considering buying a strong coffee brand, take a look at how they label their blends or offerings. Are they using phrases like “Specialty Coffee?” Probably not.
Most strong coffee brands market their blends as premium or gourmet coffee. In the coffee industry, this refers to coffee that scores below the threshold of being considered top-quality, specialty coffee.
Read: Gourmet vs Premium vs Specialty Coffee: What's The Difference?
Now, here’s the kicker:
Take a look at how much you’re paying for a bag of “strong coffee.” Anywhere from $16-$25+, right?
And that’s for a bag of premium or gourmet coffee. Why not spend that much on specialty coffee bursting with flavor?
“But there’s more caffeine!” you say. Let’s tackle that next.
Spoiler Alert: Extra Dark, Bold Roasts Do Not Always Mean More Caffeine
Ah, the age-old debate between light roast and dark roast coffee and caffeine content.
For decades, coffee lovers have thought that darker roasts always contained more caffeine. This belief was thanks to those marketing promotions from large roasters and massive retailers in the 80s and 90s.
As a result, there are entire generations of people who refuse to drink specialty light roast coffee based on an unfounded belief.
Previous studies have shown that light roast coffee contains more caffeine since these beans have a shorter roast time. However, recently published research shows that dark roasts technically have more caffeine since they are far less dense than light roasts.
Green coffee contains moisture content and therefore, a specific density. As the green coffee is roasted with a particular combination of heat, air, and time, it loses moisture and as a result, density. Therefore, lighter roasts will have a higher density—and also, mass—than dark roasts.
What does this all mean?
It means that you will use more dark roast beans to achieve a specific coffee recipe than you would light roast beans. More beans = more caffeine.
But are a few extra beans in your brew recipe enough to cause a true difference in caffeine intake? Nope.
This is why on top of roasting darker blends, strong coffee brands look to low-grade Robusta beans for that extra jolt.
Boring, lackluster tasting blends with only a tiny extra kick of caffeine.
The Caffeine Buzz Varies from Person-to-Person
It’s important to also consider that caffeine affects everyone differently.
Some people are extremely caffeine sensitive and can power through the day on one 12oz coffee. Others are more tolerant to caffeine and can handle 4 or 5+ cups a day.
If you’re one of the caffeine tolerant folks, you might be looking for something a bit more stimulating. And, a strong coffee brand sounds enticing at first.
But, consider what you’re giving up in favor of more caffeine.
You could enjoy two or three cups of delightful, specialty coffee complete with a bright acidity and luscious mouthfeel. Or, you could opt to suffer through one bitter cup of a strong coffee blend—masked by far too much milk/creamer and sugar.
Ultimately, it’s your choice. But we know which option we’d choose any day!
3 Things You Miss Out On When You Drink a “Strong Coffee” Brand
1. Unbelievable Flavors
When people try specialty coffee for the first time, their initial response is “I didn’t know coffee could taste like this!”
From velvety milk chocolate to sharp tangerine, spicy nutmeg to light and feathery jasmine, coffee hosts a beautiful array of flavors. These flavors are influenced by:
- How and where the coffee was grown
- The selected brew method
- The grind size
- Water content
Strong coffee brands often produce one, maybe two, blends with standard smoky, nutty, and chocolatey flavors using low-quality coffee. But, nothing extraordinary.
Read: The Journey Of The Coffee Bean: Seed To Cup
2. Exciting Attributes (Acidity, Mouthfeel, Aftertaste, and Beyond)
Following the flavor concept, coffee also exhibits a multitude of different attributes. One coffee could be tea-like with a crisp acidity, while another is smooth and delicate with a nutty aftertaste.
While strong coffee blends can offer interesting attributes such as a creamy mouthfeel or balanced acidity, those attributes get boring after a while.
What’s the point in a caffeine kick if it bores you after a few cups?
Which leads to our next point...
3. Specialty Coffee = Endless Variety
From the 100+ Arabica varietals to the numerous coffee-producing countries, there is so much variety in the specialty coffee industry.
In a single day, you can drink a sweet honey-processed coffee from Colombia, a zingy natural process from Ethiopia, and a well-balanced, washed process from Mexico.
This never-ending exploration is what makes specialty coffee so much fun! If it’s just caffeine you’re after, you’re missing out on a whole world of adventure right in your mug.
Instead of chasing a caffeine high, why not seek out new flavors and coffee characteristics? By the time you’re done, you’ll have enjoyed at least 3 cups of coffee and obtained the same buzz as a single cup of a strong coffee brand!
Kickstart Your Specialty Coffee Journey with the JavaPresse Coffee Club
If you’re new to coffee and aren’t sure where to begin, ignore the strong coffee brands and sign up for a Coffee Club subscription instead.
Every two weeks or month, you’ll receive high-quality specialty coffee, freshly roasted to your preference. Best of all, each roast is strategically sourced from family-owned farms in coffee-producing countries.
Don’t fall for the strong coffee brand trap. Sip on exciting, fresh-roasted specialty coffee instead!