Why Does Your Coffee Look More Like Tea?


This post contains affiliate links and we will be compensated if you buy after clicking our links.

Why Does Your Coffee Look More Like Tea?

There’s nothing like waking up to a fresh hot coffee in the morning, ready for a new day. However, sometimes coffee comes out weak or light. In these situations, why does coffee look more like tea?

Your coffee looks more like tea because the brew is weak or under-extracted. Coffee requires an appropriate water ratio, grind, brew time, and brewing method to achieve enough extraction for a dark color. Additionally, some lighter roast coffees have a golden or light brown hue.

There are several reasons why your coffee is clear, and most can be addressed by altering how you brew it. In this article, I’ll discuss why your coffee appears like tea and include some recommendations for brewing a darker cup of coffee.

Why Is My Coffee So Clear?

In general, coffee brews black or a very dark brown. Clear or light coffee is generally watery because it hasn’t extracted enough or has insufficient coffee.

While the typical ratio of 2-3 tbsp of grounds per 6 oz (170.1 g) of water is appropriate in most cases, some roasts call for varying amounts of either ingredient, which can affect the final product.

Apart from the water ratio, extraction has the greatest impact on the coffee’s color, with under-extraction yielding a lighter coffee.

Additionally, some coffee beans are lighter roast, giving the brew a more golden color. But despite looking like tea, these brews should still taste like strong coffee if made correctly.

The Coffee Is Diluted

The most likely reason your coffee is clear is that the overall brew is diluted. There’s too much water in proportion to coffee grinds, lightening the overall color.

Coffee has a golden ratio for brewing, the optimal amount of coffee you need for water. The golden ratio is typically 1:18, or one gram (0.04 oz) of coffee per 18 g (0.63 oz) of water.

Because there are about 5 g (0.18 oz) of coffee per tablespoon, this amount is about 2.5 tbsp coffee per 8 oz of water (12.5 g coffee:226 g water).

Another option, recommended by the U.S. National Coffee Association and easier to measure out, is 1-2 tbsp coffee per 6 oz (170.1 g) of water to achieve a potent brew.

However, the amount of water you need depends mainly on the brewing method.

To help you pinpoint how much coffee you need, I’ve created this chart of coffee ratios depending on your brewing method.

Brewing MethodWater RatioCoffee per 8 oz (226.8 g) Water
Drip Coffee18:12.5 tbsp
Pour Over16:12.5–3 tbsp
Aeropress16:12.5–3 tbsp
French Press12:1–16:13–3.5 tbsp
Cold Brew5:19 tbsp
Espresso2:122.5 tbsp (or 5 tbsp per 2 oz or 56.7 g water)

Based on the chart above, while cold brew and espresso call for much higher concentrations of coffee, they achieve an optimal flavor and color through dilution. For espresso, dilute with steamed milk or water. 

You can dilute cold brew coffee with filtered water or cold milk to taste. 

For the remainder of this article, I’ll be discussing hot coffee, so if you’re curious why your cold brew is too clear or doesn’t taste right, check out my article on why your cold brew tastes weird

Generally, you don’t need to be exact in your measurements to achieve a strong cup of coffee. Even if you’re off by a few grams, you shouldn’t get watery or clear coffee if you stay in a broad range of how much coffee you need.

If you’re using enough coffee grinds and your coffee still looks like tea, then there’s an issue with the roast or extraction.

The Coffee Is a Lighter Roast

Lighter roast coffees will brew lighter because the beans have been roasted briefly. The time it takes to roast coffee impacts the color of the beans and the final brew.

The roast determines the coffee’s color, flavor, oiliness, and caffeine concentration. Below are four types of roast, which depend on the roasting time of the bean. 

  • Light roasts: Light roasts will brew light brown or golden with fruity flavors and some acidity. Despite popular belief, these roasts have the highest caffeine concentration because caffeine is broken down the longer a bean is roasted.
  • Medium roasts: These mild roasts have all the best qualities of light and dark roasts. They’re common in the U.S. because of their acceptable flavor and light fruity notes.
  • Medium-dark roasts: Medium-dark roasts aren’t as acidic as lighter roasts or as harsh as full dark roasts. They have a full flavor and are somewhat bitter.
  • Dark roasts: Dark roasts are bitter and brew very dark. They’re the oiliest and easiest to extract because their compounds have broken down, and the bean husk has become porous.

Here’s a short video that describes the differences between these coffee types and the considerations when brewing them:

In general, the lightest roast coffees will appear most similar to tea.

Light roasts are brewed to preserve their delicate flavors, terpenes, and aromas. Some roasts, especially those from Ethiopia, are naturally light and sometimes have a golden color when brewed.

However, these lighter roasts will still taste like strong coffee, albeit with a more enhanced flavor profile.

Darker roasts that come out light or lighter roasts that taste watery may have issues with the extraction process.

The Coffee Grinds Are Too Coarse

The coarser the coffee grind, the less it’ll extract. Depending on the brew method, the less the coffee is extracted, the more watery it will be.

During brewing, hot water cooks coffee grinds to extract oils and terpenes. The more surface area available to cook, the stronger and darker the coffee. Grinds that are coarser have less surface area and won’t brew as strongly.

However, more surface area (a finer grind) isn’t always optimal. Too fine coffee will over-extract, resulting in acidic, muddy, or even burnt coffee. Even if it looks dark, it probably won’t taste the best.

In general, you only want to use coarsely ground coffee for French presses, as finer grinds can clog up the mesh filter. For better extraction, you can let the coffee brew longer.

Additionally, you can use a medium coarse grind for pour-overs and drip coffee, which provides enough time during the lengthy brewing process to extract all the flavors properly. Most store-bought coffees are medium grind for drip coffee.

Only use very finely ground coffee for espresso or Aeropress, which brews quickly and requires immediate extraction.

If you believe your coffee is under-extracted, you can use a finer grind to achieve a darker cup of coffee. However, remember that extraction is also related to how long the coffee brews.

The Brewing Time Is Too Short

Coffee extracts more the longer it’s brewing. Coffee without enough time to brew will come out watery, while overbrewed coffee will be dark and murky.

Like the grind, the brew time depends on the brewing method. Below are recommendations for each type:

Brewing MethodTime to Brew
Drip coffee5 minutes
French press2–4 minutes
Pour-over3–4 minutes
Aeropress90 seconds
Espresso20–30 seconds

Generally, you can make a darker coffee by brewing it longer if the current brew time isn’t optimal. If you’re brewing longer than 10 minutes and the coffee is still weak, there’s probably another issue, such as a low brewing temperature.

The Brewing Temperature Is Too Cold

Coffee can become under-extracted if the brew temperature is too cold. The optimal temperature to brew coffee is about 195–205 degrees Fahrenheit (90–96 degrees Celsius).

Water that’s below this temperature isn’t hot enough to fully extract all of the coffee’s oils and flavors and will result in a weak brew. Additionally, using boiling water (212 degrees Fahrenheit or 100 degrees Celsius) or water that’s begun to bubble at the surface will over-extract or burn your coffee.

To get the right temperature without a thermometer, I recommend boiling water first and then turning off the heat. When the water has settled, and there’s no surface bubbling, it’s reached about 200 degrees Fahrenheit (93.33 degrees Celsius) and is optimal for brewing.

The Coffee Beans Are Expired

Expired coffee beans or beans that were ground and stored for long periods will provide a weaker brew than freshly ground coffee.

Aside from the water ratio and roast type, your coffee gets its strength and color in the extraction process, which is the chemical process of hot water releasing oils from coffee beans.

Over time, ground coffee loses the oils and terpenes that give it flavor and color, becoming stale. The rate at which coffee goes stale depends on how long it’s been stored, if it’s been exposed to oxygen or sunlight, and how coarsely it was ground.

Additionally, old coffee beans will go stale when they’ve met their expiration date, even if properly packaged and sealed.

If you’re using store-bought coffee, check the expiration date to ensure it’s optimal to drink.

For hand-ground coffee, the best practice is only to grind as much as you need for the day. Freshly ground coffee quickly goes stale and doesn’t store well.

The best grinders to use at home are burr or mill grinders that evenly grind the coffee like this OXO Brew Conical Burr Coffee Grinder. A blade grinder will slice the beans into discs or shards that aren’t uniform and will be coarser (have more surface area) than burr ground coffee, even if it appears the same.

An Absorbing Filter Is Diluting the Coffee

In some cases, a cloth or paper filter can dilute coffee by absorbing the essential oils created during extraction.

While the effect is subtle, paper filters are known to eliminate diterpenes, a type of terpene that gives coffee lots of flavor and color. If you’re using paper (or any absorbing material, such as cloth) filters, it may be diluting your coffee.

You can opt for a filterless brew method, such as French press or espresso, which come with built-in metal filtration systems. Alternatively, you can use a metal filter for your drip coffee or pour-over.

Aside from the Aeropress, which comes with specific filters included, you don’t need to use paper filters, and eliminating them may improve the overall color of your coffee.

How To Brew Stronger and Darker Coffee

Drinking coffee that tastes or even looks like tea is never optimal, and you want to ensure your coffee is strong enough to suit your needs.

Besides adjusting your water ratio, you can achieve a darker cup of coffee by improving the extraction process. Here are some ways to improve the quality of your coffee: 

  • Adjust the coffee-to-water ratio. The first step to making a more robust cup of coffee is to add more coffee grounds. The golden ratio is around 1–2 tbsp per 6 oz (170.1 g) of coffee or 2.5 tbsp per 8 oz (226.8 g) cup.
  • Use a darker roast coffee. Dark roast coffees extract easier and will provide darker coffee more easily than lighter roasts.
  • Use a finer grind. The finer the coffee grind, the greater the extraction. Use a burr or mill grinder for the best result, as blades don’t evenly grind the beans.
  • Brew the coffee longer. Brewing longer allows more time for extraction. Don’t brew longer than 10 minutes, which may result in bitter coffee.
  • Increase the brew temperature. Coffee brews optimally at 195–205 degrees Fahrenheit (90.56–96.11 degrees Celsius). Consider using hotter water as long as it’s not boiling.
  • Check the expiration date on your coffee. Expired coffee will be stale and not as flavorful. Use freshly ground coffee or store-bought coffee that’s within its expiration date.


There’s nothing worse than trying to start your day with a cup of underwhelming coffee, especially when it looks like tea.

In general, coffee that’s clear or looks like tea results from too much water or under-extracted coffee.

Aside from using more coffee grounds, you can make stronger coffee by using darker roasts or finer grounds, brewing the coffee longer, increasing the brew temperature, or using fresh ground coffee.

Additionally, some coffees, especially Ethiopian varieties, will naturally resemble tea. However, these coffees are still strong and flavorful despite their color.