Is Coffee Acidic?

In a word: yes. Coffee contains acids, and that can cause problems for some people. But while some acidity in a cup of coffee contributes to the flavor, other acids might give you (along with 60 million Americans every month)  the nasty sensation of heartburn.

Whether you're suffering from gastroesophageal reflux disease (GERD), or you simply dislike the taste of acidic coffee, don’t worry! We've got solutions. In this article, we'll talk about the ways the acidity of coffee affects you, and then offer a few suggestions on how to tame the burn.

Acidity In Coffee - Friend Or Foe?

a half full coffee in a cup

Coffee beans contain at least 850 different compounds (1) that contribute to coffee's unique taste and aroma.  When we talk about the acidity of coffee, we don't necessarily mean a sour or acrid taste. Sour coffee is often the result of poor extraction - but thats another topic.

Acidity is measured on the pH scale:

  • A pH of 7 is precisely neutral.
  • Values lower than 7 are considered acidic, while values up to 14 are alkaline.
  • Coffee ranges right around 5, with some light roasts in the 4.7 range.
  • For comparison, orange juice is a 3, tomato juice a 4.

BUT REMEMBER: Not all acids in coffee are bad. For example, phosphoric acid and malic acid can make coffee taste sweeter. Other acids, such as citric acid and acetic acid, add tartness in low concentrations but can produce sour-tasting coffee in excess. It's all about the right balance of acidity. That is one of the keys to a great up of coffee.

Chlorogenic acid, which sounds frightening, may contribute to weight loss (2). It also adds much of the bitterness coffee drinkers perceive as coffee acidity, but there's a bright side - or in this case, a dark one: a longer roasting process tends to break down chlorogenic acid. So that dark roast coffee you've been eyeing might help settle your stomach. 

The main culprit is quinic acid, produced as coffee degrades, especially when left on a hot plate or burner. You know the bitter, burned flavor of old breakroom coffee? That's quinic acid, and it has negative effects on the digestive system. Fortunately, there's a simple fix for this: buy an insulated coffee carafe and ditch the warmer.

Acidity can complement or unbalance the harmony of a coffee cup. If the acidity is too pronounced and becomes sour, people don’t like the coffee ... And without acidity? The coffee will taste flat." - Mané Alves, Coffee Lab (International Q-grader and tasting judge)
a tip on buying coffee beans

If you’re interested, you can watch a video introducing the chemistry of coffee in more detail:

Coffee Acid and Health

Some people experience discomfort after drinking coffee, often attributed to the acidity of the drink (4). In reality, it might not be the coffee acidity that causes GERD - coffee can stimulate the production of stomach acid (5).

Another likely cause: the caffeine in your coffee. People who are sensitive to caffeine may experience heartburn, because caffeine can relax the muscles of the esophagus, leading to acid reflux.

If you’re prone to heartburn, avoid drinking too much coffee or switch to decaf, which has been found to reduce acid reflux symptoms (​6​​​). We have a list of recommended decaf coffees that can help ease your discomfort.

10 Ways to Avoid Acidic Coffee

Whether you don't like the flavor or the side effects, here are our top ten tips on taming acidic coffee:

Tips for low-acid coffee

1. Use low-acid coffee beans

There's a growing market for low-acid coffee beans. Some of these are naturally produced in a way that reduces their acid content; others have compounds added to them to tame the burn.​

Check out this article which lists the best low-acid coffee brands available online..

2. Use Arabica beans

Arabica beans generally contain considerably less acid than their lower-grade, caffeine-infused Robusta bean cousins.

Using an Arabica bean for your brew can be a great starting point for lower acidity - but you should already be doing this by default (if you drink good quality coffee)

3. Pay attention to altitude and soil

Coffee grown at high altitudes tends to be more acidic. Similarly, volcanic soil also often contributes to acidity (​7​​​). While this may seem like an unlikely thing to just “look up”, it’s easy to find out if you’re buying your beans from a quality establishment.

Any good coffee provider worth their salt knows all about the altitude and soil where their certain beans were grown. If the bag doesn't say, just ask. They’ll likely be more than happy to spout their coffee knowledge at you, we promise!

4. Try different coffee growing regions

While each coffee farm has its own unique flavor profile, there are general characteristics that each coffee region can tend to produce. Kenya, for example, often grows fruitier and more acidic coffee beans.

Coffees from Brazil and Sumatra, on the other hand, tend to have low acidity.


Learn about acidity and a host of other coffee factors from various regions in our article: Are You Murdering Your Coffee Beans? There’s a Good Chance You Are.

5. Roast Matters!

Lighter roasts emphasize acidity – coffees described as “bright” or with the taste of citrus fruits usually get these characteristics from acids such as malic acid.

Light roasts and medium roasts have risen in popularity with the third wave of coffee, possibly because they are well suited for brewing single origin beans with pour over methods.

Different levels of coffee roast

If you’re not a fan of this type of coffee, choose darker roasts instead. Dark roasts are traditionally popular in Europe, and so-called Espresso and French roasts are almost always dark.

6. Watch your extraction

Once you’ve found the perfect beans, you need to get the brew right. Acidity is typical of under-extracted coffee. Under-extraction happens when your grind size is too coarse or your brew time is too short.

wrong process of making coffee

The perfect grind size and brewing time depend largely on your brewing method. Just find the right recipe for you and stick to it. Coffee rewards precision.

7. Add milk

Another method to reduce the acidity of your coffee is to simply add milk or cream (​8​​​). The milk helps to balance out the pH level.

Because of their acidity, light roasts tend to take milk less well. This is especially true for soy milk which will curdle in acidic coffee – something to take note of if you prefer plant-based milk in your coffee. So along with getting that dark roast, feel free to add a splash of cream to help tone down the acidity!

8. Use eggshells 

Egg shells for adding to coffee

Looking for something to take the edge off of a black cuppa? Consider brewing with eggshells.

Eggshells are alkaline, which means they help neutralize the natural acidity in coffee, balancing things out and even removing any bitter, over-extracted flavors in the process.

9. Add salt

You may have heard this one before, because it works well: Just add a dash of salt to your grounds before brewing.

This works regardless of the brewing method and can make a big difference in reducing the acidity and can even bring out your coffee's sweetness. Just be sure to add the right amount. You don't want to overdo it (9).

"I’ve taken to adding a quarter teaspoon of kosher salt to every 6 tablespoons of grounds. That isn’t really enough to taste, but it’ll do the trick ... research has proven that salt is actually better at neutralizing bitterness than sugar."
- Alton Brown - Cookbook author

10. Brew it cold

Did you know that steeping ground coffee in cold water can produce coffee with up to 60% less acidity (​10​​​) than hot brewed? It's true - the cold brewing method is simple and a great way to reduce acidic beans.


The Beans and the Brew Are Key

Gooseneck kettle and Chemex

While you can’t avoid acids in coffee, you can choose coffees that aren’t overwhelmingly acidic. This top ten list contains a range of things you can try, but getting low-acid beans and brewing them properly are the biggest contributors.

Have you tried these tips? Did they help you? Or do you have a tip of your own to share? Let us know in the comments!

Frequently Asked Questions

What is the pH level of coffee?

The pH level of coffee varies depending on many factors, but is normally right around 5 - about as acidic as a banana.

What kind of coffee is the least acidic?

Dark-roasted coffee is the least acidic in general. The specific brands reviewed in this article have either been roaster or treated to reduce acidity.

How do you make coffee less acidic?

You can make coffee less acidic by simply adding milk. The calcium in milk neutralizes some of the acids in the coffee, and many love the way it smooths out the flavor of a cup of coffee. Milk works particularly well in dark-roast coffee, which is typically lower in acidity to begin with.


References

  1. Aroma and flavour: Composition of coffee. (2015, October 02). Retrieved May 23, 2019, from https://www.coffeeandhealth.org/all-about-coffee/aroma-and-flavour-composition-of-coffee/
  2. Thom, E. (2007). The effect of chlorogenic acid enriched coffee on glucose absorption in healthy volunteers and its effect on body mass when used long-term in overweight and obese people. Retrieved May 23, 2019, from https://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/pubmed/18035001
  3. Coffee Lab International. (n.d.). Retrieved May 23, 2019, from http://www.coffeelab.com/
  4. Raman, R. (2018) 11 Foods that Cause Heartburn. Retrieved May 23, 2019 from https://www.healthline.com/nutrition/foods-that-cause-heartburn/
  5. 3 Ways to Prevent Coffee Heartburn. (n.d.). Retrieved from https://camanoislandcoffee.com/prevent-coffee-heartburn/
  6. Pehl, C., Pfeiffer, A., Wendl, B., & Kaess, H. (2003, November 14). The effect of decaffeination of coffee on gastro‐oesophageal reflux in patients with reflux disease - Pehl - 1997 - Alimentary Pharmacology & Therapeutics - Wiley Online Library. Retrieved from https://onlinelibrary.wiley.com/doi/10.1046/j.1365-2036.1997.00161.x/epdf
  7. Coffee Acidity and Processing. (n.d.). Retrieved from https://www.coffeechemistry.com/news/science-technology/coffee-acidity-and-processing
  8. The Impact of Milk in Your Coffee / Espresso - The Good and the Bad. (2018, October 17). Retrieved from https://www.coffeescience.org/impact-milk-in-coffee-good-bad/
  9. Brown. (2015, December 04). Alton Brown's Coffee Owners Manual Part 1. Retrieved from https://altonbrown.com/how-to-brew-best-cup-of-coffee-at-home/
  10. Glamour. (2017, December 07). Is Cold Brew Coffee Better for You Than Regular Coffee? Retrieved from https://www.huffpost.com/entry/is-cold-brew-coffee-bette_b_8964244
Alex
 

Alex is the Founder and Editor of Homegrounds.co. He is passionate about brewing amazing coffee at home, and teaching others to do the same.

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