I hear a lot of talk lately about acidity in coffee, lots of people on the hunt for 'low acid coffee' and things of the like. I think acidity in coffee is very misunderstood for the average coffee drinker. Acidity sounds like a bad thing right off the bat, but that's not necessarily the case.
Acidity typically refers to where on the pH scale a food item lies, but in the coffee world acidity refers more to the presence of certain acids that affect the flavor of the coffee. Coffee typical rates on the pH scale as 4.5-6, 7 being neutral. Coffee will always be slightly acidic but is actually low acid compared to something like orange juice which comes in at a 2 on the pH scale.
Among coffee aficionados the pH isn't the whole story, for them acidity is a good thing. Coffee that contains more acids is typically described in terms like 'bright' while truly low acid coffee is typically described as 'flat'. Acids are actually an essential part of what makes coffee the wonderful experience that it is.
The main factor that will effect coffee acidity is the bean origin. If you truly want a low acid coffee your best bet is to do some investigating on the acidity of various coffee beans. Secondly the roast level will come in to play. Each bean contains naturally occurring acids and the roasting process will burn off many of these. Other acids will actually be created during the roasting process as compounds break down. Roasters often have to experiment quite a bit to find just the right amount and duration of heat to bring out the best qualities of their beans. Roasting any bean to a dark roast won't always be effective to reduce acids in a positive way, because not all beans can hold on to their flavors when roasted dark. It is up to our passionate roasting professionals to find that balance and the perfect interplay of acids to create that magic cup of coffee.
Outside of roasting there are even more factors that effect the acidic taste of coffee, like brew method. You could have a deliciously acidic but balanced bean that was roasted to perfection, but if brewed incorrectly you could end up with a flat or bitter drink.
When brewing bean grind and extraction come in to play to determine how our cup of coffee turns out. Under extraction will lead to a sour taste and over extracting can lead to a bitter taste. It is up to the coffee drinker to do a little experimentation with their beans as well. There is no 'one size fits all' grind level or brew method for every bean origin.
If you're using an automatic machine and not brewing manually then the extraction time and temperature is typically out of your control but you can still manipulate this by changing up your grind level. If your coffee is coming out too sour that means extraction is happening too quickly. In that case grind your beans a bit more course to slow down the extraction and find the right balance. If too bitter then your beans are being over extracted. Try a finer grind to speed the extraction up a bit and draw out the correct compounds for a balanced cup.
Another great proven way to lower acidity in coffee is to use a cold brew method. Cold brewing reduces the acidity in coffee drastically and can bring a much different flavor profile to your favorite roasts. Cold brewing does take some time and planning though, typically 24 hours. Good things are worth waiting for and those with the patience will be in for a treat.
One last thing to consider with coffee acidity is the pH of your water. Water is the main ingredient in coffee. You could pick up the most dark roasted bean with the lowest acidity bean origin and still end up with acidic coffee if your water itself is acidic. I used to keep tropical fish and after moving and losing a ton of fish I learned that tap water ph can indeed vary significantly. If your stomach is sensitive to acidity testing your water is a good idea which can be solved by water filtration systems.
Overall acid is not the enemy that the low-acid coffee hype would lead us to believe. It's truly about finding the right interplay of acids and compounds that will lead us to a great cup of coffee.
My tastebuds personally lean toward low-acid coffees, I like dark roasts. Many of the light roasts have notes that my taste buds do not find pleasing, but not all of them. When it comes to light roasts I get much more picky than usual. I have found that some bean origins that are highly acidic I actually never originally realized they were because I didn't notice that odd mouth feel some acidic coffees give me. I can only assume they were simply roasted to perfection and I brewed them just right.
I threw out many a coffee back in the day before I realized it could taste completely different if I changed up my brew method just a little.
In the end we have to drink what we like despite what the coffee aficionados and professional coffee cuppers say, but having a little knowledge on what makes our coffee taste how it does should help us find those magic roasts that keep us coming back for more.
Lets Sum it up!!
- Get a Grinder
- Experiment a little
- Brew Fresh Roasted Beans