Have you ever walked into a specialty coffee shop and felt… overwhelmed, or a little out of place? We have. Baristas may be using strange-looking equipment. Menus reference esoteric tasting notes, roast profiles, and growing regions that can be difficult to pronounce (let alone find on a map!). And terminology gets tossed around that most of us never use in everyday life, such as “dry-processed”, “extraction”, and “cupping.”
The language of coffee can be a bit confusing. It’s a language that has developed among generations of “in-group” industry practitioners; as a result, it can leave everyday coffee drinkers thinking coffee people are strange and coffee itself is overly complex.
If you’ve ever felt this way, we’re with you. At Pegasus, we’re on a mission to make coffee more accessible, understandable, and clear. We believe great coffee should be for everybody, or at least for anybody who wants it and would like to learn more about it.
That’s why we put together this blog post to address the coffee term that we believe has been most egregiously misused and misconstrued, to the detriment of far too many coffee drinkers. And that word, friends, is acidity.
Acidity is a bad thing, right?
The term acidity, used in relation to coffee, often produces thoughts of sourness and stomach aches. At the very least, it is understood to be negative. For many years now, unscrupulous roasters have taken advantage of this misconception and have marketed their coffee as “low-acid,” perpetuating an unfortunate confusion among consumers about the importance of acidity in coffee. Oftentimes today, coffee drinkers try to avoid acidic coffees and, along with them, the grim specter of an upset stomach or acid reflux.
Contrary to popular belief, though, in this article we’d like to convince you that not only is acidity in coffee a good thing, it’s actually an aspirational thing. It’s a coffee attribute that you should actually desire and seek out for your morning cup.
And, here’s why:
Marketing tactics aside, all coffee is fairly “low-acid”. As it turns out, coffee is not a particularly acidic foodstuff. On the pH scale, where seven is considered neutral, coffee tends to land around a 5 (depending on the bean and brewing method). This score puts coffee roughly on the same acid level as bananas, and well below grapes (and their popular derivative – wine).
So why does some coffee give us a stomach ache? Despite what you may have heard, it’s not a coffee’s acidity that causes it. The primary culprit is actually the primary reason many of us drink coffee in the first place: the caffeine.
So, then, what’s the deal with acidity?
Good question. Some might even ask why coffee is called “acidic” at all if it has a moderate pH score – and that is also a good question!
For decades now, coffee “in-group” people have used the word “acidity” on a relative basis to describe several desirable traits found in certain coffees: a citrusy sparkle, those effervescent top notes that add a layer of nuanced flavor to your cup. For the professionals who score coffees, “acidity” is a very positive descriptor of qualities that skilled coffee buyers seek out as they evaluate diverse coffee samples from around the world. And in fact, these are the same favorable qualities we love to showcase in our lighter and medium-roast coffees.
In order to talk about the positive attributes of coffee acidity without being misunderstood, however, we deliberately use the term brightness instead of acidity to describe our coffees.
Different origins, processing methods, and roasting styles have varied effects on a coffee’s brightness. A washed coffee from Ethiopia, lightly roasted, will tend to have more brightness (née acidity) than a dark roasted natural coffee from Brazil. If you’re looking to experience the best aspects of coffee brightness, we recommend our Ethiopia Yirgacheffe, which features shimmering citrus and floral notes. It’s a true showcase of the delicious qualities that brightness can bring to a coffee.
We hope that this article has provoked you to look more favorably on one of coffee’s most misunderstood elements, and perhaps even to give a bright and fruit-forward coffee a try. We promise it won’t upset your stomach any more than some “slow-roasted, low-acid” coffee will. And in the end you’ll find it makes a much more flavorful cup.