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Is Coffee Acidic? What is the pH of Coffee? [Tips to Truly Low Acid Coffee]

Is Coffee Acidic? What is the pH of Coffee? [Tips to Truly Low Acid Coffee]

Jan 25, 2023


Ryan Beckley

Do you know what the pH of most coffees are today? How would you evaluate a coffee even if you knew the pH score? Avoid making you next cup of coffee a painful experience.

Most people have probably forgotten what they learned about pH in high school. Even if you do remember, you might be thinking to yourself, how does that relate to coffee.

Do not worry, pH as it relates to coffee is not a difficult to grasp.

In fact, it can be summed up in one single sentence. The higher the pH score of coffee, the less acidic the cup.

In this blog, I share with you what you need to know about coffee and pH so that next time you need a bag of coffee, you will have the tools to get the coffee that is right for you.

Please keep in mind, whether you have no current struggles with acidity, but are becoming concerned about what you are consuming as part of your daily diet, or you are suffering from IBS, IC, acid reflux or other gastrointestinal and gastroesophageal related issues, your understanding of coffee pH can nearly guarantee the coffee you select will be a good choice. Here is some information you might need.

  1. Coffee Beans and pH 101

  2. Introduction to coffee pH Levels

  3. What do you mean by coffee acidity?

  4. Why is Coffee's pH Level Important?

  5. How pH Levels Affect Coffee Flavor

  6. Measuring Coffee pH Levels

  7. The Ideal pH Level for Coffee

  8. Adjusting the pH Level of Coffee

Coffee Beans and pH 101

pH is a measure of the acidity or alkalinity of a liquid. Most coffee drinkers are unaware of the acidity levels of their coffee, until it becomes an issue. Is a lower score better or worse?

Acidity begins at origin in any one of the worlds 70 coffee growing countries. From Brazil to Vietnam, and from Colombia, to Indonesia, and Ethiopia to name a few. All coffees beans are high in acid. It is an inherent characteristic of the coffee plant.

Health Problems

It is important to know since high acid coffee can not only taste bitter but can also trigger medical symptoms. These are symptoms millions of Americans that suffer daily, many of which are undiagnosed.

Highly Acidic Coffee Beans

Nearly 1/2 of adults ages 18 and over drink coffee. According to the national coffee association, 7 in 10 Americans drink coffee every week; 62% drink coffee every day, with an average consumption of 3 cups per day.  Unfortunately, most people are completely unaware that over 99% of that coffee consumed in the United States is high in acid.

As coffee becomes more popular than ever, it's important to understand the science behind this beloved beverage. One key aspect of coffee is its pH level. ---and coffee's pH level can have an impact on both its flavor and your health.

1. Introduction to Coffee pH Levels

Measuring the acidity of coffee is measuring the concentration of acidity levels in a cup of coffee. This measurement is based upon a universal scale of acidity and alkalinity, known as the pH scale.

When it comes to coffee, pH is a measure of acidity. pH levels can range from 0 to 14, with 0 being the most acidic and 14 being the most alkaline. On the pH scale water is the neutral point with a pH of 7.

To understand the importance of coffee's pH level, it is first necessary to understand the pH scale and its logarithmic measurements.

coffee pH scaleUnderstanding the pH Scale.

The pH scale is a measure of the acidity or alkalinity of a liquid or aqueous solution. The pH scale is used to determine whether a substance is an acid or a base.

For example, coffee is typically around pH 4.7, while milk is around pH 6.7. Knowing the pH score of a substance can be helpful in many different contexts.

For instance, it can help you choose cleaning products that won't damage surfaces and select cosmetics that won't irritate your skin, and choose foods or beverages, that are gentle on your stomach.

Understanding pH can also be helpful when you're trying to troubleshoot problems like why your garden plants aren't doing well, or why your pool water isn't as blue as it should be. Ultimately, the pH scale is a simple but powerful tool that can be used to understand and manipulate the world around us. And it is no different than with coffee.

Understanding the pH scale Logarithmic measurements

The pH scale is logarithmic, meaning that each number on the scale is 10 times more acidic or alkaline than the number before it.

For example, think of those popular tin can national coffee brands, your parents or your grandparents drank. Those are not specialty-grade coffees and had a pH of 4.6.

Most national brands today use coffees that are specialty grade and have a pH of 5.0. Using the logarithmic scale that means, those tin can coffees of a bygone era had 40% more acid.

The acid in coffee is not just a matter of taste. It can also have a significant impact on your health. Here we will explore the various types of acids found in coffee and their effects.

What do you mean by coffee's acidity?

Coffee is one of the most popular beverages in the world, but also one of the most acidic too. First, let's look at these acids, then I will explain how to easily stay way from them.

Some people may suggest that you avoid coffee because of the acids, I say avoid the acids and enjoy the coffee.

Coffee contains a variety of acids that contribute to its unique flavor profile. These acids can be broadly divided into two categories: organic and inorganic and depending on the type of acid they can be volatile and nonvolatile. I wrote more about acid volatility in another post, suffice it to say here, volatile acids are easier to eliminate and the nonvolatile acids persist through most modern coffee roasting processes. That is nearly all coffees today yield a much more acidic cup as the volatile acids are not significantly degraded during the roasting process.

The most prevalent organic acids in coffee are acetic, caffeic, malic, chlorogenic, coumaric, ferulic, and lactic acids. The most common inorganic acids are phosphoric acid and sulfuric acid. The pH level of coffee is largely determined by the concentration of these acids are a few others I have not mention.

Organic acids have a more significant impact on pH than inorganic acids. At low concentrations, the organic acids tend to lower the pH level (more acidic), while at high concentrations they tend to raise it (less acidic). The inorganic acids have a more consistent impact on pH regardless of concentration. Again, this is where roasting the green coffee beans is key. In fact, this is where many companies now tout "No Acid Coffee" or "Acid Free Coffee". However, when you send them to an independent lab, you quickly find there is still a lot of acid left in the cup. There is no cheating the pH scale. The numbers do not lie.

For example, several of our Mavericks coffees have 40% to 60% less acidity, that the "No Acid Coffee" or other "Acid Free Coffee".

Let's look at two types of the many organic acids found in a coffee bean:

Chlorogenic acids

Chlorogenic acids are an organic acid found in coffee. However, Chlorogenic acids are the most abundant coffee acid at between 6.5% to 6.8% of the total weight of the coffee bean. Chlorogenic acid is one of the primary drivers of an acidic cup. The overall acidity of a cup of coffee will be correlated with the level of concentration of Chlorogenic acids, specifically Caffeoylquinic acid. Although that is not to downplay the effect of other acids.

Chlorogenic acid

Caffeoylquinic Acid

Caffeoylquinic acid is a form Chlorogenic acid is very difficult to eliminate from a coffee bean by conventional roasts. See my article on Is Coffee An Acid for more Caffeoylquinic acid and non volatile acids.

Now let's look at why these levels of concentration of coffee acids are so important.

Why is Coffee's pH Level Important?

You might be wondering why pH levels are so important. After all, you've been drinking coffee your whole life and you're fine, right? Wrong.

It's not just about getting your caffeine fix in the morning. Coffee pH levels can have a big impact on your health, and the taste and quality of your coffee. Unfortunately, most coffee roasters do not list their pH score. Here are 4 reasons why pH is important;

  1. Coffee pH levels can trigger existing medical conditions.

  2. Human Physiology Can Change Over Time

  3. Coffee pH levels can affect the quality and flavor of your coffee.

  4. Most coffee roasters do not list their pH score

Coffee pH levels can trigger existing medical conditions.

High acidity can trigger some pretty serious health problems for people with GERD, Irritable Bowel Syndrome (IBS), Interstitial Cystitis (IC), and Barret's syndrome. Many people without underlying medical conditions can still experience stomach acid problems, loose stools, and other mildly annoying side effects.

Human Physiology Can Change Over Time

You say you have no medical conditions right now. Well, for many people just wait to you get older. As people age, our bodies change and we become more susceptible to various medical issues some of which are exacerbated by acidic foods and beverages. Now is a great time to stop putting large quantities of these acids in your body when you do not have too.

Coffee pH levels can affect the flavor of your coffee.

The acidity of coffee can contribute to the overall flavor of the coffee. However, a coffee that is too acidic may taste sour or bitter. A halmark of acidic coffee is fruity notes and bright flavors. If you coffee has fruity flavor chances are it is highly acidic.

Most coffee roasters do not list their pH score.

The vast majority of coffee roasters do not list the pH level of their coffee. This makes it difficult for consumers to know how acidic a particular coffee is. It's your job to find out and keep looking if you verify the score.

How pH Levels Affect Coffee Flavor

Acidity is an important factor in both the cupping and roasting of coffee. For consumers, acidity is often related to the concentration of acids in the brewed coffee making it a more acidic cup.

For coffee professionals in the industry, acidity is one of several SCCA cupping attributes used to judge a coffee's quality. A higher acidity level will result in a brighter, more tangy cup of coffee, while a lower acidity level will produce a more mellow and smooth cup.

Acidic coffees are also often described as having citrusy or fruity flavors, while coffees with low acid content are often nuttier or chocolatey in taste.

Now let's look at measuring the pH level of coffee and make sense of the pH score.

5. Measuring Coffee pH Levels

ph scale with various foodsThe pH level of coffee can be measured in several ways from test strips, a pH meter, or a professional laboratory analytical analysis. Let's look at the different methods.

pH Meter

A common method is to use a pH meter, which is a device that measures the acidity or alkalinity of a solution. pH meters are generally accurate to within 0.1 to .2 pH units (10% to 20%) and are available for purchase at many scientific supply stores.

The number one problem with using pH testers is calibration and consistent scoring. Many pH meters require a control solution to be administered between tests. If a tester device has been set for a while, complete calibration is required. Accuracy is acceptable for a no-commercial test, but human error and accuracy are an issue.

pH TesterTest Strips

The most common method is to use pH test strips, which are paper strips that change color when they come into contact with a solution of a certain pH level. pH test strips are less accurate than pH meters, but they are much less expensive and can be purchased at many drugstores or online.

A positive for the test strips is no control solution or calibration is necessary. Simply dip the strips into a cup of coffee and compare the resulting color to the chart that came with the strips.

However, test strips are even less accurate than a pH meter and results can vary widely from one strip to another. Human error can play a bigger factor as well. For example, touching a test strip may affect the score. Human sweat has a pH of 6.3 and would certainly affect a test strip if touched.

pH test stripsLaboratory analysis.

The best method of getting the most accurate and consistent score is laboratory analysis. The lab is a controlled environment with trained lab technicians, using highly accurate equipment, with industry-standard testing methods.

If you are thinking that might be overdoing it, I consider it an absolute requirement from my perspective. Let's just remember, we are talking about your money and most importantly, your health.

lab pH testerFirst, as a consumer, you should not have to test anything. If the coffee company is selling low-acid coffee, they should have already tested it. second, those results should be done by a 3rd independent lab, guaranteeing the most accurate results, but also eliminating any possibility of fudging the numbers. Lastly, that roaster should be transparent with the numbers, if the 3rd party report is not posted, move on. It's your health!

6. The Ideal pH Level for Coffee

So what is the actual pH score of coffee? Let's take a look.

The pH score of "regular coffee"

A specialty grade brewed regular coffee from a national coffee chain will score in the range of 4.8 to 5.0 pH. This is a solid range with minor allowances for coffee bean origin, processing method, roast level, and brewing.

If you have an existing medical condition like acid reflux, IBS, IC, and Barrett's Syndrome, drinking these high acid coffees must be painful (in more ways than one). If you are young and drinking an acidic coffees daily, remember, you won't always be young. There is no need to subject your body to the extra acid, particularly when you can get lower acid coffee that tastes better and doesn't have the bitter aftertaste.

pH Lab Analytical Report

The pH score of " low acid coffee"

While there is no universal standard for what constitutes a truly low acid coffees, my recommendation is that you avoid all coffees with a pH of 5.4 or less. The minimum score for a low acid coffee is a pH level of 5.5 or above. That will have 70% less acid. That is the starting point. The higher the number the better.

Let's look at how we arrive at better scoring low acid coffees.

7. Adjusting the pH Level of Coffee

The acidity of a coffee bean is set from the begging. It's inherent to its nature. Coffee beans are naturally full of many organic and nonorganic acids some of which we mentioned early in section 2.

Minor effects on the pH of coffee

The soil, altitude, climate, varietal, and processing, while not irrelevant, are secondary and mostly tertiary to the impact that the roasting of the coffee beans has on its overall acidity. All of these various factors that are mentioned in article after article, are "all hat and no cattle".

Major effects on the pH of coffee

The slow roasting process is the most effective way to reduce the acidity of coffee naturally. There are no pre-treatments prior to the roasting process or specials processing methods at the country of origin that involves fermentation of the coffee beans. The fermentation practice protracts the processing of the coffee beans and may actually increase the likely of molds and Mycotoxins incidence. I am not saying it is a sure, I just raising the question.

When it comes to coffee, there are many different opinions on the best way to roast it. Some people prefer light roasts, while others prefer medium roasts, or even darker roasts. However, one thing that has been penned in black and white for decades in food science journals, and verified by independent laboratory analysis, is that slow roasting is the best way to reduce the acidity of coffee. You can read my article slow roasting low acid coffee for more information.

Slow-roasted coffee beans can score as high as pH 6.4. if not higher. Remember the logarithmic scale from section 1. Each number on the pH scale from .1 to .2 is 10 times. Consider a regular coffee with a pH of 4.8 compared to a pH of 6.3. The difference is 150% less acid.

Try a slow-roasted coffee low acid coffee

If you're looking for a low-acid coffee that doesn't taste bitter or burnt, try slow roasting your next batch of beans. Mavericks Coffee offers a wide variety of light to dark roast coffees, all with a pH level of 5.5 or above and as high as 6.39. With over 20 years of experience in low-acid coffee, Mavericks Coffee has the perfect roast for anyone looking for a delicious, low-acid cup of coffee.

Give me your email in the box below and I will send you a coupon for a discount on your first order.


Frequently Asked Questions

Does cold brew reduce acidity in coffee?

Cold brewing coffee is not an effective means to significantly lower acid levels in coffee. While the protracted means of extraction might have a very small effect, for most people with sensitivities to acid the reduction will not be significant enough.

What is the most effective way of reducing coffee acidity.

Reducing acidity in coffee is most effective done by slow roasting the coffee beans. The longer duration of roast and the finished temperatures significantly reduce acidity down to near trace levels.

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