We live in a world of opposites. Light and dark, heat and cold, sweet and savory. And when it comes to coffee, the world’s FAVORITE DRINK, there’s another factor to consider. Namely, acidity.
So just how acidic is coffee anyway? When we say our daily cup of joe is on the acidic side of the spectrum, do we literally mean the pH level of coffee, or are we talking about something else?
pH of Coffee – Is Coffee Acidic?
Everything we eat and drink is acidic or alkaline on a scale of 1 to 14. Plain water has a pH of 7, right in the middle. Anything less than 7 is acidic, anything over 7 is alkaline. Orange juice is around 3 on the scale, and tomato juice around 4. Oh, and if you’re wondering what pH stands for, it’s “potential hydrogen”.
Coffee is acidic, and a typical coffee pH level is usually around 3 to 4. If you’ve enjoyed a soda recently, you might be interested to know that’s around 2 to 3. So just what are the acids in coffee, anyway? And what about the acidity levels in decaffeinated coffee?
Possible Effects On Health
It’s not just our food and drink that has a pH value. Many of the fluids that make up our bodies do too. Saliva is usually around 6.5 to 7.5, while our upper stomach is between 4 to 6.5; this is where the pre-digestion process begins.
The fluids in our lower stomach are between 1.5 to 3.5. This is where hydrochloric acid is released, allowing for the breakdown of food and the killing of bacteria.
Our blood should be very slightly alkaline, within a very narrow range, with a pH of around 7.35 to 7.45. If this balance is disturbed, the metabolic effects inside our bodies are going to have a detrimental effect. One theory, known as the acid-ash hypothesis, suggests that diets incorporating food and drink with high levels of acid can be detrimental to our overall levels of health.
When the body metabolizes these foods, a chemical residue called ‘ash’ is left behind. And where coffee is concerned, this is where the acidity of the drink is important to consider.
Those with stomach conditions, in particular, might like to take extra care. Coffee can exacerbate symptoms of IBS, gastric ulcers and acid reflux in some individuals.
What Acids Are In Coffee?
Well, believe it or not, there are over 30 organic acids in coffee. You’ll know several of these acids by more familiar names. Acetic acid, for instance, is another name for vinegar, and it mainly forms in coffee during the fermentation process following the harvest. And the citric acid in coffee contributes to its aroma and taste profile.
The chlorogenic acid in coffee breaks down during roasting, although it’s not clear how the taste of the coffee is affected. And then there’s the quinic acid, which does affect the astringency of the coffee.
Other major acids in coffee include lactic, linoleic, malic, palmitic, and phosphoric. And as it happens, while decaf coffee might have a very slightly higher pH level than full-caffeine coffee, it can have acidity levels that are just as high.
Acid Versus Acidity In Coffee
When we talk about acid in coffee, sometimes we don’t really mean the pH value so much as the acidity, or the slight bitterness that makes some coffees so special. We could get all technical at this point, but we reckon it’s probably simpler to just say that in some types of coffee that acidity is what adds value to the blend. So it’s worth thinking about what causes acidity in coffee.
Coffee types grown a long way above sea level, in rich volcanic soils, are often acidic. And coffees which are washed rather than dried in the manufacturing process are often higher in acidity too. The roasting time, roaster type, and brewing method all affect acidity too. And even the grind can make a difference: the finer the grind, the higher some types of acid.
Top Seven Tips To Help You Avoid Or Reduce Coffee Acidity
If the acid of the caffeine in your coffee results in gastric upsets, there are a few ways you can reduce the effects.
#1 Low Acidity Coffee
Firstly, you can opt for a low acid coffee. There are a few low acid coffee brands on the market that have been deliberately created. Look for words and phrases like “mild” and “stomach-friendly”. Even the Keurig company is in on the act these days, with several low acid coffee K Cups available.
#2 Choose Coffee From Particular Locations
Coffee produced in the coastal regions of the world like Brazil, the Caribbean, Hawaii, India, and Sumatra is usually lower in acidity than those produced in areas of high altitude.
#3 Use A Cold-brew Method To Make Coffee
As the process takes longer, the cold-brew coffee will be less acidic, but also stronger. So be aware that you’ll probably be ingesting higher levels of caffeine. Just be careful not to go over the daily recommended allowance.
#4 Make Your Coffee Choice One Of The Darker Roasts
Yes, we know. It sounds like a contradiction. You’d assume that darker roasts would be higher in acidity, but in fact, it’s the lighter roasts you need to look out for. The longer a coffee bean roasts, the more acid is removed. Since darker roasts often taste stronger, use less coffee than you would typically, at least to start with.
#5 Select A Coarser Ground Coffee
Or even better, if you can, grind your own beans. The more finely ground the beans you use to express your espresso, the more likely it is that the acidity will be on the high side.
#6 Decaffeinated vs Full-caffeine Coffee vs Acid-Free Coffee
There’s not much of a difference in pH levels between decaffeinated and full-caffeine coffee. Low-caffeine blends are, however, often less acidic in taste profile. If you would like to absolutely minimize the coffee pH levels, there are actually many acid-free coffee brands on the market to choose from.
#7 Crushed Eggshells
Though it’s a slightly left of field option, you can brew coffee with crushed eggshells to absorb the acidity. We’re certainly willing to give it a try!
Acid Or Acidity In Coffee: Friend, Foe, Or Frenemy?
A diet that’s overly high in acidic substances is not advisable, due to the health complications that can arise. Many acidic foods, such as fruit, do, however, also have health benefits. (We know. Life gets pretty complicated sometimes. And diets especially so)
You can counterbalance the effects of the acidity by making sure your diet includes plenty of beneficial alkaline foods too.
We’ve already mentioned how acidic sodas are, at around a pH of 2. What we’re really talking about is the acidity, or the astringent taste, of the blend. In case you’re curious what would have a pH of 1, battery acid is around that level.
At the other end of the scale, lye is around 14. You might know it as sodium hydroxide. Although coffee is sometimes regarded as being acidic, many blends are around 4 on the pH scale, even 5 in some cases.
And since overall the health benefits of coffee are well documented and our knowledge is increasing all the time if acidity is an issue we’d recommend switching to a low acid or zero acid coffee. Not giving it up entirely….
Hi my name is Larry, a coffee aficionado from the US. I have already visited Colombia, Sumatra, Guatemala, Costa Rica, Ethiopia and Jamaica in my pursuit of finding the best-tasting coffee beans. I currently write from Bali and enjoy the relaxed life that you can find only in Indonesia. Welcome to my coffee world!