If you spend any amount of time looking for coffee to buy, whether it’s online or through your local specialty coffee roaster, you’ll undoubtedly hear or see words like bright, sparkling, or vibrant. These descriptors, all usually considered good things, are used to describe a coffee’s acidity. But for people with sensitive stomachs, having a coffee build around its wonderful acidity sounds more like a nightmare than a dream. Luckily for those people, there is low acid coffee— coffees with low levels of acidity.
What Is Low Acid Coffee
When coffee is roasted, the beans undergo hundreds of different chemical changes. Sugars, along with acids, are a few of the many things that develop as the coffee beans absorb heat from the roasting machine. The level of acidity in any particular coffee varies based on multiple different factors. The roast level, growth altitude, climate, bean variety, and the way the coffee was processed after being picked from the tree all affect a coffee’s acidity.
The acidity of any kind, whether it be the juice from a lemon, a glass of Coca-Cola, or a cup of coffee, is measured on the ph scale. This scale goes from 0-14— and the lower the number of any given liquid, the more acidic it is. Lemon juice, for example, has a ph level of 2, meaning that it is super acidic.
On the other end of the scale, we have bleach, which is near the opposite of lemon juice and is extremely alkaline with a ph level of 12.6. Sat nicely in the middle, with a Ph of 7, is distilled water. An average cup of coffee sits at about a 5 on the ph scale, making it more acidic than regular water, but less acidic than tomato or orange juice.
Low acid coffee refers to coffee that has, either naturally or by alternate means, a lower level of acidity, and therefore a higher number on the ph scale.
Benefits of Drinking Low Acid Coffee
Many coffee drinkers love acidity. Acidity in coffee is so important, in fact, that many coffee roasters even choose their beans and roast their coffee with bright, sparkling acidity as one of the main goals of the roast. But for those of us with a sensitive stomach, or prone to acid-reflux, that beautiful acidity is a temptation that needs to be resisted at all costs!
So what are the benefits of low acid coffee?
Gentle on Sensitive Stomachs
While there isn’t a whole lot of scientific evidence, nor are there many reliable peer-reviewed studies done on the topic, many people do believe that regular coffee with a ph level of 5 can make it hard for sensitive stomachs to return their acid levels back to normal. It is said that low acid coffee can help those who suffer from heartburn or acid reflux.
Some people who don’t suffer from either of these health issues may also find some coffees are just a little too acidic for their tastes in the morning. This can be especially true on an empty stomach, first thing in the morning. If you feel like this is you, try loading some low acid coffee into your morning V60 or Barisieur automatic coffee maker and alarm clock! It might just be the coffee you’ve been looking for.
Better for Your Smile
Over time, the acid in coffee can wear down the protective enamel that coats our teeth. Low acid coffee can help slow this wear by having lower levels of acid coming into contact with our teeth on the daily. Unfortunately, though, lower acid coffee won’t help keep our teeth pearlie white! Note that the rate that coffee wears your teeth is far less than that of soda or fruit juice.
How Does Low Acid Coffee Work
So before we get into how low acid coffee works, let’s take a quick look at the stomach, and how it works.
The stomach uses acid to help digest the food that we eat. This acid, called stomach acid, is produced by two different things— cells that line the stomach, known as parietal cells, and gastric glands that are in the stomach. These acids, along with other enzymes the digestive system produces, help break down food, sending it on its way through the rest of the system.
When certain foods or drinks are consumed, typically those with higher levels of acidity, the stomach acids can get a little out of whack, causing discomfort or even acid reflux.
Low acid coffee works by reducing the amount of acid that you are actively putting in your stomach.
Pros and Cons of Low Acid Coffee
- Good for people with sensitive stomachs.
- Can help those who suffer from acid reflux.
- It is possible to find a tasty, naturally low acid coffee.
- Better for your teeth.
- Due to the way it is processed, It’s a lot harder to find a super delicious, low acid coffee that has been treated.
- Some naturally low acid coffees lack sweetness and complexity due to the conditions at which they are grown.
Types of Low Acid Coffees
There are generally two types of low acid coffees, and if you’re purchasing your coffee on Amazon, you’re bound to come across both of these terms; treated and naturally low acid coffee.
Treated low acid coffee refers to coffee that has been roasted in a certain way to remove much of the acid content of the coffee. This is often done by roasting the coffee at a low temperature for a very long time, or with the use of steam or water.
This process can reduce the acidity of a coffee by up around one number on the ph scale, meaning that a treated low acid coffee may fall on the scale at around a Ph level of 6, one level below being ph neutral. The downside to this process is that long roast times, or using things like water and steam, can really affect the flavor of the coffee, with many treated coffees often tasting flat and bland.
Naturally Low in Acid
Naturally, low acid coffee refers to coffee that just happens to be naturally low in acid. Many of these naturally low acid coffees are grown at lower altitudes, and in warmer climates— often in origins such as Sumatra and Brazil.
The lower acidity level found in these coffees is thanks to the speed at which the coffee grows under these conditions— much, much faster than coffee that is grown higher and at cooler temps. The upside to coffee that is naturally low in acid is that it can be very well roasted, with very few negative flavor defects due to the roasting process.
The downside is that when coffee is grown at lower altitudes, and in warmer climates, not only is there little time for the coffee to develop acidity, there is also little time for it to develop sweetness, too. This can leave the coffee lacking in sweetness.
How to Choose the Best Low Acid Coffee
Choosing the best low acid coffee can be a little trickier than choosing the best K-cups full of regular coffee, or the best coffee pod holder that stores K-cups, pods and capsules. Because it’s hard to tell what the coffee within the bag will be like before tasting it, we need to look at a few different things that can act as clues, in order to decide if this is the coffee for us, or not.
Country of Origin
Where the coffee was grown can offer up a big clue as to what we might expect from the coffee within the bag. This is because the origin of coffee beans can dictate the taste and flavor profile of any given coffee. Things like the soil, climate, and the altitude of the origin can heavily influence a coffee’s flavor, and therefore it’s acidity.
Sumatra in Indonesia, as well as many parts of Brazil, offer up some tasty coffees that are high quality and low on the acidity level.
After coffee cherries have been plucked from the tree, they need to be processed. Processing is the way the skin is or is not (in the case of naturally processed coffee) removed from the coffee seed within. There are three main processing methods, each tasting vastly different from one another. The three methods are washed, natural, and honey.
Washed coffees use water to completely remove everything— the fruit, the sticky sweet mucilage, everything— from the coffee seed. The seeds are then dried, before being roasted. Washed coffees, in general, have a clean taste. The flavors and acidity of a washed coffee rely entirely on the coffee seed itself, rather than its fruit. If you are looking for a low acid coffee, washed coffee is the way to go.
Naturally processed coffee refers to coffee seeds that have been dried with their fruit still attached. Leaving the fruit attached while drying allows the sweet fruit, and the sticky mucilage within, to impart some of their flavors on the coffee seed.
This process creates a certain amount of fermentation and results in a coffee with higher sugar content. This high sugar content will often lead people to the assumption that naturally processed coffees have lower levels of acidity. This is more likely a perceived difference— a result of having the sugar and the acid more evenly balanced.
Falling somewhere in between the washed and natural processing methods, we have the honey processing method. Honey processing is where the fruit is removed from the seed, leaving the sticky, honey-like mucilage still attached. This ‘honey’ imparts a certain sweetness on the seed.
There are varying levels of honey processing, which refer to the amount of ‘honey’ left on the seed while drying. The black honey process means that most, if not all, of the mucilage, is left intact, meaning that it is closest, flavor-wise, to a naturally processed coffee.
The altitude at which coffee was grown will probably have one of the biggest effects on the acidity of any particular coffee. Lower altitudes mean a few things for a coffee plant. First, there is more available oxygen, as opposed to higher altitudes, where oxygen levels are lower. Second, lower altitudes mean higher temperatures.
Both of these factors mean that coffee will grow and develop much faster than they would if they were growing at a higher altitude. A coffee plant growing at 800masl (meters above sea level) will grow far faster than one growing at 2000masl.
When a coffee cherry grows slowly, it develops, among other things, higher levels of sugar and acid. Whereas when a coffee cherry grows quickly, the fruit develops far less of these.
If you’ve tasted a lightly roasted coffee lately, you will have no doubt noticed that lighter roasted coffees are far brighter and more acidic than their darker roasted counterparts. If you do have a stomach that is sensitive to acidity, it is probably best to avoid lighter roasted coffee.
Dark roasted coffees, like Death Wish coffee, for example, have a lower level of acidity. This is not only because their blend is comprised of coffees grown at lower altitudes, but because they are roasted very darkly, too. If your idea of a perfect coffee is low acidity with loads of caffeine, Death Wish might be the coffee for you— Death Wish is one of the strongest coffee choices you’re likely to find.
Opposed to popular belief, super fresh coffee isn’t always the best. Roasted coffee goes through a phase of degassing, which lasts for about a week post-roast. During this phase, C02 is rapidly releasing from the roasted coffee. Brewing during this degas phase can result in an uneven, and not well-extracted coffee.
While it does vary from coffee to coffee, most are at their tastiest around the 2 weeks post-roast mark. Coffee can still be super tasty after one month, but after 2 months, many coffees see a decline in their aroma and vibrancy— which may be a good thing if you’re trying to avoid those kinds of flavors! This loss of acidity and aroma will probably be less noticeable if you are planning to make a creamy and smooth cafe latte at home.
Coffee can’t stay fresh forever, so always keep the coffee bag sealed, or pick up an airtight container for your coffee.
Most coffee roasters roast their coffee with a particular brew method in mind. The difference between a coffee roasted for espresso, and one roasted for filter coffee, will generally be the color of the roast. Espresso coffees are usually darker, and therefore for longer, than filter coffees.
If you’re looking for the brew method that will produce the lowest acidity cup of coffee possible, go for a medium roasted coffee, and use it to whip up a batch of cold brew. Using the world’s best organic coffee and steeping it in 16 hours using water extracts many of the delicious flavors from the coffee, with very little acidity.
Too, if you’re familiar with it, a cup of bulletproof coffee will be very low acidity thanks to the butter, MCT oil, and a coffee that is roasted a little darker.
How to Make Low Acid Coffee
The best method for brewing low acid coffee would have to be a cold brew. Cold brew is the process of brewing coffee using cold water, rather than hot. But why is cold brew coffee less acidic? Because cold water, to be honest, isn’t great at dissolving things. Hot water easily dissolves flavors and acids in ground coffee, and does so very quickly— but this is certainly not the case with cold water.
Cold-brew actually doesn’t need to be consumed cold, as its name implies. One can simply add boiling water to a couple of shots of cold brew concentrate and voila…a nice low acid cup of hot coffee!
Aside from the low acidity aspect, cold brew has a few other benefits going for it.
- It is super easy to make— simply grind up some coffee, add some water and let it steep. So easy!
- It requires no special equipment in order to make a batch. You don’t even need a grinder— you could use pre-ground or even use a mortar and pestle to grind your coffee!
Having said that, there are ready-made cold brew kits, like those from Toddy, that make life cold brewing quite a bit easier. These are certainly not essential, but after a few batches of DIY’ing it, you may want to consider the investment.
So let’s get to it— how to make a low acid batch of cold brew!
For this recipe, we’re going to make a batch of cold brew concentrate. For this, we use a higher concentration of coffee to water and end up with a strong brew that is generally diluted with water or milk. You can make a big batch each week and make each cup of coffee as strong or as weak as you like.
- 200g coffee (preferably a Brazillian coffee grown at a low altitude)
- Clean water
- 2 X 1.5 liter containers or jugs (one for brewing, one for collecting the brewed coffee)
- Filter (a V60, mesh filter, French press or even a clean cloth will work for this)
- Grinder (optional)
- Scale (optional)
Step 1 — Grind the coffee
Start off by grinding your coffee. If you are using pre-ground coffee, you can, of course, skip this step. Go for a grind that is on the courser end of the scale, courser than the texture of raw sugar. One of the great things about cold brew is that the grind size doesn’t matter too much. Just don’t go too fine as this may end up clogging your filter.
Step 2 — Add the water
Transfer the coffee to the brewing jug or container. Again, the kind of container you use doesn’t matter all that much, just make sure it can fit in 1200m of water, plus the coffee. Once the coffee is in the jug, pour 1200ml of water over the coffee. Make sure you hit all the coffee.
Step 3 — Cover and steep
Now we play the waiting game! Cover your cold brew mix and either store it in the fridge or on the kitchen counter (out of direct sunlight and away from extreme heat) for 16 hours. Like everything else cold brew related, 16 hours isn’t the hard and fast rule— 14 hours is fine, as is 18.
Step 4 — Strain
All we need to do now is separate the ground coffee from our glorious coffee liquid. There are a few different ways of doing this— you could use a French press, you could use a clean cloth and simply pour the mixture through it— but for this example, we’ll use a V60.
Place a filter in the V60 and give it a rinse, then place the V60 onto the second container. Pour the cold brew mixture through the V60. This may take a few minutes, but by filtering the cold brew with a paper filter, we are ensuring that no coffee solids get though into the cup— meaning that we’re going to end up with a super clean, light coffee concentrate.
Step 5 — Drink
Enjoy your delicious cold brew! This concentrate, as it is quite strong, can be cut 50/50 with water, milk or even soda (probably not soda though, if you’re avoiding acidity!).
Does More Spending Mean More Quality
With coffee in general, the more you spend does often equate to a higher quality coffee. This, of course, isn’t always the case— there are certainly poor quality coffees that are expensive, but it is unlikely that an excellent quality coffee will be cheap.
In reality, when you consider how much work goes into producing a bag of coffee— the planting and handpicking, sorting by hand, washing, drying, packaging, shipping from exotic origins, and finally roasting— even the more expensive coffee around are extremely well priced.
Do’s and Don’ts With Low Acid Coffee
- Do look for naturally low acid coffees. Pay attention to the elevation at which the coffee was grown. This will offer a big clue as to the coffee’s acidity.
- Do try brewing your favorite non-low acid coffee as a cold brew. The process of brewing it using cold water may reduce the acidity enough that you can still enjoy your favorite coffee.
- Do keep an eye out for coffees from Brazil and Indonesia— these coffees are often lower on the acidity levels.
- Don’t hesitate to try your cold brew with vegan milk or coffee creamer. Vegan coffee creamer is a healthy alternative and can help buffer the acid in coffee.
- Don’t drink light roasted coffees. Delicious as they may be, light roasted coffees are often known for their sparkling, bright acidity.
FAQ About Low Acid Coffee
Which coffee is the least acidic?
While there are many coffee companies that reduce the levels of acidity in a coffee by using water, steam or a long, slow roast time, these all affect the flavor of the coffee negatively. Coffee grown at lower altitudes will be less acidic, without comprising on flavor too much. Try a coffee from Brazil, or Sumatra.
How do you make coffee less acidic?
Cold-brew it! Cold water doesn’t extract acidity from coffee in the same way that hot water does. So a batch of cold brew coffee, regardless of the coffee in question, will result in a less acidic coffee in the cup.
Does adding salt to coffee reduce acidity?
Short answer, no. But…Salt does help reduce the perceived bitterness of coffee. So if you choose a super dark roast hoping that it will be less acidic, but you find it too bitter— try adding a pinch of salt and see if that cuts the bitterness.
Which coffee is best for acid reflux?
If you suffer from acid reflux, your best bet is to drink black coffee using a low acid coffee. Though it does seem like dairy milk might neutralize stomach acid, it does actually increase its production, so should be avoided if you are having reflux issues.
Is espresso less acidic than filter coffee?
Because espresso roasts are typically darker than filter coffee roasts, and because acidity decreases, the longer a coffee is roasted, espresso will be less acidic than filter coffee.
How is low-acid coffee produced?
Low acid coffee can be produced either naturally, by means of altitude and climate, or treated using steam, water, and long, slow roasting techniques.
Can you reduce the acidity levels of normal coffee?
For sure! Some say cold brew has up to 70% less acidity than filtered coffee. Whether this number is exact, or not, is unsure. But it is certainly grounds to give the cold brew a shot! Try the recipe above— simple and tasty!
Low acid coffee doesn’t need to be this bitter, burned, and roasted-to-death drink that we consume to get through the day! No, a low acid coffee can be just as tasty as a regular coffee. All you need to do is know what to look for in a coffee and how to brew it, and you’ll have delicious, low acid coffee that will keep your tummy feeling good and your taste buds dancing!
Photos from: svetlovskiy / depositphotos.com, AndreyPopov / depositphotos.com, plexus37 / depositphotos.com and kwanchaidp / depositphotos.com.