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Coffee To Water Ratios For Dummies: A No-Nonsense Guide

coffee to water ratio

There are dozens of coffee myths that lead you to a bad brew (most people have no idea), and we need to talk about one of the biggest ones: coffee to water ratios.

Raise your hand if you’ve ever thought one of these:

  • “It’s not strong enough… I should just add more coffee”
  • “Bleh, it’s so bitter, I should use less coffee”

No worries—no judgment—but that’s not actually the right way to think about it.

We just want you L-O-V-E your coffee, so let’s clear up a few things that are probably getting you stuck with a sad cup. Things like…

  • What the best coffee to water ratio is
  • Why adding coffee won’t actually make your brew more ‘strong’
  • How you’re making your coffee more bitter by using less grounds
  • And other things that sound wrong but are actually correct (because, science)

And by the end of this blog, you’ll know exactly why you can never quite get that super delish cup of coffee you get at the coffee shop (or, at least, one of the biggest reasons).

Ready for better coffee?

Why Coffee Ratios Matter: Imbalanced Coffee Is Gross

You hate sour lemon coffee. You also hate coffee that tastes like ash and death. Using a correct coffee to water ratio is about finding a healthy in-between that tastes smooth and flavorful.

Every coffee ground has a flavor spectrum—and it’s not all tasty. Here’s how it works when you pour hot water over the grounds:

  • Stage 1 is about the acids. The very first thing to be extracted from the coffee ground and put into the water are the acids. They’re very bright and tangy, and they’re super concentrated. This part doesn’t taste good by itself, and if you stop brewing at this stage, we call it under-extraction.
  • Stage 2 is about telling those acids to chill out. As you brew, organic compounds and oils dissolve from the grounds into your liquid coffee. They feel heavier on your tongue and are richly flavorful—think floral aromas and complex spice notes—so they balance out the harsh acids.
  • Stage 3 is about the sugars. Natural sugars start to dissolve next, giving your coffee a gentle sweetness like caramel, honey, or sometimes even fruit juice. This is the sweet spot!
  • If you reach Stage 4, you’ve gone too far. After the sugars come less yum stuff, like bitter acids and tannins. These suffocate the sugars and pleasant acids of your coffee and lead to a bland, bitter mug (over-extraction).

Stage 3 is om nom. Get there, then stop.

Now here’s how your coffee to water ratio comes into play.

The Best Coffee To Water Ratio

Imagine using a bathtub full of water to make coffee… with just one coffee bean.

It wouldn’t work. It’d be too weak—but it’d also be over-extracted. Too much water means the excess water gets to pull extra stuff from the coffee (aka, Stage 4). The liquid coffee would be very bitter.

Now imagine you have a bathtub full of coffee grounds, but only a small glass of water.

Also not going to work—it’d be under-extracted. Too much coffee means the individual coffee grounds won’t ever get past Stage 1 before they run out of water (and extraction stops). The resulting liquid coffee would be super sour.

So here’s the best coffee to water ratio you should be targeting:

  • By Weight — 1 gram of coffee for every 17 grams of water (1:17)
  • By Volume — 1 tablespoons of ground coffee per every 3 ounces of water

This ratio is just right. There’s enough water to ensure every individual coffee ground reaches Stage 3, but not so much that it’s easy to over-extract.

Don’t be surprised if you see guides on the internet calling for a 1:15 or 1:18 ratio though—those are also balanced (anywhere in that range and you’re good).

Pro Tip: Measuring by weight is slightly more accurate. Since not all coffee beans are the same size or weight, volume measurements can vary from bag to bag.

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How To Figure Out Your Coffee Ratio In 10 Seconds

Let’s say you’re making 2 cups of coffee. Since each mug is 8 oz, that’s 16 oz total.

If You’re Using Weight

  • Open your calculator app
  • Multiply 16 by 28 (because there are 28 grams in 1 ounce)
  • Now you have 448g—just a conversion from ounces to grams
  • Divide that by 17 (for your 1:17 ratio)
  • You get 26g… the amount of coffee you’ll use

Now you have your measurements: 26g of coffee and 448g of water.

Pro Tip: 1 gram of water = 1 milliliter of water exactly. So if you have a liquid measuring cup, you can also use that to measure your water at 448ml.

If You’re Using Volume

  • Open your calculator app
  • Divide 16 by 3 (because 1 tablespoon of coffee per 3 ounces of water)
  • 5.3—that’s how many tablespoons of coffee you’ll use

You have your measurements: 5.3 tablespoons of ground coffee and 16 liquid ounces of water.

Here’s Why More Grounds =/= Stronger Coffee

You brew a cup of coffee. Meh, it’s not very strong.

How can you fix it next time?

Most people just add more coffee—here’s why that’s wrong.

Adding coffee grounds does make your coffee more concentrated (technically stronger), but it also makes it taste more acidic.

Because when each ground gets access to less water, it doesn’t move as far down the brewing stages, so it ends up with acids that are too strong.

Want Stronger Coffee? Do This Instead

  • Use slightly less grounds. Yeah, it’ll end up making your coffee less concentrated overall, but since each ground will have access to more water, they’ll go farther down the stages of brewing—thus, a ‘stronger’, deeper flavor.
  • Use a french press. The metal filter lets a lot of natural oils through. Boom—instant boldness upgrade.

Here’s Why Less Grounds =/= Less Strength

But what happens if you brew a cup of coffee and think it’s too strong?

Should you just use fewer coffee grounds?


Fewer grounds will mean every individual ground has access to more water… which leads to more extraction.

So technically it will be less concentrated, but it will taste more dark and bitter (as you approach Stage 4 of the brewing stages).

Coffee Too Strong? Try This Instead

  • Use slightly more grounds. Your brew will get a little more concentrated overall, but since there’s less water to go around, each ground will be less extracted—and thus, a lighter flavor.
  • Try a thicker paper filter. The added thickness will absorb more of the natural oils, giving you a cleaner, less intense flavor.

You’re A Coffee Ratio Dummy No More

Your taste buds are about to be really happy.

But remember… the right coffee to water ratio isn’t the only key to amazing coffee.

Always start with freshly roasted coffee beans.

Lucky for you, we have the last four coffees you’ll ever need.

See our stellar beans.

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