Coffee and Acidity

Citrus fruits

Coffee and its acidity. Is less acidic coffee better? Worse? Does acidity change the taste? This is my deep burning question”

— Joy


Acidity…it all depends on what you mean by it.

When you hear a ‘coffee nerd’ talk about acidity they’re generally talking about the flavor characteristics of the coffee, like it tastes like lemon or orange or even things like white grapes or peaches. This is what we are referring to when we score coffees here at roast ratings, which we consider to be a big part of the flavor balance of a coffee, alongside sweetness and bitterness. You will sometimes also hear this called “Brightness”.

Acidity, or “brightness” is that zippy zing of flavors like these

Now, acid content is a different story. What I understand from my “nerd-ucation” is that coffee isn’t as heavy of a hitter in the acid department as many people think. Scientifically, the pHs of most coffees are around 5 which does indeed mean that it is a bit on the acidic side. Keeping in mind that lemon juice has a pH of 2 and vinegar 3, it’s not off the charts. I have always been told that for those who have stomach problems with acid, a darker roast is better suited to their needs. Even better are coffees that were brewed in water for longer periods of time, methods like cold press (toddy) or Kyoto that brews for several hours.


As far as what’s good? That is up to you! If you like tasting fruit and brightness in your coffee, then you like what we call acidity. If you like something bolder or suited for cream and/or sugar, then acidity is probably not your bag. Either way it’s your coffee. Enjoy it!


“Why must I have my coffee black? What’s wrong with adding cream or sugar to it?”


This is one of my favorite questions.

The short answer? Absolutely nothing. It is your coffee and therefore your right to like what you like. No one should make you feel otherwise. Truth be told, I occasionally enjoy a creamy sweet brew.

There are tons of people who do it daily- 65% of the US makes it a majority. Aside from popularity, there are times when this is just the appropriate move. It mainly boils down to what kind of coffee you happen to be drinking. Just like other food and beverage items out there coffees have varying flavors and levels of quality.

Take wines for instance. There are some wines out there that are perfectly good, but you would consider using to make sangria in a pan for a wine sauce. But there are some wines that you wouldn’t dream of adulterating because, on their own, they’re incredibly tasty. Beef is another example. You might buy ground beef for taco night, but you probably wouldn’t sacrifice your filet mignon for the job. No way. That baby’s going to be juicy and delicious without much help at all!

While there is a certain element of “coffee is coffee” out there, there’s a movement in the “Specialty Coffee” sector of the coffee industry that is usually the one encouraging, albeit forcefully at times, the consumption of unadulterated coffee. Much like ground chuck compares to a prime filet, Specialty Coffee is a bit different from most of what you see out there. While the beans mostly come from the same places and are labeled similarly, the easiest thing to notice about it at first is that Specialty costs a bit more. But there’s a lot more to it than that.

Nowadays Specialty Coffee makes up the top 20% of coffees in the world. Like the aforementioned examples of fine wine and a great steak, it usually tastes pretty amazing on its own. The only way to achieve this consistently is through the work of a lot of people – from those who pick it off the trees to those roasting and serving it. The devil is in the details, and that takes many hands and a great deal of dedication to achieve.

The other thing to know about the cream or no cream quandary is that sometimes the suggestion to take it black is for your sake. Some Specialty Coffees are amazing on their own, but kind of terrible with cream and/or sugar. Ones with a lot of juicy acidity taste really funky, like adding milk to orange juice. But these same coffees, when tasted alone can really open your mind up to a totally new idea of coffee – of crazy flavors like berries and plums. It’s all part of the fun that is Specialty Coffee.

So, to go back to the beginning – nothing is wrong with adding cream and sugar, but if you find yourself in a specialty cafe just ask your friendly barista which coffee is best suited for cream. Or alternatively, walk on the wild side….

Your question could be next! If your have a Q for Roast Ratings, send it to us at [email protected] or post it to one of our @roastratings social media sites.

By Holly Bastin

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