If you enjoy brewing coffee, it quickly comes apparent that outside of the right grind and good beans, your coffee to water ratio is one of the most critical inputs to making a decent cup of Joe.
Each coffee brewing method has its own ratio, and getting this right can avoid watery or bitter brews. Alas, if you’ve ever wondered, “how much water do I use?” you’re not alone!
Imagine having a calculator that dictates the perfect coffee to water ratio? Manual brewing would become easy no matter what beans and grind you have…Spoiler: we’ve created one below!
So if you want a quick answer, check out our calculator right below. Otherwise, let’s discuss how coffee and water work best together to set us up for good cups!
Why You Need the Right Brew Ratio
Different coffee makers are designed to extract with specific parameters in mind. These include the amount of ground beans, mineral or filtered water, brew temperature, and extraction time.
Stay within pre-set thresholds for these inputs, and you should be fine. Explore too much, and you’ll waste a lot of time and coffee. Even if you do everything right, using the wrong coffee to water ratio will ruin your brew.
For example, brew baskets are made to filter out beans that are the proper grind size. Too fine, and your brewer gets clogged. Too course and water drips through too fast. Both outcomes won’t be good for your coffee.
Think about a French Press following the cold brew ratio of 1:9. French Press ratios are designed to accommodate a finer grind than cold brew coffee, hence requiring more water. Tightening the water-to-bean ratio would result in a thick, bitter brew! While you can remedy this by adding more water later on, it takes away efficiency and consistency. With this example, you see how specific methods and equipment are optimized in certain ways.
This subtle guide on grind size is also for you to know how much coffee you can make. Paired well with the water reservoir or server size, these are hints on the type of coffees you can brew using what’s in front of you.
To illustrate, the usual French Press ratio is 1:12. That’s 1 part coffee beans and 12 parts water. With the same plunger and screen, you can easily brew cold brew. Cold-brew grinds are coarser, so the screen in your standard French Press should filter them out thoroughly. Just change the coffee to water ratio to 1:9.
Remember as well that the finer your grind, the less you can play around with dose (or how much coffee grounds you use when you brew). For example, the grind size you use for 2 cups of a pour-over will probably be too fine to use for 6 cups just because it will be packed tighter. Many new baristas make this mistake and panic when they suddenly need to increase the servings they make!
Knowing the proper ratio is a step in the right direction, no matter how you make your coffee. How much coffee, how big or small you need to grind, how much water you need, and how long you brew are all implied with the proper ratio.
It’s like an internal ratio calculator. You will develop the knowledge and feel for these adjustments the more you brew. So keep brewing!
Why You Need a Scale
I believe in 3 primary pillars for making consistently good coffee: precision, efficiency, and consistency. Each pillar is connected and dependent on the other, working together to make one good cup of coffee after the other.
Let’s focus on the weighing scale to illustrate how the 3 are connected. The ratio of coffee to water is at the heart of these principles as well.
Using a scale is part of the “precision” pillar.
In case you stumble upon a good recipe, you will want to take note of grind size, coffee to water ratio, water temperature, and brew time. The scale helps you precisely prepare the correct amount of coffee every time you brew. That’s one less thing on your mind.
On top of this, different bean roast types and different coffee origins have different densities. Consequently, It’s impossible to eyeball grounds while being accurate.
Water isn’t much different. Small differences in water levels have a significant effect on taste. If you care about your cup quality, precision is non-negotiable, and a digital weighing scale can help. Make sure that it has around a 0.5g variance for maximum accuracy.
In terms of efficiency, having a scale eases up all the guessing and checking you need to do to stay within the general area of an ideal coffee to water ratio. It lessens movements around your coffee brewing area.
Lastly, we have “consistency”. In this aspect of brewing, going digital is making the best use of technology readily available. The more variables we can predict within a reasonable range, the more we can understand each area of making coffee.
Most brewers learn how to love this piece of equipment. It seems too much at first, but you’ll realize that you can never record or measure “too much” in coffee as you brew. It’s beautifully complex on its own.
See if you can adapt the use of a scale when you make coffee. A recipe notebook does wonders for understanding how variables affect your cup. Try to find out what works for you too, and If you need help finding the right device, check out our review of coffee scales.
So, What’s the Best Coffee to Water Ratio?
In terms of preference, it depends.
How do you like your coffee? Do you enjoy it thin but flavorful? Perhaps you prefer a thick, dark, flavor-bomb? Do you like to bring out specific flavors more? Fruity notes? Chocolatey notes? Do you like a big drink that lasts long? Do you add a provision for milk?
All these preferences factor into selecting a brew ratio to pair with your beans and brew method.
As a general guide, remember that more water can help stretch the flavors and make the coffee gentler to take in. More water makes your coffee lighter. However, too much water and you end up with a confusingly bland tasting brew. It disappears with every swallow instead of lingers. Not everyone enjoys flavored coffee water.
Less water, on the other hand, results in a thicker brew with stronger flavors. People who like adding milk usually use a tighter water ratio, so their drinks are thick and heavy.
Too little water might exaggerate your coffee’s flavors. It also depends on the beans you use and ultimately, what you like. You’ll know when you use an ingredient too much. Coffee is mostly about balance. If something jumps out and blocks other flavors, make some recipe adjustments!
Below you can use our calculator for a quick answer and find details on the parameters for different kinds of brewing methods:
Coffee To Water Ratio Calculator
Ratios For Different Brews Explained
Standard/Drip: For automatic drip coffee makers, everything is automated, so the brew ratio is the only thing you can control. A general ratio of 1:15 to 1:17 coffee to water will work depending on your beans. Expect a straightforward cup with a strength-based on ratio. For manual drip brews, there is a little more variability involved.
Immersion: We love French Press coffee because of the strength and thickness of the brew. It’s good enough to be enjoyable and simple enough not to be distracting. A coffee to water measurement of 1:12 is a suitable ratio for French Press in our book. Feel free to play around a bit, depending on your taste preference. Ratios for French Press are fun to switch around because it’s also easy to keep cleaning and resetting.
Pour over: A mix of drip and immersion, they say that this is the best brewing process for tasting beans. Pour overs drip after some immersion in the filters. Use a coffee to water ratio of 1:15 for best results. Like a drip, you can strech as far as 1:17 for a mild cup of coffee, or as tight as 1:13 for a stronger cup of coffee. So much depends on your ratio. Coffee flavors sometimes only develop at a particular stretch!
Espresso: Of all the brewing methods, this is most different. Different ratios result in various types of espressos. The ristretto is the tighter ratio (1:1). The typical espresso usually falls into the 1:2 range. Finally, the lungo (1:3) is the most stretched espresso. As crazy as it sounds, even if the lungo is theoretically over-extracting your espresso, it tastes good as long as you stay within that water ratio for it.
This section is largely our preference married with industry standards. Use them as a mere guide for preparing your coffee and take note of what works for you.
The brews that don’t work for you just mean that there’s so much more to discover! You might not care about the subtle flavors now–you don’t have to. As long as you find enjoyment in what you’re doing, keep exploring new ways to do it.
Before we get started on science, let us describe what a good cup tastes like.
As with any coffee brewing method with the correct ratio, you get a clean, clear intro of flavors, a perception of delicate sweetness, and a delightful, lingering finish. The body is thick enough for you to perceive these tastes easily. It’s a type of “good” that you want to enjoy, and not consume in one go. You spread out sips because each time you wait a while, the flavors reignite in your mouth.
The science behind “the best coffee to water ratio” is grounded in clarity of flavors and mouthfeel. To affect these, you need to understand grounds size, brew ratio, extraction time, and temperature. Remember, not all brews are the same and some deliver more body vs clarity.
A proper grind setting will allow a specific percentage range of your coffee bean’s flavors to be extracted. From acids to sugars, until that umami mouthfeel that tells you you did something right.
Brew ratio is the amount of coffee and water you allow to interact in your brewer. By now, you might gather that it’s more precise than usually thought. Most of your coffee is water, so small adjustments will have exponential effects on the perception of flavors.
Extraction time is the most straightforward indicator of a correct brew ratio. A good flow rate keeps your extraction within 3-4 minutes. There’s enough contact to extract past acids and avoid undesirables towards the end of your ideal coffee brewing period.
Last is the temperature. When your temperature is too high, you extract too much too quickly. Pair this with the wrong grind setting, and you get to a bitter end too quickly. It’s also easier to over-brew when your temperature is too toasty.
92-96 degrees celsius is a good general range for brewing light and medium roasted beans. These roast levels are helpful to brew with because they still have complex flavors compared to dark roasts. You can never play around these roasts too much. Coffee can come out nicely in so many different ways!
Given all these specific variables, what then is the Golden Cup Ratio?
The Golden Cup Ratio
The Specialty Coffee Association has come up with a definition that reads: “10g of ground coffee for every 180ml of water brewed at 93 degrees celsius”.
Why these values?
10g of ground coffee mixed in with 180ml water is stretched enough for you to define flavors that make it into your cup clearly. It’s also thick enough to allow fines to crowd your mouth enough with every sip.
The temperature at 93 degrees Celsius won’t burn coffee aromatics away from the coffee grounds. There’s enough time to sit, but extraction occurs quickly enough for flavors to be enjoyed from the brewing process.
What’s not as talked about with the Golden Ratio is TDS or Total Dissolved Solids. It’s what carries flavors in your water. It’s the x-factor that hints at consistency and body and clarity.
“Another variable to think about!?” Absolutely. It’s a solid step towards consistency. We’re not crazy at all.
As mentioned above, the Golden Cup Ratio is scientifically defined to bring out the best in your cup. There are exceptions like cold brew, and a few more brew methods that aren’t usually used in a shop. Sometimes, you may also naturally prefer to use more coffee and/or water. That’s valid and totally your call.
Do give the golden cup ratio a try with your go-to beans and see how you like this version of coffee.
The Golden Cup Standard Isn’t Without Faults
Now that you’ve read about the science of coffee and water ratios, and the Golden Cup, it’s time to test it. Go get your refractometer from your equipment drawer.
Don’t have one? Exactly.
While we’re all excited to try it at home, the reality is, not all of us are coffee professionals.
So what’s the workaround?
When I’m consulting, we brew multiple coffee cups and perceive differences one at a time. Sometimes we brew 2 of each to test consistency and so on. You might find yourself doing this at home too, and that’s okay. Trial and error is just a part of the process to find what you enjoy!
Another limitation of the Golden Cup Standard is that it expects the coffee drinker to have complete equipment and understand black coffee flavors.
For those of you who are only beginning to explore coffee, you’ve stumbled on a lot of nice to knows in this article! But don’t feel pressured to absorb everything at once. All the details and nuances we discussed exist for sure. Just start in any manner with what you have, and play with your ratios.
As with anything, it’s good to have baselines and standards for comparison, but at the end of the day, in food and drink, what matters is what you like.
Now that we have a better understanding of coffee to water ratio and how it hugely affects coffee cup quality, all that’s left is for us to brew some more.
Remember to use the best beans. Ideals are light to medium-dark roasts. New brewers might enjoy medium to medium-dark roasts better.
Only mineral water should touch your freshly grounded coffee beans.
When tasting coffee, take note if you like the intro, the body next, and finally the finish.
Start there and keep developing. Enjoy!