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Guide to Coffee Acidity

Written by Bacha Coffee | 01 June 2023
|4 mins | Coffee Culture
Discover how acidity plays a key role in your coffee.


Acidity is one of the more controversial topics in the world of coffee. Many people would much rather experience their morning acidity from the fresh fruit in a breakfast bowl rather than the hot cup of coffee accompanying it. Though what we tend to forget, is that coffee is a fruit, so regardless of personal preference, acidity will always be present.

Acidity has little to do with flavour and more to do with the sensation it leaves in your mouth. We feel acidity at both the tip and along the side of our tongue and it is usually perceived as a pleasant sharpness.

Though this may not answer why the presence of acidity in coffee is important, it does help us to understand what it contributes to any food tasting experience. Unfortunately, the name in of itself may sometimes be perceived unfavourably. You hear the word acidity and may associate it with a sour taste, and despite the controversy, most can agree they do not want to be sipping on sour coffee. However, this is not entirely true, because while coffee can be sour, this is from an excess of acidity and not from its mere presence. Simply put, acidity is what brings a coffee to life. In its absence, your coffee would be flat, dull and muddy. Acidity adds an interesting and irreplaceable dimension, whether you notice it or not.

Though acidity will always exist within a coffee bean, there are many factors throughout its lifecycle that will either accentuate or diminish its potency. 

The Environment

Depending on the environment in which it is grown, coffee will naturally produce certain levels of sweetness and of acidity. Coffees that are grown at higher elevations will contain higher content of both sugar and acid. This is because there is less oxygen at higher elevations, so there is less opportunity to respirate and the coffee cherry will take longer to ripen. This longer maturation process means both acid and sugar have more time to develop. 

The Process

It is interesting to note that the processing method does not tend to alter the level of acidity, but it does impact the sweetness of the coffee – which will in turn affect how you perceive the acidity. Wet/washed coffees remove the layers of sucrose and fructose, giving way for the acidity to shine, unhindered by the sweetness. Naturally processed coffees have the fruit fully intact throughout the long drying process, which allow the sweetness to infiltrate the bean and overshadow the perceived acidity.

The Roasting

While new flavours cannot be created during roasting, the process and type of roast may certainly enhance or obscure the existing ones. Acidity will actually diminish when exposed to heat - meaning lighter roasts will have a more pronounced acidity. 

The Brewing

A cup of coffee is composed of 98% water, and yet the quality of the water is largely overlooked, and the coffee itself is usually credited with the final flavour. The grounds most definitely play a part, but in reality, it is the combination of the two that will affect the taste of your brew.

This is due to the wonderful science of extraction: the diffusion of coffee flavour from the beans into the water. Now what affects extraction? There are many variables as it turns out, from the ratios, the brewing time, the size of your coffee grounds, the temperature of your water and more.

Experimenting with the above will lead to different outcomes in not only the strength of your coffee, but the flavour and aroma. Brewing is simply the act of extraction, so the method you choose will affect the result.

The fruity acids emerge at the beginning stages of the extraction process with sweetness following suit and finally, bitterness at the end. What you can take away from this is that brewing methods that have shorter-contact times between the water and the grinds, such as the pour over, will lead to a more vibrant cup of coffee as they will not reach the later stages of extraction. Whereas more immersive methods, like the French Press,  will be richer and bolder as all the flavours of the beans will be drawn out. The key is to strike the perfect balance between all three, which we can tell you, will taste different to everyone.

The Cup

Now that you have brewed your beans, you can decide how to enjoy them. While black coffee is certainly the greatest way to distinguish the unique characteristics of the harvest, coffee can be consumed in a manner of ways. Try adding a dash of milk or cream to add some alkaline to balance the acidity, some sugar to enhance the natural sweetness, or you can pour the coffee directly over ice to dilute the potency and create an entirely new experience altogether.

The Point

You can apply each factor above to achieve your level of desired acidity. By optimising these methods, you can control the level of acidity and create a truly personalised coffee experience. So, whether you prefer a bright, tangy cup or a smooth, well-balanced one, there is a perfect cup of coffee waiting for you to discover.

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