« What is it? | Home | BehindTheMedspeak: Medical Tourism »

June 1, 2007

What makes coffee bitter?


That was the question addressed by C. Claiborne Ray in her May 29, 2007 New York Times "Q & A" column.

The last two paragraphs, especially, interested me, filled as they were with six useful tips from the Coffee Research Institute about how to brew the very best possible cup of coffee in your own private Idaho of a test kitchen.

Here's the Times piece.

    A Bitter Cup

    Q. What makes coffee bitter?

    A. Coffee is a complex chemical soup, and many of its chemicals, including some that produce astringency rather than bitterness, and even some acids, have been implicated in the perception of bitterness.

    Bitterness also depends on variables including the coffee variety; how it is processed and roasted; the brewing method, temperature and time; and even the chemical content of the water.

    Some degree of bitterness is desirable in coffee, according to the Coffee Research Institute, because it reduces the perception of acidity, for a more balanced flavor.

    Some of the possible chemical culprits include quinic, chlorogenic, caffeic, citric, malic, lactic, pyruvic and acetic acids; 5-hydroxymethylfurfural; methyl furan; furfuryl mercaptan; trigonelline; pyrazine; thiazole; quinoline; phenylpyridine; and caffeine itself.

    Studies reported by the institute suggest that perceived bitterness can be reduced by using hard or soft water, as opposed to distilled water; brewing at high temperatures, perhaps because more aromatic chemicals are released, canceling out the bitter ones; and using varieties other than robusta coffee, which has more caffeine and chlorogenic acid.

    The institute also suggests using medium-roast coffee, which has a lower level of soluble solids; brewing using a drip system, which also cuts down the release of soluble solids; and perhaps using a coarser grind.


And how about a shout-out to Victoria Roberts, whose wonderful small drawings (one of which heads this post) regularly enhance this Times feature along with others in the Grey Lady.

June 1, 2007 at 03:01 PM | Permalink


TrackBack URL for this entry:

Listed below are links to weblogs that reference What makes coffee bitter?:


The comments to this entry are closed.