Operate Away from the Margins
There is no such thing as the perfect strength. Every individual has different preferences and thresholds in regards to a minimum and maximum enjoyable strength. Therefore, it is best to operate away from the margins, in a zone where the majority of people can enjoy the coffee. Differences in regional preferences and brew method styles can create your margins. At any TDS, the strength-flavour profile can be used to navigate to a balanced and cost-effective intensity level appropriate to your brew method.
The best strength for espresso is widely debated and never sees consensus because the possibilities are so varied. Traditional Italian espresso is around 7% TDS, while modern specialty espressos are anywhere from 7–13%. This is a massive range that encompasses a veritable world of textures and intensities.
The decision of espresso strength is usually informed by the roast level of the beans used. Darker roasts generally display better characteristics at high strength, while lighter roasts are generally more appealing at lower strengths.
Filter and Drip Targets
Filter coffee sees fewer debates, as the range is far smaller: generally 1–2%. This is a spread of a few tenths of a percent TDS. This is tiny compared to the 5% variance usually seen in espresso beverages. That said, our tongues are built to detect subtle nuances — even this small range can contain both highly positive and negative experiences based on personal preference.
But Where Does BH Think Generic Strength Bitterness Begins?
If we put a number on it, we find espressos with over 10% TDS start to take on generic strength bitterness. Filter coffee over 1.8–2% TDS tends to evoke a similar sensation, but this subsides again towards 3%.
Note: this is completely personal to Barista Hustle. It’s here as a guide, but certainly not a rule.