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Coffee Chemistry: Unraveling the pH Mystery Of Coffee?

Updated: Sep 13, 2023

Coffee is the aromatic elixir that jumpstarts our mornings and accompanies us through the day. For countless people across the globe, it is more than just a beverage; it is an essential part of their daily routine, a comforting ritual that energizes both body and soul. But amidst the soothing warmth and bold flavors, have you ever wondered about the intriguing science behind coffee's acidity?


In this blog, we will explore the pH of coffee and investigate its acidic properties. We will reveal the secrets behind the tangy notes and shed light on questions like "What is the pH of coffee?" and "Is coffee an acid or a base?" So, if you are as curious as we are to understand the magic behind your favorite brew, join us as we discover the pH levels in coffee and how they shape the perfect morning brew. So, grab your mug, sip, and plunge into the captivating world of coffee acidity!

What are the pH Levels in Coffee?

Before we go into the specifics of pH level in coffee, let us understand the concept of pH.

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What is pH?

pH is a fundamental concept that helps us determine the acidity or basicity of a substance. In a range of 0 to 14, pH value 7 is considered neutral, representing substances that are neither acidic nor alkaline, like pure water. Substances with a pH value below 7 are considered acidic, while those above 7 are classified as alkaline or basic. Some substances may fall in the middle, being mildly acidic (pH 6) or very acidic (pH < 1), while others can be mildly alkaline (pH 8) or highly alkaline (pH > 14).

In the case of coffee, we will explore how the pH level of coffee contributes to its overall flavor and character in the following section.

What are the pH Levels in Coffee?

The pH levels in coffee can be influenced by various factors, such as the coffee's origin, variety, species, and the entire production process, from roasting to brewing. Coffee is a complex beverage containing various bioactive substances, including caffeine, acids, diterpenes (such as cafestol and kahweol), melanoidins, and trigonelline. With all these components at play, the pH of coffee grounds typically ranges from 4.85 to 5.10 (1), indicating a slightly acidic nature. The acid level of coffee can vary depending on the coffee consumed, and factors like roasting, grinding, and brewing methods can further influence coffee's pH value. Despite these variations, coffee's pH remains relatively acidic, contributing to its tangy and bright flavors that many of us love.

In the next sections, let us discover the pH of different types of coffee, such as black coffee, cold brew coffee, and decaf coffee.


What is the pH of Black Coffee?

The pH of black coffee ranges from 5.0 to 5.03, making it mildly acidic, even though the effect is not as strong as with carbonated beverages like soda. This places it closer to a neutral pH. The acidity in black coffee adds to its vibrant and full-flavored profile, which coffee enthusiasts appreciate. Black coffee falling within the typical range of 4.5 to 5.5 on the pH scale, offers a bright and tangy flavor often described as "lively" by those with a sophisticated palate. The mild coffee acid levels add a delightful dimension to the overall coffee experience, making it a beloved choice for many coffee lovers.

What is the pH of Cold Brew Coffee?

Cold brew coffee's pH value ranges from 4.85 to 5.13, lower than hot coffee's. What makes cold brew unique is its crude polysaccharides that may shield the stomach from acidity. It can be beneficial for individuals dealing with acid reflux or digestive issues. The absence of heat during the brewing process prevents the release of oils and acids from the coffee grounds, resulting in a smoother and more balanced taste and lower coffee acid levels. The extraction at a lower temperature means that the acids in cold brew coffee are not as well extracted as in hot brew, making it a milder option for those seeking a gentler coffee experience.

What is the pH of Decaf Coffee?

The pH of decaf coffee can vary significantly due to various factors involved in the extraction process. Elements such as the type of coffee beans, roast profile, brewing method, and coffee-to-water ratio all play a role in determining the final pH of coffee. However, decaf coffee typically falls within an acidic range on the pH scale, with values ranging from 4.85 to 5.13. An acidic pH is characterized by a pH level lower than 7, consistent with the slightly tangy and bright taste often associated with decaffeinated coffee. Despite the complexities involved, decaf coffee's acid level contributes to its unique flavor profile, ensuring that coffee lovers can still enjoy a delightful cup without the caffeine kick.

Let us now delve into the chemistry involved in the making of coffee and explore how it influences the acidity level.

The Chemistry of Coffee and Its Acidity

The chemistry behind coffee's acidity is a fascinating interplay of organic acids present in coffee beans, which undergo various chemical reactions during the roasting process, ultimately influencing the pH levels in coffee. These organic acids play a crucial role in shaping the unique flavors and characteristics that coffee enthusiasts adore.


Chlorogenic acid, one of the most abundant acids in coffee beans, contributes significantly to the overall acid level of coffee. Interestingly, it also imparts antioxidant properties that benefit our health.


Citric acid, naturally occurring in coffee, enhances the fruity and citrusy notes found in specific coffee varieties. It adds a delightful brightness and liveliness to the flavor profile, giving the coffee a refreshing and zesty quality.


Malic acid, commonly found in fruits, is another essential component contributing to coffee's acid level. It brings out tart and vibrant flavors, adding complexity and depth to the brew.

During the roasting process, quinic acid is formed, contributing to the bitterness and astringency of coffee. This acid plays a significant role in balancing the overall taste, preventing it from becoming overly acidic.


The intricate balance of these organic acids, along with other compounds and factors like coffee bean origin, variety, and processing methods, creates the diverse and delightful range of flavors that we experience in our daily cup of coffee.

Did you know that the pH of coffee can have implications on your health. Let us explore its effects in this section.

The pH of Coffee and Your Health

Despite its acidity, the pH of coffee has minimal impact on the body's overall pH balance once consumed. The body's complex metabolic processes effectively regulate the pH levels in the bloodstream, ensuring that coffee's acidity does not cause any significant disruption to the body's pH equilibrium.


At the same time, it is worth noting that some individuals may experience stomach discomfort, heartburn, or reflux after drinking coffee due to its acidity. While the acid level of coffee plays a minor role in these issues, the primary culprit is caffeine. Caffeine can stimulate increased stomach acid production and may lead to digestive discomfort, especially in sensitive stomachs.


Suppose you are sensitive to the pH level of coffee or caffeine. In that case, you may opt for low-acid coffee varieties, consume coffee with a meal to reduce its impact on the stomach, or consider adding non-dairy alternatives if lactose intolerance is a concern. Paying attention to your body and drinking coffee in moderation to enjoy it without digestive problems is essential. (Source)


Now, let us explore the impact of pH on the taste of coffee.


The Impact of pH on Coffee Taste

The taste of coffee is significantly influenced by its pH, though it is crucial to distinguish acidity from the pH level itself. Acidity in coffee refers to the lively, tangy, and sometimes fruity flavors that add complexity to the brew. Acidity contributes to a delightful and well-rounded coffee experience when balanced harmoniously with other flavor elements. The pH level of coffee, typically ranging from 4.5 to 5.5, influences the intensity of its acidity.


Understanding and appreciating the interplay between pH and acidity allows coffee fans to savor their favorite brews' diverse and vibrant taste profiles, making each cup a unique and enjoyable adventure for the taste buds.


Here are some of the most frequently asked questions from our customers.

Is coffee an acid or alkaline?

Coffee is slightly acidic, with a pH of 5.0 to 5.5. It means it is somewhat more acidic than water, with a pH of 7.0.

What pH is milk?

Milk has a pH of 6.7 to 7.1, which makes it slightly alkaline. It is because milk contains proteins and calcium, which are alkaline substances.

Does coffee acidify the body?

Some studies have shown that coffee can acidify the body, while others have shown that it does not affect the body's pH. More research is needed to determine the long-term effects of coffee on the body's pH.

Is decaffeinated coffee acidic?

Decaf coffee has a slightly lower pH than regular coffee, with a pH of 4.8 to 5.2. It is because decaffeination removes some of the acids from the coffee beans.


Here are the pH levels of different coffee drinks


Espresso: Espresso, the concentrated coffee shot, has a pH level slightly lower than regular brewed coffee, usually around 4.8.


Cappuccino: A cappuccino combines espresso, steamed milk, and milk foam. Its pH can vary, but it generally falls in the range of 6.0 to 6.4 due to the milk's neutralizing effect on the coffee's acidity.


Latte: A latte consists of espresso and more steamed milk, resulting in a pH level similar to cappuccino, typically ranging from 6.0 to 6.4.


Mocha: Mocha combines espresso, steamed milk, and chocolate syrup. The pH of a mocha can vary, but it's generally in the same range as lattes and cappuccinos, around 6.0 to 6.4.


Iced Coffee: Iced coffee is brewed coffee that has been cooled and served over ice. Its pH is similar to regular brewed coffee, ranging from 4.85 to 5.10.


Coffee with Creamer: The pH of coffee with creamer or milk added will be influenced by the pH of the milk or creamer used. Dairy milk is near neutral, so it will raise the pH of the coffee, generally to a level of around 6.0 to 6.4. Non-dairy milk alternatives like almond or soy milk can have varying pH levels, but they also tend to be slightly acidic.


Flavored Coffee: Coffee drinks with added flavorings like syrups or spices may have slightly altered pH levels depending on the specific ingredients used. However, they typically remain within the 4.85 to 6.4 range.


Americano: An Americano is made by diluting espresso with hot water. Its pH is similar to espresso, typically around 4.8.


Macchiato: A traditional macchiato consists of an espresso "stained" or "marked" with a small amount of milk or foam. Its pH is similar to espresso, around 4.8.


Flat White: A flat white is made with espresso and steamed milk, similar to a latte, but with a different milk-to-coffee ratio. Its pH is typically in the range of 6.0 to 6.4, identical to lattes and cappuccinos.


Doppio: A doppio is simply a double shot of espresso, so its pH is also around 4.8.


Cortado: A cortado consists of espresso "cut" with a small amount of warm milk. Its pH is similar to espresso, approximately 4.8.


Con Panna: Con Panna is espresso topped with a dollop of whipped cream. The pH remains close to that of espresso, around 4.8.


Affogato: An affogato is a dessert-like coffee drink made by pouring espresso over a scoop of ice cream or gelato. Its pH can vary depending on the ice cream used, but it generally remains close to that of espresso, around 4.8.


Irish Coffee: Irish coffee is made with hot coffee, Irish whiskey, and sugar and topped with whipped cream. The pH may vary based on the specific ingredients and proportions used, but it will likely be slightly more acidic than plain brewed coffee, possibly around 5.0.


Conclusion

Understanding the pH of coffee can enhance our admiration for this beloved drink. With its slightly acidic nature and intricate array of organic acids, coffee delivers millions worldwide a delightful and diverse taste experience. Whether you prefer a bright and tangy cup of black coffee or a smoother Arabica brew, the acidity in coffee is an integral part of what makes it so tempting.


When you next enjoy your favorite cup of coffee, take a moment to consider the complex chemistry and the fascinating world of acidity that is present in every cup of coffee. Remember, acidity is a critical component of coffee, but it is just one factor that makes coffee such a beloved beverage. So, go ahead and enjoy your next cup with a newfound appreciation for the pH levels in coffee!


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About The Author: Alvaro Rosales Merida


Alvaro Rosales Merida - Coffee Expert

From Law to Lattes, his childhood passion drove Alvaro, a former law student tethered to a desk for years, to embark on a journey of flavor and purpose. Hailing from Guatemala City, he traded the courtroom for a cozy corner by co-founding his Bistro Bar in 2013. Amidst the hustle of kitchen clinks and table talks, Alvaro's love affair with coffee deepened. He immersed himself in the world of beans, learning from baristas, friends, and local producers. In 2020, Alvaro brought a bakery to life in his hometown combining his two loves: coffee and community. A bold move to the dream city NYC in 2020 with his specialty coffee project, he champions the cause of transparency, fair trade, and support for his country's small coffee producers.

 

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