What Temperature Should Coffee Be Served At?

steaming cup of coffee

QUESTION: – What temperature should coffee be served at? – Angela V. 

ANSWER: – The ideal temperature for serving coffee varies greatly depending on who you are asking. Many old school coffee drinkers believe that coffee should be served at piping hot temperatures, very similar to the temperature at which it is brewed, or just below. The ideal temperature for coffee brewing is pretty universal, give or take a degree or two, at around 203 degrees Fahrenheit.

The more standard answer is between 195 and 205 degrees F, but 203 degrees F is considered the sweet spot, which is just barely below boiling. For serving, most fast food restaurants and breakfast spots serve their coffee between 180 and 185 degrees F, which is the recommended serving temperature for coffee from the National Coffee Association of the United States. 

However, many coffee enthusiasts may disagree with the general recommendations of the NCA, for it is a widely held belief that many of the nuanced flavors and notes that can be found in high quality coffee, simply cannot be tasted at such extreme temperatures. Coffee detective is a website of advanced coffee connoisseurs who pride themselves on their coffee knowledge and coffee tasting expertise and experience. They recommend serving coffee at temperatures between 175 and 155 degrees F, and urge coffee drinkers to shoot for the lower numbers in that range, closer to 155 degrees F for optimal enjoyment. 

And there are others that enjoy their coffee at even lower temperatures in the search for the best tasting cup, believing that any temperature greater than 150 degrees F will mute subtly sweet notes, fruity notes, and acidic notes, or greatly diminish their presence on the palate. For coffee tasters in this camp, coffee serving temperatures are kept between 140 and 120 degrees F. 

When dropping the serving temperatures on your coffee, be careful not to go too low, however, as lower coffee temperatures allow for bitterness and sourness to become more pronounced as well, and nobody likes an overly bitter, or overly sour cup of joe. Dropping the serving temperature below 120 degrees can result in a lukewarm cup of sour coffee, so don’t let that brew sit out too long. 

So, considering we have given you three distinctly different answers to a fairly simple question here, you might understandably be a little bit confused on the topic at this point. We understand. But like with most things in life, the answer to the perfect coffee serving temperature is very subjective. We suggest you experiment a little bit with the three different suggestions, and see which temperature range works best for the way you enjoy coffee, and for your flavor palate. 

Let’s dive into each of these preferred temperature ranges a little bit deeper to help you see where you may fall on the scale. Either way, we encourage you to try drinking your coffee at different temperatures and decide for yourself, but this discussion could help you get a better idea of where you stand prior to testing out the alternatives:

  1. 180 – 185 F Range – Piping Hot – Are you the type of person that likes to take a sip after blowing on the surface level a bit? Do you enjoy being warmed up by your morning coffee? When you leave your coffee sitting out too long, do you pop it in the microwave to get it back to its original temperature? If you enjoy your coffee very hot, there’s nothing wrong with that. You might be compromising some of the delicate flavors that only really come out once the beverage has a chance to cool, but if you like the way it tastes when it hasn’t had a chance to cool off much from the brewing process, there’s no reason to change things up, as long as you enjoy it at that temperature. You might want to try the other ranges once just to see if you’re missing out, but some of us just like a piping hot cup of joe, and whether or not that preference is based on nostalgia, or personal taste, all that really matters is that you enjoy it like that (and that you don’t spill it on your lap, because coffee served in this temperature range or higher can definitely cause some damage). 
  1. 175 – 155 F Range – Just Right – We are not suggesting that this temperature range is just right, or better than the other two with the title, it just sounds better than medium. In this temperature range, you don’t have to worry about severe burns if you drop it on your lap, but it can still cause some discomfort. As far as bringing out more nuanced flavors from the roast, there is definitely a difference between coffee served at the lower end of this range, and piping hot coffee. You can start to notice more depth of flavor and character in your coffee when consumed at these temperatures, and you might start to understand why some coffee drinkers like to let the temperature drop a bit before consuming after you give a slightly lower temperature a try. If you like your coffee somewhere in this range, you probably are already familiar with how much fuller the taste can be when served at a slightly lower temperature. 
  1. 140 – 120 F Range – Warm – When you serve coffee below 150 degrees, you are definitely taking a chance that some of your customers may not appreciate the decision. If a cafe regularly serves their coffee in this temperature range, there is a good chance that they are asked if they can microwave what they just served on a regular basis. Though there may be a good reason why a whole class of coffee enthusiasts prefer this range of heat, many people are simply used to enjoying their coffee at higher temperatures, and a slightly warm cup of coffee can be a bit off putting to people who are used to drinking coffee their way. Give it a try though, if it’s not your thing, at least you will know that going forward. You will never have to wonder if you are missing out on something special if you give it a try. 

So, what kind of coffee drinker are you before experimenting with the different temperature preferences? Were you in camp A, B, or C? Or were you an outlier? Some people don’t really care what temperature their coffee is at all. Some people like iced coffee in the summertime, hot coffee during the winter, and don’t mind at all when they forget about their cup and come back to it at room temperature. If you are one of those kinds of coffee drinkers, you probably have some kind of an idea about the differences in flavor that are present in lower temperatures. Perhaps that’s why you came to like iced coffee in the first place. Some coffee drinkers are disgusted at the thought of drinking coffee cold, while others prefer it. Tastes and temperature preferences differ wildly across the population, and different countries prefer coffee at different temperatures as well. 

In European countries, the typical serving temperature for coffee and espresso lattes is much lower than the typical serving temperature in the United States. American tourists are known to complain about the low temperatures when getting coffee abroad, and US coffee shops tend to make their lattes much warmer than recommended. The recommended temperature to steam milk at is no higher than 140 degrees F, as temperatures above that can scald the milk. However, in American coffee shops, baristas are regularly asked to steam the milk to temperatures as high as 180 degrees F. 

What temperature do we prefer our brew at ClearlyCoffee.com? Well, we like to brew it with water that is just under boiling, at 203 degrees F. We like to allow our coffee to cool for a bit before drinking, and recommend serving it between 160 and 150 degrees F. This is just a bit warmer than european standards, but well cooler than what is recommended by the NCA. For lattes, we like to steam our milk at 140 degrees F, as recommended by baristas in Europe, and we recommend serving lattes at 140-130 degrees F as well. 

The temperature of the water that espresso is brewed with will have major implications on the overall taste and flavor of the espresso shot you make. In a study examining the difference between espresso brewed between a difference of just 12 degrees F (6 degrees C) showed that espresso brewed at lower temperatures were less sweet, and had less bitterness and body, but were higher in acidity, while shots brewed at higher temperatures produced a lot of body, maximum sweetness and bitterness, and balanced acidity with a weird, powdery-like mouthfeel after drinking. Espresso that was brewed in between the two extremes was found to taste the best, with good sweetness, less bitter notes, a well-pronounced body, and balanced acidity. Perhaps we were on to something when we called the medium range ‘just right.’ 

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