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3 November 2020

Acidity: the hidden value of a quality coffee

How many tastes do you know?
Sweet, salty, sour, bitter and umami. Sour and bitter are usually mistaken and criticised, but when coming to coffee, they play a crucial role and it’s important to recognise them.

In the sensory analysis of a coffee, taste is essential and along with view and smell, it is one of the main evaluation factors.
Assuming that cupping is the result of experience and training, we may say that taste – the ability to identify and distinguish the five fundamental tastes – is essential for a cupper.
Sweet, salty, sour, bitter and umami are the macro-tastes that can be found in everyday foods and drinks.
When talking about coffee, they are limited to three: sweet, sour and bitter.
While it’s easy to recognise sweetness, when we come to bitterness and acidity, many people have difficulty in identifying and distinguishing them in a coffee.
So, let’s try to make things clear.

Bitterness is generally associated with ingredients such as dark chocolate, cocoa and coffee.
This taste is typically used by plants as a defence against predators. Indeed, bitter is less tolerated than sweet, because it’s read by our brain as a signal of danger or possible toxicity.
In fact, it is often associated with medicines that might be toxic, if abused, such as cinchona, mugwort and gentian.
In the world of coffee, bitterness is usually connected with caffeine, and it results from the roasting process of the green beans.
Neither an excessive bitterness nor any other unpleasant sensations will be detected, when the roast degree is calibrated according to the type of coffee.
On the contrary, if the beans are over-roasted or burnt the taste will be spoilt.
In Italy, coffee beans are often over-roasted in order to conceal the poor quality of the green coffee.
Hence, the strong bitterness of the Italian espresso and the subsequent need to add sugar to balance it.
Any over-roasting could be easily avoided if only the raw materials were good.

On the other hand, in Italy, where the concept of coffee is limited only to espresso, acidity is generally mistaken and misperceived, probably also due to the above-mentioned excessive roast.
Just like bitterness, a well-balanced acidity is a positive coffee feature and indeed it’s an indicator of premium quality coffees.
In fact, a slightly sour taste is often found in high grown coffees, such
as some Ethiopian, Kenyan or Central American beans.
Acidity is also influenced by the roast level.
A medium roast will enhance it, whereas an excessive roast will hide it and much too light a roast will exaggerate it, turning it, in both cases, into a negative characteristic.
Balance is the keyword: in order to enhance the acidity of high grown
coffees, we will choose a medium roast, able to highlight the freshness and completing the aromatic palette of such premium coffees, without compromising the overall harmony and balance.

The brew method also plays an important role.
For very acidic coffees, a filter brew is more advisable then an espresso, since the latter would increase acidity too much.
Choosing the right brew method will help us to boost the features of the coffee we have decided to taste.
Hand extraction techniques through infusion or dripping (i.e.: V60, Chemex) will avoid an excessive acidity and will keep a good balance of flavours and aromas.
We must remember that acidity is an asset to our senses, because it opens our tastebuds, preparing our palate to perceive all the nuances contained in a speciality coffee.

In conclusion, when the coffee acidity is controlled and well-adjusted, it stands for quality.
In order not to be mistaken, but fully appreciated by the consumers and to really enhance a top-quality coffee, acidity has to be harmonically balanced with all the other sensory elements – taste, smell and touch.

Visit our e-shop to discover the freshness and the citrusy notes of our high grown specility coffees!