A lot of people tend to worry about drinking coffee because sometimes a single sip could cause them a few uncomfortable issues. One of which is acid reflux or heartburn, searing pain in a person’s throat caused by the aggravation of stomach acids. Though not harmful by itself, it’s a very agonizing feeling.
Coffee is indeed acidic, but it has a relatively low pH of 4.85 to 5.10, but what makes it somewhat “troublesome” is the number of various acids and chemicals a hot cup contains. The pH level of coffee is not as related to heartburn as the acidity it possesses because these two aren’t related. So, setting aside the high pH level of coffee since it won’t be relevant here, we would focus more on the acidic components of coffee, how they affect us, and what we can do about them.
Usually, you can make coffee taste and feel less acidic by opting for darker roasts with coarser grounds, lengthening the brewing time, adding or using cold water, and also purchasing a low acid coffee variant.
So we’ll be discussing exactly those things.
Acids in Coffee
According to Healthline, these are the nine primary acids found in a cup of coffee in varying portions, beginning from the highest concentration to the lowest.
- Chlorogenic – A generally healthy acid that has antioxidant qualities and is also good for blood health.
- Quinic – During the roasting process, chlorogenic acid is continuously broken down into simpler acids, one of which is quinic acid. Commonly used as an astringent, a building block in the synthesis of Oseltamivir, which is used to treat influenza A and B.
- Citric – A flavorful, fruity addition to the taste of freshly brewed coffee, and benefits the body with enhanced energy metabolism and nutrient absorption.
- Acetic – Commonly found in white vinegar and apple cider and promotes healthy fat burning and weight loss.
- Lactic – Also found in our guts as a product of lactic acid bacteria that aid in our digestion and nutrition absorption.
- Malic – An acid involved in the Krebs cycle, which is a bodily process to make energy. This is why malic acid is thought to have energy-boosting benefits when taken as a supplement.
- Phosphoric – An acid that works with calcium to strengthen bones and teeth, and also supports effective kidney functions and energy storage.
- Linoleic – Great for heart health, linoleic acid helps reduce total and LDL (bad) cholesterol.
- Palmitic – Supports skin health and has potent anti-inflammatory effects and metabolic health benefits.
Effects Of An Acidic Coffee
Now that we’ve seen how the acids in coffee usually benefit our bodies in different and similar ways, then we are questioned as to why would these healthy additions make us feel acidic after a cup of joe?
In truth, the acidic components of coffee are not the ones at fault for your discomfort, but rather the stomach acids that you already have. Other factors that may induce acid reflux or heartburn after a little sip would be a person’s diet, lifestyle, and mostly sensitivity, which unlike the first two, is more dependent on a person’s natural tolerance or genetics. We’ve already got a great article on those which would explain to you in detail what really causes your gut’s predicament when drinking coffee.
However, for this one, we’d only talk about why coffee may upset your stomach.
The main component in coffee that causes gut stress is caffeine. A regular cup of coffee (8 fl oz) contains about 95 g of caffeine, and according to this study, 3.5 g/kg of caffeine ingested causes the lower esophageal sphincter to relax, resulting in the reflux of gastric contents up the throat. This is what we commonly know as acid reflux, and is caused by caffeine inhibiting our bodies’ natural functions.
However, not everyone is affected by this as some are more tolerant or simply immune, and it’s not a case of much worry as simply drinking colder water would appease the acidic reactions.
Caffeinated coffee also stimulates colonic motor activity or the body’s function of processing food. The study concluded that caffeinated coffee increases this process by 60% and 23% more than drinking water and decaffeinated coffee, respectively. However, you also shouldn’t worry about this as the effect is similar to eating a meal, so it won’t readily upset your stomach as you think.
It’s also good to note that early morning coffee may cause stomach cramps, urging you to hit the stool immediately, but this is more likely induced when you move around too quickly after ingesting caffeine. So I highly recommend that when you take your wake-me-up cup, relax for a few minutes or enjoy it with a meal and avoid moving frantically right after.
Make Your Coffee Less Acidic
So now we know that the acidity of coffee is not the main trigger for heartburn, indigestion, or stomach cramps, it would be very safe to assume that the acidic components are more beneficial for us than we thought.
Even though caffeine is the main perpetrator of coffee discomfort, we still can’t neglect the possibility that the numerous acid components of coffee may cause stress for others who are hypersensitive and intolerant, and so here are our tips for you to make your coffee less acidic, and more desirable.
Choose Medium To Darker Roasts
Usually, the darker the roast, the less acidic the coffee becomes, but also tastes more bitter. This is because the longer the coffee beans are roasted, the more acids are broken down such as chlorogenic acid decomposing into quinic and caffeic acids that are known to promote astringency and bitterness in coffee. The fruity and tartaric acids degrade first when roasting, significantly reducing the tartness and “acidity” of the coffee brew.
The process most responsible for the changes in coffee profile, taste, and aroma when roasting is the Maillard reaction (PDF), which is the simultaneous chemical reactions between amino acids (proteins) and sugars when subjected to heat. They cause the browning or caramelization in most of our foods and also introduce the same effect in coffee beans. In simple terms, the longer the coffee beans are subjected to the Maillard reaction, the more their taste changes and the more aroma they release.
The first crack of the coffee beans during the Maillard reaction means they have doubled in size and have lost 5% of their weight due to dehydration. This then signals that the coffee is good to serve as a light roast, in which much of the acidic compounds are preserved and overrun the bitter components.
If the coffee beans are roasted further than this, they then release carbon dioxide which is odorless but affects the body and taste of the coffee. Then comes the second crack which is the breaking down of cellulose in the beans’ cell walls, giving the beans an oily sheen when exposed to oxygen. This concludes that the beans are now medium or dark roast.
This oily sheen in dark roast beans signifies the degradation of most acids (flavor) and aroma, and also the lump of oils created during the process which introduces the bitter or bold flavors of dark coffee. This is why medium to dark roast beans are preferred for making espresso because of the flavor and reaction of these oils that create the delightful crema, body, and aroma of a classic shot.
Choose Coarser Grounds
The finer you grind your beans, the more surface area is exposed to extraction, resulting in greater taste and acidity, but since our goal here is to make coffee less acidic, then I suggest you grind your beans coarser or choose a bag that contains this type of grounds.
Choose To Brew Longer
Basically, the less you brew your coffee grounds, the fewer flavors you extract, what I mean by that is you won’t be extracting the bitter or balanced notes of the coffee with a shorter brewing time because of the tartaric and citric flavor acids coming out first in a hot brew. To some extent, short brewing also affects cold-brewed coffee in which it tastes tarter than one that is brewed longer.
Choose Cold Brew
Cold brewing is proven to lessen the concentration of titratable acids than hot brew, but consequently, cold-brewed coffee has fewer antioxidants than hot-brewed due to the scarcity of healthy acidic components. Cold-brewed coffee also tastes sweeter and generally contains less caffeine.
Some acids are still extracted during a 16 to 24 hours period of cold brewing, but they are so few that the sweeter flavors take over. If you would remember, most of the acidic compounds in coffee break down due to heat, and the same is true during hot extraction in which the water-soluble acids pour better, and the bitter compounds pour last.
So, due to the absence of heat in cold brewing, fewer acids and oils make it to extraction because they aren’t broken down, while the sweet, sugary flavors seep through easier, thus making cold-brewed coffee less acidic and less bitter in taste and feel.
For example, imagine freezing coke for a day and then taking it out and waiting for a few minutes for the ice to melt. You will notice that after some time, the melted liquids in that beverage tastes sweeter than what coke usually is, and those are the concentrated sugary compounds that melted first before the less sugary compounds that remained frozen. The same analogy can be applied to cold-brewing.
Also note that if you want a hot beverage, you can actually heat up this cold brew and it won’t be acidic nor bitter, but it would also be less aromatic and won’t taste exactly like your average coffee. So if you’re going to do that, mix in some milk just to balance the flavor.
Choose Low Acid Coffee
As you know, Arabica coffee is the most common coffee export in the world and the one we are most accustomed to, either from our local store or coffee shop. However, Arabica coffee is actually one of those that are more acidic which gives it its rich and traditional flavor profile. Fortunately, many other variants of coffee are less acidic than the market toppers, especially those that are shade-grown or the ones raised in lower elevations.
However, to make this even easier for you, I’ll put up a list of the best-quality and best-tasting low-acid coffee readily available in the market. These blends may not be subject to the norms and standards we’ve already mentioned but are carefully raised and processed that they go easy on the stomach as the brand claims.
- Lifeboost Coffee – The top choice in the 2022 low-acid coffee market according to reviews.
- Golden Ratio Low Acid Coffee – Unique, low temperature roast, with low acidity.
- Black Ink Coffee Maineiac Blend Whole Beans Low Acid – Breakfast blend, medium roast.
- Clean Coffee Co Whole Bean Coffee – Caffeinated, medium dark roast.
- Java Planet Organic Low-Acid Coffee – Columbian, caffeinated, dark roast.
- Puroast Low Acid Whole Bean French Roast – Caffeinated, dark roast.
Most of the time, the acidity of coffee is not a bad trait, but a desirable one that defines the captivating flavors of a cup of joe. However, many people do feel affected by the acidity of coffee, but these agonizing effects are more related to a person’s stomach and caffeine content in coffee. So if you want a less acidic tasting coffee, that’s fine, coffee is a freedom of choice and expression, but if you really want to feel less discomfort during a sip, then I rather suggest you opt for a less caffeinated beverage.
Finally, there are many healthy coffee choices with less acidity out there that you can take, but some can be quite expensive so you are left to be content with what you can afford. However, you can take up our tips on how to adjust your coffee to your preference, whether you like it less or more acidic. Drinking coffee is just a part of enjoying it, making and tweaking it to your liking is what makes it even more fulfilling.