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What Is Low Acid Coffee?

Low acid coffee is coffee that is low in Chlorogenic acid and other organic compounds such as quinic, and citric acids. For more about Chlorogenic acids please see my post, "Linking-Low-Acid-Coffee-and-Chlorogenic-Acid." I will be touching on Chlorogenic acid a little more later in this article.

Unfortunately, for coffee lovers, coffee contains very high levels of these organic acid compounds. As a result, many drinkers experience gastroesophageal or gastrointestinal issues such as stomach aches, irritation, and pain, heartburn, acid reflux, irritable bowel syndrome (IBS) and other sensitivities.

Just like other acidic foods, coffee can affect stomach acid production and cause acid reflux and other maladies.




From the beginning, acidity in coffee.

A coffee bean is the seed of a coffee cherry, that seed acts as a store for the coffee plant. The coffee plant is among the most acidic in the plant kingdom.

Type and varietals of coffee.

Within the species or type of coffee, there exists many varietals that are grown throughout the world in various growing regions. Each type of coffee has its own unique characteristics such as resistance to disease and drought tolerance, in addition to caffeine levels, acidity and taste.

Types of coffees grown.

The two most popular types for commercial use are Robusta and Arabica. Robusta generally contains more chlorogenic acid and so is usually more acidic.

 Robusta: If you choose a Robusta coffee; it contains much higher levels of caffeine, proteins, and Chlorogenic Acid (CGA), which leads to a coffee with much higher caffeine, acid level, diminished flavor, and lacking in sweetness.

 Arabica: Compared to Robusta coffee, Arabica coffee, which has less CGA and therefore lower acidity, and more carbohydrates (sucrose), which leads to a better tasting, sweet cup with a relatively moderated acidity level.

Varietals with the types of coffee.

Varietals are simply the different variations of coffee within a species. Common coffee varietals are bourbon, catura, and typica to name a few.

What's in the coffee bean?

Inside the Arabica coffee seed (bean), is a host of constituent parts; carbohydrates, nitrogen compounds, lipids, trigonelline, and organic acids (malic acid, citric acid, quinic acid, phosphoric acid.

halved Arabica coffee bean inside cherry

These are the flavor precursors, this is what makes the coffee what it is. All of the complex flavors we experience in the cup. From nutty and chocolate to a better bitter aftertaste.

What is in the bean is what the coffee roaster has to work with. The flavor precursors are the totality of the coffee roaster's canvas. This is all he has and no more. Fortunately, there are nearly 1000 flavor compounds in coffee.

How acids get in the coffee.

The composition of coffee, of course, is a direct result of agricultural factors; cultivation, weather, high altitude, and harvesting methods. This is known as the coffee value chain.

Growing regions and acidity.

We often don't think coffee from any particular growing region is less acidic than the coffee produced from other regions. Several factors are involved in acidic conditions.

A few areas have reputations for greater and lower acidity. While a slight difference might exist in Arabica beans and coffee acidity by region, Indonesians coffees having a slight less acidic profile then central and south America coffees.

However, any advantage a Sumatra might have over a Mexico or Colombia is negligible in reducing overall acidity.

Arabica coffee beans patio drying at origin

Growing conditions.

Altitude and soil can impact the acid content for coffee plants. A higher altitude coffee can have higher acidic concentrations while a lower altitude coffee will not. Obviously, various soils can also impact the coffee.

Processing methods.

After picking, coffee can be processed in either the traditional European Preparation (EP) more commonly referred to as "washed" or can be processed as a "natural". For the naturals, lingering sugars from coffee pulp fermenting slowly occurs during this method of processing, which can lead to a sweeter, but fruitier cup. This process can slightly degrade the organic acid compounds.

While none of these process methods for any varietal or its growing region, will have a major impact on acidity, these are issues that you may wish to keep in mind with all the various marketing and claims being made by various coffee brands. In most cases, it's much to do about nothing. The true result begins and ends with coffee roasting.

Constructing the roasting profile.

The coffee roasters world revolves around the roast profile. This is the course charted by the roaster for each batch roasted. Accounting for origin, altitude, weight, among other factors, the roaster constructs his profile with a very specific heat and time in mind.

Roasting coffee is time, temperature, and airflow. For low acid coffee specifically, heat and duration are the key factors.

Roasting low acid coffee beans.

As part of the roasting process, with the application of heat, a coffee's exterior shell becomes darker, and internally within the bean, the heat breaks down its various flavor precursors including the organic acid compounds, and most importantly CGA. The development of flavor precursors and the degree of CGA degradation is dependent on roast level for the profile.

The profile will consider whether it is a coffee blend (more than coffee origin) or single origin (only from one country). Roast profile will attempt to optimize the profile to enhance flavor notes, which will vary by each single origin.

The degree of roast is considered as well; from a light roast to medium dark roast, to very dark roasts. In many instances, a low acid blend can be an ideal low acid coffee, because the roaster will use different origins to draw coffees notes from in the blend.

Developing the flavor and destroying the acids.

As the coffee beans are roasted, temperature begins to transform the coffee from a green seed of little use to anyone, to its ultimate end as a highly desirable brown coffee bean ready to brew.

This heat over time removes moisture from the coffee bean and starts a process called the Maillard reaction and Stricker degradation (don't worry there won't be a test).

Simply point, this roasting of the coffee beans initiates a series of chemical reactions degrading and forming various components such as Monosaccharides; fructose, glucose, galactose, and oligosaccharides sucrose and raffinose and Polysaccharides.

Obviously, the cellular structure of the bean is affected, the color changes, but most important to our purpose here, the Chlorogenic acids and one in particular CGA 5 is diminished. To what degree is dependent on the temperature and time.

Not only does this explain why slow roasted coffee is very low in acid levels, it also explains why all other coffees are high in acid levels. Those roasts never achieve the temperature or the duration to significantly impact the levels of CGA 5, or other organic acid compounds.

This is low acid coffee in a nutshell.

So How Do You  Know If A Coffee Is Low Acid?

So you have found a regular coffee company that makes low acid coffees, how do you know if the coffee is all it's cracked up to be? There are a few items you need to know about.

  1. There are no universal standards. Anything can be called a low acid coffee. It should come as no surprise then, there are high acid coffees beans being sold as low acid coffee beans. Be careful.

  2. Roasters are not very transparent. They say it's low acid coffee, but very seldom do they document it. Get the verification.

  3. All the marketing noise; fancy ads, quotes from doctors, whatever they can parade in front of you, when the simple fact is they seldom support their claims. But don't worry, there is a solution; it's easy and it works on all coffees.

pH scale showing regular coffees score

How to choose a coffee low in acid?

A great way to determine if a coffee has low acidity is by the pH score. If you remember from school, the pH level measures whether a liquid is basic or acidic. Coffee is on the acidic side of the scale and is inherently very acidic.

However, any true low acid coffee brands should have much less acidity. Properly roasted, in some cases removing over 90% of acidity and score with pH exceeding 6.

This not only applies to regular coffee, the same pH scoring works for decaf coffee as well. The chemical free water process decaf coffee on the market today really makes a superb coffee. Plus they can be made with organic coffee.

If you want to know more about the chemical free decaf water based processing method, you can read my articleWater Process Decafs Swiss Water or Mountains Water. Which is better?

What is a good pH score for a low acid coffee?

I would not consider any coffee that does not have a pH score of 5.5 or greater to be low acid. On the acidic side of the scale where coffee resides, the higher pH score the less acid.  For more about pH see my post measuring low acid coffee.

The coffee's pH level must be above 5.5 pH. This is the minimum score.

Chart Showing different pH scores for coffees

Here are 4 reasons why a low acid coffees must score with a pH 5.5 or higher.

  1. Roasting Methodology

  2. Food Science Journals

  3. Laboratory Analysis Tests

  4. Customer Feedback

Roasting Methodology:

I am not some blogger living in my parents basement trying to earn an affiliate commission from Amazon, trying to get you to buy from a list of supposed low acid coffees, having never roasted a pound of coffee in my life and everything I know I gleaned from someone else's coffee blog. Be cautious of the blog posts that list a bunch of coffee and give you a link to Amazon to buy or check price.

I have been in the coffee industry for over 20 years, from serving drinks to roasting coffee. During those years, I have served tens of thousands of cups of coffee and have roasted tens of thousands of pounds of coffee. I have also tried lots of coffees from small roasters to the big roaster chains from all over the world. I know the coffee industry and I know coffee drinkers by the thousands.

Do not fall for its "the most low acid coffee claims" because its a "medium dark roast coffee". Whatever that means. Or "acid free coffee." Acid free coffee does not exist. They forgot to tell you they use high pH water. In short, they doctor the water.

Low acid coffee doesn't happen on its own. There are no special green beans grown somewhere, or some magical post harvest processing.

Roasting has the largest impact on a coffees acidity profile. Nothing else even comes close.

If you want a truly less acidic coffee, it must be slow roasted. Plus, you will get the benefit of the rich and smooth coffee taste. Note, few low acid coffee brands are slow roasted.

Food Science Journals:

I have read my share of scientific journals on organic acid and chemical reactions in the bean during the roast. The scientific journals confirm what I have actually experienced as a roaster. 

Nearly all modern roast profiles, either never achieve the roast temperatures or do not maintain the duration of roast to significantly and positively impact organic acid levels of compounds in coffee. I wrote about this in my article the science behind slow roasting low acid coffee. 

When we place Mavericks slow roast profile side by side with the scientific journals, our roast profiles achieves and exceeds the roast temperatures and maintains and exceeds the roast duration that the scientific journals place as benchmarks for significant acid reduction.  This is a verifiable scientific fact.

If you slow roast your coffee, it will be very, very low in acid. The sciences say it, and as we will see, the laboratory confirms it.

Food Laboratory Results:

I have tested coffees beans from some of the most popular national coffee chains in the United States and from all the known low acid coffee companies see my post Low Acid Coffee Brands Ultimate Guide.

The beauty of the independent lab analysis is that it objectively verifies my experience, the experience of our customers, and the findings of the scientific journal. Plus, the laboratory wraps the whole thing up in a nice package and puts a bow on it for you.

The pH score is a quick, simple, and easy way to determine which low acid coffees to choose from. Look for the pH score and make certain a 3rd party lab verifies it. This is a great way to find the best low acid coffee among any of the low acid coffee brands.

Analytical Report for Mavericks Midnight Ride Low Acid Coffee Blend

Customer Experience:

Understand customer reviews. I have received a lot of feedback of peoples experience with national coffee brands, regional roasters, and other purveyors of coffee all over the world. People's opinions and experiences matter regarding coffee consumption.

This is why I have all our customer reviews third party verified. A separate company collects the reviews and publishes them. You should be looking for verified customer reviews. Not just a few quotes on a website. I keep a tab full of them, this allows people to sort through and find reviews from people that have similar issues with a sensitive stomach or acid reflux.  

The reviews section can be found by selecting the little blue tab on the left side of each page that says "Reviews". You can also find the reviews by clicking on the 5 star badge at the bottom of each page.

Tip on Caffeine

Caffeine can also be an irritant to people as well. Some people need to eliminate caffeine also, and select a water based low acid decaffeinated coffee.

Low Acid Coffee Beans Labeling Designations:

For our website, I have developed a series of badges to indicate the level of reduction in Chlorogenic acid in our coffees compared to the national coffee chains.  Since most people have experience with these national coffee brands, we found it to be the most helpful to establish a standard to measure against.

We express the reduction in acid as a percentage, since most people are unfamiliar with the pH scale.  The analytical reports documenting the pH levels for our low acid arabica beans can be found on our certifications page.

Here are the low acid designations / badges that you will find associated with our coffees:

Coffee Acid Reduction Badge

  •       70% Significant Acid Reduction / Light Roasted Coffee

  •       80% Major Acid Reduction / Medium Roast Coffee

  •       90% Ultimate Acid Reduction / Dark Roast Coffee

You can also find our organic certification there as well  analytics and certifications page.

FAQ

What coffee is naturally low acid?

There are no naturally low acid beans. All beans are inherently acidic regardless of varietal or type; Robusta beans or arabica beans. Arabica is the least acidic coffee of the two coffee plants, but both still have a high acid content.

Ways of minimizing coffee's acidity.

The color of coffee is not always a good indication whether a coffee has low acidity. While generally the rule may hold, but with slow roasted coffees, a light roast will have significantly less acid then nearly all other dark roasts.

Arabica beans do contain fewer CGA other organic acid compounds than Robusta beans. Start your selection with 100% Arabica coffee beans, that were with roasted whole beans on a low-elevation.

Can the brewing method affect acidity in coffee?

Yes, how you brew coffee can moderately affect its acidity. This is a popular feature of cold brew and a reason cold brew coffee has become a popular trend.

However, it is not a substitute for slow roasting, plus cold brewing takes time. If you have a condition like acid reflux, it probably won't be enough of an impact.

The roasting process and reduced acid coffee.

Arabica coffee can be processed in a number of ways from lighter roasts, to a medium roast and dark roasts. Since most companies are not truly low acid coffee roasters, most offerings are marketed as a low acid blend because they are simply darker roasts.

But don't be fooled, Mavericks slow roasted light roasts are considerably less acidic then the vast majority of dark roasted coffees sold as low acid coffee. This is a big deal for many people that do not prefer that dark roast flavor profile.

The same goes for a low acid coffee medium roast. You can enjoy both single origins or low acid coffee blends each with good flavor notes, and rich flavor even in a lighter roast.

In case your wondering, whether a coffee is whole bean coffee or ground coffee, that will not affect the pH score. For those that are not sure if they would prefer low acid coffee, you will not miss the acidic taste.

Which coffee is least acidic?

Mavericks Dark French Blend has 6.39 pH score. The best low acid coffee of any I have seen documented and verified by an independent 3rd party lab in the United States. View lab analytical report. A good choice for those with acid reflux.

What kind of coffee is easiest on your stomach?

Coffees that are slow roasted are easiest on your stomach and have low acidity. Slow roasting coffee beans is the most effective means of reducing acid and requires no special treatments. Plus, it presents a smooth pleasant cup that is easier on your stomach and your palate.

Is organic coffee less acidic?

No. Certified organic coffees do not have less acid than conventional coffee beans. All coffees regardless of farming practices are high in acid.

What is the best coffee for acid reflux?

If you are drinking coffee and have acid reflux, the best low acid coffee is a slow roasted coffee with a minimum pH score of 5.5 or greater. Closer to a pH score of 6 would be ideal. The higher the score the better.

You may also wish to try a water processed decaffeinated coffee. Caffeine can also have a negative impact on your gastroesophageal track, so a low acid decaf would be a great choice.

Hope you find this article helpful and practical in your search.

-Ryan