What is Acidity in Coffee?

in Brewing Coffee

3dbeans     Not to be confused with acid (as in pH content) or acid reflux (as in heartburn), acidity is a coffee term used to describe one of the elements of flavor in coffee.

Check out: Coffee Words and Terminology (to learn more about the language of tasting coffee)

I struggled with this word for so long, because I knew it was important in understanding the flavor of coffee, but couldn’t get my head around what it meant, and especially that it wasn’t referring to acid.  Because I used to get bad heartburn, I naturally assumed it was connected to the “acidity of my coffee”.

When I interviewed coffee giant George Howell at CoffeeCON 2013, I asked him how to describe acidity to the coffee layman.

Check out: Trip Report CoffeeCON 2013

burntcoffee     The word acid in “acidity” is misleading.  People hear it and think battery acid, corrosion, or acid reflux.  Oddly enough, we talk about acidity in wine without problems.  Acidity in coffee (or wine)  means liveliness or pizzazz.  Ask yourself what would a strawberry be without liveliness – it would be flat.  You want that strawberry to have some brightness and sweetness to it.  The sweetness takes edge off of the acidity, but you want both.

I used to define acidity as “what makes coffee coffee”, but this was a flawed way to look at it because acidity needs to be balanced.  There can be too much.  The strawberry at the grocery store could be perfect looking but missing flavor.

And then George gave me the best explanation of acidity that I’ve ever heard.  Take a banana and take a raspberry.  Which would you think is more acidic?  Both have flavor and are unique, but one clearly has more livelineness and pizzazz.  Analogies sometimes work where explanations!

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