The Effect of Acidity on the Flavor of Coffee
Many expert coffee tasters will tell you that acidity in coffee is everything. Acidity is one of the most important characteristics of coffee, which is part of the sensory regulations necessary to evaluate the quality of coffee; the other three are body, flavor and aroma collectively. The acidity or low acidity of coffee is indicative of its true characteristic and how the flavor will turn out after roasting.
One must distinguish the difference between a coffee’s bitterness and acidity. Acidity does not dictate the sourness or bitter taste of coffee and does not contribute to the hyper acidic sensation that a person may experience from drinking too much coffee. Acidity in coffee tasting is defined as a savory taste that can be related to the bouquet of a wine, it is a characteristic that provides the coffee an element of earthy flavor as it hits the palate. With wine, it is easily defined by its varying degree of dryness; in coffee the level of acidity can dictate the kind of sensation a taster experiences upon tasting a brew.
The degree of acidity in coffee can boil down to a matter of consumer preference and individual liking to a certain type of brew and manufacturer, suffice to say acidity is important in good coffee. Without the proper acidity levels coffee will taste flat, comparable to lemonade that doesn’t have the sourness that makes it so or a meal without any seasoning.
Certain brewers and retail distributors avoid the connotation of acidity in product descriptions to avoid the negative perception of acidity in the beverage. The acidity compound of coffee is normally masked with descriptive words such as tartness, brightness, vibrancy, sharpness, and other words to insinuate a particular acidity to the coffee blend. If the distributor does decide to use the word, it is categorized into low, high or medium acidity levels.
There isn’t much discussion about how the perception of acidity based on the kind of acidity definition used by professional tasters is relative to the actual chemistry of a coffee brew. From a chemist’s point of view, coffee can be composed of more than 24 different chemicals and acid derivatives. The chemical reaction that takes place in a coffee colloid, and it’s interaction with the body’s own chemical composition that is responsible for the atmospheres it produces is still unclear to the scientific community.
Coffee is by nature acidic in its raw nature but by roasting and processing the acidic characters of coffee can be manipulated and changed based on brew specifications. The acidity of coffee can be influenced by many factors. The genus of the coffee species as well as the soil where the coffee was grown can greatly affect the taste and acidity of coffee in general. Roasting and processing of coffee beans as well as the brew formula can also contribute to the increase and decrease in coffee acidity.
There are certain types of coffees that are grown in mineral rich topsoil, normally areas where volcanic material are abundant and where coffee can be grown in areas that are above 4000 feet. These kinds of coffee have a higher acidity level and can be considered more robust in flavor.
Coffee planted in locations such as the mountains of Kenya or in the mountains of Java will have this rich, acidic ashy flavor brought about by the mineral composition of the soil used to grow the coffee plant. It is a generalization that geography and topsoil condition affects the acidity of coffee to a certain degree but it is not the only contributing factor that will create a high or low acid level in a brew. By modifying the roasting and processing mechanism coffee can be manipulated into any flavor that the brewer chooses, including one with a more acidic bouquet.
Although there are famous coffees associated with their geography, it is not finite to conclude that this alone can be the basis of determining the acidity of coffee and the flavor that the acid brings to its formulation. This is where blending comes into play. Coffee retail industries make use of blending, using a small portion of high grade coffee and mixing it with low-grown coffee plant before distribution. This is generally done by many coffee distributors to cut on cost.
The most common method of processing coffee beans is called the dry method but there is also a non-traditional process called the wet method. The cherries, which are the picked fruit of the coffee plant go through a processing system where the beans are then extracted and with the dry process the cherries are allowed to dry out in direct sunlight immediately after the fruit is picked. Once the shell dries out it is then removed to expose the bean. The wet method involves cherries being soaked after the fruit is picked so the pulp can easily be removed before setting them to dry. Processing can greatly affect the acidity of coffee because of the different time slots when the coffee is roasted. If a coffee is roasted longer, it has the tendency to be less acidic. In order to reduce the acidity in coffee, Hevla employs a very effective procedure which subjects raw coffee beans with a high-pressure steaming and vacuuming process. This all-natural approach preserves the taste of the coffee while reducing its acid content.