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Acidity: A Key Player in the Perfect Cup

This blog is part of our series on the Ultimate Guide to Coffee Terminology. 

In the coffee world, there's a term that's often misunderstood, misinterpreted, and even misused: acidity. Contrary to what it might sound like, acidity isn't a bad thing when it comes to coffee. In fact, it's a key player in achieving complex and delicious coffee. As a roaster or coffee enthusiast, understanding and modulating acidity can take your coffee game to a whole new level. In this post, we'll delve into the world of acidity in coffee, exploring what it means, how it impacts your brew, and how to use it to create that ideal cup of joe.

Defining Coffee Acidity

Acidity in a cup of coffee generally refers to bright, lively, and tangy characteristics found in roasted coffee. Broadly speaking, there have been a number of experiments and trials that show that perceptions of certain acids in coffee have been both remarkably consistent with some acids and remarkably inconsistent with others.  For our focus we’ll be referring primarily to chlorogenic, citric and malic acids as these seem to contribute strongly to a sensory experience that adds vibrancy and complexity to your coffee.

The Role of Acidity in Coffee

  1. Flavor Complexity: Acidity contributes to the overall flavor profile of a coffee. It can range from fruity or floral to citrusy or wine-like. Different coffee varieties and processing methods can produce varying types of acidity. The presence of acidity is what makes your taste buds dance and keeps your palate engaged.

  2. Balance: Proper acidity in coffee serves as a balancing act in coffee. It balances the sweetness and bitterness of coffee, making it more harmonious and enjoyable. It prevents your cup from becoming overly flat or too astringent.

  3. Aroma: Acidity also plays a vital role in the aroma of your coffee. The bright, lively notes released during brewing contribute to that enticing fragrance that draws you in.

How to Harness Acidity

  1. Choose the Right Beans: The foundation of acidity lies in the coffee beans you select. While there are certain acids that are created during the roasting process, the quantities of chlorogenic, citric and malic acids in processed green coffee do not increase during roasting.  Coffee varietal, the growing conditions of the coffee tree and the processing method influence or create the available acids in a coffee bean.  Experiment with different coffee origins and varietals to discover differing nuances of acidity.

  2. Roasting: As a coffee roaster, your roasting process is where you can manipulate the levels of acidity in your beans. While total organic acid content in coffee tends to be consistent no matter the roast level, lighter roasts tend to preserve more of the acids that contribute to perceptions of brightness, sweetness and fruitiness.  Darker roasts may have similar acidity overall as lighter roasts however the individual acids differ along with other chemistry created by a longer roasting process. Finding the right roast level and profile to highlight the desired acidity for a specific coffee can feel like true art.

  3. Brewing Methods: The method you choose for brewing can also impact both the actual and perceived acidity in your cup. It has even been shown that differing grind sizes used for the same brewing method can create different acidity profiles.  Even with pulling espresso, shorter shot times will accentuate the perceived acidity of a coffee over longer shot times.

  4. Water Quality: Don't forget about the importance of water in extracting acidity. Using properly filtered water with the right mineral balance to bring out the best in your coffee is important in every brewing scenario.

  5. Timing and Temperature: Experiment with brewing time and water temperature to fine-tune the acidity in your coffee. Small adjustments can make a big difference.

Acidity is typically not the gastro-intestinal villain some may think it is in the world of coffee. More often the stomach upset some experience with coffee is caused by poorly profiled roasts of non-specialty grade coffees leading to an undesirable chemical profile with increased lactones.  Well executed, it's a delightful note that can elevate the complexity of your coffee to new heights. As a coffee roaster, understanding the role of acidity, from curating bean selection to proper roast profiling, is crucial for achieving that amazing delicious cup. By using acidity as a key player in your coffee journey, you'll be able to craft a brew that's vibrant, balanced, and full of complex flavors. So, embrace acidity and let it lead you to your coffee-roasting masterpiece!

Galena Roasters is a small-batch specialty roasting company located in Galena, Illinois. Since 2018, Galena Roasters has been dedicated to bringing its beloved town exceptional coffee through an exceptional experience.

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