by Matt Gibson
If the coffee you are brewing each morning is giving you reflux or hurting your stomach, it’s time to look into solving your sour coffee woes. The first step to solving the issue is to locate the root cause, and for sour coffee, the root cause is typically either due to using spoiled milk or your coffee is far too acidic. All coffee is acidic, and acidity can be a good feature in a well-balanced coffee. However, there is such a thing as too much of a good thing, and in the case of over acidic coffee, too much acidity in your brew can brutally ruin the taste.
You shouldn’t be quick to toss out your coffee beans over too much acidity, as there are things you can do to reduce the acidity in the brew. Though it may sound like a chemistry experiment, it is actually quite easy to lower the acidity in your coffee, and there are plenty of ways to do it. In this article, we will discuss what conditions directly affect the acidity in coffee, how the growing conditions, roast method, and brewing technique impact the acidity level of your brew, additives that you can put into your coffee that will lower the acidity level. We also discuss how temperature plays an important role in the pH level of coffee, and lastly, we top it all off with a few pro tips for producing a more balanced cup of coffee.
What Conditions Can Influence the Acidity of Your Cup of Coffee?
All of the nuances and flavors that make the varieties of coffee beans you’ll choose from different from one another are heavily swayed by the climate and other conditions in which the coffee bean trees were grown. However, the potential for acidity to change doesn’t end once the coffee beans have been harvested. You’ll notice that typically, coffee beans grown in Brazil or Indonesia steep into low-acid brews, although this is a general rule that you should not assume applies to every variety of coffee from these areas. Areas known for growing coffees featuring higher acidity include Brazil, Ethiopia, and Peru.
Acidity and the Growing Conditions of Your Coffee Bean Trees
Plants take in minerals and micronutrients they need through the soil. It probably won’t surprise you, then, to learn that the soil that nourished your coffee was, at the same time, cultivating lots of the unique characteristics of the coffee—and one of the soil’s biggest contributions is the acidity level of your coffee. You’ll find that coffee from certain regions is more likely to tend toward acidity than beans grown in other areas. The two most important environmental factors that create higher or lower coffee acidity are whether the soil shows evidence of volcanic activity and the elevation.
Exactly how much of an acidic taste (and how much of a response to acidity you’ll experience from your body comes from the hydrogen ions in the soil where your coffee was grown, which is reflected numerically with the soil’s pH level. A pH level can range from 0 to 14, and a score of 7 is perfectly balanced between alkalinity and acidity. For soil with a score between 7 and 14, the higher the score is, the more alkalinity the pH test has detected. Soil that scores between 0 and 7 increases in acidity as it climbs higher toward the neutral score of 7.
Acidity and How Your Coffee Beans Are Roasted
In addition to having a more diverse array of flavor notes in total, beans with a lighter roast offer higher acidity. This component is often described as brightening the coffee’s flavor or adding a zing to the taste. Beans that have been roasted for longer, creating a dark roast, or beans that cooked for a longer time, lost some of their acidity (even if the oven was set for the same temperature). More roasting, whether it’s in the form of more time in the oven or a higher temperature, translates to lower acid content in your coffee..
Acidity and Brewing Technique
Certain brewing techniques are prone to high acidity levels, while others naturally produce a brew that is low in acids. Coffee methods that require a finer grind, like drip machines and the AeroPress. French presses, on the other hand, which do not use a filter, are generally very high in acidity. For the lowest acidity content, go for Cold Brewing, which uses room temperature water and longer extraction times instead of hot water for brewing. Cold brews are also generally made with darker roasts, which are also typically less acidic.
What Can You Add To Your Coffee To Reduce Acidity?
Once your coffee is brewed and you notice that it has too much acidity, there are a few things you can add to it to bring the acidity levels down to a reasonable level so that you can enjoy your coffee instead of having to toss it out. To neutralize an overly acidic liquid, you need to add a water soluble component that is alkaline. Many websites suggest adding milk or cream, but these are not the best available options, they will help balance out the acidity in a pinch. Instead of milk, however, we recommend adding baking soda or salt, unsalted butter, ground cinnamon, eggshells, or almond milk.
Baking soda is highly alkaline, so just a small pinch per cup should help to balance out the pH level so that your brew is tolerable. Adding too much baking soda can make your coffee too salty, so remember, easy does it.
Adding butter to your coffee probably sounds like a bad idea, but buttered coffee is actually quite popular in some regions. A healthy spoonful of unsalted butter will add the alkalinity that you need to tame down your coffee, and you can see if butter coffee is something you enjoy in the process.
Cinnamon is a great flavor to add to your coffee, and it works well with just about any roast you could imagine. Cinnamon is one of the few alkaline spices, so you can always turn to your spice rack when your brew is on the sour side, sprinkling cinnamon wherever it is needed to bring balance and flavor to your morning joe.
Instead of regular milk or cream, try almond milk, as almonds are alkaline and better suited to bring a balance to your coffee drink. Almond milk tastes pretty much the same as regular milk, but with a hint of almond flavor, which should pair well with just about any type of coffee.
Like Baking Soda, the thought of adding salt to coffee does not sound like a good idea, but just a pinch of regular table salt will balance out your brew. Salt is a natural acid-reducer, so it will help you reduce the acidity, as long as you don’t add too much. Again, like baking soda, just a pinch or two will do. Choose baking soda if you have a choice between the two, however, as baking soda has a pH level of 9, it will restore balance back to your brew naturally, without zapping out all of the acidity.
Eggshells are made of alkaline calcium, and when added to the grounds before the coffee brews, or tossed into a hot cup post brewing, eggshells release some of their calcium into the coffee, which can help to lower the acidity of your coffee. Eggshells might be the best additive choice on this list, as they not only lower the acidity of overly acidic roasts, but they also tame the bitterness of the coffee as well. When your coffee is both sour and bitter, it’s time to crush up some eggshells and toss them in to tango.
How Brewing Temperature Affects Your Coffee’s pH
Brewing temperatures can also be adjusted to reduce the acidity in your coffee. If your coffee has been especially acidic lately, your coffee maker’s hot water temperature may need to be adjusted. The hotter that water is during the extraction, the more acidic your coffee is likely to be. Those that struggle with acid-reflux and indigestion issues involving acidity, often turn to cold brew coffee, as it tastes great, and is less than half of the acid content of coffees brewed using hot water. To avoid brewing your java at temperatures that bring out too much acid, keep a close eye on the gauge and make sure that the water stays under 200 degrees Fahrenheit at all times.
Pro-Tips For Reducing Acidity Levels in Coffee
If you love coffee but struggle with heartburn or acid indigestion, you don’t have to give up coffee at all, just find a way to mix it up some. There are many other ways to avoid drinking overly acidic coffee without giving up your favorite beverage. As we mentioned in the section above, higher brewing temperatures lead to more acidic brew. If your coffee is coming out too acidic or sour, try lowering the temperature of the water. One of the easiest ways to get your daily joe minus the heartburn, is to start drinking cold brew coffee instead of regular coffee. Cold brew doesn’t involve hot water at all, which lowers the acids and oils that are so strong in regular coffee.
Another possible solution is to order some special coffee beans that are specifically low acid roasts. There are plenty of low acid coffee available, and a few coffee roasters actually offer low-acid beans, with the words, “low acid,” on their label. An extended roasting time will lower the acidity in beans, so darker roasts are generally much lower in acidic content than lighter roasts. If you can’t find any low acid coffees, just pick out a dark roast, and you should have a much less acidic brew.
Coffee can also grow more acidic by overcooking. In most electric drip coffee maker models, the carafe is kept on a pad with a heating element that keeps your coffee hot. These burners are nothing to worry about at first, but keeping your pot heated all day long can increase the acidity levels. When your coffee stays at high temperatures for long periods of time, its composition changes, and its taste deteriorates rapidly. To avoid this, pour your coffee into an insulated thermos after brewing, which will help to keep it warm without continuing to cook it into oblivion.
Other ways to fight acidity include shortening the brew time, reducing the size of your grind so that it is slightly finer than usual, and brewing your coffee with a hard water that contains calcium to counterbalance acidity levels. Also, if you are using a coffee maker with a metal mesh-style filter, trade in the metal cage for a paper filter to reduce the acidity.
Making the perfect cup of coffee is an artform that involves a lot of different factors. The pH is but one of many components that can make or break the quality of your brew. Now that you know more about changing the acidity levels in coffee, study up on some other ways in which you can improve your coffee making skills. If you devote your time, money, and energy to maintaining a coffee habit, do yourself a favor and continue to study up on different ways that you can improve your brew. Many people go years without learning anything about improving their brewing technique, but learning new ways to improve something you drink nearly every day, can be very fulfilling.