Most coffee is at least somewhat bitter, but what if yours is too bitter? Can adding salt to coffee make for a better-tasting cup?
Sugar and creamer are a couple of the most common ways to reduce bitterness in coffee. But what if you’re trying to cut down on one or both? Is salt really an effective alternative? Let’s look at the science.
What makes coffee bitter
Bitterness in coffee is generally the result of over-extraction — or how coffee flavor is drawn from the grounds. It can be caused by one or more of the following:
Over-steeping – Allowing the grounds to steep for too long in the water can extract too many of the bitter compounds in coffee, resulting in astringency.
Poor quality beans – Cheaper coffee beans can be over-roasted to mask flaws in them. But roasting beans for too long can make them taste burnt and bitter.
Overly hot water – Hot water helps extract coffee from the grounds, but if it’s too hot, larger quantities of bitter compounds will be drawn out. If you’re brewing coffee manually, avoid using boiling water. Instead, you want your water temperature to be around 200° F for the best extraction.
Incorrect grind size – Not all grind sizes are created equal. Too fine a grind can cause bitter, over-extracted coffee. On the flip side, overly coarse coffee grinds may not allow for enough extraction, resulting in a weak cup.
Dirty brewing equipment
Another cause of bitterness in coffee can be dirty brewing equipment. Residue builds up in coffee grinders and makers over time. Failing to clean them regularly can affect the taste of your coffee.
Research shows that some people simply are simply more genetically sensitive to bitterness, particularly related to caffeine. That can affect how their coffee tastes. And interestingly, according to one study the more bitterness sensitivity people have, the more coffee they tend to drink.
Does salt reduce bitterness in coffee?
It turns out that adding salt to coffee can make it taste less bitter, thanks to a couple of primary factors.
One factor relates to how salt can affect caffeine’s solubility, or its ability to dissolve in water. Salt can suppress that solubility, so adding some during the brewing process can result in less bitter coffee.
Another way salt can make coffee seem less bitter is how it interacts with the taste buds on your tongue. Research has shown that salt can reduce taste stimuli for bitterness. Therefore, adding some to already brewed coffee can limit its astringency.
However, the same study showed salt had the same effect on other tastes, such as sweetness. So while salt may make your coffee less bitter, it won’t necessarily make it seem sweeter.
What amount of salt should you add to coffee?
When it comes to salt in coffee, a little goes a long way. If you’re adding it to the grounds prior to brewing, you only need a small amount, about 1/4 teaspoon per 6 scoops of coffee (a scoop = 2 tbsp). That will yield 6 cups.
If you’re adding salt to an already brewed cup, you need even less, just a pinch. You should notice a slightly less bitter cup of coffee, but not one that’s salty. It’s a good idea to start with a very small amount to gauge how your taste buds will react.
That said, this method may not work for everyone, especially if you’re overly sensitive to salt. But if you’re out of creamer, milk, or sugar, it may be worth a try!
Sweet substances like sugar, honey, and even maple syrup can all help mask bitterness in coffee. So if your coffee is overly bitter, trying adding a teaspoon of one of these ingredients. A dash of creamer or milk can also mellow out the bitterness.