A while back Keurig started incorporating a button on some of their premium machines called “Strong”. To this day the button is only included on the higher end devices and even some non-Keurig competitors have started adding this button to their premium models.
Obviously the setting is designed to increase the strength of a cup of coffee but the way it does it may not be obvious on a passing glance.
The strong button on Keurig brewers slow the water flow through the k-cup so that optimal favors can be extracted from the grind. The maximum potential of coffee isn’t just in it’s strength but also in it’s flavor profile. The strong setting adds 30-seconds to the brew time which results in a stronger cup of coffee with balanced compounds of bitters, sweets, and acids.
There are some Keurig machines that slow the brew cycle down more than others though. For the most part all of the machines that do offer a strong button have made my list of best Keurigs for the year, but let’s unpack the reasons why this is so important in case you need convincing.
Why The Strong Setting Slows The Brew Cycle Down
On any given morning a person may want a cup of coffee fast; this is why Keurig became so popular in the first place if you ask me but on other occasions the speed of the brew is less important, say Saturday mornings, or after dinner cups to name just a couple.
All Keurig’s brew quickly but by adding a mere 30 extra seconds or so to your brew time then you get more depth to your brew. More sweets and bitters can extract from the grind inside the K-cup and counter the flavors of acids that extract first in all brewing methods.
Basically quickly brewed coffee is acidic but slower brewed coffee is usually better balanced with acids, sugars, and bitters. See this post for more on how that happens.
The “Strong” setting on higher end Keurig machines allow you to brew slightly slower thereby increasing the coffee’s strength and flavor profile.
FYI – To learn more about how Keurig machines work see this post where I discuss whether or not any Keruig coffee makers can make good coffee.
Also, here’s a brief video I made explaining the concept of Keurig’s Strength settings along with some visuals.
By the way, Keurig started using the strong button first but some of their k-cup coffee maker brands have started incorporating it into their designs as well. See the following post for a lit I compiled of some of the best non-Keurig options.
That being said, there are a few other points worth mentioning with respect to the strong button on your Keurig:
- When your coffee takes a longer time to brew than usual, this will increase the taste of your coffee, making it stronger and sharper, so to speak.
- Suppose you use the setting labeled ‘regular’, or something to that effect; in this case, a single cup can brew pretty quickly (we’re talking about a minute or less here, tops).
- But when you make your setting ‘strong’ instead, that brew time we mentioned will span out to longer than a minute.
- And this, in turn, will allow the coffee grounds to actually steep themselves in the hot water for longer periods of time, making for a much stronger – tasting coffee altogether.
Nice, right? But there’s more to note on this:
- In order to get the job done properly, on ‘strong’ mode, the coffee machine is known to release water on intervals, as opposed to releasing it all in a single stream.
- This will thus allow each coffee ground to get steeped well before going down into the cup itself, and that alone can make a world of difference as well.
- Keep in mind that it will not necessarily increase the amount of caffeine that’s in your cup, but it will make for a taste that will certainly seem otherwise (a bolder cup of Joe, to say the least).
Here’s another post on how this is similar to the 1-4 button on a regular coffee maker.
Where did this originate? Even more to note….
Many attribute the Keurig 2.0 as the first coffee maker to officially incorporate the ‘strong’ button, and some after it have begun to feature a similar option as well.
And keep in mind that the extraction time will remain a pivotal factor in the overall brewing strength.
Ask yourself these questions as well, important points we may potentially cover in another post:
- What grind of coffee are you using?
- How old is your pod / cup / source of the coffee itself?
- Are you using the Green Mountain brand, Starbucks brand, some other brand?
- And what does the brand stand for / making itself known by, in terms of its coffee?
You can also see this post for more on how to make cheap coffee taste good!
So, Does the Keurig “Strong” Setting Work? Does it Actually Make Things Stronger?
In my experience with coffee makers and other small appliances, I’ve found that many of the extra, supposedly “innovative” features that many of them boast are often just window dressing.
However, when it comes to the “strong” setting featured on most Keurig coffee makers, I can say with certainty that it is not just there for show. In fact, whenever I brew a cup with my Keurig, I always use this setting, and it never disappoints.
But how does the Keurig “strong” setting work? Read on to find out!
How Keurig’s “Strong” Setting Brews a Stronger Cup?
It seems impossible, right? You use the same pod with the same machine and get the same volume of brewed coffee, so how could selecting this “strong” button actually produce a stronger cup of coffee than without this setting?
It’s Just a Matter of an Extended Brew Time
The answer to this perplexing question is actually more obvious than you would think. The way a Keurig 2.0 can truly brew a stronger cup with the exact same pods and amount of water all comes down to the time it takes to brew the coffee.
If you just pop your Keurig K-Cup pod into your pre-heated machine and start the brew without selecting the strong setting, your fresh cup of coffee will be ready in under 45 seconds depending on the machine you brew from. The K-Slim for instance can have your coffee ready in around 35 seconds flat!
But if you do everything the same, except this time you do select the “strong” setting on your brewer, it can take up to 30 seconds longer for the machine to produce your brew no matter which brewer you are using. This can bring 8-oz cup brew times up over a minute for all brewers and nearly two minutes for the newest and fanciest models like the K-Supreme Plus and Plus SMART.
See this article for a comparison of the Supreme Plus and the Supreme SMART if you are interested.
How Does a Longer Brew Time Translate to Stronger Coffee?
The fact is, this is just the way brewing coffee works!
Think of it this way, when talking about coffee, “strength” refers to the amount of dissolved solids in the resulting liquid—that is, stronger coffee has a greater proportion of dissolved solids in relation to the amount of water (source).
Solids are dissolved in the water through the process of extraction, which takes place during the time that the water is in contact with the ground coffee.
Thus, the longer brew (extraction) time for Keurig’s “strong” setting means more dissolved solids, which results in a stronger cup. Simple, right? No more weak coffee for us!
And then there are even more ways to get your stronger cup:
Are Smaller Keurig Cups Stronger Than Big Cups?
If you like your coffee strong like I do, you’ve probably run into a bit of trouble with the coffee strength you can get from Keurig machines. Often, it seems as though Keurig coffee makers simply can’t brew a strong cup of coffee.
But there’s good news! You don’t have to give up the convenience the Keurig single-serve coffee makers just to get a decent strength cup of Joe.
There are a couple of sure fire ways of brewing a stronger cup with your Keurig machine. The first is simple: get a Keurig machine that includes the brew strength feature as we’ve discussed above.
The second is to buy Keurig pods with greater “intensity.” My personal favorite is Keurig’s own Green Mountain Double Diamond.
But is there another way?
What About Just Brewing a Smaller Cup?
When I first got my Keurig and ran into the issue of weak coffee, the first solution I tried was to simply brew a smaller volume of coffee using the same Keurig pods.
My thinking was that it just made intuitive sense that my coffee had been weak because the greater volume of water in the water to coffee ratio simply diluted the coffee. In other words, I assumed that there was just not enough coffee in the pod to produce a stronger cup at that volume.
So, did brewing a smaller cup produce stronger coffee for me?
Yes & No, It’s Complicated
Unfortunately, for many people smaller cups don’t produce a noticeably stronger brew but some people do see an increase in strength.
The reason has to do with the nature of Keurig machines and how they brew coffee, especially when their is a strong button or strength selector incorporated into the machine.
Since Keurig machines are designed to brew coffee quickly, the amount of time the water is in contact with the pod’s ground coffee is extremely limited so a big cup of coffee will extract fast a weak just like a small cup will.
Thus, brewing a cup with less water doesn’t substantially change the flavor or strength even though it does slightly.
When you slow down the brew time with the strong button the water-to-grind contact time increases and you can more easily tell a difference in strength from large to small cups of coffee but even then the speed of the brew is responsible for a lot of the taste differences.
You might notice a slight strength increase by brewing a smaller cup, but nothing like the strength you can get from the “strong” option on the various k-cup brewers on the market, which does increase the amount of time the water is in contact with the coffee, resulting in a much stronger cup.
The only major caveat I’d like to bring up is these slight differences in strength become big differences in strength and taste if you compare 6-ounce cups of coffee to 12-ounce cups. In my opinion even on the bold setting a 12oz cup brewed in a Keurig will always taste weak so definitely keep the cup size down a bit.
To illustrate this make sure to see this video I made showing the different phases of a k-cup coffee. The first drips and last few ounces are disgusting and look terrible but the middle parts taste really great.
See this post for more on how to get better quality coffee from a Keurig using biodegradable k-cups which are typically sealed in a bag and don’t use traditional plastic cups.
All that said, it’s very important to get quick, strong flavored coffee, for many. Yet that is only one crucial factor in the coffee – drinking experience. There is so much more we need to assess.
If you’ve got an 8 – ounce K – cup, and you wish to see what this bad boy “strong” button can do, give it a whirl. Be patient. And by patient, yes, we do mean you need to wait at least 1 minute and 15 seconds (but probably just a little longer)….
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