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Which Coffee Has The Least Acid? Exploring The World Of Low Acid Coffee

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Which Coffee Has The Least Acid? Exploring The World Of Low Acid Coffee

Coffee lovers in America consume over 500 million cups daily, averaging just over three cups per person, with nearly 80% drinking two or more cups daily. Despite these statistics, the US ranks only 25th in worldwide coffee consumption, and only a small percentage is what is termed low acid coffee. What is meant by low acid, which is the least acid coffee, and what are its pros and cons? Let’s explore the world of low-acid coffee.

The least acid coffee is produced by cold brewing a ground coffee made from naturally low-acid beans. Roasting, grinding, and brewing also affect coffee’s acidity levels, with dark-roasted, cold-brewed coffee having up to 60% less acidity than light- or medium-roast hot-brewed coffee.

While almost everyone drinks coffee, this doesn’t imply that there’s general acceptance of its quality and taste. In fact, coffee is very much like wine in that there are connoisseurs of the many varietals, origins, and flavors associated with this addictive beverage. While frowned upon by some coffee lovers, low-acid coffee is becoming increasingly popular, so let’s explore it in more detail.

What Is Low Acid Coffee And Why Choose It?

low acid coffee

There is no specific acid level that defines a coffee as being low-acid. There is a considerable range covering the various coffee types; the bottom of that range is where we can apply the term.

What Is Low Acid Coffee? 

The term low acid applies to coffee with a pH of approximately 6. In contrast, normal coffee has a pH of around 4.85 to 5.10. With the neutral pH of 7 as a comparison, it’s clear that low-acid coffee has a significantly lower level of acid.   

Why Choose Low Acid Coffee?

For most coffee lovers, coffee with a pH of 5 is perfectly palatable and pleasant-tasting. In fact, Arabica coffee with a higher acid level has a smoother, sweeter taste than Robusta with its lower acid content. There are those, though, who may be prone to acid reflux or suffer from IBS, and for them, a low-acid alternative is a perfect way to enjoy those 2 or 3 daily cups of coffee.   

Understanding Coffee Acidity And Its Effects On The Body

Some clarification is needed on the acidity of coffee and its acid level or pH rating. Although there is a strong link, perceived acidity in coffee refers to the influence of the nine major acids found in the coffee bean on the quality and taste of the coffee. The measurable acid level or pH refers only to the amount of acid found in the coffee.

While there are over thirty acidic compounds present in coffee, the nine important acids include:

  • Chlorogenic acid, which reduces blood pressure and sugar levels in the blood
  • Quinic acid, formed by the breaking down of chlorogenic acid and also found in fruit, stimulates the body’s antioxidants
  • Citric acid, which gives coffee its “bright” flavor, reduces fatigue and aids the absorption of nutrients
  • Acetic acid, an excellent antioxidant, also aids in healthy blood pressure
  • Lactic acid is also an antioxidant that aids nutrient absorption.
  • Malic acid is found to help chronic fatigue syndrome and is used in combating fibromyalgia.
  • Phosphoric acid gives a sweet edge to coffee and supports bone and teeth health.
  • Linoleic acid, which boosts brain and cardiovascular health.
  • Palmitic acid increases HDL cholesterol and boosts energy levels.

All these acids, in addition to their health benefits, play their part in the complex taste associated with quality coffee and are the reason why acidity is such an essential factor.

Health Benefits Of Low Acid Coffee

Low-acid coffee is a product of the dark roasting of coarsely ground beans and ideally has a pH of around 6. The long roasting process breaks down many of the acids, thus reducing the level of acid in the coffee. By cold brewing this coffee, the level is reduced even further. The resultant health benefits include:

  • Fewer stimulants to the production of stomach acid mean reduced IBS symptoms.
  • Less bloating and reduced acid reflux.
  • Less impact (including discoloration) on teeth.
  • Higher antioxidant levels

These benefits are generally accepted by dieticians. Some of them, however, argue there is no real evidence to prove that low-acid coffee is really that different in terms of its specific health benefits and actually misses out on some of the positive effects provided by the acids in “normal” coffee.

The benefits are felt by those with stomach issues more than those with healthy gastrointestinal tracts. They also enjoy all the other health benefits of coffee – its positive impact on heart, kidney, and liver function, cholesterol, and diabetes control, among others.

Types Of Low Acid Coffee To Try

As I’ve mentioned, there are different ways of creating low-acid coffee, so let’s look at the options in more detail.

Natural Low Acid Coffee Varieties And Their Taste Profiles

low acid coffee

Choosing a low-acid bean is the first step in the process, and there are several interesting options:

  • Coffee from Indonesia, and specifically Sumatra, is one with one of the lowest acid content but retains a full-bodied, earthy taste
  • Brazilian coffee beans also are known to have a lower acid content. While not as flavorful, they still offer a rounded, somewhat sweet taste experience.
  • Most African coffees, and those from some Central American countries, particularly those grown at high altitudes, have high acidity and don’t fit the requirements for a low-acid coffee.

Other sources of low-acidity beans are:

  • Hawaii – medium-bodied with hints of vanilla, brown sugar
  • Jamaica – also medium-bodied, with a mellow tobacco undertone
  • Puerto Rico – low-acid with a nutty, sweet taste

Does Decaffeination Affects Coffee Acidity

Decaffeination of coffee, whether it’s by the Swiss Water method or by the use of organic solvents, will have an effect on the acidity level as the process breaks down some of the phenolic acid contained in the coffee.

However, if you’re suffering from acid reflux or find that drinking coffee upsets your stomach, decaffeinated coffee may be the solution, not so much because of the lower acidity but because the caffeine itself stimulates the production of acid in the stomach.

Blends And Roasting Techniques For Low Acid Coffee

Other ways of reducing the acidity of the coffee involve blending the coffee with other ingredients that dilute the acid content while enhancing the taste experience.

Blending Coffee And Chicory

A coffee/chicory blend enhances the flavor of a cup of coffee by adding a woody, nutty element, and it reduces the percentage of caffeine and acid in your cup. It’s perfectly safe in moderation, but too much chicory will cause stomach irritation and aggravate IBS.

Blending Coffee And Mushrooms

Blending medicinal mushrooms with your ground coffee is an excellent way to reduce the acid level in your coffee, and it adds a creamy nuttiness to the flavor. Mushrooms also offer some health benefits–depending on which mushroom you add, they will lower cholesterol and blood sugar, add antioxidants, improve gut flora, and reduce insulin resistance.

Slow Roasting To Create Low Acid Coffee

Slow roasting is the most effective way of reducing the acid level of coffee. It’s quite a complicated process, requiring careful control of the heat in the roaster, which is both conduction and convection heating. The timing is also crucial. The beans change during the process, and acids are broken down at different stages.

The end result of a slow roast is a coffee with, in a dark roast, up to 85% of the chlorogenic acid broken down (65% in a medium roast) but still with a smooth, rounded flavor in the coffee.

How To Choose The Best Low Acid Coffee

Let’s assume that you’re buying a low-acid coffee because it’s easy on your digestive system. It’s also a given that you want it to taste good, and some low-acid coffees have lost some of the flavors that a light roast coffee offers.

What To Consider When Shopping For Coffee

  1. Try choosing a lighter roast of a naturally low-acid bean. Although the overall acidity is lower, the dark roast has more quinic acid, which can give a bitter taste to the coffee.
  2. Choose a coffee bean grown on lower altitude plantations, as they contain lower levels of acid – single origin beans from Sumatra, Brazil, or Ethiopia, preferably organic, are a firm favorite as they combine Arabica flavor with a low acid level after brewing.
  3. Use freshly-roasted beans if possible, and also drink your coffee as soon as it’s brewed – coffee left standing has a build-up of quinic acid, which can give it a bitter taste.
  4. If you’re shopping for ground coffee instead of beans, go for the coarsely ground version. Finely ground coffee, with the increased surface area of the grains, tends to have a higher level of acids.

Tips For Brewing Low-Acid Coffee

Brewing is a critical element in achieving the best low-acid coffee, and several options exist.

  1. Cold brewing is precisely that – steeping ground coffee in cold water for approximately 12 hours produces a coffee concentrate with up to 67% less acid than hot brewed coffee. This process can be used using a fine muslin bag to hold the ground coffee, but alternatively, a French Press is as effective.

This concentrated coffee can be mixed 50/50 with hot water to make a smooth, well-rounded flavorful cup of coffee. The unused balance can be stored in the refrigerator for up to two weeks for later use.

  1. Espresso coffee using dark roast espresso beans and an espresso machine produces a cup of coffee very high in caffeine content, with a strong flavor and a real “kick,” but it’s very low in acid content because of the quick brewing process.
  2. Add crushed eggshells to your coffee – two eggshells, carefully cleaned of their contents, and added to your ground coffee before brewing will, being alkaline, neutralize the acids and remove the bitterness from the coffee.
  3. Keep the water temperature below 200 degrees while brewing – it will reduce the amount of acid extracted and prevent the coffee from having a bitter taste. If you’re doing a hot brew, the ideal temperature for dark roast coffee is around 195 to 200 degrees Fahrenheit.

Frequently Asked Questions About Low Acid Coffee

Can Low Acid Coffee Still Be Flavorful?

Most definitely! By reducing the acid level, what is lost is some of the“brightness,” the sharp, more acidic flavor, and some of the fruitiness. You will still find the earthiness, the smoothness, and plenty of flavor. Depending on the bean, this could range from a chocolate undertone to a treacle sugar or tobacco flavor (roasters can get very imaginative!) Some coffee connoisseurs may not approve, but the increased popularity of low-acid coffees is proof that it still satisfies the tastebuds.

Is Low-Acid Coffee Suitable For People With Acid Reflux?

There is a high level of chlorogenic acid in “normal” coffee, which gives it the sharp, bright taste that coffee lovers enjoy. However, it also gives people with acid reflux a great deal of discomfort as it stimulates the production of acid in the stomach. By reducing the acid level by all the means we’ve looked at, this problem can be largely overcome, and those who are susceptible to acid reflux can still enjoy a tasty cup of coffee.   

Can Low Acid Coffee Be Organic And Sustainable?

Organic coffee is grown naturally, without using artificial fertilizers, pesticides, and other chemicals. Because it’s much kinder to the environment, it’s even more sustainable than non-organic coffees, although it may be more expensive to produce because it’s more labor-intensive.

While organic coffee is not necessarily low acid, there’s no reason why any low-acid bean can’t be farmed organically. Low-acid organic coffee is certainly available from many leading coffee producers. 

Conclusion

Because the acid level is dependent on several factors, the coffee with the least acid will combine all of those factors into the final product – a naturally low-acid bean processed to a dark roast, ground coarsely, and then cold brewed.

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