What is Acidity in Coffee?
Acidity is often misunderstood. It is such a crucial component in many of the foods and beverages that we all enjoy - citric acid in oranges give us that satisfying tangy zing we love, the variety of acids in tomatoes are the base for a great salsa, and the malic acids in your favorite wines or beers keep our palates satisfied when we choose to imbibe on a night out. Some of these acids can even be found in your go-to morning beverage – coffee!
If you have ever ordered coffee from us you may notice that we have fun flavor notes like strawberry, grapefruit, or lime zest on our bag labels. Those flavor notes are dependent on the acids in the coffee we roast, and it is our job as roasters to determine what we highlight and what we mask.
At Clayton Coffee we often use the term ‘brightness’ to describe acidity because we feel like it is a term that more positively describes this often-controversial term. For us, brightness is something you observe on your palate. It this somewhat sparkly sensation on your tongue that, when balanced with sweetness, is something delightful and enjoyable. If your cup tastes sour, like you just bit into unripe fruit, then that means that either your coffee is underdeveloped or not roasted correctly. Either way, that’s not good acidity, that’s simply unenjoyable.
Roast Profiles & Regional Differences
Roast profiles matter. In lighter roasts we want to let all the natural flavors of that varietal shine. In darker roasts we want to caramelize sugars and create a smokier, heavier bodied cup.
Coffee acidity can differ by region based on the environment in which it is grown. We expect coffee from Brazil, Sumatra, India, to all have lower levels of acidity, while coffee from Kenya will have a more complexly acidic nature. Ultimately, environmental influences will impact the way coffee tastes, so by just understanding some general regional differences you’ll be able to navigate the coffee world a bit better.
A good example of perceived acidity or brightness is in some of our single origins. If you’ve ever tried our Honduras Los Amigos you may notice a pleasantly bright and lemony note that is balanced by a maple syrup sweetness. On a more intense level, you may taste a juicy-like acidity in our Kenya Baragwi Kariru AA, similar to that of grape juice. On the opposite end of the spectrum, our French Roast has a low acidity with flavor notes of tar and toast. Since we have roasted that blend past the point where the beans’ natural flavor notes can be observed, it is perfect coffee to pair with milk or cream.
Coffee consumption can be a journey – don’t be afraid to see what different varietals have to offer in terms of acidity. You may enjoy the low-acidity in most cold brew coffees and that’s totally fine. Or you may love the complexity and nuance offered by a lightly roasted single origin from Ethiopia that finishes with some bright floral notes. A darker roast with cream in the morning could be part of your daily ritual, and maybe in the afternoon or evening you want a lighter roast, something to fuel you through the rest of your day. Whatever way you choose to drink coffee should be an enjoyable experience. But don’t shy away from coffee acidity. It’s not bad thing, and frankly it’s often a flavor enhancer in your cup. Feel free to explore, because you never know where your coffee will take you.