Make a Bitter Cup of Coffee Less Bitter By Doing This
Do you like your coffee on the bitter side? Plenty of people do.
But what if an unfortunately-timed phone call caused you to leave your coffee extracting in your French Press for a minute or two too long—and now you’ve ended up with a bitter cup?
What's Up, Bitter Cup?
You can't just toss it and start over. Well, you can—but we all know that wasting quality coffee is a sin.
Fortunately, if you're not a fan of bitter coffee, there's an easy way to reduce it. And all you need is salt.
That’s right, salt.
A little pinch of table salt added to your coffee can help neutralize some of the bitterness.
Most people assume that adding sugar to a cup of bitter coffee will help counter some of the bitterness, but salt is actually a more effective way to handle it because of how our taste buds work.
Now, we're not talking about adding a lot of salt—a little goes a long way.
Definitely don't add it to your coffee in the same amount you'd add sugar.
Just a pinch—maybe two—is all you need. If you're not sure how much to add, start small and then taste as you go. Remember, it's always easier to add more salt than it is to take it away, so err on the side of caution.
The Swedish Connection
You might feel a little dubious about adding salt to your coffee at first, but in the world's top coffee drinking nation—Sweden—people have been adding salt to their coffee for decades.
So, if it's good enough for the Swedes, it's good enough for me. After all, they gave us Volvo, ABBA, and IKEA. Well, Volvos are good anyway.
But some coffee lovers are far saltier than the Swedes. In fact, in some coastal regions of Europe, people have used brackish water (a mix of fresh and salt water) to brew their coffee regularly for quite a long time.
Now, I'm not suggesting you start loading up your French Press with water from the nearest estuary—in fact, I'm decidedly not recommending that at all—but the point is, don't worry. In our case, it'll just be a pinch.
The Science Behind It
So, what's the science behind using salt to reduce bitterness in coffee?
Well, it all has to do with ions.
Our taste buds allow us to detect characteristics like sweet, sour, salty, bitter, and umami. However, bitterness differs from other tastes, in that when we taste something bitter, calcium ions get sent to the brain. And while salt enhances other types of flavor, it tends to reduce our perception of bitterness.
Bitter tasting things activate bitter taste receptors, which send calcium ions to the brain, telling us that we have (or had) something bitter on our tongue.
Salty tasting things activate salt receptors (and sodium ions) in the same way.
However, sodium ions bonding to the receptors on the tongue temporarily suppresses our ability to detect bitterness.
Think of a margarita. Oh, you already were? Perfect.
The traditional way of serving a margarita with a salt-rimmed glass helps to reduce the bitterness and make all that agave juice more palatable. And the same principle can be applied to a cup of coffee that's a bit more bitter than you'd like. Science!
- A little bit of fat (like milk or cream) can also help round out bitterness in coffee. So, if you're really not a fan of bitterness, you might want to try adding milk or cream to your coffee along with a pinch of salt.
- Be sure to use fine salt. Finely-ground salt dissolves more quickly and evenly than coarse salt.
- If you're worried about your coffee becoming too salty, don't be. The amount of salt you'll be adding is very small and will likely go unnoticed. Many people can't tell the difference when a pinch of salt is added to coffee, unless they are trying to detect saltiness.
So next time you find yourself experiencing the Bitter Brew Blues, don't reach for the sugar bowl—reach for the salt shaker instead. A little pinch is probably all you need.
Want More Coffee Content?