Without acidity, a coffee will tend to taste dull and lifeless. It's not to be confused with the pH level of coffee, since it's a different thing entirely.
So, What is Acidity?
Acidity is a desirable primary coffee flavor sensation that is perceived as a pleasing sharpness toward the front of the mouth, a numbing sensation on the tip of the tongue, or a dryness at the back of the palate and/or under the edges of the tongue. It denotes the quality of a coffee.
Coffee can have both good and bad acidity and is very noticeable. A good acidity will lean towards being sweet, crisp and tart. Somewhat like a dry wine (which is also good, but let's not get off topic). This enhances other qualities in the coffee. A bad acidity will taste sour and stringent, sometimes almost chemically.
Acidity is a basic taste and one of the major coffee characteristics along with body, aroma, sweetness, bitterness and aftertaste.
These qualities are used by cuppers (professional coffee tasters) to judge coffees and compare the qualities of different coffees. The desirable quality of acidity is due to acids in the coffee combining with sugars and increasing the coffee’s overall sweetness while also adding a certain vigor to the coffee. Sounds like fun, right?
Acidity is often described as dry, sharp, vibrant, lively, moderate, or dull. A coffee’s acidity may have a subtle fruity quality like citrus, lemon, or berry-like.
As you may, or may not know, coffee roast levels play a part in the acidity of coffee. Acidity will generally decrease and become less prominent as a roast gets darker – a light or medium roast will have higher acidity than a dark or espresso roast.
Want to get more technical? Well, as many of the acidic qualities are imparted by the organic compounds (such as chlorogenic acid) found in coffee, lighter roasts will generally have brighter acidity than darker roasts. This is because the organic chemicals are slowly destroyed during the roasting process, with the sugars caramelizing and the sweetness muting the acidity.
A high acidity is described as bright while a low acid coffee may be described as smooth, but if it is too low it will be considered unexciting and boring. A total lack of acidity may also result in a flat coffee.
Okay...so what about the pH level of coffee?
Coffee does indeed have a pH level, but is not a useful measure of flavor. It would vary depending on brewing method and roast level, but not significantly. Black coffee generally lands around a pH of 5 (acidic, not basic) and milk has a pH of 6 (slightly more neutral). This means that adding milk to coffee makes it slightly less acidic by way of dilution. So, good news for those with sensitive stomachs!
If your stomach rebels at the acids in coffee, there are several ways to make your favorite brew more tolerable. Calcium-containing products like milk help neutralize acids, but the best way to enjoy coffee doesn’t rely on neutralizing existing acids. You can choose beans that are naturally lower in acids, or reduce acidity by changing the type of grind, roast and brewing method.
About 30 types of acids have been identified in coffee beans. Many of them are familiar because they’re commonly found in other foods, such as citric acid in oranges, malic acid in apples and acetic acid, which is found in vinegar.
The most abundant acids in coffee belong to one large group known as chlorogenic acids. These acids are antioxidants that may help lower your risk of Type 2 diabetes. Chlorogenic acids are also one of the ingredients in green coffee beans that may support weight loss. Say what? I better start drinking more coffee.
Cold Brewing Reduces Acid
A sure way to reduce the acidity in your coffee is to use a cold-brew process. You may also hear it called cold-drip coffee. This type of coffee is made by allowing ground beans to steep in cold water for at least 24 hours.
Compared to using hot water, cold water extracts less of the coffee’s natural acids. As a result, your coffee is about 70 percent less acidic than a typical cup of hot-brewed coffee.
Differences in Roast, Grind and Beans
Dark roasted coffee beans retain less acid than lighter roasts. The extra roasting time also develops a compound that blocks acid production in the stomach.
The size of the grind is usually determined according to the type of coffee maker and how quickly water flows through the coffee. If you have a choice, go with coarsely ground coffee, which has less acid than a fine grind.
Of the two beans primarily found in coffee, Arabica beans are more acidic than Robusta beans. Verena Street Coffee only uses 100% Arabica beans in all of our blends, so they will naturally be a little more acidic. This, of course, means that you will have a more flavorful cup of coffee!
Top 3 Best Coffees for Acidity
High-altitude premium coffees known for their bright and vibrant acidity include:
- Guatemalan Coffees
- Kenyan Coffees
- Costa Rican Coffees
Central American coffees tend to have a bright, clear acidity, in contrast to the overwhelming acidity typically present in Yemen Mocha coffees, which may even taste distinctively winey and sweet with a winey aftertaste. Coffees grown at higher altitudes tend to have a higher acidity, due to the slower growth at those elevations, which allows the beans to develop more of their chemical compounds (chlorogenic acids) that contribute to flavor.
Best Low Acid Coffees
If you’re looking for a coffee with low acidity, you’ll find your coffee tends to be easier drinking and smoother. Your best bets here are:
- Brazilian Coffees
- Sumatra Coffees
The tradeoff here is that the coffee will have less of a “kick”. Coffees with low acidity are generally looked down upon, but since coffee is a personal experience, only your own opinion should matter.
We have been asked many times what the acidity level of our coffee is. As you can see, this is a complex matter and not easily answered. Each of our coffee blends are made up of different types of beans. This will yield a coffee that is rich and flavorful, but hard to pinpoint the exact acidity. Only your taste judgement can determine what satisfies your palate.