You may not realise this, but coffee is acidic, so if you have a sensitive pallet or stomach then it can have a negative impact.
1 in 5 people suffer from acid reflux and unfortunately, acidic drinks like coffee can trigger it. However, if you understand how acidic it is and what makes coffee acidic then you can take steps to enjoy coffee safely.
In this guide, we'll help explain exactly how acidic coffee is and show you what changes you can make it a low acid coffee.
How Acidic Is Coffee?
There's always been a debate over coffee. Some people love how it tastes and makes us feel, while others preach about the negative side effects.
When we talk about the acidity of coffee, we have to recognize there are two different aspects to consider:
- The actual level of acidity of the coffee, measured in pH.
- The presence of acids in the coffee, which impact the flavor.
The PH of Coffee
Acidity is measured using the pH scale, ranging from 0 to 14. Anything from 0-6 is considered acidic, and the closer to 0 you get, the more acidic something is.
Coffee tends to be around 5pH, so it is a mildly acidic drink. To put that in perspective, citric acid in orange juice has a pH of 3, and tomato juice has a pH of 4, so coffee isn’t exactly going to give you acid burns.
The actual acidity of coffee and place on the pH scale doesn't really change depending on the type of coffee, either. If you have a Starbucks coffee, it will tend to be between 4.5 and 5 depending on the beans, and a standard black coffee (instant or from a coffee shop) has a pH of 5, so there's no real difference.
Coffee with milk or cream does impact the acidity of coffee tends to be less acidic because they are both neutral. This raises the pH to around 6, but it is still considered slightly acidic. Even iced coffees have a pH of 5 even though they tend to taste less acidic than hot coffee.
The Acids Contained Within Coffee
So why does some coffee taste more acidic than others if the pH remains the same? The answer is simple; it's the acids within the different types of coffee not the actual coffee's acidity.
There are three main types of acid which actually add to the coffee drinking experience, and it's the combination of these that impacts the taste, aroma, and richness of your coffee:
Coffee is technically acidic because it has a pH of 5, but the taste can vary massively depending on which acids are present within it. Different coffee beans do vary greatly, but of the main two types, Arabica and Robusta, Arabica beans generally taste much more acidic.
Factors Affecting The Coffee Acidity
The type of coffee bean, roast level, brewing process, and what you add when drinking coffee will all impact the acidity of coffee. Understanding these factors is the key to reducing the acid levels without reducing you coffee consumption.
The acidic taste of coffee is heavily impacted by the beans themselves. Arabica beans have higher levels of acid and make coffee which is more acidic because they grow more slowly and take longer to mature. Robusta beans, on the other hand, grow more quickly and have a slightly sweeter, less acidic taste.
You can usually taste the difference between coffee beans from different regions too. African beans have a higher acidity than South American beans, and this is due to the climate and soil in the region. Understanding the acidity and flavor of the coffee beans from different geographical regions can help you determine which suits your tastes best.
How you roast your coffee beans has a big impact on the flavor of the coffee, and the acidity level. Dark roast coffee is exposed to heat for longer than light roast coffee beans. This longer exposure to heat breaks down the acids and changes the flavor of your hot brewed coffee.
Generally, the longer you roast coffee, the less acidic it will be.
Brewing Process/Grind Size
How you brew coffee can also have an impact on the acidity, and when we talk about the brewing method it really comes down to the grind size.
The size of the coffee grounds, and how they are exposed to water, determines your coffee's acidity.
Generally, the coarser the grind the more acidic your coffee will be. If you're brewing coffee with finer coffee bean grinds then there's less coffee acid in the finished product.
This is because the water doesn't penetrate the coffee grounds as well which leaves you with a more acidic beverage. However, you have to be careful because it's easier to over extract with a fine grind, which can leave you with a bitter coffee.
Learning how the brewing process impacts the acidity will give coffee lovers greater control over the taste of your coffee.
Coffee is acidic by nature, but you can alter the actual pH by adding certain ingredients. Milk and cream will help neutralize some of the acidic nature of coffee and change the taste.
Some coffee drinkers even recommend adding salt or baking soda to your coffee to reduce acidity and impact the taste, making it milder on the pallet. This has been proven to work, but it isn’t to everyone’s taste.
Generally, if you want to change the pH of the coffee, you will have to introduce a neutral or alkaline element to move it up the pH scale.
Does Coffee Cause Acid Reflux?
Acid reflux (GERD) is a condition where stomach acid travels up your throat, giving you a burning sensation. It's really unpleasant and can be triggered by a variety of different food and drinks.
Coffee is a trigger for this condition as it stimulates the stomach to produce acid. However, it's usually the caffeine in coffee that's the leading cause. If your body is sensitive to caffeine, it can cause your esophagus muscles to relax, allowing acid to travel up your throat.
If you find you are regularly getting reflux, you may need to limit the amount of caffeine you consume, which may mean drinking coffee less frequently. Switching to decaf can be an effective alternative, or having more cold brew coffees that are naturally lower in caffeine.
Remember that the acidity level in coffee generally won't impact your reflux. It's all about switching to low caffeine alternatives.
What Type Of Coffee Drinks Are The Least Acidic?
For some people, coffee is too acidic, and it can impact their bodies in the wrong way. It can be tempting to move away from coffee altogether, but there are some ways to lower acidity of coffee:
Dark roasted coffee has been roasted for longer than a medium or light roast. This dark roast process gives you hotter coffee beans and actually breaks down the compounds within the beans, meaning that there are fewer acids.
These darker roasts gives you a lower acidity coffee which is less likely to irritate your stomach or cause acid reflux.
Cold brew is very different to hot coffee, including the acidity levels. The method in creating cold brews means that the acidic compounds within the beans are broken down. This cold brew coffee brewing method gives it a smoother taste and removes some of the acidity, impacting the taste and aroma of the low acid coffee.
The cold brew coffee brewing process does take a bit longer, but if you don't want your coffee acidic then it's worth the time.
Milk has a neutral pH, so when you add it to acidic coffee, it will raise the overall pH of the drink. As a result, lattes, cappuccinos, and other milk-based coffees will taste a lot less acidic because they have such a high amount of neutral liquid to balance out the acidic coffee.
It's worth noting that this isn't the same for used plant based alternatives like almond, coconut, and soy milk as they are often acidic too. This can actually increase the acidity of the coffee.
Coffee professionals have shown that beans grown in South America, particularly Brazil and Nicaragua, are less acidic and can be used for low acid coffee drinks.
If you prefer a less acidic taste to your coffee, then it's worth looking for these green coffee beans from these areas or exploring other geographical regions with less acidic varieties.
There are a variety of specialty blends on the market these days for all coffee lovers, including some low acid coffee beans. These low acid coffees are grown specifically in certain regions and taste a lot less acidic than standard beans used in regular coffee.
Remember, acidity isn’t necessarily a bad thing when it comes to coffee because it helps to contribute to the flavor, aroma, and body of the drink. Low acidic options are useful, especially if you react badly to them, but you may find they are a little dull on the pallet compared to acidic coffees. If the coffee has a noticeably weaker flavor, it's likely to have lower acidity.
Frequently Asked Coffee Acidity Questions
Is tea less acidic than coffee?
Yes, tea is generally less acidic than coffee and has a higher pH ranging from 5.5 to 7. The exception is lemon tea which is more acidic and has a pH of 3.
Is coffee more acidic than alcohol?
Popular alcoholic drinks like wine and beer have a lower pH than coffee and are more acidic. They do often taste less acidic, though, because they have fewer acidic compounds within them.
Does coconut oil make coffee less acidic?
No, coconut oil has a pH of 5, so it doesn't make coffee less acidic. In fact, in some cases, it can even make coffee more acidic.
What can I add to coffee to reduce the acidity?
Milk, cream, salt, or baking powder can all be added to coffee to help lower the acidity.
Coffee is acidic and has a pH of 5 no matter where you get it from. The pH itself doesn't really impact the taste; it's the acidic compounds within the beans that will change the flavor and taste of the coffee. It’s also these acidic compounds that will dictate how your body responds to the coffee.
The acidity can be influenced by the beans, brewing method, and the coffee choice. Hopefully this article has helped explain how acidic coffee is and provided some helpful information so you can choose the best coffee option to suit your needs.