If you are an instant coffee lover but struggle with gastrointestinal issues, acid reflux, or simply dislike the taste of acidic coffees this guide is for you.
When you think of the word “acidity” or “acid,” the first thing that comes to mind is a sour taste. However, in coffee, acidity doesn’t necessarily refer to “sourness” or acid levels rather the flavor profile used to describe the taste of the coffee.
Acidity in coffee refers to the “brightness” of coffee. It is more of a tartness or tangy aftertaste that can be felt at the front of the mouth or tip of your tongue. It is usually a sharp, but pleasant aftertaste. The acidity in a cup of coffee or instant coffee helps to enhance other qualities of the coffee. Without acidity coffee can taste dull or lifeless. The acidity in coffee can also be an indicator of quality coffee or quality instant coffee. So coffee acidity taste is actually a good thing if it is present in certain amounts.
pH levels explained
Food scientists measure the acidity of food based on its pH value. The pH scale ranges from 0 to 14 with ph 7 being neutral. Any pH below 7 is in the acidic range, while those above pH 7 are considered to be in the basic range. The lower the pH level, the more acid the food. Generally speaking, acid foods are foods that have a natural pH level of 4.6 or below.
You can find different foods on the pH scale. For example, lemon juice and vinegar have a pH value of 2 (very acidic) while baking soda has a pH level of 9 (not acidic).
Are all coffees acidic?
Yes, in its raw form green coffee includes nine acids, which can be divided into two categories: organic acids and chlorogenic acids.
The organic acids included in coffee can be compared to some familiar flavors:
- Malic acid: green apples
- Citric acid: lemons and oranges
- Tartaric acid: grapes and bananas
- Acetic acid: vinegar
The chlorogenic acids are usually broken down during the roasting process and include quinic and caffeic acids. Quinic acids do not have a good taste and are responsible for the bitterness, astringency and sourness in some coffees.
Coffee often gets branded as an acidic drink, but in reality, coffee comes in at around four to five on the pH scale, which is less acidic than other drinks like beer, orange juice, and even soda.
Coffee acidity vs. acid
We now know that some acidity in coffee is actually a desirable quality. In fact, when professional coffee reviewers talk about “acidity,” they are referring to the presence of acids that influence the taste of the coffee. Coffee acidity doesn’t refer to the actual acid content (pH level), but the flavor notes.
What are the pH levels in instant coffee?
Just like with all other coffee types, the acidity and pH level of instant coffee will depend on several factors such as the processing method, origin’s climate and roasting times. Coffee that is grown at higher elevations and colder temperatures will ripen slower, which will develop more complex flavors. It will tend to be more acidic and aromatic than coffees that were grown in warmer climates.
The coffee roasting time will also affect the chemical balance of the beans and their flavors. While the pH levels of dark and light coffee roasts might be the same, very dark roasts and cheap coffee beans are also notorious for being overly acidic.
It is important to note that all coffees and instant coffees have some acidity, which can’t be removed; however, some brands neutralize the acid levels with added potassium. Adding potassium to instant coffee is as if you put an antacid tablet (over-the-counter medications that help neutralize stomach acid) in your cup of joe.
At Waka Coffee, we chose not to include any additives in our instant coffees so we don’t neutralize the natural acid levels of our coffees. Both our Indian instant coffee and Colombian instant coffee have pH levels of 4-5. Our decaffeinated Colombian instant coffee has pH levels of 4.5-4.5.
We consider our Indian Light Roast instant coffee as the lowest acidity tasting instant coffee (flavor vs. pH levels, remember?) in our collection; however, as different people have different tastebuds it will be up to you to determine that. Our Colombian instant coffee, on the other hand, has a well-balanced natural citrus acidity.
Are coffee acids bad for you?
Some people experience discomfort after drinking coffee, like acid reflux or a heartburn, which is often attributed to the acidity of the drink. The problem might be not the result of the coffee acidity, but because coffee causes your body to create acid. When you consume coffee, your body reacts by creating more gastric acid. This natural reaction is not harmful, but can be unhealthy for people with GERD (Gastroesophageal reflux disease).
Another cause that might cause stomach discomfort or heartburn is the caffeine in coffee. People sensitive to caffeine may experience a heartburn as caffeine can relax the muscles of the Esophagus, leading to acid reflux.
How to neutralize the acidity of your instant coffee
Some research suggests that mixing antacid mixture in your coffee could show a positive effect on the acid levels of coffee. Here are a few other options you can choose:
1. Add baking soda
Baking soda, or sodium bicarbonate, is a natural antacid. It can help neutralize some of the naturally occurring acid in your cup of coffee. As little as a 1/4 teaspoon of baking soda for a cup of coffee can smooth the flavor and make it easier to digest.
The downside is that when you add baking soda to water, it releases carbon dioxide, causing it to fizz. This fizz could increase the activity of the lower esophageal sphincter (the muscle that opens and closes between your esophagus and stomach), which will cause you to burp.
2. Drink instant coffee with almond milk
Unlike dairy milk and other nut and legume-based milk alternatives, almonds are alkaline (substances that fall between 7 and 14 on the pH scale) and can help neutralize the acidity level of your coffee. One cup of almond milk contains about 40 calories, which is half the amount of calories found in one cup of skim milk.
Dairy milk is an acid-forming food and while its pH level is below neutral at about 6.7 to 6.9, it still contains lactic acid that can increase heartburn symptoms.
3. Drink instant coffee made from Arabica beans
Arabica beans contain more organic acids compared to Robusta beans (the pleasant ones we have talked about before), which are significantly richer in caffeine and Cholorogenic acids. Twice the caffeine content of Arabica beans to be exact.
What caffeine has to do with preventing coffee heartburn? The extra caffeine in Robusta beans can make you more susceptible to acid reflux and heartburn. Should you drink decaf instant coffee then? Decaf coffee is still acidic in the same way as regular coffee, but the lower caffeine levels in decaf coffee may help coffee lovers with sensitive stomachs.
4. Add salt in your coffee
A study posted in Nature has shown that adding salt occasionally to your cup of coffee will enhance its overall taste. The study went further to include an interview with Alton Brown, a popular cookbooks author.
According to Alton Brown’s Coffee Owner’s Manual, adding a little pinch of salt to your cup of coffee will neutralize the bitterness of the coffee, giving it a more sweeter feel. The combination of both bitter substances (coffee and salt) negates both and enhances the overall flavor. When the bitterness level is neutralized, the acidity of the coffee is altered as well, eventually affecting the aroma and sensory experience.