A common question that’s asked by coffee lovers is whether coffee is acidic or basic in nature. Believe it or not, in chemical terms, it’s acidic.
Naturally, you would assume that it’s basic, as it doesn’t appear to have any acidic qualities. If anything, there are natural compounds in it that make it bitter, rather than acidic. We’ve previously written about "how to make coffee less bitter", so refer to that article for further information on creating the perfect brew.
If you want to know whether coffee is acidic or basic in nature, the answer isn’t clear-cut. The way in which you make your coffee can determine its acidity base, and if you’re looking to lower the acid levels in your coffee, it’s a matter of tinkering with the brewing process to get it just perfect.
In a chemical sense, coffee is acidic, but in comparison to other beverages, it’s not off the charts. However, we’ve outlined some basic information to show you exactly how the acidic or basic nature of coffee works.
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How is acidity measured?
Acidity is measured on a pH scale, which is a measure of a molar concentration of hydrogen ions in a solution. This structure measures the acidity or the basicity of any liquid, ranging at pH -1 all the way through to 15.
On the higher end of the scale, from -1 through to 1, you’ve got high acidic liquids such as battery acid and stomach acid.
On the lower end, considered highly basic, are household ammonia products, milk of magnesia, and even oven cleaner. Sitting neutral at around pH 7 are fluids like blood and water.
In familiarising yourself with this scale, you will begin to understand that standard black coffee sits at around pH 5, between wine and pure water.
How do you measure the acidity or basicity of coffee easily?
While chemically black coffee is measured at pH 5, the actual acidity of a coffee can more often than not refer to the particular roast and variety you’ve chosen, rather than its actual acid content.
In essence, your tongue tells the story, picking up hints of bitter, or sour, before your body determines whether it was too acidic for your liking, or just right.
If you feel a burning sensation in your stomach, or a feeling of discomfort, there’s every possibility your body measured the acidity levels as too high. The lighter the beans you grind for your coffee, the more acidic the coffee is.
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How can I choose a coffee that’s more acidic, or more basic?
You won’t have much control over how your beans of choice are grown, but the initial reasoning why some coffee beans are more acidic than others is down to the pH levels of the soil they were grown in.
Acidic soil determines that the coffee beans, too, will be acidic. Whereas the more basic the land, the lower the acidity levels of the beans. However, that doesn’t mean your finished brew is going to be acidic, as the next steps in your brewing process can determine that.
Some people prefer to water down their coffee – which can lower the acidity levels again – while others add milk or cream. This, too, can reduce the levels of acid.
For those who prefer a strong, black coffee that’s both rich and robust, you will find that it’s more acidic than its watered down, or milkier, counterpart.
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How can I lower the acidic base of my coffee?
Aside from watering down your brew, or adding milk or cream, there are other steps you can take to ensure your stomach doesn’t suffer as a result of high-acid liquids.
Firstly, you can opt for light roast coffee. While the flavor won’t be as intense as what you’d get from a dark roast, it’s considerably less acidic. However, the best way to benefit from a low acid coffee is by cold-brewing it.
The cold brewing process not only dramatically drops the pH level of the coffee, but enables you to enjoy a brew that’s both sweet and smooth. If that’s not an option, a latte or cappuccino are both excellent options that don’t irritate sensitive stomachs as much as an espresso or drip pot coffee would.
The pH level of coffee sits between water and wine. It’s not quite acidic, but it’s not quite basic. However, your coffee of choice can spell the difference between one that is acidic (or bitter), and one that’s not.
If you’re looking for a low-acid coffee, opt for a light roast bean with milk or cream. If you prefer your coffee to have a richer and more robust flavor, expect it to be high in acid. However, you can reduce this level by cold-brewing it.