ACIDITY, BITTERNESS AND SWEETNESS
Every coffee has elements of bitterness and acidity. The other flavours like umami, starchiness, saltiness, and sweetness can be developed throughout the roasting or preparation process. Numerous factors, such as water quality affect the coffee’s final flavours. You must be logged in to view this content.
The majority of people connect coffee with bitterness and acidity alone. They will describe coffee as either bitter or sour. Most people’s biggest aversion is to sour or acidic coffee. All too often, they don’t give the coffee a fair chance and immediately add heaps of sugar. Most people presume that acidity is always negative—something that can upset our stomach . . . something that’s generally unpleasant.
Moreover, bitterness tends to be connected with strong coffee, so most drinkers automatically mix in milk and sugar to neutralise the taste. These additions may make coffee “easier” to drink, but too many sweet tones in coffee can make for a terribly boring cup. Usually, sweeter coffees are from the naturally processed beans, which are also known to produce additional starchiness, saltiness, and umami. They’re also often more intensive in when it comes to their aftertaste. Acidity and bitterness are simply easier to recognise.
In coffee, we can find a huge variety of bitter and acidic tones, with myriad connections to other flavours, and the final coffee can have a very interesting taste—from ashy to sour like expired milk. For example, the acidic spectrum alone might be broken down into countless flavours: lively, tangy, sharp, bright, fruity, sparkling . . . the list goes on!
With coffee-making, we can create coffee with good acidity or bad. In my opinion, all of the main flavours give to coffee something good. I don’t feel fear when I hear the coffee is acidic. It doesn’t mean the coffee is acidic like lemons or bad milk. But it does mean the coffee has some “spark”—a certain degree of freshness. I see the acidity like the spiciness in certain foods. When the acidity can offer some interesting tones as combined with other flavours, you’ve landed on a very good thing!
The bitterness I have connected with deepness, aftertaste, and body. I think bitterness can increase the aftertaste and boldness of the body.
The sweetness I have connected with syrupiness and body structure. It provides some form of the flavours and what you can feel in your mouth.
Basic Rules for How to Control Flavour:
- The first elements extracted are acidity and saltiness followed by sweetness and balance, and the last is bitterness.
- The majority of flavours are extracted within the first 40% of the coffee-making process.
- The finer the grind size, the more quickly extraction happens, which means that it’s easy to inadvertently extract too much, resulting in coffee that’s too bitter. Temperature can also be an important factor; if the water is hotter, extraction will, which can quickly lead to an overabundance of flavour. If you use colder water for a shorter time, the coffee can be too acidic, due it not having ample time to extract the whole palette of latent flavours.
One good tip: if you’re not happy with the coffee you’ve brewed, don’t change multiple factors, like water temperature, grind size, and the brewing time. Make a point of only changing a single factor at a time, as this will allow you to accurately note exactly what difference each individual change entails. Myself, I usually try to first work with water agitation, playing with extraction times. You can pour water slower or more aggressively, use smaller or higher volumes, direct the water flow to different areas, and more.
The main message of this post: there’s more at play than bitter and sour. Coffee taste isn’t so black and white. If you’re able to cross the barrier of prejudice, you soon will find a new world to explore.