A lot of people who suffer from acid reflux are told to give up coffee—and that’s very disappointing advice to hear if you rely on it to get you going every morning. Luckily, you can reduce the acidity of coffee through a few simple methods.
There are also some low-acid coffee beans available, many of which have the same caffeine kick and great taste as other beans and roasts. If you’re looking for a low-acid coffee alternative, you’ll want to check out the info in this article!
Acidity has a couple of different meanings in the coffee world. When tasters and baristas refer to a specific bean’s acidity, they’re mostly talking about the bright flavor notes. This acidity is the kind you detect on your tongue, and may also be described with terms like sharp, lively, or fruity.
The specific acidic notes in the taste of coffee can take on different fruit flavors, including citrus, stone fruits, apple, or tropical fruit. It’s more present in some beans and roasts than others, but having at least a touch of an acidic flavor is important. Without it, the brewed coffee will taste flat, overly bitter, and one dimensional.
For health purposes, the kind of acid you’re concerned about isn’t the flavor profile but the actual pH level. This scale measures how acidic or alkaline a chemical compound is, on a scale of 0 (highly acidic) to 14 (highly alkaline), with pure water coming in at 7 (neutral).
From a pH standpoint, coffee is on the acidic side of the spectrum. Depending on the cup and brewing method, it can measure anywhere from 4.5-6 on the scale. Having said that, it’s still less acidic than other common beverages, like lemonade and soda, which tend to register somewhere around 2-3 pH.
In fact, coffee is less acidic than most fruits and has a similar pH level to a banana—not a fruit known for tasting particularly tart.
Acid Reflux is a chronic medical condition, also known as Gastroesophageal Reflux Disease (GERD). Also known as heartburn, acid reflux happens when the gastric acid produced in your stomach bubbles upwards into the esophagus. This irritates the soft lining leading to discomfort and, in severe cases, damage to the tissue.
Coffee won’t cause you to develop GERD if you don’t already have it, but it can aggravate the condition by stimulating the production of excessive gastric acid by your stomach. Acidic beverages can also cause short-term heartburn in those who don’t suffer from chronic acid reflux. Alcoholic beverages like wine and beer, as well as other caffeinated beverages like tea and cola, can also trigger flare-ups of acid reflux.
Low-acid coffee is a term applied to coffee beans that have a lower acid content than traditional coffee. In most cases, this does not mean they are completely neutral or alkaline on the pH scale, simply that they will produce a less acidic cup than other beans on the market.
Typically, these products are marketed to people with sensitive stomachs or acid reflux conditions as a less harmful alternative to traditional roasts.
One thing to keep in mind is that this term is not standardized across coffee roasters. Some low-acid coffee uses a specialized roasting process designed to reduce the amount of acid in the beans. In other cases, it’s simply an indication that the beans were grown in conditions that reduce their overall acidity.
How can you tell which is which? The best way is to do some research into the company that produces them. Most coffee roasters will describe their beans on their website, if not on their package. You can look for certain indicators about the roasting style, processing methods, and growing conditions in these descriptions (which we’ll explore in more detail below).
There are a few great brands out there for people looking for a low-acid bean. Some of our favorites are:
Trucup’s method of lowering the acid in their coffee is all-natural and unique, relying on steam and water only. They’re one of the few companies with a low-acid light roast in their catalog (their Born To Be Mild roast). Other options from Trucup include a medium roast (Stuck In The Middle), a bold roast (Heart Of Bold), a French roast (Dark As Night), and an espresso blend (You’ve Got A Blend).
The Organic French Roast from Puroast measures around 5.8pH, giving it about half the acidity of most coffee you’ll find on the market. Their beans are slow-roasted at a lower temperature. This both reduces the acid and boosts the antioxidant coffee, making it a nutritious option, too.
Pregnant women are often out of luck when it comes to coffee. Not only do they need to limit caffeine, they’re also more prone to acid reflux because of the pressure of the fetus on their stomach.
Mommee Coffee was developed to combat this problem. It comes in a range of caffeine levels, each designed for a different stage of pregnancy or nursing. It’s also completely organic, and all the caffeine levels are water-processed to reduce the acid content.
This company uses a unique process called TechnoRoasting. Like the water processing used by the brands above, this process increases the vitamin and antioxidant content of the beans while reducing their acidity. The taste is mellower and milder than other coffees, without the acidity and bitterness you’ll find in other beans.
Coffee is one of the most complex beverages on the planet from a chemical standpoint. There’s not one specific acid that’s most present in every bean. Instead, it’s the balance between acids that leads to the different flavor notes you’ll taste in your cup—and the pH level of the brew that could upset your stomach.
The organic acids in coffee include acetic acid (the acid found in vinegar), citric acid (found in lemons, oranges, and other citrus fruits), malic acid (found in green apples), and tartaric acid (present in grapes and bananas).
Coffee beans also contain chlorogenic acids, but these are broken down during the roasting process into quinic and caffeic acids, which are responsible for much of the bitterness in dark-roasted coffee.
Why does this matter? Because different processes to lower the acid of coffee target different compounds. The concentration of organic acids decreases during the roasting process. This is why a dark-roasted bean will have fewer fruity notes than a lighter-roasted version. From this standpoint, the bean becomes less acidic the more it’s roasted.
Remember those quinic and caffeic acids, though. Their presence in the bean actually increases with more roasting. Some coffees that are marketed as “low-acid” are simply roasted darker, but while they may taste less acidic they don’t necessarily have a lower pH content once they’re brewed.
Other low-acid coffees use specific processes to reduce the acid content of the bean. Beans roasted by Trucup, for example, are first put through a patented process that uses steam and water to draw out some of the chlorogenic acids. This makes them truly low-acid from a scientific standpoint. Even their light roasts have a pH of 5.74, while some of their darker roasts have a pH over 6. That’s as close to neutral as you’re likely to find in any brewed coffee.
Another method some roasters use to reduce the coffee’s acid content is called white roasting. This involves roasting the beans at a lower temperature and for less time. The result is a denser bean with a higher caffeine content per scoop. The chlorogenic acid also doesn’t have a chance to break down—and this is a good thing. Unlike the quinic and caffeic acids it breaks down into, chlorogenic acid is an antioxidant, and has a relatively high pH (for an acid).
While white coffee packs more caffeine punch and is kinder on your stomach, it also doesn’t taste quite the same as the coffee most people used to. It tends to be more nutty, with a noticeably thinner mouthfeel that’s more like tea. The high density of white coffee beans can also damage some home grinders—something to keep in mind if you usually buy whole bean.
We mentioned that some coffee beans are naturally less acidic than others, even before they make it to roasting. There are 3 main factors that affect the natural acids present in the bean:
Coffee isn’t just one plant. There are lots of species in the Coffea genus, though only two are widely grown commercially: Coffea Arabica (Arabica) and Coffea canephora (Robusta). Arabica beans tend to have fewer chlorogenic acids than Robusta beans, though they may have more of the organic acids that contribute to the bright, fruity flavor.
Arabica plants are further broken down into hundreds of varieties, which are often specifically bred for their taste qualities. Varieties from Kenya, such as the prized SL-28, are known for their high malic acid content, which gives them the sparkling, bright flavor. Arabica Bourbon, a variety grown frequently in South and Central America, has a lower acidity, known more for its buttery, chocolatey taste
The compounds in coffee don’t come from thin air. Much of what ends up in the bean is drawn from the soil it grows in. Highly-acidic soil, especially volcanic soil, will contribute to a higher concentration of acids in the beans. The presence of other nutrients, especially phosphorus, can reduce the acidity of both the soil and the beans it grows.
Growing coffee in high-altitudes is mostly about controlling the temperature. Since coffee will only grow within 30° of the equator, most of the areas that produce it are very hot year-round at ground level. Going up into the mountains allows for a cooler growing environment.
Coffee grown at lower temperatures takes longer to mature. As a result, the beans tend to be denser and generate more flavor acidity and aroma when roasted. Lower-grown beans from areas like Brazil and Hawaii have a naturally lower acidity than those grown at higher elevations.
People who suffer from acid reflux and GERD aren’t the only ones who can suffer health consequences when they drink acidic beverages. Foods and drinks that are acidic, or that cause the body to produce high amounts of acid, can have other health consequences as well.
Everything has a pH level, and that includes the human body. Individual organs have specific pH ranges that are considered healthy. Human blood is on the alkaline side of the scale, with a pH range of 7.35-7.45. Your digestive system, however, is generally acidic, and most so in the lower stomach, which has a pH range of 1.5-3.5.
If your body becomes too acidic, this condition is known as acidosis. When this happens, acid can build up in your body’s fluid and tissue. Typically, this happens when you eat too many acidic foods, and coffee can be one of the culprits in this condition. In extreme cases, it can be fatal—although it takes a lot more than just drinking coffee to push your body to this point.
Curious about the specific health consequence of eating or drinking too much acid? The truth is, they’re wide-ranging and can impact almost every part of your body, including:
This doesn’t necessarily mean that coffee is bad for you, or that you have to give up your favorite fruity light roast. If you’re concerned about the effect of acid on your body, however, switching to a low-acid coffee can be a good compromise, letting you still enjoy your morning pick-me-up without worry.
How much coffee you drink can be a factor, too. If you usually only drink one cup a day, it’s probably not having too much impact on your health. Those who drink many cups throughout the day, though, may want to look into low-acid coffees for at least a portion of them to avoid the health consequences.
The types of bean you use aren’t the only factor in the acidity of your daily cup of joe. Even if you only have light-roasted beans, there are steps you can take to reduce the overall acidity of the brew.
Drinking normal coffee when you have acid reflux can trigger flare-ups and aggravation of your symptoms. Switching to a low-acid coffee is one great way to let yourself keep drinking coffee without these unfortunate side effects. You can also use the methods described above to reduce a cup of coffee’s acidity.
Keep in mind this isn’t the case for everyone. Some people who have acid reflux aren’t bothered by the acidity in coffee. For others, it’s not the acidity but the caffeine that actually triggers symptoms and stomach discomfort. If you’re in this situation, changing to decaf coffee will be more likely to reduce your symptoms than simply looking for a low-acid version.
Ultimately, the successful management of acid reflux is different for everyone. Talk to your doctor about their recommendations if you’re looking for ways to avoid heartburn and stomach discomfort. By carefully identifying the source of your symptoms and limiting or eliminating those things from your diet, you can find a good balance that lets you still enjoy your favorite foods and drinks.
Please note, we’re not medical professionals – so everything in this article is not medical advice and you should absolutely ask your doctor if you have any medical issues.
Looking for ways to avoid acid reflux—that don’t involve giving up coffee? While it’s one of the most targeted foods when people talk about heartburn, coffee isn’t always the main culprit. And acid reflux isn’t just about what you eat and drink, either. There are some other lifestyle shifts you can make that can help you to avoid symptoms. Check out some of the best recommendations below!
Coffee isn’t the only acidic food in most people’s diets—and acid isn’t the only thing that can trigger heartburn. Giving up other common acid reflux triggers is one way to avoid it and still drink your favorite coffee like you’re used to. Other foods that can trigger excess stomach acid production include:
By this point, you’re probably asking yourself just what you are allowed to eat if you have acid reflux. Keep in mind, though, you don’t necessarily need to cut out all of these foods to avoid symptoms. Eating them in moderate amounts, combined with other, healthier options, often lets you continue to enjoy your favorites—without paying the price for it later.
Coffee is acidic, and it can aggravate acid reflux and heartburn. Finding a low-acid alternative, or taking extra steps to limit the acid in your daily cup, can help with these symptoms greatly. Coffee also isn’t the only thing that causes these conditions. If you’re committed to your daily java, making other lifestyle and dietary changes can let you keep drinking it heartburn-free.
Coffee Acidity and Processing
Why Are Some Coffees More Acidic Than Others?
What is White Coffee?
What is Coffee?
Are acidic foods harmful to health?
How to Prevent Acid Reflux and Heartburn