Wondering How Hot Coffee Should Be? Here’s The ideal Temperature
‘Piping hot coffee’ screams the flashing neon sign in the overlarge corner cafe windows. We’ve all seen signs like this, but, if you are like me, you have wondered whether “piping hot” is really the best temperature for coffee.
Contrary to popular belief, coffee hot enough to singe your taste buds is not suitable for drinking (real shocker, I know). So, how hot should coffee be? Today I am going to tell you what (if not “piping hot”) is the proper temperature at which to serve coffee.
Brewing Temp vs Serving Temp
So let’s just get this out of the way: the brewing temperature for coffee is different than the serving temperature for coffee!
This may seem like a no-brainer, considering that the standard brewing temperature (1) for coffee (195–205°F) is hot enough to settle a half million dollar lawsuit with McDonald’s (2); however, there aren’t many drinks prepared with with such considerations.
Unless you are making some refreshing cold brew or competing for the World AeroPress Championship (those guys use some ridiculously low brew temps), your serving temperature is going to be well below your brew temperature.
How Low Do You Go?
Before you begin to think that I am steering you towards a lukewarm cup of joe, fear not, because not even I would stoop that low (I promise that was my only pun).
Though I’m sure you’d love to hear me quote some science, there is little conclusive evidence on how taste is affected by temperature; however, there are some who’ve researched the matter.
A few studies have shown that higher serving temperatures — for both foods and beverages — amplify perceptions of sweetness and bitterness (3), but sourness and saltiness become more pronounced at lower temperatures. Other studies, however, have found that higher temperatures can stifle taste (4), and mask the delicate nuances of a drink.
Unfortunately, none of these studies speak directly about coffee, but perhaps we can draw an important conclusion from their results:
To punctuate the sweet and bitter notes of coffee (and mask its sourness) a higher serving temperature is necessary, but go too high and you will deaden your ability to truly taste your delicious brew.
…Not Too Low
Though the scientists weren’t much help in narrowing down an appropriate serving temperature for your coffee, we can always look to that quirky and overly compulsive community of coffee experts who tirelessly experiment and obsess over their brews.
According to the National Coffee Association of the USA — which many large companies in the food and beverage industry listen to — coffee should be served at around 180–185°F (5), not much lower than the standard brew temperature. However, the fellas over at Coffee Detective seem to think that this is too high of a temperature.
They suggest serving coffee at somewhere within the range of 155–175°F, and recommend leaning more towards the lower end of the scale with higher quality coffee beans. This assumption – lower temperatures are better for higher quality coffees – fits well with what we already know: use temperature to either reveal or mask a coffee’s flavors.
… Just Low Enough
Although 155°F might seem like a low temperature for coffee, there are some who suggest even that is too high.
For some, 120–140°F is the ideal range for drinking coffee. These opponents to “piping hot” coffee argue that it is difficult to taste the subtle flavors of coffee at temperatures above 150°F. They believe that only at 120–140°F the (otherwise overshadowed) notes of sweetness, as well as acidity (6), shine through.
One note for the dedicated science buffs: the specific gravity (that is, the density compared to pure water) of coffee goes up as the temperature comes down.
Surprisingly, this recommendation also matches the sciency garble that I went over earlier: lower temperatures allow for notes of sourness/bitterness to become more pronounced, but higher temperatures can mask a drink’s more delicate flavors, like sweetness.
For God’s Sake! What’s the Right Coffee Temperature, Then?
Perhaps the only concrete fact we can glean from all this is that as long as your coffee is neither lukewarm nor scalding hot, the right serving temperature for you is up to your own unique flavor preferences. Or you can fall back on this research study on finding the temperature with the best balance between flavor and burn safety, titled ‘Calculating the optimium temperature for serving hot beverages’ (7):
The preferred drinking temperature of coffee is […] approximately 136 degrees F (57.8 degrees C)”
Despite this lack of an answer everyone agrees on, there are some good directional signs to help you find that perfect temperature:
- For those of you who prefer the rounded, sweet, and bitter notes of coffee, you will be better off sticking within the 155–175°F range.
- But if you more enjoy a brighter, sharper, and more acidic cup, aim within the 120–140°F range.
- Lastly, if you care more about the warming sensation of hot coffee than you do the flavor, a cup within the range of 180-185°F would be best for you.
Whichever way you lean, make sure that your coffee stays hot, because reheating can ruin its flavor.
The tongue feels pain at a threshold of approximately 47 degrees C (116 F). However, the tongue is covered in water, which has an insulating and heat-absorbing capacity which many people claim makes it less susceptible to pain than other parts of the body. In addition, the tongue heals roughly twice as quickly as other body tissue.
The fastest way to cool down hot coffee is to serve it in a metal cup, which has better heat transfer characteristics than glass or ceramic. You can also add milk if you use it, or add an ice cube to lower the temperature (though it will also dilute the coffee slightly).
The best way to keep coffee hot is in a sealed, double-walled insulated carafe, preferably lined with glass. A sealed carafe protects the coffee from oxidation, which is even more damaging to brewed coffee than to coffee beans. Glass is also a very good insulator, especially when there is a vacuum between the inner and outer glass layers.
- Black Bear Coffee Micro Roastery. (n.d.). Retrieved from https://blackbearcoffee.com/resources/87
- Platt Hopwood Russell & Cole PLLC. (2018, December 31). You might be wrong about the McDonald’s coffee lawsuit. Retrieved from https://www.platthopwoodattorneys.com/blog/2016/12/you-might-be-wrong-about-the-mcdonalds-coffee-lawsuit.shtml
- Heller, L. (2005, December 19). Food temperature affects taste, reveal scientists. Retrieved from https://www.beveragedaily.com/Article/2005/12/19/Food-temperature-affects-taste-reveal-scientists
- Fleming, A. (2013, September 17). Hot or not? How serving temperature affects the way food tastes. Retrieved from https://www.theguardian.com/lifeandstyle/wordofmouth/2013/sep/17/serving-temperature-affects-taste-food
- National Coffee Association. (n.d.). Retrieved From https://www.ncausa.org/About-Coffee/How-to-Brew-Coffee
- The Ideal Temperature to Drink Coffee. (2017, September 21). Retrieved From https://driftaway.coffee/temperature/
- Brown, F., & Diller, K. R. (2008, August). Calculating the optimum temperature for serving hot beverages. Retrieved from https://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/pubmed/18226454