I remember my grandma putting salt in her coffee bed before brewing. This was many years
before I drank or even thought about coffee. I never knew why she did that but it turns out that many people add salt to their coffee to reduce bitterness.
Since being in the coffee business, from time to time I still hear about people putting salt in their coffee.
So when should you add salt to your coffee?
People add salt to their coffee to reduce bitterness. The sodium ion interferes with the transduction mechanism of bitter taste. But interestingly enough, the reasons behind this are not fully understood.
A study done at the University of Munich revealed that bitterness is extracted at the end of a brewing cycle. Over extracted coffee will comprise of more bitter compounds. Also, coffees that are brewed at really high temperatures or high pressure (like espresso.) This is because bitter tasting compounds are less soluble than others.
Caffeine it self is a bitter compound but not the main bitter compound in coffee.
As a blurb on our last blog, the darker the roast of the coffee the more bitter it will become.
Chlorogenic acids are highly present in light to medium roasted coffees, as you roast longer and darker higher levels of phenylindanes emerge by breaking down the chlorogenic acids. These phenylindanes cause a more lingering harsh taste in your mouth.
So the longer you roast the coffee the harsher it seems to get. But getting rid of bitterness in your cup is not isolated to the roast profile.
Some experiments done by a wine connoisseur revealed positive results in reducing bitterness in his coffee and espresso when putting a pinch of salt into the basket. It did however alter the taste of the coffee, it did not taste salty, but it lost some desirable qualities he was getting from the coffee on the brews done before salt was added. Adding salt to coffee is done differently in different cultures. For instance:
– In northern Sweden there is a tradition of serving cured ham and other meats with their coffee this is believed to produce the same outcome of reducing the bitterness of the coffee.
– In costal areas where fresh water mixes with salt sea, people are known to simply use that water for brewing coffee.
– In Ethiopia it is common to serve salted popcorn with coffee.
A study done by P.A.S. Breslin and G.K. Beauchamp in the Oxford Journals showed that there was no consistent degree of bitterness suppression from salt in coffee. Which means that adding more salt won’t necessarily convert into less bitterness.
Salt can do a lot for poor coffee beans, poor roasting and poor brewing.
If you happen to get and consume good coffee, you’ll be doing yourself a big disservice by adding salt to your coffee. (Tweet This!)
As my chef friend would say – “Ketchup is used to cover up bad cooking.”
If you’d like to read up on a few other experiments about molecular gastronomy, check out, Tasting Salt With Coffee by Tim Windelboe and Martin Lersch.