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The Coffee-To-Water Ratio: How Much Coffee Should I use?

Colin Stuckert

One of the most common questions we get about coffee here at Wild Foods is this: How much coffee should I use?

When I first got into coffee, I looked around the Internet for an answer to this very question.

And I looked hard....

What I wanted to find was a rule-like answer, something easy to remember and follow.

Of course, that didn't happen.

But a lot of trial and error at home did happen.

And now that I'm on the answering end of this question, even though I want to, I can’t dole out easy answers to this question.

But I can dole out guidelines... general ones... that will help you find what works for you.

Hopefully the following guidelines will save you time in figuring it out for yourself.

Why There Is No Perfect Answer

The reason most questions about coffee don't come with simple answers is because coffee is subjective.

Subjective: based on or influenced by personal feelings, tastes, or opinions.

It's near impossible to tell you what the perfect ratio of coffee to water is because it depends on what you like!

Most people want the answer. But alas, I can't give that to you. 

The next best thing I can give you is the formula for figuring out what the answer is... for you.

And that comes in the form of math.

This is something you should know about coffee: it's a game of ratios.

Ratios of grounds to water and how this ratio can be further adjusted depending on the grind size, water temperature, roast level and specific bean characteristics.

We won’t get into too deep of a rabbit hole on these though because that would just confuse you more.

What I really want to do today is give you the general guideline ratios for coffee-to-water so you can test at home and find the ratio you love the best.

To start, you need to buy a gram scale. This is nonnegotiable. They are cheap and you'll use them forever in your tea and brewing life.

How To Find The Perfect Coffee To Water Ratio To Make Your Perfect Cup

The first part of the coffee brewing ratio is the amount of coffee you are using—best measured in grams.

The second part is water, which is also best measured in grams. Fortunately for us, one gram of water is equal to one ml of water—you'll see why that's useful in a second.

So, first get your gram scale tared up. Next figure out how much coffee you are going to brew by choosing a ratio (see below). If you don't know where to start, start with a 20-1 ratio (water to coffee).

Next you'll weigh out your whole coffee beans (ideally uber-fresh Wild Coffee) to the desired weight. (I use somewhere between 15g and 20g for my morning brew.)

After measuring your whole beans, grind those beans to the appropriate grind size for your brewing method (pour over, drip, French press, etc.).

coffee brewing methods

We'll use the pour over method for our example because it’s my fav, but you can use the same ratio and steps with most brewing methods (although espresso tends to have it's own set of rules, so make a note of that if you are pulling shots).

Once you have your freshly ground coffee ready to brew, place your brewing vessel on your gram scale and then add your fresh grounds. Now tare your scale back to zero so you can measure the exact amount of water you are using during the brewing process.

This is where the magic happens.

Make sure you use the exact amount of water needed to reach your ideal extracted weight—this is just fancy speak for the black liquid called coffee.

To figure out how much water you need, multiply the first number in your ratio by the amount of grams of coffee you are using.

Example: For a 15-1 ratio brewed using 15g of coffee, you'll use 225g of water.

This means you'll pass 225g of liquid through your beans and end up with about ~225g of coffee.

Make sure you use grams for your coffee grounds and milliliters/grams for water (1ml = 1g of water).

Now on to the ratios you can test to find your perfect cup. Keep in mind that the brewing method can significantly change how each ratio tastes, not to mention the roast profile and bean themselves. Again, make sure you experiment!

General guidelines for finding your ideal coffee to water brewing ratio.

Remember: The first number represents water and the second coffee.

  • 15-1 - I'v seen a popular West coast coffee company recommend this ratio. Personally, I think it depends on the coffee bean and brewing method as this tends to be a bit on the “strong” side.
  • 16-1 - This is what I personally use... somewhere between 16 and 17.
  • 17-1
  • 18-1 - This is the standard set by the Speciality Coffee Associated of America. I think it's a bit too much water.
  • 19-1
  • 20-1 - This is the max I'd go on this end of the spectrum. Of course, that's just me, so if you feel like you want to try a 25-1 or 30-1 ratio, go ahead. 

Say you have 15g of coffee and you want to do a 17-1 extraction. You'll pass hot water through your coffee until you have 17 times 15g, or 255g of extracted coffee liquid.

wild coffee brewing

A few more examples so you can fully grasp the formula...

  • 20g Coffee at a 17-1 ratio = 20g X 17 = 340g water passed through coffee grounds to produce 340g of coffee
  • 90g Coffee at a 15-1 ratio = 90g X 15 = 1350g water passed through coffee grounds to produce 1350g of coffee

As you probably figured out by now, the less water you use, the more coffee solids you'll have in your final cup relative to water. On the flip side, the more water you use compared to grounds, the more "diluted" your final cup of coffee will be. 

You typically hear people refer to the opposite end of this spectrum as "strong" or "weak." 

The thing is, a 16-1 ratio of a light roast might seem just right to one person and too weak or too strong to another.

That's why there's no rule here; it's all preference.

Experimenting and finding out what works best for you is part of the experience of enjoying coffee.

How To Brew The Perfect Cup Of Coffee Using Math

Gear Needed:

  • Gram scale
  • Grinder
  • Fresh Coffee Beans 
  • Decide on a ratio: 15-1, 16-1, 17-1, 18-1, 19-1, 20-1

Process:

1. Fill your kettle with more than enough water to reach your desired final coffee output.

2. Weigh your beans on a gram scale.

3. Grind the beans then put them in your brewing device.

4. Tare your brewing vessel so you can measure the exact amount of water that is going to pass through your coffee grounds. (If you are using a brewing method that makes this impossible, you'll have to do your best to measure out your water in step 1.)

5. Pass your hot water through your coffee grounds until your extracted weight is equal to your chosen ratio multiplied by the weight of your coffee beans. See examples above.

6. Smell and taste your fresh brewed coffee before doing anything else to gauge if the ratio used makes you happy. If the ratio does't make you happy, e.g. it is too "weak" or too "strong," then you know to adjust your ratio up or down on your next brew.