Is Coffee Acidic & Can Sensitive Stomachs Handle It?
The idea of something we drink daily containing acid is kind of scary. But thankfully, not all acid is the face-melting kind that we’d see spit from an alien’s mouth in a Sci-Fi movie.
Acidity is one of the key flavors in the things we eat and drink, making them taste lively, fresh, and exciting.
But for coffee drinkers with stomach issues like acid reflux and GERD, coffee acidity isn’t so wonderful.
Today, we’re going to look at the acidity in coffee, what it does, and I’ll give you 7 tips for how to enjoy your coffee without the acid.
Is Coffee Acidic?
Coffee is a fruit. Well, to be more accurate, coffee is the seed of a cherry-like fruit. And just like most fruits, whether it be peaches, lemons, strawberries, or cherries, coffee is acidic.
When you drink a cup of coffee, acids will usually come across as a fruity flavor in the cup. However, they’ll make the coffee taste bright and fresh, just like biting into a ripe piece of fruit.
Coffee from Kenya, for example, often has a huge berry-forward flavor profile. Blueberry, cranberry, raspberry— things like that. The acidity in many Kenyan coffees tastes just like the acidic bite you’d get when eating one of these berries.
It’s quite incredible sometimes just how similar it can be. As you take a sip of your pour over coffee, the acidity might fill your mouth, just like you are biting into a raspberry or a couple of cranberries.
In the same vein, some coffee from Ethiopia produces a lemon-like acidity thanks to its citric acid content, while beans from certain parts of Costa Rica taste uncannily like a green apple— the effect of malic acid.
Is Acidity In Coffee A Good Thing?
Alongside sweetness, body, and overall balance, acidity is one of the most desirable things coffee can have.
When assessing coffee, one of the key things green coffee buyers look at is a coffee’s acidity.
Both the quality and intensity of the acidity are very important factors for most coffee roasters, too.
So clearly, coffee acidity can be a good thing.
Without the acids in coffee beans, the brew would taste flat and dull.
Sure, it might have beautiful sweetness, but without the acidity to balance it out, we won’t get that lovely full mouthfeel that a good cup of coffee has.
It would be like eating a peach with no acidity— you might be left feeling like the fruit wasn’t that fresh.
Having said that, coffee can certainly be too acidic. But too acidic is tricky to define. How much acidity is too much acidity? It’s totally up to each coffee drinker to decide.
What is The PH of Coffee?
Let’s quickly discuss pH.
In chemistry, the pH scale is used to measure how acidic a liquid is. The pH scale ranges from 1-14, with a pH of 7 being pH neutral. So basically, the lower the number, the more acidic something is.
For example, lemon juice and vinegar both have a pH level of about 2, meaning they are packed with acids.
Orange juice will fall in at around a 4 on the pH scale, while drinking water will usually be between 6.5 and 8.5. On the opposite end, we have things like bleach and oven cleaner, both with a pH of 13.5.
Coffee has a pH of around 5— between 4.85 and 5.10 to be more precise. Light roasts are almost always more acidic than dark roasts, with levels on the lower end of the spectrum, closer to a pH of 4.85.
pH Scale and Roasting
Roasting coffee beans is one of the biggest factors in deciding a coffee’s final pH level in the cup.
While we can’t add acids during the roasting process, we can roast to preserve or choose to mute coffee acidity. It all comes down to how hot and for how long we are roasting our coffee.
Coffee contains loads of different acids, with chlorogenic, quinic, and citric acid taking the top 3 most abundant positions.
Studies have shown that coffee that is roasted longer and to a higher final temperature will significantly reduce chlorogenic acid. This means that a dark roast will produce a much less acidic coffee.
pH and the Brewing Process
Another thing that can affect the perceived acidity of a coffee is the brewing process.
Most baristas will agree that the faster a coffee is brewed, whether it be a shot of espresso or a pour over, the more acidic it will taste.
This is because acidity is one of the first things to be extracted when brewing coffee.
On the flip side, the longer a coffee is brewed, the less acidic it will taste. This is because the coffee brewed for longer will contain more bitterness and more sweetness, both of which help balance out the acidity.
While the brewing process won’t alter the actual pH level of the coffee beans, it will change the way that acidity is perceived.
For example, cold brew pretty much always tastes less acidic than the same coffee brewed as a pour over.
But these two drinks will have a very similar pH level. So what’s the deal? It turns out that pH isn’t the only thing that decides how acidic a coffee tastes. With lower levels of what is known as titratable acidity, cold brew tastes far less acidic to most people.
Likewise, adding milk to coffee doesn’t do too much to increase the pH either. Milk has a level of around 6.5, meaning that it too is acidic. However, when we add milk to coffee, we are diluting it, reducing the coffee’s perceived acidity.
Coffee Acid & GERD
For many people, approximately 20% of the adult population, in fact, acidity is a real issue.
Gastroesophageal reflux disease, otherwise known as GERD, is a disorder that allows acidic juices and fluids to flow back up the esophagus.
This can cause a variety of uncomfortable and unpleasant sensations, including heartburn and acid reflux.
Because coffee is acidic, GERD sufferers often need to be more careful about the coffee they choose to consume.
Not only can acidic coffee quickly overload the tummy, but the caffeine in coffee has also been known to produce even more stomach acid, worsening these health conditions.
Caffeine can also relax the lower esophageal sphincter. No, not that sphincter…The lower esophageal sphincter is a set of muscles at the opening of the stomach that keep the esophagus closed.
When relaxed by caffeine, stomach juice can work its way back on the esophagus.
But all hope is not lost!
Here are 7 tips on how to either avoid acidic coffee or make your favorite coffee less acidic!
7 Tips On How To Make Coffee Less Acidic
1. Buy Low Acid Coffee
If you can’t give up the morning cup of coffee (don’t worry, no one would blame you), try some low acid coffee.
Low acid coffee beans are usually the same as any other coffee beans— they haven’t had any weird processes done to them, nor do they contain any chemicals to make them less acidic.
Low acid coffee has usually been carefully selected and roasted to minimize the acid content.
This might be done by selecting naturally low acidity coffee from countries like Brazil and Indonesia.
These coffees often have more chocolatey and earthy notes rather than the big fruit and berry flavors we spoke of earlier.
Most of these coffee brands opt to push these beans a little further in terms of roasting, usually aiming for a dark roast coffee.
2. Stick With Arabica
The two main species of coffee we use are Arabica and Robusta. Robusta coffee is generally considered to be of lower quality, often having the taste of rubber tires.
Not only does Robusta not taste as good as its sibling Arabica, but it also contains around twice the concentration of both caffeine and chlorogenic acid.
Both make Robusta bad news for people with GERD or other stomach acid issues.
Best stick with Arabica.
3. Avoid Strictly High Grown Coffee
When coffee is grown on a high-altitude coffee farm, say, around 2000 meters above sea level, it grows very slowly.
This means that the coffee cherries, the actual fruit that grows on the coffee trees, ripens slowly. The longer this fruit takes to ripen, the sweeter and more acidic it becomes. And it imparts all that sweetness and acid on the coffee bean.
If we want to avoid acidity, choosing lower-grown coffee will certainly help. Choose something that was grown below 1000 meters above sea level (3000ft).
This lower-grown coffee can still be really tasty— it’ll just be missing that sparkling acidity.
As a plus side, lower-grown coffees are usually substantially less expensive than coffees grown at high altitudes, so you might save yourself a little money, too.
4. Try Darker Roasts
There is a strong correlation between the roast level achieved during the roasting process and a coffee’s acidity. The longer and darker a coffee is roasted, the lower its acidity will be.
If a coffee was roasted to a final temperature of 220°C (428°F), around medium on the roasting color scale, it will be far less acidic than one roasted to 200°C (392°F)— considered a very light roast. A darker roast coffee will result in even lower levels of acids.
Try to choose either a medium or dark roast for reduced acid levels.
5. Add Creamer
While adding creamer and milk won’t exactly lower the pH of the coffee, it will balance it out a little. Because creamer and milk are both lower in acidity than coffee, they can dilute the acidic tastes.
Milk usually works best in dark roast coffee with a more chocolatey and caramel forward flavor profile.
Adding milk to light roasts often doesn’t work so well. It might end up tasting a little strange and may even cause the milk to curdle, depending on the milk you are using.
6. Drink Cold Brew Coffee
Cold brewing is a brewing method known for producing coffee that is smooth, with a sweet taste and low levels of acids.
That’s pretty interesting because the pH of coffee made by cold brewing isn’t that much lower than hot brewed coffee.
One study has shown that while the pH of cold and hot brewed coffee is similar, cold-brewed coffee does have much lower levels of titratable acidity (TA).
Total titratable acidity is a measurement often used in the wine industry and other foods and beverages to measure a liquid’s perceived acidity.
7. Try Adding Salt
Salt is famous in the dessert world for increasing sweetness. Think sea salt dark chocolate or ice cream with a sprinkle of salt on top— delicious.
But salt can also help reduce both the acidity level and the bitterness in coffee caused by chlorogenic acid.
If you want to try adding salt to your coffee, don’t go overboard. You only need a very small amount, somewhere in the league of 0.2 of a gram for a 200ml cup of coffee.
Salt can either be added directly to the coffee cup or in with the ground coffee before brewing. Adding salt to your coffee grounds is a good option, regardless of your brewing method.
Frequently Asked Questions
What kind of acid is in coffee?
There are well over 40 types of acids in coffee, all of which contribute to a coffee’s acidity.
The 9 main types of acids in coffee, in order from most to least abundant, are chlorogenic, quinic, citric, acetic, lactic, malic, phosphoric, linoleic, and palmitic.
Which has more acid, coffee or tea?
In general, coffee has a higher acidity level than tea.
Most coffee has a pH of between 4.85 and 5.10, while green tea is between 7 and 10. Black tea, however, is a little closer to coffee, with an average of around 5.5.