If you have immersed yourself in coffee culture for any significant period of time, you have probably heard the term “acidity” used with both positive and negative connotations. So, is coffee acidic or not? And, if it is, is it a good or a bad thing?
Read on for the full squeeze on coffee’s acidity, from what exactly people are talking about to how to reduce it if needed.
Acidic vs. Alkaline
Chances are you’ve heard of acids and bases. Acids are substances with a pH below 7 while bases have a pH above 7. The former tends to have a rather sour taste while the latter is typically bitter. And these substances, if mixed, neutralize each other.
That leaves Alkalines. These are simply bases that are soluble in water, making alkaline solutions. However, they can still neutralize and be neutralized by acids.
How Acidic is Coffee?
Coffee is generally acidic, but the degrees vary from brew to brew. It tends to fall around 4-5 on the pH scale. For reference, water is a neutral substance and comes in at 7pH.
How it Compares
One of the most common questions people ask when looking at the acidity of coffee is how it stacks up against tea. The thing is, the acidity of tea varies pretty wildly depending on the type of tea.
We mentioned earlier that coffee tends to fall somewhere around 5 on the pH scale. That makes it around the same acidity of black teas and more acidic than green teas, which tend to be between 7 and 10 on the pH scale. Other teas like chamomile, mint, and fennel are also less acidic (and pretty close to neutral), coming in at 6-7 pH.
However, fruitier teas are usually more acidic than coffee. If you’re sipping on reship, lemon, or blackberry tea, you’re looking at an acidity between 2 and 3 pH.
To Other Substances
For reference, we’re going to go through a few common foods and drinks so you can get a feel for where coffee falls in your diet.
Coffee is on the same pH level as bananas in between tomatoes and bread. These things can run anywhere from 4.5-5.5 on the pH scale. Most sodas are more acidic than coffee and fall somewhere around 3 pH. On the other hand, most red meats are between 5.4 and 6.2 pH.
Foods that hit pretty close to neutral (7 pH) include asparagus, broccoli, ripe or black olives, and spinach.
What About Decaf?
Decaffeinated coffee does not have significantly more or less acidity than a caffeinated coffee with the same origin. However, high caffeine can have some of the same side effects as high acid contents. So, many people who are sensitive to acidity are likely sensitive to caffeine as well.
This is because caffeine encourages your stomach to generate more acid. Thus, if you have gastrointestinal issues are irritated by acid, going for a decaf of half-caff may help just as much as opting for a low-acid coffee.
Acidity vs “Brightness”
Still with us? Great! Now we’re going to tackle one of the more complex elements of this discussion.
If you have been reading a lot of cupping notes lately, you may have come across the term “brightness.” Or maybe you’ve even just seen “bright acidity” or “acidic” used in a positive context.
So why is acidity sometime s good and sometimes bad? Well, it’s because sometimes people are using the term to describe the flavor of the coffee while other times it is describing the actual pH levels of the brew. However, they aren’t mutually exclusive and often go hand-in-hand.
“Brightness” or acidity in the context of cupping notes describes more vibrant, intense flavors, especially for fruitier or citrus-y brews. This type of acidity is common is high-altitude beans.
Is Acidity Bad for You?
There are as many as 30 different kinds of acid in your coffee. And on top of that, drinking coffee also affects production of acids within your body.
So the “is it bad for you” question is rather complex. To help give you an idea of the potential affects that drinking coffee can have on your body, we will look at two of the more important types of acid in coffee and one inside your body that it can affect.
First up, we have chlorogenic acids. These are a naturally occurring type of acid that also function as antioxidants. They contribute a good bit to perceived acidity and break down during the roasting process. As a result, lighter roasts tend to have a higher chlorogenic acid content than darker roasts.
Because of their antioxidant properties, these acids are responsible for the rising popularity of lighter roasted coffees and even some of the fads surrounding excessively light roasts like “blondes.” However, we aren’t suggesting that just because this type of acid has antioxidant properties you should just go ahead and brew with green coffee beans or severely under-roasted coffee beans.
To further complicate this one, chlorogenic acid has been shown to help with weight loss by reducing glucose intake. However, the caffeine in coffee has been shown to have the same effect via different chemical reactions. So you don’t necessarily need highly acidic coffee to achieve this.
This type of acid is also higher in robusta than arabica beans, which just goes to show you that having it in higher amounts doesn’t really do much to improve things on the taste end of things.
Remember how we mentioned that Chlorogenic acids break down as you roast coffee beans. Well, they have to break down into something, and that something is quinic acids. Too much quinic acid can cause the sour feeling in your stomach, so if you are particularly sensitive to astringency, then you should probably go for a medium or light roast.
Last but not least, we need to talk about the type of acid that your body produces when you drink coffee. Any time you take a few sips of your favorite brew, you body will begin to produce extra gastric acid, also known as stomach acid. This reaction is normal.
However, when combined with the fact that coffee itself is acidic, it can cause issues. People with gastro-intestinal sensitivities may find that this combination is truly what makes drinking coffee impossible.
Combat the Acid
Low Acid Coffee
There are two main types of low acid coffee that you can buy: treated and inadvertent/natural. For recommendation on the best low acid coffee, check out this article.
There are some processes that can reduce the acidity of green beans. This can be done in a number of ways. For example, roasting beans extra slowly or intermittently. Additionally, steaming beans will get rid of their waxy coasting and have the same effect of reducing acidity.
Furthermore, darker roasts tend to have lower levels of chlorogenic acids and higher quinic acid levels, while light roasts are the opposite. Thus, medium roasts, tend to have a more balanced acidity.
Also referred to as inadvertent low acid coffee, naturally low acid coffees don’t need any special processing to have lower acidity. This is usually as a result of the soil composition, altitude, or other environmental factors. Regionals such as Brazil, Sumatra, Peru, Guatemala, and Mexico are good examples of this phenomenon.
On top of environmental factors, the strain or varietal of coffee plant also affects the acidity. Arabica beans tend to be less acidic than Robosta beans, Also, because Robusta beans are higher in caffeine, they also cause your stomach to produce more acid as well.
Probably the easiest way to minimize the acidity of your coffee is to eliminate heat from the brewing process. Cold brew coffee has a significantly lower acidity (higher pH) than hot brew methods, typically measuring at almost 6 pH. Remember, your typical hot brew will fall somewhere between 4 and 5.
A slow-steeped immersion method is better than a cold drip, but both methods are significantly better than just about any other brewing method as far as acid content goes. It’s pretty easy to pull off with a French Press.
We mentioned that alkaline substances can neutralize acidic ones, and that’s exactly what happens when you introduce eggshells to your coffee. This is a great solution if you still have a little extra time to invest in your brewing but aren’t a fan of cold brew.
If you want a step-by-step on why it works and how to do it, head on over to this article. Alternatively, if you don’t want to waste the rest of the egg, you can go all the way and opt for Swedish egg coffee instead.
If adding eggshells doesn’t seem like your cup of tea (or coffee), some experts recommend adding salt. Generally this tip is used to combat issues with staleness or bitterness. But it can help to neutralize the acidity of your coffee as well and reduce the chances of acid reflux.
All you have to do is add a bit of salt to your grounds before you brew them. The recommended ratio is 1/4 tsp for every 6 tbsp of coffee. Avoid using much more than that or else you will taste the salt, which is just as bas as having overly acidic coffee. However, this solution isn’t great for people who are also sensitive to increased sodium levels.
The Last Sip
So, the quick answer to “Is coffee acidic?” is yes, in more than one way. Coffee can be acidic both on the pH scale and for your palate. While coffee is quite acidic technically, it isn’t the most acidic thing that we consume on a daily basis. Plus, there are ways to reduce its acidity to make it more palatable for those with sensitive stomachs.
From the type of coffee you are buying to how you are brewing it, there are plenty of ways to reduce the effects of coffee’s acidity on your body.