Why is coffee bitter? It is a question we are often asked. Inextricably linked to the word ‘coffee’ are various scents, sensations, memories, but often only one taste… BITTER!
Think about it: when we do not put sugar in our coffee, we mistakenly say ‘I drink it bitter’ instead of ‘I drink it without sugar’, taking it for granted that the main taste that will invade our palate will be that one.
Our culture (and unfortunately also experience) has led us to believe that coffee only has that taste and that it should only be bitter.
Yet this is not the case. Let us look together at the 5 reasons why coffee is not only bitter
- Coffee is a tree that produces fruits called CHERRIES. Of these very sweet pulp fruits, the seeds are kept, which contain not only bitter substances (Caffeine and Chlorogenic Acids) but also carbohydrates (partly simple sugars) and fats. Thus, in nature, the fruit and seed do NOT have a marked bitter taste.
- There are many species of coffee trees, the ones used for our beloved drink are Arabica and Canephora (Robusta). The taste of the beans of these two plants is very different. Arabica tends to be more acidic and sweet while Robusta is more bitter (also due to the presence of more caffeine, but not completely). The more Robusta there is in our drink, the more bitter it may be.
- After harvesting, the coffee undergoes a process (Natural, Honey, Washed or other) to arrive at a dried bean. These processes affect the body, taste and flavour of our beverage, giving it more or less sweetness and more or less acidity. During and after the processing phase, the beans are constantly checked and selected (if the end goal is to have a high quality result). Careful selection eliminates defective beans that affect the sensory experience (roughness of body, hints of earth or mould, astringency), giving unpleasant flavours and only in some cases bitterness.
- Roasting plays a fundamental role in the transformation of beans, a bit like in BBQ (sorry vegetarians/vegans, but the example is apt) or for cakes and bread that make that nice crust in the oven, you can keep the bitter taste very low by roasting coffee without burning it.
- Extracting coffee consciously (perhaps after careful training), allows the best and most aromatic substances to be dissolved. The barista only has to remove certain substances from the cells of the beans, using water as a solvent. If we overdo this transfer, we run into one of the most classic mistakes, over-extraction. In this case, the coffee is bitter as a result almost always.
Basically, coffee is therefore not always bitter and we could drink sweet coffees without resorting to sugar.
If the presence of Canephora is low, the roast is not excessive and the extraction is adequate, before sweetening your coffee taste it… it might surprise you with sweetness, balanced acidity and aromas of flowers, fruit and spices that you would never have associated with our beloved cup.
Coffee is only bitter if you make the wrong choice.