Here’s a concept that can be a little bit confused and misunderstood by people.
It’s partly because when people talk about acidity in coffee, they mean two different things, if not more!
So I wanted to provide a little clarity about what exactly the acidity in coffee is, what it tastes like and how it affects coffee.
Let me start by giving you a simple explanation of the two main aspects…
One aspect of acidity in coffee is the taste in coffee that tends to be tangy, bright, dry, sour, and often bitter. The other aspect is the actual acidic content of coffee: the pH level.
Since these are the two main meanings, let’s dive right in and take a look at them!
How It Tastes
This is typically what people mean when they are talking about a coffee being “acidic”.
Although, the taste and the chemistry of it are directly linked! You see, coffee tastes acidic because it is acidic.
And the more actual acidic content the coffee has, the more these flavor characteristics will come out in the coffee.
As mentioned above, the flavor profile of coffees that have more acidity usually include characteristics like tangy, bright, dry, sour, bitter. It can also be pungent, astringent, or like vinegar.
Vinegar is of course a liquid that’s very acidic. You can almost think of the flavor being closer to vinegar in a sense when you think of the acidic taste of coffee.
On another note, light roast coffee (which is by default more acidic) has more of the natural flavors of the coffee.
These flavor notes usually include the more bright qualities of a coffee. Things like sweet, fruity, bright, berry, citrusy, floral, toasted grain, and similar tastes.
These types of flavors are the origin character of the beans, and they usually come out more in light roast, higher acidic coffee.
The Chemistry (But Not Too Boring Hopefully!)
I briefly touched on the subject in another article about a wonderful low acid coffee.
Coffee actually has acid, and there are nine major acids in coffee. From highest to lowest concentration, they are as follows: chlorogenic, quinic, citric, acetic, lactic, malic, phosphoric, linoleic, and palmitic.
They each have their own flavor characteristics. Citric acid, for example, makes a coffee that tastes citrusy.
The pH level of a substance measures how acidic or basic a substance is. The pH scale ranges from 0 to 14, with 0 being an acid and 14 being a base.
Water has a pH level of 7, it’s right in the middle of the scale and a neutral substance. Most coffee has a pH level of about 4.85 to 5. This makes coffee more of an acid. Vinegar has a pH level of 2.4.
Light and dark roast coffee have different pH levels. Light roast has a lower pH (more acidic) because through the roasting process, more of the acid is taken out of the beans.
Thus, dark roast has a higher pH (less acidic) because more of the acid has been expelled in the roasting process.
This is just a brief explanation of the chemistry of coffee regarding the acidity and pH level.
The Brewing Method
The brewing method is also a factor in how acidic your coffee will be.
Many people probably don’t realize that it has a considerable effect!
For example, if you compare two different brewing methods, AeroPress and French press, they have quite different acidic content. AeroPress has 1/9 the acidity of French press… that’s a pretty big difference.
The reasons for this are the filter, suggested water temperature, and others.
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Brewing methods with a more dense filter have less acid. AeroPress also has 1/5 the acidity of pour over and automatic drip machines.
This and much more information is available on the AeroPress FAQ page.
Also, cold brew has lower acidic levels than hot coffee.
The brew methods which have the most acidity are ones that have no filter at all, like Turkish coffee.
Although there are different points on the topic of the acidity in coffee…
The bottom line is this:
- Usually people are referring to the taste when they say a coffee is acidic
- Also, coffee literally has acidic content, which contributes to its specific flavor profile
If you’ve never given it much thought or notice, try light roast or more acidic coffees and then try dark roast or less acidic coffees and/or brewing methods.
See if you have a preference! Many people have a preference to which kind of coffee in terms of acidity they like better.
I like less acidic coffee much better, like I said in the beginning of the article. But see what you think, because they each have their own taste!
I hope this article sheds some light about this subject! If you have any questions or comments please let me know in the comments section and I’ll be happy to hear from you. Coffee cheers!