Updated: Aug 21
Waking up to a freshly brewed cup of coffee is a delightful morning ritual widely enjoyed by adults of all ages and walks of life. Savoring that first cup is an essential part of getting the day started on the right foot and sets the tone for whatever lies ahead. However, sometimes that excitement turns into disappointment when you end up with a pot of weak coffee instead of the robustness you crave.
When you’re juggling a busy schedule, the last thing you want to worry about is getting a good cup of coffee. To ensure a consistently delicious brew every time, we have compiled a list of the most common causes of an imperfect brew and how to fix it.
Why does my coffee taste watery? Nothing’s changed
If you’ve been brewing your coffee the same way for a few months or even years, and you find it has a watery taste out of the blue, it could be a sign that something is wrong with your coffee machine. Like anything else, after frequent use, the different components of your machine can become dirty or break and need replacement.
The importance of water quality in coffee brewing cannot be overstated. Water makes up a significant portion of your coffee, and its composition can directly impact the final taste.
If your tap water is too hard or too soft, it can affect the coffee's flavor profile, giving it a bitter taste or making a weaker cup of coffee.
These minerals can also build up on your brewing equipment. If you suspect this may be why your coffee is tasting watery, it's time to give everything a good clean and consider investing in a water filter or using distilled water.
Finally, the amount of water used may seem obvious, but too much water in your coffee machine will undoubtedly lead to watered-down coffee. So make sure to note which brewing styles and coffee grind size requires less water for the best results.
Additionally, the water temperature during brewing is crucial, as water that's too hot can lead to over-extraction, while water that's too cool may result in under-extraction. Aim for a water temperature between 195°F and 205°F (90°C to 96°C) for optimal brewing results.
If you have an automatic drip coffee maker and suspect the temperature may have something to do with your lackluster cup, check the manual for instructions on replacing the heating element or consider getting a new coffee machine altogether.
Another common but often overlooked cause of a watery cup is making more or less than your usual amount. Maybe you have guests, so you’re making more coffee than usual, or you’re alone and making a smaller pot.
Though the coffee grind size has stayed the same, the amount of coffee grounds in your filter basket has changed. This variance will impact how quickly or slowly the water can flow through the grounds. So, you may find you have to adjust your grounds-to-water ratio slightly depending on how much coffee you’re making at a particular time.
Most Common Reasons for Watery Coffee
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Low Coffee-to-Water Ratio
One of the primary reasons your coffee might taste watery is not having enough coffee grounds during the brewing process. Achieving the right balance between the amount of coffee grounds and ounces of water is crucial for extracting the optimal flavors from the beans. Investing in a reliable kitchen scale or using measuring spoons can help you ensure precision and consistency in your coffee brewing. It’s also important to research the proper grind size and coffee-to-water ratio for your preferred brewing method.
Incorrect Coffee Grinds
The different grind sizes play a pivotal role in determining the taste and overall quality of your brew. If you end up with a watery cup of coffee, the grind size may be to blame. Finely ground coffee tends to extract quickly, so they’re used for more concentrated brewing methods like using an espresso machine or Aeropress. Conversely, when using a coarse grind, it's common to under-extract the coffee, resulting in a sour taste. Adjusting the grind size to match your preferred brewing technique can significantly enhance the flavor and body of your coffee.
If you’ve ruled water, water temperature, and grind out as potential culprits, it could be a timing issue. Often if the coffee grounds are not given enough time to “bloom”. Meaning they have not fully absorbed the first bit of water and released any carbon dioxide.
When the coffee isn't given time to properly bloom, the hot water runs through the grounds without properly extracting all the rich flavor you crave, resulting in a watery taste and an overall weak cup of coffee.
This issue is especially common with manual brew methods like pour-overs, Aeropress, Chemex, and French press. When you pour your water, pour a little and then give the grounds a moment to fully absorb the water before adding the rest of the water for the full brew.
Depending on your brewing method, you may or may not have much control over this part of the process. Keep reading below for a few more tips to investigate the cause of watery coffee by brewing methods.
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Pinpointing the Cause of Watery Coffee by Different Brewing Methods
To keep this article as authentic as possible, I can only speak to the four coffee methods I have personally experimented with over the years. Making coffee at home is all about simplicity and reliability. I save the more technical brewing methods for the experts at the coffee shop.
Drip Coffee Maker
I absolutely love my Mr. Coffee automatic brewer. The stainless steel carafe eliminates the need for a warmer like most glass carafes have. This means the coffee will not burn as it sits in the carafe. The vacuum-sealed stainless steel is insulated and acts as a thermos keeping the coffee warm for an hour or more, which I love.
However, I have found that the coffee-to-water ratio or grind needs to be altered if I plan to make a pot less than 4-cup (20oz). I attribute the cause to the flat-bottom brew basket. The flat bottom allows the grounds to spread out too far, so the water runs through much quicker than brewing an 8 or 12-cup pot. So keep this in mind if you’re an infrequent or light coffee drinker.
Note the ‘cup’ amounts referenced refer to the water reservoir indicator. They are not representative of a standard 8oz cup.
Our Aeropress has been a real lifesaver when traveling either in the RV or at hotels. Sometimes there aren't convenient coffee shops, and what’s provided in the hotel room can be questionable.
This small device combines the best of immersion and percolation. With Aeropress coffee makers, you have a lot of control over the strength of your coffee. But it can also be more technical, like the French press, if you want to get into the finer details of precise grind, brew time, and getting water to the ideal temperature. It is recommended that a fine grind be used in order to brew a good coffee using this method.
However, we have had consistently good luck using the same grind as our automatic brewer and waiting about 30 seconds after boiling stops to pour the water over the grounds.
Compared to other coffee machines and equipment, trying out an Aeropress is relatively affordable. All you need is the device, coffee grounds, hot water, and your favorite mug.
If you find you really love the convenience of this method, you may want to upgrade a couple of your accessories, like the travel bag. I found this cosmetics bag to be the perfect size. It can hold the Aeropress, scoop, filters, and a bag of coffee.
Learning how to French press coffee was fun but didn’t last long. Though it is one of the most classic and reliable brewing methods for making a stronger coffee, it does come with its challenges.
I found this brew method to be extremely messy to clean up and time intensive. From getting the water to the precise temperature, adding it to the beans, letting it steep, and finishing the pot before it went cold made an event out of a simple cup of coffee.
I also found I always had to buy whole beans with the French press in order to get the proper grind. This also meant I needed my own coffee grinder or to figure out how to work the one at the grocery store.
When I first started out, I had no clue about the importance of grinding the beans to the correct consistency so the coffee would be over-extracted and extremely bitter tasting.
However, A french press can still be great if you enjoy the ritual of coffee making and are brewing a cup for yourself and a couple of friends. But if you have a big family of coffee lovers, this may not be the most suitable option.
Keurig Coffee Maker
When they first came out, Keurig was touted as the height of simple and efficient coffee brewing. Though it is very convenient to have so many different flavor pods available and ready to drink in minutes, I found it to be expensive and a little wasteful if you're a frequent coffee drinker.
With this method, you also have the least amount of control over the process. Aside from choosing the pod and ounces of water, there's not much else you can do to modify the taste of your coffee. I found myself constantly craving a stronger cup of coffee. However, Keurig machines have come a long way in recent years, so it may be time to give them another try.
A Final Note on Coffee Beans & Roasting
Coffee beans come in various types, such as Arabica and Robusta, each originating from distinct regions around the world. Arabica beans are often grown in high-altitude areas, yielding a smoother and more nuanced type of coffee profile, while Robusta beans, commonly found at lower elevations, tend to offer a bolder and more robust taste with higher caffeine content.
Arabica is a more versatile bean meaning it is well-suited as a light, medium, or dark roast. Each roast offers a spectrum of flavors, from delicate and fruity to rich and chocolaty.
On the other hand, Robusta beans are often roasted to a darker profile, highlighting their bold, earthy tones and strong caffeine kick.
This is a unique characteristic of robusta beans as darker blends typically burn off more caffeine during the roasting process leading to a lower concentration of caffeine compared to lighter roasts.
Coffee roast also affects the density of the bean and the number of grams of coffee needed when brewing. A Dark roast typically requires less coffee by weight than a light roast because of the more intense roast and coffee flavor. This will impact how your coffee brews and may require modifying the grind setting or water-to-grounds ratio slightly to perfect the taste to your ideal preference.
So next time you're in the coffee aisle, take a look at the label more closely when you grab your favorite coffee brand. Can you guess what type of bean you typically prefer? You may be surprised by the result and feel inspired to experiment with a wider variety of coffee options available. Who knows, you might discover a new favorite.
A Coffee Lovers Last Sip
In the pursuit of the perfect cup of coffee, understanding the reasons behind a watery taste and implementing simple fixes can make all the difference. Coffee brewing is more than just a morning routine; it sets the stage for a productive day, invigorating both the body and mind. By ensuring the right coffee-to-water ratio, using fresh beans, and the proper extraction process, you can elevate your coffee-drinking experience to new heights. Fine-tuning the grind size and paying attention to water quality are a few of the best ways to ensure your coffee has enough flavor for your personal preference.