Using the wrong ratio can really throw the taste of your coffee off.
And at its core, this is one of the simpler questions we should really figure out before brewing, just like getting the amount of ingredients right before you start cooking!
Keep reading to learn more about why you should care about this ratio, what ratio you should use for your situation, and other important things you need to consider when brewing.
Why is the coffee to water ratio important?
Brewing coffee all comes down to the extraction of flavors from the ground beans. We discuss this more in depth in our article on coffee grind size, but extraction is determined by a few different factors – grind size, water temperature, brewing time, and coffee to water ratio.
For coffee to water ratio, in simple terms the more coffee you have, the more flavor that will be extracted to your cup (assuming all other things are equal). The less coffee you use, the less flavor you’ll get.
But adding too much or too little coffee will cause over-extraction or under-extraction of flavors.
Over-extraction results in a bitter tasting coffee with a dull/hollow taste. Under-extraction gives you a more acidic and sour tasting coffee.
Some people think that adding more coffee will make your coffee “stronger” and more flavorful. While it’s partly true, more flavor isn’t a good thing if you end up going to the point of over-extraction!
A better way to go about this is to simply use a darker roast.
In the end, we want to make sure we’re within the ballpark of the best ratio to avoid the wrong flavor extraction. If your coffee isn’t tasting very good and you’ve dialed in all other variables with your brewing, this could be a simple fix to your problem!
Clearing up confusion with units
Before we dive into the ratios, it’s important to go over the units that are commonly thrown around. These may seem like basic concepts, but they can easily be mixed up so we want to make sure we’re all speaking the same language.
Many times you’ll see coffee to water ratios listed in a format like 1:17, which means 1 part coffee to 17 parts water. “Parts” is unitless, so feel free to use whatever is best for you (grams, ounces, tablespoons, etc.).
We recommend using grams since using a mass is straightforward and the most accurate, but this requires you to have a kitchen scale on-hand (which we also recommend!).
You may also see grams per liter (g/L) listed. One liter is equal to 1,000 milliliters (mL), and the properties of water are such that typically 1 mL = 1 g. So in effect, when you see a concentration such as 55.5 g/L, that really means 55.5 grams of coffee per 1,000 grams of water, or a ratio of 1:18.
As Americans, we know the metric system can be tougher to wrap our heads around when we’ve been dealing with pounds and tablespoons our whole lives. But we promise, using grams will be best in the long run!
Another important point is how to interpret different ratios. When we say to increase the amount of coffee, the ratio will appear to go down, such as 1:17 down to 1:14. But this just means the amount of water has decreased by 3 parts for the same 1 part of coffee. The same is true in the opposite direction for decreasing the amount of coffee.
The “Golden Ratio” for coffee to water
Reading the words “Golden Ratio” may make you think there is a single formula out there that trumps all others. This isn’t the case though, and let’s go into why.
For those of you who aren’t familiar with the “Golden Ratio,” it was created by an MIT professor in the 1950s through surveying people’s preferences on different coffee brews.
The study showed that the best coffee is brewed when the flavor extraction was between 18-22% and the total dissolved solids (TDS) were between 1.15-1.35% .
The Specialty Coffee Association of America (SCAA) has since adopted these ranges for extraction and TDS.
We’re not going to go deeper into specifics on extraction or TDS here since these are things that the everyday person will likely not measure in their coffee.
Just know that extraction is the amount of coffee particles that have been drawn out of the coffee grounds, while TDS is the amount of coffee particles that are dissolved in the final coffee.
From the study’s data, the resulting “Golden Ratio” is 1:17.42. In other forms this is 55 g/L or 1-2 tablespoons of ground coffee per 6 fluid ounces of water .
The big problem with the “Golden Ratio” is that in the end it’s just based on taste preferences, and everyone has their own!
Many people choose to start with the “Golden Ratio” since it’ll put you within the best range for extraction and TDS. Then they adjust from there based on their own preferences.
Personally, we think you can cut down that process and jump right to the ratios we’re about to go over and then adjust from there as needed.
Best coffee to water ratio for different brewing methods
Before we dive into ratios for each brewing method, if you want a simple and straightforward coffee to water ratio that should give you great tasting coffee over a range of brews, use 1:15 (66.7 g/L).
Brewing methods can be designated as filter (such as drip and pour over) or immersion (such as French press and cold brew).
For filter coffee, more water is required (less grams of coffee per liter) to produce the optimal coffee since water remains in the filter and coffee grounds and doesn’t make it to your cup. On the other hand, immersion coffee separates the grounds from the water when brewing is finished, so very little water is lost.
Our recommendations for ratios for each brewing method are listed in the table below. Two forms of the ratios are listed for ease of use. Use these ratios for a baseline brew and then adjust the ratio to meet your individual preferences.
To use the ratios in the table, first determine how much coffee you want to brew and then calculate the amount of coffee needed using the appropriate ratio. Remember that if you’re using a filter coffee method, you’ll lose some water to the beans and filter.
“Regular” ratios are for normal brewing, and “stronger” ratios are for increased flavor. If the “stronger” ratios don’t give you what you want, consider using a darker roast coffee.
|Drip, Pour Over
|Helpful conversion factors:
1 L = 33.814 fl oz
8 fl oz = 1 cup (varies widely for “coffee cups” though, and many times can be 4-6 fl oz)
1 tbsp of ground coffee ≈ 5 g
3 tsp = 1 tbsp
You probably noticed that two big brewing methods aren’t listed in the table: espresso and AeroPress.
For the Aeropress, we recommend following the instructions that come with the maker. The reason for this is because the AeroPress has a wide range of brews it can produce, and the instructions detail how to make them using the marks on the side of the brewing chamber.
But if you want to deviate from these instructions, we recommend using the French press ratios in the table above.
For espresso, arguably the most popular coffee to water ratio is 1:2. A 1:3 ratio can also be used.
However, the difference with espresso is that the amount of water in the ratio is the amount of liquid in the actual final espresso shot, not the total amount of water used for making that shot. For example, if you used 20 grams of coffee for espresso with a 1:2 ratio, the final espresso shot would weigh 40 grams.
Important things to consider for adjusting the ratio
It’s important to follow the ratios for whatever brewing process you’re using, but there are some key points to remember that all affect the brewing methods.
Measuring volume versus mass
As mentioned earlier, the ratios are unitless so you can really choose whatever you’re most comfortable with, but we recommend sticking with a mass measurement like grams.
The problem with measuring volumes (like tablespoons and cups) is that they aren’t nearly as accurate.
First off, there can be air pockets (or voids) between solid particles when they’re loaded into your tablespoon, which instantly will throw off your measurement. This is especially true when you’re measuring out whole beans (see photo above).
Second, if you don’t have a perfectly leveled off tablespoon or other volume measurement then you’ll be off as well.
To avoid any inaccuracy, you simply can measure the masses of the coffee and water, and you’ll be good to go! If you don’t have a digital kitchen scale we highly recommend you pick up one of these – it doesn’t have to be super expensive, but it should be a quality scale.
Adjust the amount of coffee, not the water
This is a straightforward one to remember. Whenever you’re making adjustments to your ratios always adjust the amount of coffee and do not change the amount of water.
This makes sure you’re only changing the taste, not the amount of coffee you brew each time.
Dilution of the coffee with milk or creamer
If you’re like us and drink your coffee black, then you’re in the clear and can stick to the coffee to water ratios we outlined earlier.
If you like to add milk or creamer though, then you’re probably not accounting for the dilution of flavor from these. Depending on how much you add it may or may not make much of a difference.
If you’re adding milk or creamer to adjust the flavor, there’s also a good chance you can tolerate the dilution of flavor.
But, if that’s not the case and you want to try and account for the dilution, we recommend increasing the amount of coffee to brew a stronger coffee using the “stronger” ratios we outlined earlier in the table. There’s no one size fits all solution to this because the amount of milk or creamer used varies from person to person and brew to brew.
Whole beans versus ground beans
For the purposes of the coffee to water ratio, it doesn’t matter if you measure out whole beans and then grind them or measure out pre-ground beans from the store.
Side note: we ALWAYS recommend grinding fresh whole beans to get the best possible flavor out of them.
You shouldn’t lose much, if any, of the ground beans in your grinder, so it’s fine to measure them as whole beans before grinding. But, if you go the route of measuring the volume of the whole beans instead of the mass, then you’ll be inconsistent in your measurements and be off on the coffee to water ratio (like we mentioned earlier).
Hopefully by now you see why we’re so insistent on measuring the mass (grams) instead of volume! 🙂
Who will be drinking the coffee?
The last, but not least, consideration is who will be drinking the coffee you’re brewing?
If it’s you then you’re most likely invested in getting the best flavored coffee you can, so no problem there!
But you may be brewing coffee for family, friends, or coworkers who may not care much about taste or who are looking for something a little stronger than the ratios we laid out here. Everyone has their own preference and that’s totally fine! Know your audience and adjust things accordingly.
The Bottom Line
The coffee to water ratio is a simple yet very important factor in determining the taste of your coffee and it shouldn’t be overlooked.
If you need a single ratio to remember for all your brewing needs (except espresso), go with a ratio of 1:15 (66.7 g/L). From here, adjust the amount of coffee to best suit your tastes.
If the 1:15 ratio isn’t cutting it for you for specific brewing methods, recheck our table for breakdowns of ratios for all methods. And remember, if your coffee still isn’t strong enough, try a darker roast instead of just adding more coffee!
If you already enjoy brewing with a French press or want to get started, use the ratios outlined here and check out our article on using a French press.