Why Is Coffee Bitter: Reasons & Solutions

why is coffee bitter
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Coffee has an innate bitter taste, and that’s something many coffee drinkers appreciate. But what if you want your coffee creamy and sweet? Is it even possible to get rid of these bitter undertones? While bitterness in coffee is a common trait, it’s certainly avoidable.

Today, we’ll share a quick guide on why is coffee bitter and a few easy hacks to fix it — if at all you want to fix it. Looking for a cup of freshly homemade sweet coffee? Read on.

Why Is Coffee Bitter?

flavored coffee

Before we get to the hacks for fixing the bitterness in your coffee, let’s first understand what causes it:

1. You Are Over Steeping Your Coffee

Steeping is a standard coffee-making method where you put the coffee grinds directly in the water instead of passing it through a filter first. This is a common mechanism used in equipment like the French Press or an AeroPress.

Now the problem with this method is that a lot of beginners don’t know how long the coffee should be steeped. If you leave it in the water too long, too much of the coffee flavor will be extracted, which will drastically increase the bitterness. On the other hand, if you don’t steep it long enough, the coffee will come out tasteless and weak.

The trick is to find the perfect brew time, which only comes with practice. If you would rather have weak coffee than bitterness, start with a shorter steeping period and slowly work your way up until you find the perfect steep duration.

2. You Are Using the Wrong Brewing & Grinding Method

Brewing the perfect cup of coffee involves a few more steps than what might appear at first glance. For starters, you need to know what kind of grinds you are using to find the perfect brewing method, which in turn will help you balance the bitterness.

Here is an example. If you are using coarse grinds, a simple French Press will do, but if you are using fine coffee grinds, you will need a Steam espresso machine or a coffee maker with cone-shaped filters. This is because fine coffee grinds, being smaller in size, impart more flavor and bitterness.

On the other hand, coarse grinds, with their large surface area, require more steeping and are known to produce sweeter, lighter coffees.

Understanding the requirements of your coffee grinds will help you pick the correct brewing method that extracts just the perfect amount of flavor.

3. Stale Coffee Beans

Sometimes, there’s no one to blame — neither your coffee-making skills nor the quality of your beans. Maybe you were simply too late to use the latter. It’s no secret that no matter where coffee beans come from, they don’t stay fresh forever. With time, the tantalizing flavors fade and are replaced by unflattering bitter tones.

No matter what roast you use, the peak flavors usually fade away within a few days. If you want the best flavors without bitterness, try using the grinds within a week or two.

4. Unstable Water Temperature

The perfect cup of coffee requires two main ingredients — ground coffee and water. But people often forget about the contribution of the latter in the taste of the final cup.

For starters, make sure whatever water you use does not have its own funky taste. Unfiltered water is a bad choice, as is distilled water that lacks essential mineral content. Regular filter or bottled spring water without any distinguishable taste is your best bet.

Also, the perfect coffee water temperature lies between 195 F and 205 F. Hot water indeed extracts more flavors, but it also makes your coffee bitter. Cold water, on the other hand, might not make your coffee bitter, but with restricted extraction, it will certainly make your coffee bland.

The trick is to never go extreme with the temperature. Stay within the above-mentioned range, and you will be good to go.

5. You Are Using the Wrong Roast

You think you are doing everything right, but the coffee is still bitter — maybe the problem lies in your coffee beans. The flavors your coffee beans can impart, including the bitterness, largely depend on its roast.

Yes, the roast does not just affect the color of your coffee but also its taste. By a general rule of thumb, dark-roasted coffee beans always taste bitter compared to medium roasts, whereas light-roasted beans are known for their light and sweet flavors.

When it comes to coffee, the only thing that matters is whether you like it or not. Whatever beans you like are the best in the world. Manufacturers usually label their beans to distinguish between different roast levels. If you come across fancy terms like French, Espresso, Viennese or Italian on the packet, run! They all refer to dark roasts.

6. The Problem Is in the Species

There are two major coffee species in the world — Robusta and Arabica. If you see that your coffee keeps tasting bitter no matter what you do, maybe you have picked a bag of Robusta beans, which are known for their extreme bitter taste (especially compared to Arabica) and high caffeine content.

Robusta beans grow faster and are pretty easy to harvest, considering their natural immunity against pests, which in turn, makes them cheaper. That’s why beginners are often drawn to them.

Arabica beans, on the other hand, are less bitter and more flavorful. But since they need a lot of care and attention to grow, their cost is quite high.

If you are craving a nice cup of light coffee, Arabica beans are your best friend. Considering almost all premium coffee brands use Arabica beans and label them on the pack, they shouldn’t be too hard to find.

4 Ways to Fix Your Bitter Coffee

Black coffee with bitter chocolate

The easiest way to fix your bitter coffee is to add sugar. But if you are looking for other hacks that do not involve piling loads of white sugar, we have a few ideas for you.

1. Choose Naturally Sweeter Beans

The easiest way to make your coffee taste less bitter is to use naturally sweeter beans. The only thing you can really do is look for one from the Arabica species with a light to medium roast. Also, for the best flavors and the least bitterness, make sure it’s roasted freshly.

If you manage to find a batch of coffee beans checking off all these three criteria, you never have to worry about bitterness again.

2. Switch to Cold Brew

If despite all your efforts, your coffee turns bitter every single day, maybe you need a little more time to get the hang of it. After all, finding the right temperature and duration of extraction isn’t as easy as it sounds. So until then, you can switch to a cold brew.

With this, you won’t run the risk of over-extracting the bitter flavors at high temperatures. The cold brew might take longer to extract the flavors, but it’s better to go slow than rush into a bitter coffee.

3. Clean Your Equipment Thoroughly After Every Use

While this is an essential kitchen tip for almost all coffee makers, in the case of coffee, it has more to do with flavor than hygiene. Let’s assume you make a batch of coffee, but while cleaning out the coffee maker, you leave behind a patch of extracted coffee grinds.

Now, the next time you make coffee, you will have a stale batch of coffee grinds that are already extracted, infiltrating the fresh batch of coffee grinds.

Grinds already extracted once will have no flavor left to impart other than the bitter notes, which will ultimately give your coffee that resentful bitter taste even if you use the proper process with fresh beans.

4. Use an Artificial Sweetener

We have already talked about a few ways to ensure your coffee doesn’t turn out bitter, but what if it does? You surely don’t want to throw away an intact cup of coffee and go through the trouble of making another one. In that case, artificial sweeteners are your last resort.

There are plenty of other ingredients and commercial artificial sweeteners made out of Aspartame and Saccharin. If you are looking for something just as sweet as white sugar but with almost zero calories, look for a sucralose-based sweetener.

Bottom Line

Why is coffee bitter? Bitterness is an inherent trait of coffee, but that doesn’t mean you have to put up with it even if it interferes with your personal coffee preferences. The final flavor of your coffee depends on the very first step you take.

Starting from the beans you select to the way you make them, everything affects the bitterness of coffee. But with this quick guide, you will be able to avoid all the rookie mistakes that bring out its innate bitter compounds. You can now enjoy a cup of sweet and foamy coffee every morning!

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