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Why Is My Coffee Bitter?

Ryan Fritzky Ryan Fritzky • March 22, 2021

Wondering why your coffee tastes bitter? You might be surprised by the possible causes, which include the type of coffee cup you're using. Use this checklist to remove the bitter from your morning ritual. 

Coffee Beans Are Stale

How old is your coffee? Is it pre-ground? As a general rule, whole bean coffee stays at peak freshness for about three weeks after it's roasted. After three weeks, the oils and sugars within the coffee bean escape, causing the flavor of the coffee to taste bitter. If you're using pre-ground coffee, the coffee can take on a bitter flavor 24 hours after it's ground. That's why we always recommend buying freshly roasted whole bean coffee and grinding it right before you brew.

Coffee Is Too Finely Ground

Grinding coffee too fine is a common cause of bitterness (also known as over extraction). How do you know what grind size is right for you? This often requires a little experimentation. The grind you use depends on how you make coffee. For an espresso maker or an AeroPress where the coffee grounds aren't exposed to water for a long period of time, you'll want to use a finer grind. For a pour-over brewing method where the grounds sit in water, such as a French press or Chemex, you'll want to use a courser grind. For an automatic coffee maker, you'll want be somewhere in the middle.

Grounds Steeped Too Long

When using a French press, don't leave the coffee grounds submerged in water for more than four minutes. Serve the coffee immediately after it's done steeping to prevent it from meeting a bitter (over extracted) fate.

Water Is Too Hot

When it comes to optimal brewing temperature for coffee, 195 to 205 degrees Fahrenheit (or two to three minutes off of boil) is the sweet spot. If your water is too hot or over-boiled, you'll extract the bitter compounds from the coffee.

Taste Preference 

Coffee preferences and tastes are very subjective. A coffee drinker who enjoys a darker roast will often label a lightly-roasted coffee with a more tea-like or fruity tasting profile as bitter or tart. This isn't necessarily an issue with your brewing method or an imperfection in the coffee. 

Color of Your Cup

Beyond controlling freshness, grind, roast profile, time, and temperature, there's a well-known psychological aspect to perceiving bitter coffee: the color of the cup. Our perception of taste comes not merely from the chemical aspects of what we consume and how those bear on our body's senses of taste and smell, but from our own mental state.
It turns out that white cups provide greater contrast for the dark color of coffee, and thereby predispose us to perceive stronger, and often more bitter, tastes from the coffee we're drinking. By contrast, using a clear glass encourages us to imagine we're drinking something lighter and sweeter than we'd otherwise detect.

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Posted in: Coffee Questions
Tags: Bitter Coffee
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