In short, yes. Coffee is acidic. But it's not acidic in the way you might think it is. Coffee, like most things we like to drink, is naturally acidic. Acids yield flavor, literally by donating protons to receptors on the tongue. That's why other common drinks such as beer, soda, fruit juice and wine are naturally acidic (and are all more acidic than coffee, in fact).
Defining Acidity in Coffee
When people talk about acidity in coffee, they’re not talking about a higher pH level (in chemistry, a measure of the actual level of acidity). They’re talking about specific flavor compounds. For example, the presence of citric, malic, or tartaric acids in the bean is associated with flavors like citrus, apple, and wine. These flavors more commonly stand out in single-origin
, light-roast coffees
, and help make drinking coffee such a pleasant experience. Because light roast coffee has more acidity of flavor
, the coffee may taste sharper (or "brighter") and be perceived as being harder on the stomach—
but that's not the case.
Why Coffee Makes You Feel Sick
Stomach pain, nausea and diarrhea have little to do with the acid levels in coffee. So if you believe it’s the acid in coffee that makes you feel sick, here’s the test: unless you’re equally upset by juice, beer, wine, or soda, acidity isn't the problem. Instead, the likely culprits include:
This is the level of particulate matter (leftover bean solids) in your coffee. To minimize this:
- Use a filtered brew method with a paper filter (far better than wire mesh filters).
- Avoid using a French press, since there's no filter used and you're more likely to swallow grounds.
- You can avoid dark roasts, as dark roast coffee beans have been roasted longer and as such, are more fragile and easier to break up when being ground. However, there isn't much of a difference in the pH between dark and light roast coffees.
Per above, the more bean material in the brew, the more caffeine will continue to be extracted in the stomach. Caffeine generally prompts the body to produce more gastric juice. Again, brew method can make a big difference: Americanos and espressos carry less caffeine than drip.
Adding milk and its proteins to coffee will absolutely soothe the overall coffee drinking experience, but only for the palate. In the stomach, dairy proteins stimulate the production of gastric juices. In the presence of other acids, this can, for many people, be a recipe for discomfort.
Low Acidity Coffees
If you want low acidity coffee, seek out coffees from Brazil, El Salvador, Indonesia, Hawaii and the Caribbean. Cold brew
is also known to be slightly less acidic.
And when it comes to preventing stomach problems, focus instead on how you’re brewing
, as coffee is, relative to most other drinks, a pretty safe vice.