If you didn’t already know, it may be shocking to learn that your favorite brew could be the main culprit to the constant heartburn, acidity, or acidic reflux.
You may probably wonder if the negative effects would mean giving up your favorite beverage for good. Or you may be craving your favorite Cup of Joe, but without the unpleasant acidity taste.
Whether it’s the side effects or the sour and bitter flavor, you’ll be glad to learn that it’s possible to tame the acidity levels in coffee.
Let’s first dive into the basics.
What Causes Coffee to be Acidic?
Coffee enthusiasts know acidity in coffee to be the dry, bright, sparkling sensation that sets the high-quality grown from the mundane, lower-grown coffee. On the scientific side, most coffee varieties have an average pH value of 4.85 to 5.10 (this is an average and certainly not universal), which makes coffee acidic.
The beverage, in its pure roasted state, contains a lot of different acids. Nine major ones are chlorogenic, quinic, citric, acetic, lactic, malic, phosphoric, linoleic, and palmitic acids (listed from the highest to lowest in concentration). While some go away during roasting, others don’t.
One of the vital acids found in roasted coffee is chlorogenic acid. As an oxidant, this acid breaks down in the roasting process, which is why the longer coffee is roasted and the darker it becomes, the lower the perceived acidity when brewed. As you’ll learn later, darker coffee tends to have lower levels of chlorogenic acid. On the other hand, lighter roasted coffee has more pronounced acidity from high components of chlorogenic acid.
Another major acid in coffee – and one which plays an important role – is quinic. During roasting, the chlorogenic acids break down to form quinic acids. They are responsible for the astringency of the brew, which causes many people to experience the sour sensation in their stomach on consuming coffee. The darker the roasted coffee, the higher the levels of quinic acid.
Now that you know the main culprits to all the acidity in the beverage, you may be asking, why not do away with the acids in coffee altogether?
The two main acids play vital roles in coffee, and in their absence, coffee would lose its kick. Chlorogenic acid is the acid that gives coffee the distinction of excellent antioxidant properties while quinic acid is responsible for the unique taste and smell of coffee. You can agree that without the two, coffee would have a slightly compromised flavor and taste. Besides, not all acids in coffee are harmful to the human body; some can actually be very helpful. For instance, chlorogenic acid is useful for weight loss while others, such as malic and citric add to the flavor, taste, and texture of coffee. Others like lactic acid add to the creamy smooth texture of coffee.
Factors that Affect Acidity in Coffee
When it comes to the acidity level in coffee, several factors come to play.
How coffee is roasted – the duration and temperature – highly determine its acidity. Studies have shown that roasting the coffee beans for longer and through hotter conditions significantly reduces the chlorogenic acid levels. Similarly, the lighter the roast, the higher the acidic levels; this makes darker roasts lower in acidity.
Studies have found cold-brewed coffee to have significantly lower acidic than hot-brewed coffee. Brewing time also appears to affect the acidity, with a shorter duration resulting in more acidity.
- Coffee ground size
Finer grounds tend to be more acidic in a cup since they have a greater exposed surface area to the volume.
How to Make Coffee Less Acidic
The sad reality is, the acids in coffee may not be entirely eliminated without interfering with the chemical components of coffee. But the good thing is it can be significantly reduced using these measures.
Get low acid coffee
Naturally, some beans are less acidic; this is determined by the region of origin, the type of soil, or the components used to grow the coffee. Some beans are produced in a way that reduces their acidic content while others have components added to them to tame the acid levels. For instance, dry (known as natural) processing often results in less acidic coffee.
Speaking of origins, some countries are widely known to produce low-acid coffee—the variation, however, may differ within a country. Some widely known low-acid-producing countries are Brazil, Sumatra, and Nicaragua. Besides, coffee grown in low altitude regions tend to absorb less acid when growing and produce some of the least acidic coffees. The type of coffee also matters; for instance, Arabica coffee beans are remarkably less acidic than other coffee like that from Robusta, which is naturally bitter in flavor.
Understanding acidity levels in coffee is the ideal starting point when looking to make your coffee less acidic. Once you have the right coffee beans, implementing all the other suggested measures will work wonders to help you enjoy your daily brew without the yucky feeling in your stomach.
The tradeoff, however, is that less acidic coffee tends to least bring out the complexity of flavor; it’s generally looked down on by coffee enthusiasts. But, really, it’s up to you to decide what matters most to you; your health or complexity of the flavor in your taste buds.
The darker the roasts, the better
Apart from your low-acid coffee selection, the roast plays a vital part in lowering the acidity levels of coffee. The dark roast shows that the coffee was brewed for a longer time. Roasting longer significantly burns off more organic acids, removing them from the beans and the drink once brewed. As such, a darker roast will often be less acidic compared to lighter or medium roasts.
From a scientific view, two main organic acid components are responsible for stomach upsets; N-alkanoyl-5-hydroxytryptamides (NMP) and catechols. NMP is known to help settle stomach upsets – and has been seen to be in higher levels in darker than in lighter roasts.
Get your extraction right
Now that you have the right beans, you need to get your extraction right, as well. With the perfect beans, acidity can arise from the under-extraction or over-extraction of coffee. Under-extraction can happen when either your brew time is too short or your grind size is too coarse. Over-extraction can occur when your brew time is too long.
When brewing, different compounds are extracted at different brewing points but in the same manner of the process every time. The first point of your brewing results in the extraction of fats and acids producing an oily, sour flavor. The next point is the extraction of sugars which produce the sweet taste to balance the sourness. The last and final point occurs when you’ve overdone the processing which extracts plant fibers, resulting in the bitter taste. You don’t want the first or the last results as they’ll cause acidic effects on your stomach. Your brew time will be the deciding factor here; to get the balance of the two ends, ensure your brew time is long enough to extract sugars, but don’t let it steep for too long to over-extract.
Another factor that comes to play during extraction is the grind size. Coarse grind slows down the extraction rate because of their low surface area. What this means is a prolonged extraction which may make the final product more acidic. Finer grind, on the other hand, speeds up the extraction of flavor. To get it right with your grind time, also consider your extraction method. For instance, finer grinds in pour-over coffee or drip methods will take more time to extract but can double the effect.
Water temperature is a critical determinant of your final result. Without a doubt, the high-water temperature will double the chemical reactions resulting in more extraction. Using extremely hot water in your extraction will result in bitter (or even burned taste) coffee. As a rule of thumb, when using the over-pour method, ensure to take the kettle off the heat for approximately 30 seconds before pouring. If using a kettle with a thermometer, keeping track of your water temperature will be easy. You shouldn’t keep your water off the heat for so long; otherwise, you’ll have an under-extracted sour coffee after the pour.
Go for cold brew coffee beans
Cold-brew coffee often does well for a sensitive stomach because of various reasons. Steeping the ground coffee in cold water, according to research, reduces the acidity level by more than 60% than when hot brewed. The extraction of the coffee at a low temperature prohibits the extraction of some of the acidic compounds in coffee. Higher temperature, however, allows for easier extraction, which is why cold-brewed coffee tends to be less acidic.
A darker roast also works best with cold brewing; this will further reduce the acidity in the brew. For most people, adding milk or a milk substitute will make your cold brew even more palatable to your stomach.
Take your coffee fresh
The roasting process affects the acid levels in coffee, but it doesn’t end there. As coffee sits, certain chemical reactions occur changing the acidity levels. That explains why drinking coffee that has been left to sit on a hot plate can give you a gut-wrenching experience. To avoid the astringent taste, ensure you make and take a fresh batch. If you hate the inconvenience of brewing it every time, cool it before storing, and you can always warm it when needed.
Use eggshells in your brew
At first, you may think adding eggshells to your coffee is odd, but it works when you understand its chemistry. Eggshells are alkaline; adding them to coffee neutralizes the acids. The eggshells reduce the bitter taste of coffee, which may occur when brewing or roasting the beans.
Here’s how to use eggshells when brewing.
Take one or two eggshells and rinse thoroughly and ensure no egg whites are attached – you don’t want the egg taste in your coffee. Crush them with your hands into a bowl. Next, place your crushed eggshells into your coffeemaker, but if you’re using a French press or something similar, put them in the carafe or chamber with the coffee grounds. If you’re using any of the automatic drip machines, place the eggshells in the filler basket. Proceed to brew as you normally would. You’ll find that the final result is cleaner and less acidic, so you don’t have to suffer from acid reflux as much.
Add a dash of salt or sodium bicarbonate
For most people, using salt when brewing or to the ready cup of coffee reduces bitterness, smoothes out the flavor, and can even bring out the sweetness of the brew. However, salt does much more than this. It neutralizes the acidity in coffee with the main aim of reducing flare-up in the stomach. Yes, it works decently, but only if the salt is used in the right measure. For a cup full, use a pinch or 1/16th of a teaspoon to avoid the salty flavor. Simply put, use a quarter tablespoon for every six tablespoons of ground. You don’t want a salt amount enough to taste. For increased effectiveness when using salt to reduce acidity, ensure to start with a dark roasted blend.
In place of salt, you can use sodium bicarbonate or baking soda but you must use the right quantities. Baking soda has an alkaline PH 9; when added to coffee neutralizes the acidity levels.
Add milk to your coffee
Another perfect way you can reduce the acidity levels in your coffee is by simply adding milk or other milk products such as cream. Milk has lower acidity levels than coffee. It also contains calcium which when added to coffee helps balance the PH level. Note, milk works best with dark roasts compared to light roasts which have higher acidity levels. Besides, most plant-based milk will not also work well in acidic coffee; soy milk, for instance, will curdle when poured into an acidic coffee. Apart from using dark roast, add a splash of cream to tone the acidity further down.
Could caffeine be the culprit?
Caffeinated coffee tends to contain large quantities of acids compared to the decaf counterpart. This is caused by the pulling out of many compounds that naturally occur in green coffee during the extraction of caffeine. In this process, more than just caffeine is lost, which reduces the acid levels. As such, if you really crave your brew, but the acidity harms your health, perhaps you can consider decaf coffee. While it may not taste the same, you’ll still be able to enjoy your beverage without worry. But if decaf will not cut, opt for coffee with less caffeine; for instance, Arabica coffee is far less caffeinated compared to Robusta, bringing out a more complex flavor as a result.
Your favorite cup of brew may have caused your acid reflux or an uncomfortable feeling in your stomach, but it doesn’t mean you have to give it up. Using these measures, you can continue to enjoy your Cup of Joe without fearing what the acidity levels may have on your health.