Tripping on Coffee? Questions About Coffee’s Acidity Answered
What do soil, skin care, and coffee all have in common?
It’s not visible to the naked eye. It’s not measurable by sticks or weights.
But it is an important component to just about everything we put in our bodies and on our skin.
It’s potential hydrogen, pH for short, and it’s the topic of today’s post. We’ll give you the rundown on coffee’s pH and what that means for your daily cup of joe.
Coffee and the pH Scale
Anybody remember their high school chemistry class? If so, you might remember talking about the pH scale: what it stands for and where different foods fall on it.
In case you’ve forgotten the details (which wouldn’t be hard to do), the pH of a substance is the measure of its acidity or basicity. Simply put, the pH scale tells you if something is more acid or more base.
Pure water is neither and so ranks as a 7 on the pH scale - the exact middle of the scale. Milk falls right below water as a 6 on the scale, making it, perhaps surprisingly, acidic.
Drinks like tomato juice and soda receive an even lower acidic ranking, a 4 and 3 respectively. And way down the list, we find lemon juice - a no-brainer there.
And coffee? It comes right below milk as a 5 on the scale, along with bananas and soft drinking water.
Not too bad right? So why does coffee get such a bad rap as being an acidic food?
Coffee and Heartburn
Coffee often takes the blame for being hard on the stomach, causing general uneasiness or heartburn.
And in some of the worst cases, coffee has been suggested as a trigger food for gastroesophageal reflux disease (or GERD for short).
So what is it about coffee that can leave us feeling sick?
Most people point the finger at coffee’s acidity. And as we’ve shown above, coffee is acidic.
But not any more so than soda or orange juice.
While the acidic nature of coffee may cause discomfort over time by changing the lining of your stomach, there’s not a lot of research demonstrating that it directly causes heartburn or GERD.
Instead, the main culprit here may be the large amounts of caffeine in coffee. “Caffeine may trigger GERD symptoms because it can relax the [lower esophageal sphincter].”
And given that your average 8oz cup of coffee holds a staggering 95-165mg of caffeine, we may have found our tummy-paining target. Drinks like soda and tea, while also acidic, contain far less caffeine than coffee.
So it seems that caffeine may be just as much, if not more, to blame for stomach pain as the acidity in coffee. Especially given the fact that most acidic foods are fine to consume in moderation, even for those affected by GERD.
Acid vs Acidity
So if the acidic nature of coffee doesn’t necessarily affect how our stomachs feel after drinking it, what does it affect?
You may have heard of acidity in coffee as a positive comment. Think of other words like bright, tangy, sparkling, etc. that we often associate with descriptions of a coffee’s taste.
That’s because as a flavor, acid makes up a key component of coffee. Too much of it makes your coffee taste sour. And way too much of it can contribute to the symptoms of heartburn discussed above.
But without any acidic flavor, most people wouldn’t enjoy coffee as it is today.
Jennifer Slothower at Driftaway Coffee describes it this way: “Generally speaking, the roasting process tries to bring out the best mixture of naturally occurring acids found in a specific coffee, as these are the compounds that give the coffee its unique characteristics.”
Just what are those flavors, you might ask? Read on for details about the acids found in coffee and how they relate to the flavors we’ve come to love.
Coffee and Acids
Even with its relatively low pH ranking, coffee is still made up of a lot of different acids. 30 to be exact.
And that number changes depending on the type of coffee bean and the way those beans are grown, washed, and roasted.
For an in-depth look at all the different acids in coffee, take a look at this post over on the Five Senses Coffee blog.
In the meantime, we’ve provided a summary of the most flavor-full, naturally-occurring acids found in your daily brew:
Tastes like lemons or oranges or maybe, when combined with phosphoric acid, even grapefruit. If your coffee leaves a citrus fruit flavor in your mouth, you’re tasting citric acid, the easiest acid to detect.
Tastes like tart, sweet green apples or pears. If your coffee tastes fruity, you’ve found the malic acid.
Gives a clean and complex taste. Vinegar also claims this acid, and although it’s less noticeable in coffee than some other acidic flavors, acetic acid creates a well-rounded cup.
Gives a creamy body to coffee, and affects the texture of coffee more than the flavor.
Quinic and Chlorogenic Acid
These acids both relate to heat: quinic acid in the brewing of coffee and chlorogenic in the roasting. When overheated, these acids give coffee a sour or astringent taste.
The Good Kind of Acid
As we’ve seen, it’s not bad to drink acidic coffee every day, even if you have heartburn or GERD.
At least, it’s not bad because of the acidity. In fact, those acids bring out some of the best flavors in coffee.
As long as we’re careful to balance acidic foods and drinks and be on the lookout for too much caffeine, coffee can still feature in our daily routine.
And coffee lovers everywhere can say “Amen” to that!