Why Does My Coffee Taste Bad? It’s Not The Coffee, It’s You
Did you brew some coffee, expecting to enjoy a nice, smooth cup, only to find that it tastes horrible?
Don’t lose heart! Now you just need to figure out what is causing the unpleasant taste, so you can take steps to fix it.
Whether your coffee tastes bitter, sour or stale, I’ll help you find a solution.
Why Does My Coffee Taste Bad?
There are various factors that could make your coffee taste unpleasant. The first thing you need to do is pinpoint what is wrong with the flavour, so you can determine what has caused it, and how to fix it.
The most common issue with coffee is that it tastes either bitter or sour. Although these flavours might sound similar, they are practically polar opposites. Both these flavours are related to the extraction process; that is, how exactly the taste of the coffee beans is imparted into the water.
Under-extracted coffee is characterised by a flavour that is sour. It also tends to be lacking in depth and sweetness, at times to the point of being salty. While many people appreciate acidity in coffee, under-extraction means the acidity is turned up to being unpleasantly acrid.
Here’s a more in-depth explanation of under-extraction:
Over-extracted coffee, conversely, has a bitter flavour. Instead of a smooth body, it has an unpleasantly dry mouthfeel which can make you feel thirsty.
Here’s a more detailed look into over-extraction:
Distinguishing between ”sour” and “bitter” might sound difficult at first, but you will get the hang of it with a little practice.
How To Make Delicious Coffee
So, how can you avoid sourness and bitterness and get that perfectly mellow mouthfeel?
There are a few factors that have an impact here: grind size, brewing time, the equipment you’re using, and brew temperature. Let’s go through them one by one.
The ideal grind size depends on the brewing method you’re using; for pour-over, you will want a coarser grind, whereas for espresso, the beans need to be almost powdery. You might need to experiment a bit to find your sweet spot.
As a rule of thumb, you should use a medium grind size for pour-overs. If the grounds are too fine, the water will take too long to get through them, leading to over-extraction.
Conversely, if they are too coarse, they will allow the brewing water pass through in an eyeblink, not leaving enough time for the full flavour to develop.
With pour-overs, brewing time is closely linked to grind size. Grounds that are too small will inevitably take a long time to brew, whereas large grounds will brew very fast.
Ideally, you should control the brewing time of your medium grounds by steadily pouring the water.
With espressos, this becomes especially critical, because there is little room to maneuver. Make sure you’re hitting the sweet spot of 20-30 seconds of brewing time.
You will also need to adjust your grind size and brewing time to the equipment you’re using - make sure you know your tool.
Another important factor is making sure that your kit is clean. If your brewing equipment is full of ghost coffee residue, this will affect the flavour of every new brew you make.
Lastly, if your brewing water is too hot, it will result in the bitter compounds overpowering your coffee.
Always let boiled water cool for a couple of minutes before using it to brew, or turn it off before it reaches its boiling point.
My Coffee Tastes Stale!
Coffee is best enjoyed fresh. Ground coffee gradually loses flavour over time, as it is exposed to oxygen. Whenever possible, buy freshly roasted beans and grind them just before brewing.
If you buy bags of ground coffee, you should consider buying a grinder to enjoy fresher coffee at home. Grind and brew coffee beans within a few weeks of their roast date, and store them in a cool, dry place.
Freezing coffee is controversial, as it might have a negative impact on flavour. It’s better to simply buy the amount you need and use it within a couple of weeks. However, freezing coffee is surely better than letting it go stale.
Did You Have An A-ha Moment Yet?
It’s always disappointing to find out that the coffee you brewed tastes bad. The next step you need to take is asking yourself “Why does my coffee taste bad”, and finding the answer, so you know what to do differently.
The key lies in the flavour. Does it taste sour, bitter, stale or just weird? This will tell you whether the problem is over or under-extraction, aged beans, low quality water or gunk in your brewing equipment.
Once you’ve figured out the problem, you can fix it and be drinking delicious coffee again in no time!