Does Salt Take the Bitterness Out of Coffee?

Does Salt Take the Bitterness Out of Coffee

The answer to the question, “Does salt take the bitterness out of coffee?” depends largely on who you ask. There have been experiments completed where some respondents claim that yes, indeed, salt does cut through the bitterness and help to deliver a smoother cup of coffee.

And by the same token, there are other participants who say that their coffee tasted…salty.

The Short Answer is No, Salt Won’t Make Coffee Less Bitter

A test of several different coffee cups ranging from some that had a pinch of salt added to the coffee grounds as they were brewed, and some cups had no salt in the grounds as they were brewed.

The results were as followed: The tasters reported the coffee as tasting either like coffee or a bit like salty coffee.

After the taste test was over, those who reported the coffee as tasting salty were also asked if they usually added salt to their foods when they ate.

Their overwhelming responses were that they did not usually add salt to their foods. Their answers about salt indicated these people may have a higher sensitivity to salt and probably would notice coffee tasting salty. A small pinch of salt would probably be noticed.

Adding salt to your coffee before brewing is a risk to your taste buds if you are sensitive to salt or if you are serving others and you have no idea as to whether or not if they have a low tolerance for salt on their food.

You could end up with a cup of coffee that ends up tasting like a salty cup of bitter coffee.

What Happens When You Put Salt in Your Coffee?

Though coffee experts don’t recommend placing salt into every cup of coffee you drink, many avid drinkers who aren’t overly sensitive to the flavor of salt do use a few pinches to suppress overly bitter brews of the beverage.

This addition was once believed to be coffee superstition, though recent findings from the journal, Nature have backed up this phenomenon with scientific experiments.

The journal has recently found that the sodium ions present in salt work well to suppress the bitterness of coffee. The journal also reports that adding salt to a bitter cup of coffee can also actually elevate its natural flavor.

There are Mixed Opinions Of Course

While there are quite a number of people, besides the researchers over at Nature, that are in salt’s corner, there are also an equal amount of people who believe adding salt to your coffee is all a placebo.

According to coffee quality experts, adding salt to a bitter cup of coffee may produce wonderful results for individuals who experience an adverse heightened awareness to the bitter qualities of food and beverages. However, for the worlds mass population, those of us who have normal functioning taste buds, adding salt to your coffee is believed to produce no actual change to the coffee’s flavor.

Instead, these same experts believe individuals who use this trick, are falling trap to the mind’s placebo effect. The individuals expect their coffee to taste less bitter after adding in salt. Therefore, when they taste their cup of coffee, after adding in the salt, it tastes as they suspect; sweeter.

These results and speculations may suggest that salt is in fact useless in suppressing the bitterness of a cup of coffee. Though, even if the salt does only lower one’s perception of the bitterness it still allows the drinker to experience a sweeter cup of coffee, and this is all that matters to someone trying to enjoy their morning cup.

Other Additives

If you find yourself with a bitter cup of coffee and adding salt to it does not help, you may be able to produce a better tasting cup of coffee with these other additives:

  1. Sugar
  2. Milk
  3. Creamer

What’s Better Than Salt For Preventing Bitterness?

If a cup of coffee tastes bitter, it is probably not a great cup of coffee, period.

Instead of salt in the grounds, try adding cream and/or sugar to the cup of coffee to smooth out the bitterness and help the coffee go down a little easier. There are many flavorings you can add to coffee once it is brewed.

Cleaning the pot sometimes works wonders as well as using filtered water or even boiling your water before putting it in the pot.

Flavored creamer or Half and Half and other additives will help with the bitterness as well as chocolate and/or whip cream. Coffee is too good to taste bitter.  Bitter coffee just isn’t good. It’s best to start out with good coffee and then all you have to do is brew or French press a great cup and you will have no worries about the coffee being bitter.

You can also see this post for more on how brewing methods can make coffee either bitter or sour!

So, How Do You Take the Bitterness Out of Coffee?

A bitter cup of coffee can ruin any day and unfortunately bitterness can be caused by a large list of factors.

  1. Brewing Time
  2. Brewing Temperature
  3. Coffee Quality
  4. Coffee/Water Ratio

Let’s look at each to understand how to prevent bitter coffee or remove it.

Brewing Time

When coffee is exposed to heat for an excess period of time its natural flavors may be improperly extracted. The natural oils and sugars coffee possesses normally gives it its flavor. When exposed to excess heat these oils and sugars can break down and be completely extracted.

This level of over-extraction can lead to a bitter cup of coffee.

Brewing Temperature

Similar to coffee that has been brewed for an excessive amount of time, coffee that has been exposed to extreme temperatures can also lead to the over-extraction of its natural sugars and oils.

The perfect temperature for brewing coffee is normally within a range of 195 – 205 degrees fahrenheit or 93 – 96 degrees celsius. Brewing coffee at a hotter temperature can result in a bitter cup of coffee.

Coffee Quality

The quality of one’s coffee beans can also play a huge role in the overall flavor output of the brewing process. Cheaper coffee beans are often harvested in mass quantities, which leads to poor bean health and form.

To cover up this poor bean health and form, coffee plantations who produce mass quantities often over roast their products to arrive at polished and uniform coffee beans.

When a coffee bean is over roasted it becomes burnt and takes on a bitter flavor. This burning can not be undone and it leads to a bitter cup of coffee.

Coffee/Water Ratio

In order to produce more flavorful results coffee drinkers may find it to be a good idea to add an excessive amount of coffee to their coffee maker.

Such a practice will most likely produce unsuccessful results, as the ratio of coffee to water is important in the brewing process.

Adding the perfect amount of coffee into your coffee maker is important as the amount of water in the coffee maker can only extract so much of the coffee’s bitter oils. When there is an excess amount of coffee to water an undesirable amount of these oils are left in the beverage. This leads to a bitter cup of coffee.

If you are like then all of this begs one big question…

Is There a Coffee That is Not Naturally Bitter?

To put it simply, there is no coffee in the world that is not naturally bitter although there are some types of coffees that are less bitter than others.

All coffee contains several substances that elicit a bitter taste or flavor. The most popular and notable substance which produces some of coffee’s bitterness is caffeine.

Caffeine, like other substances in coffee that cause bitterness, is a naturally occurring substance that is never naturally absent from any coffee strand.

Bitterness Vs. Acidity

A common misconception in the coffee world, bitterness and acidity are often used interchangeably. Bitterness is natural and part of coffee’s flavor profile. Acidity, on the other hand, is not a part of coffee’s profile.

An acidic cup of coffee can be caused by a plethora of problems in the brewing process, so it is important to narrow down whether that cup of coffee you are drinking is overly bitter or overly acidic.

How To Fix Acidity?

An acidic cup of coffee is often caused by factors in the brewing process other than the coffee itself.

Most common, an acidic cup of coffee can be the product of hard or soft water. Alkaline water or overly acidic water has been known to sway the flavor profile of a cup of coffee. Individuals having this problem have reported varying results when producing two different cups of coffee using the same beans and same machine with two different water supplies.

If you believe your water is the culprit, the easiest way to fix such a problem is to brew your coffee with store bought filtered water.

How To Fix Bitterness?

A coffee’s bitterness is natural, but through tweaking your brewing process you should be able to produce more desirable results that fit your individual taste preferences.

Some coffee drinkers who have experienced similar problems with bitterness in the past have switched to brewing with a french press. A french press does require more patience, but can have more than desirable results.

Brewing with a french press has been said to produce a stronger cup of coffee with less bitterness. The french press is also perfect for any coffee drinker who likes to experiment with the amount of coffee grounds they brew with.

What’s in Your Cup? Coffee I Hope!

Whether on the job or at home, die hard coffee drinkers will manage getting that coffee down.

If the coffee has caffeine, the coffee drinker will find a way, even if there is some bitterness. Sugar, creamer or a pinch of salt in the grounds, he or she will find a way to make the coffee tasty and get the day moving forward.

Brian Mounts

Head blogger, editor, and owner of "Top Off My Coffee", a website that has been educating readers about coffee brewing techniques and equipment since 2012.

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