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When you’re browsing the aisles, trying to choose a coffee blend at your local supermarket, it’s likely you’ve encountered numbers on the side of the jar, usually ranging from 1 – 10 or sometimes 1 – 5 . Many of us automatically assume that these numbers denote the coffee’s strength and therefore, the higher the number means the stronger the flavour.

Four coffees of different strengths

Is number 10 on the coffee strength scale the strongest?

So, the truth of the matter is that the higher the number, the darker the roast, which means you’ll get a stronger flavour profile (usually more bitter, punchier and intense).

Dark roast coffee is roasted past the second crack (the crack is when the coffee makes an audible pop like popcorn, most roasts will reach the first crack), this allows for more natural oils to be released which creates a much punchier, more full-bodied flavour. Lighter roasts on the other hand usually offer drier, fruitier flavours.

The numbers on the coffee strength scale tend to reflect the intensity of the flavour rather than the caffeine content, with the higher numbers more bitter and dark and the lower numbers fruitier.

How roasting impacts coffee flavour

The flavour of your coffee owes a lot to the roasting process. Before roasting, coffee beans aren’t like the ones you’ve come to expect, they’re actually green and possess a grassy scent. It’s during the roasting process that different roast profiles are developed and each blend is carefully crafted by master roasters, to ensure each sip is as delicious as the last. Generally, the longer beans are roasted, the more natural oils that are released from the coffee beans, giving them a stronger and more bitter taste.

Want to find out more about the coffee roasting process and how it works? Check out our guide.

8 coffees in a circle

Coffee strength scale

If you’re wondering what the coffee strength numbers mean, here’s a rough guide, but bear in mind different brands may scale their coffees differently:

  • Light roast: generally lighter and more citrusy in flavour, which is due to the fact that the beans aren’t roasted long enough for the oils to break through. Our NESCAFÉ GOLD BLEND Roastery Collection Light Roast is lightly roasted and boasts notes of rich caramelised honey and toasted biscuit
  • Medium roast: well-balanced and smooth, which makes it a popular choice - the beans possess a non-oily surface
  • Medium-dark roast: Full-bodied and well-rounded with a slightly oily surface. Our iconic NESCAFÉ Original blend is a medium dark roast coffee that’s perfectly balanced
  • Dark roast: Rich and intense. NESCAFÉ GOLD BLEND Roastery Collection Dark Roast is a dark roast coffee with intense flavours and wonderful cacao notes. The beans will be very shiny with lots of oil and dark in colour.
  • Very dark roast: Almost bitter tasting and extremely intense. The coffee beans will be shiny and black and appear almost charred. NESCAFÉ Black Roast is our darkest roast yet and carefully crafted for rich flavour.

Learn more about the types of coffee roast here

What impacts the caffeine content in coffee?

There are a few factors which may impact the caffeine content of your coffee, many of which start before you even get your hands on it, but even the way you brew it may have an impact too!

Arabica green coffee beans

1. The coffee beans

One of the biggest influences on caffeine content begins with the coffee beans used in the blend. Arabica beans are often the most popular due to their smoother taste, but Robusta beans actually contain up to twice the caffeine content. Most instant coffee blends will use a combination of the two.

Different types of coffee grind

2. The size of the grind

Interestingly, the smaller the grind, the more caffeine the blend contains. Incredibly fine ground coffee boasts the highest extraction and thus, the most caffeine content. Coffee usually comes in the following grind types:

  • Extra fine: powdery and light in texture, like confectioner’s sugar 
  • Fine: soft and will stick together when pressed, looks like finely milled salt
  • Medium fine: gritty texture, almost like sand
  • Medium: crumbly, likened to peat moss
  • Medium coarse: looks and feels like rocky sand
  • Coarse: feels like particles of clay and like flaky sea salt in appearance
  • Extra coarse: looks like ground peppercorns and feels like broken shells

Coffee being brewed

3. How you brew your coffee

Not only does the ratio of coffee to water impact the caffeine content, but so does the temperature you brew it at. In fact, the hotter the water, the more caffeine that gets extracted from the coffee. It’s also said that instant coffee contains a lower caffeine content than brewed coffee which is because other brewing methods involve leaving the grinds in contact with water for longer.

That’s our guide to coffee strength and what the scales mean! Take a look at our article on Coffee Cupping to find out more about coffee tastes and flavours. Or, want to find out more about coffee? Check out our favourite coffee facts next.

Other articles you might be interested in

  • Coffee Facts

    As one of the most consumed beverages in the world, it's only natural that there's a wealth of interesting coffee facts too! Read our favourites, here.

  • Coffee Roasting Process

    There's a lot more to the coffee roasting process than simply heating beans - find out about coffee roasting and the different methods in our guide.

  • Types of Coffee Roast

    There's a lot that goes into the perfect cup of coffee and the roasting process has a big part to play! Find out about the types of coffee roast with our guide.

A Nescafé coffee roaster at work


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