What Do I Need to Know About Coffee Acidity?

What do I Need To Know about coffee acidity? (Not a rhetorical question.)

You hear it over and over: ” I love coffee but it’s too acid for me.”

I ran across an interesting comparison in my favorite wine blog recently on acidity in wine.  Sadly, it’s now requiring a subscription to view, but you can also search YouTube for the WineFolly videos discussing tasting wines (like this one: https://youtu.be/pJ_6QO-a5Us?si=UNvqGRjPODaafoFB,) They are excellent and very helpful in application to drinking coffee, too. There is more information on this page about acidity in general than most of us want to know, but there are at least three take-aways that I thought would apply to coffee lovers:

1. How Acidic IS Coffee?  On Madeline’s graphic, note where coffee ranks on acidity–at about 4.5 – 5.0 pH. Refreshing our high school chemistry, we remember that water is the perfectly neutral substance, and it is a 7.0. Numbers lower than 7 are acidic, and numbers between 7 and 14 are alkaline. So, in comparison to other drinks, COFFEE IS NOT ACIDIC. Note that soda pop is about the most acidic thing out there. How’s that for counter-intuitive?

So what’s up with that? As Madeline points out, soda doesn’t feel acidic due to the incredibly high sugar content of the drink. If you drink your coffee black, you don’t have the counterweight of the sugar blunting the feel of the acidity. It may also account for “acid stomach” after too many cups of coffee with no food along with it. I take this to suggest that we should by all means have that bagel with our coffee, for our stomach’s sake. Now you have science to back it up. You’re welcome.

2. Acidity and Climate. Wine grapes develop more acidity in cooler climates, especially in night temperatures. It turns out that the best coffee is grown at high altitude where temperatures are comfortable in the daytime and quite cool at night. If you like your coffee with some natural acidic tang, note the MASL (meters above sea level) where they are grown. The highest grown coffees are in East Africa (Ethiopia, Kenya, Rwanda, Burundi) and in the Andes of South America, where coffees are grown at up to 2250 MASL — almost 7,000 ft above sea level!

3.  Why Some Acidity is Good. Tolerance for acidity in taste varies from person to person. Since coffee’s acidity level is pretty comparatively low, it comes down to individual sensitivity level and prior conditioning as to what “tastes good.” I personally like tart things, so coffee that isn’t at all acidic seems flat and boring to me. I also like the way that a dash of tang in coffee sets off the other flavors in the cup. The key seems to be keeping it all in balance, and we do that through roast level. Now might be a good time to review what roast level adds to coffee enjoyment. Read our primer here.

Enjoy your coffee!