Acidity in coffee – good or bad?

The topic of acidity in coffee is one of those topics that can be explained in one sentence or an almost scientific treatise. The one-sentence solution is here: Not everyone likes acid, and so everyone has to find out for themselves what they like. But as we all know, taste is subjective, so we don't want to withhold the "scientific" treatise on acidity in coffee from you .


Acidity in coffee – new experiences

What is coffee for us? For most Germans, or even for everyone in Central Europe, espresso, for example, is what we had in Italy for many years. Dark to very dark roasted beans that are made into a chocolaty or nutty, bitter and strong drink. For many people, that is the epitome of coffee . Or coffee from a filter machine. Bitter, boiled for too long, brown, hot. We usually only get to know other ways of preparing coffee when we travel or when we go to a coffee shop where a lot of specialty coffee is brewed. Depending on which country or even coffee country you are traveling to, you will get filter coffee or coffee that has been boiled in one way or another. In Colombia, for example, water is heated in a metal vessel, the olla, and then the coffee powder is poured into it. Or you can get the so-called café campesino, which is sometimes boiled with sugar water . And that's just one coffee country. This shows that coffee generally means something different to everyone. The same goes for acid in coffee.


Acidity in coffee – please don’t

One of the most common questions we get, whether at trade fairs or here in the roastery, is: Does the coffee have a lot of acidity? Or people ask for a coffee with little acidity. We then always try to describe any (possibly) present acidity as fruity , since many of the acids in coffee are fruit acids and are part of the coffee and its flavor profile. Imagine an orange without citrus acid! It would probably be sickly sweet, flat and one-dimensional. But when acidity comes into play, a very popular fruit develops . OK, not everyone likes oranges. And that's the way it is with acidity in coffee: it's part of the overall profile, but it also needs counterparts like sweetness to make very good coffee.


Acidity in coffee – what is it anyway?

Now it's getting a little "scientific", but don't worry, there won't be any formulas. We're talking about acid and sour. Two terms that basically mean the same thing. A noun and an adjective, but in a coffee conversation they actually lead to very different terms .


  • Acidity in coffee is very good because it relates to the flavor profile of the coffee.
  • An acidic coffee is not good because it is about the pH value of the drink.


Coffee usually has a pH value of 5 and is therefore mildly acidic. Wheat beer has a pH value of around 4. And cola is even between 2 and 3, which makes it very acidic. It is important to note that 1 pH means ten times as acidic. This means that cola is on average 100 to 1,000 times more acidic than coffee.


Acidity in coffee – short pH excursion

The pH value of something describes how many hydrogen ions a substance contains. Simply put, how acidic or basic something - for example a drink - is. The pH scale ranges from 0 to 14, with pH values ​​below 7 being acidic and pH values ​​above 7 being alkaline - i.e. basic. If the pH value is 7, it is neutral. According to the SCA, the water used to brew coffee should have a pH value of 7. But at least between 6 and 8. This is due, among other things, to the fact that coffee itself contains acids.

BUT: the acidity you can taste in a coffee has nothing to do with its pH value.


Acidity in coffee – what types are there?

There are up to 40 acids in coffee beans . However, chlorogenic acid is the most common. In Arabica beans, it is around 7 percent and in Arabica beans, almost 10 percent. These chlorogenic acids, in fact, are a whole family, naturally occurring compounds that partially break down during roasting. Mono-caffeoyl degrades and di-caffeoyl, however, hardly changes due to heat. The chlorogenic acids that break down during roasting turn into the bitter-tasting chlorogenic acid lactones.

It is important to note that the longer and darker the roasting, the more acids are broken down. This is why very darkly roasted coffee is usually not sour, but rather bitter.


Acidity in coffee – citric acid

Citric acid, or citric acid, is, as the name suggests, acid that is found in lemons. But it is also found in oranges and other citrus fruits. And it is also found in coffee, which can lead to flavor profiles with citrus aromas. This acid is found in the highest concentration in coffee, and therefore in all coffee.


Acidity in coffee – malic acid

This acid occurs naturally in apples, pears and also in rhubarb. It is also found in coffee, but is not as aggressive and is more balanced than citrus acid. It has a fresh and green taste on the palate.


Acidity in coffee – phosphoric acid

This is a mineral acid that is absorbed by the coffee plants through fertilization and thus the soil. The acid is bitter and sometimes tingles on the tongue.


Acidity in coffee – acetic acid

Acetic acid is particularly found in fermented coffees. If this acid is present in controlled amounts, it tastes complex and fruity. If it is excessive, it is definitely a defect and very unpleasant.


Acidity in coffee – lactic acid

This acidity in coffee feels like a good curd. It adds a bit of heaviness and is tart, but also brings a softness to the mouthfeel.

In addition, other acids are also found in coffee, including quinic acid, glycolic acid, formic acid and tartaric acid .


Acidity in coffee – is it harmful to us?

The most common reason people want coffee with less acid is their stomach. "Otherwise it will upset my stomach" or "I can't tolerate it" are often arguments against acid. And that's not the case: Yes, everyone reacts differently to coffee! Some people tolerate it well, others don't. It wakes some people up, others make them tired. Some people enjoy it with acid, others don't. Coffee has just as many positive as negative aspects for the body. The dose determines whether it is good or bad. For example: 3 to 5 cups of coffee a day are no problem. Three to five liters a day would be very unhealthy.


Acid in coffee – how does it get there?

A legitimate question is always: How does this or that aroma get into the coffee? It all starts with a plant that is in active exchange with its environment. And ends with the brewing of the coffee. There are many processing steps along the way that increase or reduce acidity .


Acidity in coffee – coffee cultivation

As with other fruits, the cultivation of coffee also produces various acids in the cherry, including through cellular respiration. The formation of these acids is influenced by the growing conditions. Let's start with the temperature, which plays a major role. The higher or shadier, i.e. in cooler climates, coffee grows, the slower it grows and the more the plant concentrates on developing healthy seeds (which ultimately become the coffee we drink). These slowly developing coffee beans have more proteins, fats, sugars and acids than those grown quickly.


Acidity in coffee – the different varieties

There are many different types of coffee and even more varieties. They all have different acid levels. For example, Arabica has more acidic flavor than Robusta, although Robusta has more acid overall than Arabica. The differences in acidity between the varieties are so small that you can safely ignore them. However, there can be different nuances in taste.


Acidity in coffee – the processing

There are now many methods - both classic and experimental - for processing green coffee. These can be used to reduce or accentuate acidity. Washed coffee has the highest acidity in classic methods, while naturally processed coffee has more sweetness, which gives the acidity a strong counteractant and makes the coffee more balanced overall. However, there are also modern or experimental methods in which the cherries are fermented in tanks, sacks or barrels for a short or long time. Acids can be accentuated or existing aromas can be supplemented with new ones.


Acidity in coffee – roasting

The acidity that naturally occurs in the coffee bean decreases during roasting . The hotter and longer the roasting, the less acid remains in the coffee bean. Only the acetic acid increases for a short time and then breaks down. This is why light roasted coffees - that is, briefly and at less heat - often have a lot of fruitiness (or acidity) and dark roasted coffees (more heat and longer) tend to be sweeter and bitter and less fruity. Chocolate and nutty aromas predominate here.


Acidity in coffee – preparation

And when preparing coffee, we can also accentuate or reduce the acids that are still present, or extract a certain amount of acid from the coffee. On the one hand , the hardness of the water used plays a role - the harder, i.e. the more calcareous, the less acid you can taste. On the other hand , we can influence the acid content in our coffee by changing the degree of grinding, the preparation method, the brewing time required and the temperature .


  • Temperature: the higher, the less noticeable acidity
  • Grinding level: the coarser, the less sweetness is extracted
  • Brewing time: the longer, the more is generally extracted


Acidity in coffee – differences in preparation

Let's take filter coffee and espresso. These two are very different in how they are prepared. The same coffee bean will taste very different as filter coffee and as espresso and will therefore have different levels of acidity. This is mainly because 98 percent of the drink in a filter coffee is simply water , and in an espresso it is around 90 percent . This makes the espresso much more concentrated and you can therefore taste the acidity more clearly. It is therefore important, especially when preparing with a portafilter, that a coffee not only has acidity but also enough sweetness. Otherwise the drink will not be balanced.

But even well-balanced coffees have more acids when lightly roasted, which are noticeable when brewed. For many coffee lovers, this is great, but for many others, it is not.


Acidity in coffee – the good and the bad

What remains is that acid is not everyone's cup of tea. But there are actually good acids and bad ones. The good ones add flavor to the coffee, remind us of fruit, and make the drink fresh and complex. Just like a good wine.

And the bad acids are aggressive, they make your mouth pucker, dry out your taste buds and sometimes sting. Just like a bad wine.

The interplay of sweetness and acidity is particularly important. This is what makes a coffee – and of course a wine – really good.


Acidity in coffee – conclusion

So it's not so easy to talk about acidity in coffee in general , especially because many people already have a negative attitude towards it. We like coffee that has nice fruit acids, which is why we like to differentiate between acidity and fruitiness in order to make the difference clearer. But we also like low-acid, chocolatey coffee.

And we are by no means trying to force you to like fruity coffee. If you don't like it, then this is just right for you and you will find what you are looking for in our shop. And if you already like fruity coffee - or just want to try it out - then you will find plenty of it here and we will be happy to advise you . So #staywild!