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Is Your Coffee Too Acidic?

Much like many literary characters throughout history, like the Grinch, the "wicked" witch Elphaba, and Severus Snape, acidity is the long-misunderstood character trait in coffee. And it's about time we set the record straight because the acidity of coffee is not a bad thing. You might be shocked to realize that acidity is one of the reasons you enjoy coffee so much.

While the acidity of coffee is an integral part of establishing a well-developed flavor profile, not all palates can or want to handle a higher acidity and prefer a low acid coffee. Drinking coffee is a morning routine for some to get them through their day, and for others, it is a methodical ritual that they take great pride in. Both of these positions are valid but will most likely require an entirely different coffee experience. Knowing what you love, whether it is a high or low acid coffee, will ensure that your morning starts in the best way possible. 

What is the Acidity of Coffee?

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First, let's establish what the acidity of coffee is not. Acidity is not a sour flavor or sensation, it is not excessively astringent, and it is not an unpleasant experience. If your coffee is sour, that is a taste issue, and the first thing you should check is the expiration date of your coffee beans. Ground coffee beans are at their freshest within two weeks of being ground, as long as they are kept in a cool, dry place inside an airtight container.

So, what exactly is the acidity of coffee? What are low acid coffees? And which is best for you? Acidity is the prime coffee flavor sensation. It is sweetly tart and bright, and it adds vibrancy to elevate the flavor qualities of the coffee. Acidity can be delicate and crisp while being rich and tart without sacrificing sweetness.

You will most likely notice the acidity of coffee you're drinking in three different areas of your mouth. A satisfying sharpness at the front of your mouth, numbing sensations on the tip of your tongue, or dryness on the back of your palate. All of these mouth sensations are part of what makes drinking coffee so enjoyable. However, controlling and adjusting the acidity of coffee can enhance your coffee drinking experience.

pH of Coffee

The pH scale is used to determine how acidic or basic water is, with a range of 0-14. The potential of hydrogen or pH value of coffee on average stays between 4.85-5.10. A low acid coffee has a pH value closer to 5.10, and a high acid coffee registers closer to 4.85 on the pH scale. For comparison, a pH of 7 is neutral, with pure water being the only one with that pH value. A very low acid coffee can register a pH value of 6, close to that of milk. 

8 Ways to Make Low Acid Coffee in Your Home or Office

For some coffee drinkers, high acidity causes heartburn, and they are actively looking for ways to find or make low acid coffee. Fortunately, if you are looking to buy or make low acid coffee, several options are available to lower the acidity of coffee without sacrificing the unique spark it generates. Some of these methods for obtaining a low acid coffee will sound familiar. However, there are a few tried and true (yet unorthodox) ways to lower the acidity of coffee.

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  1. Low-elevation coffee beans
  2. Darker roasts
  3. Robusta coffee beans
  4. Cold brew
  5. Milk
  6. Eggshells
  7. Salt
  8. Decaf coffee

Low-Elevation Coffee Beans for Low Acid Coffee

The altitude at which coffee beans grow directly affects their flavor profile, including the acidity of coffee beans. Higher elevations have cooler temperatures, which slow down the growth rate. A slower growth rate means more energy is devoted to producing beans, and as a result, more sugars are created, developing a more intense flavor profile. Therefore, a low acid coffee will have a less dramatic flavor profile.

In addition to the cooler temperatures, higher elevations will have better drainage. Therefore, the coffee beans will be exposed to less water. Conversely, when coffee beans in lower elevations are constantly exposed to water that is not properly draining, the beans absorb water. Coffee beans with less water will be more concentrated and more potent than those grown in lower elevations, directly affecting the acidity of coffee.

For a low acid coffee that is more mellow, stick to coffee beans that are grown below 4,500 feet elevation. Our Peru Atahualpa coffee is grown at lower elevations and is a fan-favorite. The acidity of coffee from Peru is lower but not so low that it compromises flavor and brightness. Low acid coffee will have a less intense flavor profile but can still shine.

Low Acid Coffee with Darker Roasts

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Light roast coffee beans will be the most acidic, and dark roast coffee beans will produce low acid coffee. Light roast coffee will often be described as bright or citrusy; these flavor profiles come from the acids in coffee beans. The longer and the hotter coffee beans are roasted, the lower the acidity of coffee produced.

When roasting coffee beans, light roast coffee beans are roasted until what is referred to as the "first crack." The first crack is an audible noise that literally results in the cracking of the coffee beans, similar to popcorn popping. Medium roast coffee will roast a little bit longer after the first crack and will end up with a slightly darker outer shell. Dark roast coffee beans sometimes roast until the second crack.

Coffee beans roasted to dark are in the roasting vat for significantly longer than both the light and medium roast coffee beans, directly affecting the acidity of coffee beans. As the coffee beans continue to heat as they near the second crack, the flavor profile transforms. The bright and citrusy flavors of the light roast have all been stripped away, and you are left with a nuttier and more chocolate-flavored coffee bean, leading to a low acid coffee flavor.

Light roast, medium roast, and dark roast coffee beans will have varying levels of acidity, dark roast having the lowest acid coffee, and light roast the highest acid level. In addition, it will also change the entire flavor profile of the coffee beans and your cup of coffee. However, if you are loyal to your light roast or medium roast coffee, we won't blame you. Below are several other ways to lower the acidity of coffee you are drinking.

Robusta Coffee Beans Create a Low Acid Coffee

Arabica coffee beans are easily the most recognizable type of coffee beans, but if you pay attention to coffee packaging, you'll notice that not all coffees are 100% arabica beans. Many coffee roasters incorporate robusta coffee beans, and before we discuss why robusta coffee beans create a low acid coffee, let's first cover the four main types of coffee beans:

  • Arabica
  • Robusta
  • Liberica
  • Excelsa

Robusta coffee beans encompass 40% of the world's coffee bean market. In contrast to that large portion, excelsa coffee beans make up 7% of the world's coffee bean shares, and liberica beans make up only 2% of the world's coffee. So, if you are not familiar with liberica or excelsa coffee beans, you are not alone.

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So why does coffee made from robusta coffee beans produce a low acid coffee compared to the other three coffee bean options? Robusta lacks the signature citrus and phosphoric acid of arabica beans, which are the main flavor profiles associated with the acidity of coffee. Therefore, robusta coffee beans are highly recommended for those struggling with acid reflux. Fun fact, robusta coffee beans contain almost double the amount of caffeine of arabica coffee beans.

Cold Brew Coffee Acidity

Cold brew coffee is more than 60% less acidic than hot coffee, which is a considerable amount. Similar to how dark roast coffee beans roast for a significantly longer time than light roast and medium roast coffee beans, the cold brew brewing process is significantly longer than every other brewing process at 24 hours. A slow-release process means fewer acidic compounds are released from the coffee grounds during the brewing process. A slow and methodical extraction method leads to a low acid coffee drink.

There are many benefits to drinking cold brew coffee, and its popularity is continuing to rise in the United States. The brewing process is relatively simple, and you only need a few supplies. After a 24-hour wait, you can enjoy an excellent cold brew pitcher for the rest of the week. If you haven't tried cold brew coffee yet, you absolutely should by following these six steps:

  1. Coarsely grind 1 cup of coffee beans and place in a pitcher
  2. Add 4 cups of cold or room-temperature water, stir, and cover
  3. Leave out for 8 to 24 hours or overnight.
  4. Filter the coffee beans multiple times
  5. Place in refrigerator or pour over ice
  6. Keep in the refrigerator for up to 10 days.

Reduce Coffee Acidity with Milk

Dairy products are high in calcium; calcium works to naturally reduce the pH level of coffee, which reduces the acidity of coffee. This method is best for dark roast coffee. Coffee experts agree that light and medium roast coffees do not blend as well with milk as a darker roast does.

We recommend adding milk to some of our favorite dark roast blends:

Lessen Coffee Acidity with Eggshells

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This method is most popular with campfire cooks and is often referred to as "cowboy coffee." Brewing this version of low acid coffee involves thoroughly cleaning and crushing eggshells and then adding them to your coffee grounds. After brewing your coffee, it should either be strained or ladled into your cup to sift out the remaining eggshells.

Why does adding eggshells to your coffee grounds work at lowering the acidity of coffee? Eggshells are almost entirely made of calcium carbonate. The alkaline calcium carbonate enables it to absorb and neutralize some of the acidity of coffee grounds. Many people don't realize you can not only eat eggshells, but they are a great source of calcium. The average adult should consume 1 gram of calcium daily, and one eggshell contains 2.2 grams of calcium.

Salt for Lower Coffee Acidity

This one might surprise a few people but stick with us. Salted coffee is prevalent in many cultures around the world. For example, in Turkey, it is a pre-marital tradition for the bride-to-be to brew coffee with salt for her groom and groom's family. Adding salt to coffee has been popular in Taiwan ever since local 85C Bakery Cafe debuted its sea salt coffee in December 2008. The foam on top is a mixture of heavy cream and sea salt on top of an iced Americano to give their coffee the perfect mix of sweet and salty.

For centuries, many countries like Northern Scandinavia, Sibir, Turkey, and Hungary have added a pinch of salt to their coffee. While these traditions do not focus on the goal of creating low acid coffee, they prove that a lower acid coffee can be tasty and satisfying while also not being a new concept.

Acids are Lower in Decaffeinated Coffee

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Roasting and brewing coffee is an art form, but we love the science behind coffee. A 2014 study reveals that as a result of the decaffeination process, the level of phenolic acids is lower in decaffeinated coffee than in regular coffee.

3 methods for decaffeinating coffee beans:

  • Carbon Dioxide Method
  • Direct Solvent Method
  • Swiss Water Method

Many people switch to decaf coffee either full time or in the evenings for health benefits, to maintain the coffee flavor they love, or keep a morning ritual or routine they find comforting. However, a low acid coffee that is decaf can still be high-quality coffee and provide you with the best experience. 

High Acid or Low Acid Coffee?

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At Stone Street Coffee Company, we want every cup of coffee to be the best cup of coffee. And while we all know the importance acidity plays in the intricacies of the flavor profiles in coffee beans, we also know that having options and variety is equally important.

Having loyalty to a specific roast or brewing style is fantastic for ensuring your morning or evening routine begins and ends flawlessly. And at the same time, there is value in mixing it up to keep your mind and skills fresh. So, whether you are looking to experience a low acid coffee for health benefits or want to experiment with the acidity of coffee, we are excited to join you on your caffeinated (or decaffeinated) journey.

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