Is coffee an acid or a base?

Why Coffee Acidity Matters and Which Roasts are Most Acidic

 Ask most coffee drinkers if they would be willing to give up their morning cup of java, and the answer will almost always be no.

Coffee wakes us up, it’s how we start our day, and it’s a delicious part of our routine — all excellent reasons to pour and enjoy that hot mug of love. 

You may have heard that acidity affects flavor. Higher acidity can and often does enhance the taste of coffee.

But for people with certain digestive disorders, the acidity in a cup of coffee can do more harm than good. 

So how much acid is actually in coffee?

Many things affect the acid levels in your cup, from where the beans grow to their roasting and brewing process. 

Here’s why coffee acidity matters (and which roasts are the most and least acidic). 

Is Coffee an Acid or a Base?

If you paid attention in tenth-grade chemistry class, you already know that some substances are acids and some are bases.

Without going too deep into the science of atoms and molecules, the pH level of the substance determines its acid or base classification.

Bases are alkaline chemical elements that have a pH value of 7.0 or higher. Acids have a pH value of less than 7.0. When dissolved in water, bases turn red litmus paper blue. Acids turn blue litmus paper red.  

On the pH scale, the acid content in coffee ranges from about 4.85 to 5.10, making it an acid, not a base.  And as delicious as it may be, because coffee is acidic, it can be difficult for people with certain health conditions to enjoy.

For most people, drinking a cup of coffee with a pH level of 5.0 is perfectly fine. In comparison, other common drinks are much more acidic. Orange juice has a pH of about 3.3 to 4.2. Sodas, such as Coke and Cherry Coke, have a pH of about 2.5.  And just because it’s interesting to note, battery acid has a pH of 1.0.

So coffee, with its average 5.0 pH value, is perfectly safe to drink. It is on the acidic side, but compared to other popular drinks, it’s closer to being a base than you may think.

Speaking of orange juice, did you know a cup of coffee has more fiber than a glass of OJ?

What Types of Acid Does Coffee Contain?

Okay … so now we all know that coffee is acidic. 

But what makes coffee acidic?

Nearly a dozen different acids, some of which you’ve probably never heard of before.

Before we get into this long list of the different types of acid in coffee, let us make one thing clear:

By no means does the word “acid” mean it’s bad for you.

These acids exist in many of the foods we eat and beverages we drink. They are naturally occurring substances that can be beneficial to the body in various ways. 

Generally, they are only harmful if you have certain health conditions that require you to maintain a low-acid diet. 

Here’s a quick rundown of the different types of acids in coffee, what they do, and what other foods they’re present in:

Chlorogenic acid: 

This acid helps to lower blood sugar levels and reduce carbohydrate absorption. Found in eggplant, apples, carrots, kiwi, and potatoes

Quinic acid: 

Enables better antioxidant effects and has anti-neuroinflammatory properties. Found in apples, peaches, and certain types of berries

Citric acid: 

This acid can kill harmful bacteria and preserve different types of food; found in lemons, limes, grapefruits, and oranges

Acetic acid: 

Acts as a natural preservative that can kill bacteria; it’s the main ingredient in vinegar and is in many condiments as well as snack foods

Lactic acid: 

This acid helps improve the digestion of lactose; found in foods that undergo a fermentation process, such as yogurt and pickles

Malic acid: 

Helps to rid the body of dead skin cells and increase saliva production; found in apricots, cherries, pears, plums, and other fruits

Phosphoric acid: 

In combination with calcium, this acid helps to form strong teeth and bones, and promote kidney function. It’s found in meat, beans, chicken, eggs, and fish

Linoleic acid: 

Reduces cholesterol levels, improves heart health, and improves blood pressure. Found in sunflower oil, soybean oil, nuts, and seeds

Palmitic acid: 

An acid that supports cellular function and helps the body store energy. This saturated fat resides in meat, dairy, and coconut oil

Note: Like all foods and beverages, you should enjoy coffee (and the acids found in it) in moderation. In comparison to other drinks, the consensus is that coffee provides more health benefits than risks.

The Acidity of Coffee Can Affect Your Health

The acids found in coffee are just a small percentage of what coffee has to offer. Coffee is also full of essential nutrients and antioxidants that can improve your overall health.

Coffee also improves physical performance and energy levels. It can even help you burn fat and stimulate your digestive system.

But if you suffer from certain health conditions, the acidity in coffee may cause you to pause before reaching for a cup.

People that suffer from the following often find that coffee exacerbates their conditions: 

or

  • Acid reflux 

If you already have gastrointestinal issues, coffee can also bring on heartburn and increase acid reflux.

Coffee doesn’t cause these symptoms, but drinking a cup can worsen them for people with specific GI issues.

If you’re one of those people that suffer from gastrointestinal issues yet love the taste of coffee, we have some good news:

There are ways to reduce the acidity in coffee!

From the beans to the roast level to the brewing method, there are things that you can do to reduce acidity levels and still enjoy your morning cup of Joe. 

The Origin of Your Coffee Affects the Acidity Levels

Coffee origin affects acidity

Coffee beans come from coffee plants, and coffee plants grow in various countries on various continents worldwide.

And where your coffee beans grow can make a difference in how much acid they contain.

If you’re looking for low-acid coffee beans, stick to coffee grown in non-volcanic soil or at elevations lower than 4500 feet. These coffee beans naturally have less acidic content.

Here’s why this matters:

As long as you make your coffee from home, you have total control over the types of beans you purchase and where they’re grown.

Coffee grown at high altitudes is naturally more acidic, so look for growers that cultivate their plants at lower altitude levels. Some Ethiopian coffee farms sit at 6,000 feet above sea level, while some Brazilian coffee farms sit as low as 3,000 feet above sea level.

The altitude of a coffee farm also affects the flavor profiles of the beans. So if you’re looking for low-acid options, you may have to sacrifice your love of Arabica beans (which grow best at higher altitudes). Instead opt for Robusta beans, which can thrive at lower ground elevations.

Generally, coffee grown at higher altitudes is more desirable and better tasting. Yet Kona coffee, one of the most flavorful coffee varieties grown in Hawaii, grows at elevations as low as 2,000 feet. Unfortunately for coffee drinkers looking for low-acid coffee beans, Kona coffee is not the best choice. The fact that it’s grown in volcanic soil only adds to its acidity content.

With the exception of Kona coffee, most experts agree that coffee grown at higher elevations is superior in flavor, quality, and taste. But if acidity content matters, it can be beneficial to opt for a coffee grown at lower altitudes. 

What Roasts Are the Most Acidic?

What coffee roasts are most acidic?

All coffee beans, no matter where they’re grown, go through a roasting process. And that roasting process has a significant effect on how acidic the coffee will be.

The longer the beans are roasted, the darker they become. The darker they become, the less acid they contain.

  • Shorter roasting times produce light roast (or blonde) coffee beans, which are the most acidic.

  • Medium roast times yield medium roasts with a light brown color and medium levels of acidity.
     
  • Longer roasting processes produce dark beans, which contain the lowest levels of acid.

If you’re concerned about the level of acidity in coffee, stick to dark roasts. Not only are they less acidic, but they also have a richer flavor with earthy undertones and bittersweet characteristics. Try our Organic Red Rooster French Roast — it’s dark and delicious!

As coffee beans roast longer and at higher temperatures, they lose acidity. When you grind dark beans, they also produce a fuller, thicker texture. 

Coffee beans develop oils during the roasting process. The longer they roast, the more oils come to the surface.

Those oils affect how the beans taste when ground and brewed in your cup. Lighter beans with less oil tend to taste fruity and floral. The oils on darker beans provide a more intense flavor that often takes on a caramel-y, chocolaty taste.

Read more about When and How to Drink Light Roast Coffee here.

You Can Reduce Acidity With Certain Brewing Methods

Besides the types of beans you choose, there’s another way that you can alter the level of acidity in your coffee:

The brewing process.

You can brew coffee in all sorts of different ways. 

They are all unique, and each will affect how your coffee tastes.

The brewing process and how finely or coarsely you grind your beans can significantly affect the acid levels that end up in your java.

The shorter the brewing method, the more acidic your coffee will be.

When you brew coffee, what you’re actually doing is extracting the flavor from the grinds. The longer the extraction process, the less acid you’ll taste in your cup.

The Timing of Different Brewing Methods

Brewing drip coffee with hot water and a paper filter is a fast and easy method, with a brewing time of about five minutes.

Espresso, which is the foundation of many different coffee drinks, brews in just 20 to 30 seconds. (Add hot water and you’ve got a delicious Americano!)

Pour-over coffee brews in about three minutes. Coffee made with a French press takes about four minutes, and coffee made with an AeroPress brews in just under two minutes.

Of all the different ways to brew coffee, cold brew is by far the slowest method that requires the most amount of patience. And that results in a slightly higher pH value, making cold brew coffee one of the better choices for people that need to maintain a low-acid diet. Cold brew coffee also requires that you use coarse grinds, which can also help lower acid levels.

You cannot whip up a pitcher of cold brew coffee in ten minutes, in an hour, or even two hours. Cold brew coffee needs to steep for a good twelve hours. So if you want to enjoy a cup tomorrow, you’ll need to make it today!

Click here for our full guide on how to DIY Cold Brew!

Coarser Grinds Can Also Lower the Acid Content in Coffee

How you grind your coffee also affects acid levels.

Coarse coffee grinds result in less acid in your cup. Finer grinds expose more surface area, which adds more acid to the final product. Coarser grounds have less surface area. You can slightly reduce your acid intake by merely grinding your beans to a rough texture rather than a fine, powdery one.

Espresso, which has the shortest brew time, is also best made with fine or extra-fine coffee grounds. This combo of fine grounds and quick brew time make espresso the least optimal choice for coffee drinkers looking for low-acid options.

What you add to your cup of coffee matters as well. Calcium helps to neutralize acid, so a cup with a dash of milk or cream is easier to digest than a cup of straight black coffee. 

Related: How to Pick the Right Dairy (Real or Vegan) for Your Coffee.

Conclusion

Drinking coffee is one of life’s little pleasures, and it provides numerous health benefits. Whether you prefer a latte with milk, a shot of espresso, or an unsweetened cold brew, the acidity in coffee won’t do you any harm ... 

That is unless you already suffer from acid reflux, GERD, or similar digestive issues.

If you’re not prone to GI disorders, by all means, pull yourself a double shot of espresso and enjoy!

But if your health conditions require you to maintain a low-acid diet, you’ll need to pay special attention to: 

  1. Where your coffee comes from
  2. How it’s ground
  3. The brewing process

To reduce the acid levels in your cup of coffee, opt for coffee beans grown at lower elevations. Grind your coffee to a coarser texture, stick to dark roasts, and brew your beans at a lower temperature. 

By making small adjustments to how you grind and brew your coffee, you can enjoy at least one cup a day, even if your goal is to maintain a low-acid diet.

If you’re in the Sonoma County area, stop by Taylor Lane and ask our friendly baristas for a fresh cup of dark roast.

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