Why does my coffee taste watery?

Photo of a black coffee splashing with a blue background. Why Does My Coffee Taste Watery?

There’s nothing worse than taking a sip of your coffee only to find that it’s watery and not what you expected.

The most common scenario for your coffee to taste watery is that your water wasn’t up to the correct temperature, 195-200 degrees F (90.5-93.3 degrees C), when mixed in with your coffee grounds. The temperature is required to extract the flavor from the coffee beans.

Other reasons for watery coffee include working with expired or stale coffee beans, using mineral-laced or impure water for brewing, or brewing coffee for the wrong amount of time for proper extraction. Not sure which it is? Read on to find out more!

Reasons for your coffee to keep coming out watery

Whether it’s happened twice or ten times, the more you deal with watery coffee, the more it will drive you crazy. You may even feel like giving up entirely, but don’t! I’ve got some real and actionable things that you can do to ensure that your cup is filled with your favorite rich flavor rather than just brown water. The most common culprits for watery coffee include the following: 

  • Incorrect brewing temperature
  • Incorrect brewing timing
  • Bad quality water
  • Old coffee beans
  • Improper bean storage

Incorrect brewing temperature

There is a specific brewing temperature that you should aim for when the water hits the coffee. Ideally, this is between 195-200 degrees F (90.5-93.3 degrees C). If you are pouring water from a stovetop or electric kettle, it can take time to determine what the temperature is. The best thing to do is stick a thermometer in it!

Traditional coffee makers have internal heating sensors that will bring the water to the right temperature so that it will result in the right temperature. If your coffee maker is old, not cleaned properly, or just not working correctly, it could mean the temperature is off!

Incorrect brewing timing

The next step to fixing the watery coffee problem is adjusting the brew time. Most coffee brews in 2-5 minutes. The flavor will be off if it’s brewing too fast or too long. Too short of a time will make it weak and watery. Too long of a time, and it’ll come out bitter. Make sure that your coffee maker is sticking to the proper timings!

Bad quality water

Whether it’s tap water or well water, you’ll want to consider whether the water itself gives it the watery flavor. After all, the water’s strange taste will either overpower or change the flavor of the coffee that it’s brewing, right? This is just one of the essential reasons to consider water testing every year!

Old coffee beans

If you’re brewing old or expired coffee, you could be brewing weak coffee because all the flavors have disappeared with age. This is especially likely if you aren’t storing it properly (more on that later).

Coffee expires after so long, and you’ll find that the coffee will first smell flat, then taste flat, and then won’t taste like anything at all. 

Improper bean storage

Lastly, you’ll want to also consider that your watery coffee might be due to not storing it properly between when you buy it and when you use it! This isn’t so much about storing it in the fridge or the cupboard (which is a much-debated topic. But instead, Consumer Reports explains that coffee is very sensitive, meaning it can both lose its odor and taste and pick up odors from food around it! 

I’ll talk more about how to properly store your coffee a bit later so that you can keep its flavor as pure as possible!

What is the best ratio of coffee to water?

Now that we’ve tackled a few of the most common issues that can lead to watery coffee let’s look at the all-too-important ratio between coffee and water. It’s a debate that many specialists will disagree over. 

Generally, you’ll want to have about 2 tbsp (10 g) of coffee for every 6 oz (180 ml) of water. This makes a medium roast coffee. However, others find that this amount makes a stronger cup of coffee than a medium roast, and they consider this to be the minimum for a dark roast coffee. 

So, my thoughts are this: if you like your coffee medium or strong, use this as your baseline. If you know you like it weaker, add a bit more water or a little less coffee. You’ll probably want to experiment to get it just right, but it’ll be helpful for knowing roughly where you should start! 

How to fix watery coffee

You know the causes of watery coffee and how to help make it just the right strength in the flavor, but I wanted to share a tip I found while researching this topic. You may have heard of it before, but it bears repeating because of its effectiveness.

According to WikiHow, the best way to help you fix watery coffee once and for all is to grind up fresh beans before brewing. This is what the professionals and coffee experts do, and it really will make a difference.

The freshness of the coffee grounds will make for a smooth, rich, and flavorful drink. If you’ve tried every other solution and still have watery coffee, this is definitely something to try. 

Even if you have fixed the problem, I recommend you consider trying this to enjoy freshly ground coffee’s crisp, fresh taste. It’s a life changer, I’m telling you! 

Can I fix a watery espresso?

What about a situation where you’ve got a watery cup of espresso? How do you fix that? Most espresso machines will get a watery shot if you use too coarse of a grind. These machines require a fine, even grind. The other troubleshooting issue is adjusting and moving the grinder during brewing since this is required to prevent the machine from jamming.

If your machine still isn’t brewing as it should, try changing up your beans! Sometimes oily coffee beans can cause a mess in the machine that impacts your espresso brewing.

How to prevent my coffee from tasting watery

Now that you know the bare details of keeping your coffee strong and rich instead of watery, let’s look at a few tips that will help you ensure that it doesn’t happen in the future! After all, it will only do you so good to fix the problem once! 

Take storage seriously

Most people open a bag or can of coffee and simply leave it in the can on the countertop or in the fridge. However, proper coffee storage is essential! Invest in air-tight containers made out of glass or stainless steel. These will keep your coffee from going stale prematurely and ensure it will taste like coffee!

Pay attention to expiry dates

The next thing on your list is to pay attention to what your can or bag of coffee tells you regarding when it expires. While it’s perfectly safe to drink coffee after it’s expired, you will find that it can quickly lose its flavor and end up in the watery mess that you started this article with! It’s not only frustrating to discover wasted coffee, but it’s gross, too!

You don’t need to throw coffee away the moment it expires, but you should consider keeping the expiry date in mind to replace it with new coffee or at least prepare for the possibility it may lose its flavor over the coming weeks and months.

Consider changing your water

The other detail to think about is the water that you use. If you find that your coffee tastes off or you can’t get a consistent cup of it, it might be that your normal water just can’t cut it. Consider investing in a water filter or bottled water to get a nice cup of coffee.

Getting your cup of coffee right doesn’t have to be an art form, but it needs to factor in details about its brewing. When dealing with watery coffee, first check that your temperature is between 95-200 degrees F (90.5-93.3 degrees C) for the best extraction, and ensure that your coffee isn’t old or expired.

You’ll also want to check that the taste of your water is consistent so that your cup of coffee will also be consistent. Lastly, consider grinding the whole coffee beans just before you brew the coffee!

Do you know someone struggling with getting their coffee to taste just right? Or someone who wants to upskill their coffee-making? Share this with them and give them the support they need!

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Robert Knowlton is an expert barista with more than 15 years of experience. Robert's main goal is to make sure everyone can enjoy the perfect cup of coffee regardless of their skill level.