A degree of bitterness in coffee is as satisfying as the bitter taste you often find in chocolate and cocoa. However, if your coffee tastes bitter there are several ways to address the issue. This guide looks at the reasons for a bitter-tasting coffee, and how you can fix the problem.
Why Is My Coffee Bitter? How To Fix?
What makes coffee bitter? It’s related to the coffee beans and brewing methods. Therefore, one of the easiest ways to make your coffee less bitter is to choose the correct coffee beans for you. Here are some things to consider.
1. Coffee Beans Type
Robusta beans are typically more bitter than Arabica beans. They also have more caffeine. Robusta coffee beans are easier to grow and more resistant to pests than Arabica beans, but the flavor is generally regarded as inferior. They are also cheaper, and cheap coffee beans are often used in blends.
That’s not to say that all blends should be avoided. Indeed, some espresso blends help balance out the cup with Robusta beans.
How To Fix – Use Arabica Beans Rather Than Robusta Beans
It seems obvious, but switching to Arabica beans rather than Robusta blends could be the answer. Many quality coffee roasters only use 100% Arabica beans.
We suggest experimenting with beans from different regions, too. So, African coffees are known for higher acidity and citrusy, floral flavors. Meanwhile, coffees from Central and South America offer a more balanced coffee taste. Asian coffees from areas including Indonesia have less acidity and are often dark roasted, which usually means they tend to brew a bitter cup of coffee.
2. Coffee Quality
Either coffee that’s gone stale or low-quality beans often have more bitter flavors, making it harder to brew a pleasant cup of coffee.
Once the green coffee beans are roasted, the beans start to deteriorate, particularly when the coffee is exposed to air or turned into grounds. Because many of the delicious flavors and aromas will be lost when this happens, the bitter flavors become more prominent.
The Fix – Use Freshly Ground Coffee
Using freshly ground beans to brew coffee usually makes for a better taste and up your coffee game. Also, opt for whole beans instead of pre-ground coffee where possible.
Finally, try buying your fresh roasted coffee from local roasters rather than supermarkets or general grocery stores, where the beans are likely to have stood on the shelf for considerably longer.
3. Coffee Roasts
Coffee roast levels also affect the flavor. For example, darker beans roast for longer and at higher temperatures, which leads to more bitterness and a somewhat ashy, smoky flavor. Think about how different the taste of a burnt steak is from a perfectly cooked steak. It’s a similar issue with burnt coffee, which is likely to taste bitter.
The Fix – Use Lighter Roasted Beans
Dark roasts have a more bitter flavor, so try using medium or light roast beans. When beans are roasted for a shorter time at lower temperatures, the more bitter compounds aren’t as prevalent. However, if you’d like to avoid sour coffee, try a medium roast.
You can avoid bitter coffee with the right coffee-bean choice, but the way you brew the beans also impacts the level of bitterness. So, let’s take a look at them to enable you to reduce bitterness of your morning cup.
Before we do, it’s worth noting that coffee brewing is complex, with many variables that affect the overall quality. You may need to experiment with more than one of the variables to achieve a coffee that’s perfect for you. However, being aware of each and knowing how to improve them can help you make a delicious cup of coffee with good flavor.
4. Brew Time
The longer the hot water interacts with the coffee, the better the extraction. Therefore, it’s important to monitor the brewing time to avoid over-extraction.
Over-extracted coffee is strong and bitter, while under-extracted coffee beverages are sour and weak. Finding your sweet spot is the key.
The Fix – Don’t Brew The Coffee For Too Long
Don’t over-steep the coffee if you’re using an immersion brewing method like French press or AeroPress. For French press coffee, aim for between four and six minutes. For AeroPress, aim for closer to two minutes, and don’t over-agitate the coffee grounds.
If you’re brewing pour-over or drip coffee, the overall aim for a brewing time of about two to three minutes per cup. The coffee will also have a bitter flavor if you pour it too slowly and leave it on the hot plate for too long.
However, if you’re making cold brew, you’ll need to steep the coffee for between 12 and 24 hours because of the low temperature, but usually no longer than that.
5. Water Temperature
Temperature is particularly important, and a study backs that up, stating that bitterness generally increases with temperature.
Hotter water predictably increased TDS (total dissolved solids) and PE (percent extraction), and yielded more acrid, roasty, bitter, and sour attributes.https://www.nature.com/articles/s41598-020-73341-4
So, if the water is too hot, bitter compounds will be extracted. Therefore, brewing coffee with boiling water leads to a bland and bitter beverage.
The Fix – Don’t Use Boiling Water
Brewing with boiling water isn’t recommended.
The Golden Cup Standard, as published by the Specialty Coffee Association of America, states:
Coffee Preparation Temperature: To achieve the Golden Cup Standard, water temperature, at the point of contact with coffee, is recommended to fall between 200°F ± 5° (93.0°C ± 3°).http://www.scaa.org/PDF/resources/golden-cup-standard.pdf
A drip coffee maker must attain the Golden Cup Standard to receive the SCA certified seal to ensure they reach the correct brew ratio and temperature. If your coffee machine lets you adjust the brew temperature, you can also consider lowering the temperature to reduce the bitterness.
Check out the guide for the best coffee brewing temperature for all methods.
6. Coffee To Water Ratio
The ratio is another significant factor to consider, and for obvious reasons. Too much coffee and not enough water lead to a beverage that’s too strong. Using less coffee reduces the bitterness, but it will lead to weak, watery coffee if you go too far. Therefore, finding the correct balance is crucial.
The Fix – Use The Correct Amount Of Coffee And Water
Coffee-to-Water Ratio: To achieve the Golden Cup Standard, the recommended coffee-to-water ratio is 55 g/L ± 10%.https://sca.coffee/research/protocols-best-practices
That translates to a coffee to water ratio of about 1:15 to 1:22. This is ideal for French press or pour-over coffee, but not espresso. For espresso, aim for 1:1.5 to 1:3, depending on your flavor preference.
Many drip machines with built-in grinders let you choose the coffee strength. However, in reality, it simply adjusts the amount of coffee used per batch. So if you don’t want your coffee to be too bitter, reduce the strength, and the machine will grind less coffee.
7. Grind Size
Fine grounds have more surface areas than coarse grinds, which means higher extractions. Each brewing method has its own grind size, and it’s essential to have an idea of the range appropriate to the method you’re using.
For example, if you steep extra-fine espresso grounds in a French press, the coffee will be so bitter as to be effectively undrinkable.
The Fix – Don’t Grind Too Fine
Regardless of the brewing method, try a coarser grind size if the coffee is too strong.
Grind consistency is also important. So, if you’re using a blade grinder, you’ll likely have finer particles and some boulders. A high-quality burr grinder allows you to make better coffee. Also, most burr grinders let you change the grind settings.
8. Your Brewing Equipment
Check your coffee machine and grinder if you’ve tried everything in this guide but the coffee is still bitter. Generally, unclean equipment won’t produce good coffee. For example, there could be left-over coffee residue in the grinder, or your coffee machine may be overdue descaling.
The Fix – Keep Your Coffee Equipment Clean
Regularly brush your grinder to remove coffee oils and residue, and regularly descale your machine. Use distilled water and regularly change water filters to ensure the best water quality.
An Extra Hack To Reduce The Bitterness Of Your Coffee
Incredibly, adding a small amount of salt to your coffee can cheat your taste buds and smooth out the bitterness and help the sweetness and other flavors emerge. This isn’t a particularly new technique, either. In fact, it was initially introduced by food science expert Alton Brown in 2009.
Here is our detailed guide about adding salt in coffee.
So, use a small pinch of salt to the brewed coffee, and you ought to notice a difference.
As this guide has demonstrated, reducing the bitterness of coffee is very possible, but the solution may not always be obvious. So, while your immediate response might be to change the beans you’re using or amend your coffee to water ratio, there are other, perhaps less apparent, techniques.
It could be that you find your sweet spot by altering one of the elements. However, be prepared to try combinations of several or all of the fixes until you find the best result.
While that may seem a lot of hassle, part of the fun of domestic coffee brewing for many is experimentation. So, we recommend embracing the chance to tweak until you find the ideal combination of beans, grind size, temperature, and other elements.
And the last piece of advice? Once you have the perfect coffee, either pre-set your machine if it allows, or make a note of the ideal levels so you can get beautiful, not-too-bitter coffee every time!