Last Updated on July 7, 2023 by Barry Gray
Coffee is a fantastic thing. I’ve always been fascinated by how this simple bean can produce such a wide range of flavors depending on various factors.
From sweet, to fruity, to nutty, to bitter. I think coffee has managed to cover almost everything you can imagine.
But it also brings with it some problems. After all, we don’t all love the same tastes, so there may be times when your coffee tastes too bitter, and that’s going to spoil your enjoyment.
I know I’ve been there on many occasions, and yet I know if I can get past that bitterness that a delicious coffee awaits.
Thankfully though, there are several things you can do that will help counteract those bitter notes that can sometimes burst through your coffee.
Medium or light roasts will be less bitter. Don’t forget to add milk, sugar, or other form of sweetener to also reduce the bitterness. Paying attention to the correct brew time and temperature will also make a difference.
There’s no need to simply stick with a coffee that’s too bitter for your tastebuds. You can change it, and it’s very easy to do.
Which Types of Coffee are Generally More Bitter?
Different beans will have various levels of sugar, and the less sugar that appears in the bean, the more bitter it will be.
Generally, Robusta beans are considered more bitter as they have less sugar than the more common Arabica. That’s undoubtedly one thing that you should keep in mind when selecting your beans for your morning cup.
But there’s a bit more to it than just choosing between Arabica and Robusta.
Coffee is just naturally bitter. It’s merely a sliding scale as to how bitter one bean is compared to another bean. Also, how you use the bean will change where it sits on that bitterness scale, so you could end up taking a bean that’s not too bitter, and by misusing it, you change its taste.
But don’t stress, as I plan on trying to help.
So, let’s run through the different things that can make your coffee taste bitter before I tell you how to counteract that.
The Roast Changes Bitterness
The extent to which coffee beans are roasted will make a difference when it comes to those bitterness levels. The darker the roast, the more bitter the coffee, and that’s a pretty safe general rule of thumb.
A dark roast pulls out more of the sugars, and what’s left behind are more of the bitter notes as aspects of the flavor and aroma of the bean have been lost in the roasting process.
How to Fix the Bitterness with the Roast
This is an easy solution – go for a medium or light roast if you find the dark roast too much for your taste buds. However, a dark roast does work exceptionally well when you add sugar or milk, so that’s something to keep in mind as well.
Old or Stale Beans
Using beans that are past their best can also lead to your coffee tasting more bitter. So, keep the beans as fresh as possible, or you could destroy your cup.
After the roasting process, coffee beans will start to deteriorate, and the flavor is one area where you start seeing a difference.
As the bean deteriorates, the sugars and acids in the beans also change. I’ve had some coffee that clearly used old beans, and the taste difference is remarkable, and not in a good way.
If you know what to expect from a bean and suddenly discover that your usual coffee is more bitter, there’s a good chance it’s because the bean is old and stale.
How to Fix the Bitterness with the Beans
Ensure you only ever use fresh coffee beans to reduce the chances of this happening. At that point, you will know what to expect with your beans, and it becomes easier to then spot if the beans are becoming old due to changes in taste.
Overextraction is a common cause of bitter coffee, and it’s all because we have not paid attention to the brewing method and left things a bit too long.
Allowing your coffee to brew for too long will produce a harsher taste to the coffee. Those bitter notes will swamp your coffee, making it difficult for you to perhaps even finish the drink.
But there’s also a problem here.
Worrying about over extraction of your coffee can sometimes lead to people cutting the brew time too much. This results in a weak coffee lacking in flavor, so studying the perfect brew time makes sense.
How to Fix the Bitterness with Over extraction
Focus on perfecting the brewing process for your intended coffee. Know how long it should take, and don’t allow it to go past that time.
The Wrong Grind
The grind size is crucial in getting good coffee, but the wrong grind size can also result in a more bitter coffee.
The reason why grind size is so important is that it aligns with the previous problem of over extraction.
The wrong grind size can result in too much coffee or too little, leading to that weaker coffee. Generally speaking, you will find a coarse grind to be lighter and a finer grind to be more bitter.
If you want to make your own grind, then using a burr grinder will make a difference to the taste experience.
How to Fix the Bitterness of the Wrong Grind
Pay attention to the grind size for a particular brewing method, and then ensure you don’t over extract by leaving it too long.
If you feel your coffee is too bitter, then making the grind size slightly larger can partly counteract this problem.
The Brewing Temperature is Wrong
I’ve spent a lot of time talking to people about coffee, and I realized that so many believe you simply boil water and make the drink. The truth is the temperature of the water is more important than you think, and it will change the taste of your coffee if the temperature is not correct.
Water for coffee needs to be somewhere between 90C and 96C. The closer to 96C you can get, the better it is.
The problem with temperature is that making coffee with water that is too cold, even slightly, will result in a more bitter coffee. You may think using slightly colder water will mean you can drink things faster, but is it worth it if it changes the bitterness levels?
How to Fix the Bitterness with the Wrong Temperature
Try to ensure you always brew at the right temperature for your coffee. Check the temperature of the water, if possible, to stop any problems.
How to Make Coffee Less Bitter
I’ve included some tips above when dealing with the different potential causes of bitter coffee. Still, those tips are not your only answer.
I’ve written about adding salt to your coffee elsewhere on the website, and it’s something that works exceptionally well. Also, it’s not as unusual as you think since Turkish coffee often includes salt in the ingredients.
The key here is the way our taste buds perceive salt. It manages to add a sense of sweetness to our taste buds, and that will automatically reduce the bitter notes you are experiencing with the coffee.
It’s all thanks to salt stopping our taste buds from being able to perceive bitterness in the usual way. But be aware you only require a slight pinch to make a significant difference, so go easy, or you will ruin your coffee.
Play Around with Milk, Cream, or Sugar
Milk, cream, or sugar will quickly become your best buddies if dealing with bitter coffee. They should be your go-to things to counteract that bitter taste you find yourself struggling with.
Milk and cream work well thanks to the fat content in the milk. It works against the bitterness and adds a touch of sweetness to your coffee. It may not be as strong as sugar, but it still makes a difference to things.
Also, there’s the potential to use different types of milk. Almond milk, for example, will act differently from regular dairy milk, so it’s well worth trying it if you want something different.
For sugar, you can clearly choose between different types. Brown sugar will have more of a caramel taste to it, which will completely change your coffee’s flavor.
I love adding different syrups to my coffee, and with several flavors out there, it’s easy to add a touch of sweetness along with changing the flavor of your coffee.
You do need to be careful with how much you add, as the new flavor can easily overpower.
My Recap on How to Make Coffee Less Bitter
Bitter coffee is not always going to be the favorite drink for some coffee lovers, but there are things you can do to make it less bitter. Here’s my recap of the main points I’ve covered on this subject.
- The roast changes bitterness, so go for a medium or light roast
- Use fresh beans as old or stale beans will produce more bitter coffee
- Don’t over extract the coffee, as bitter notes will come to the fore
- Use the correct grind for your coffee, or it will become too bitter
- If in doubt, use a slightly coarser grind to reduce bitterness
- Check the water temperature, as colder water produces bitter coffee
- Add salt, sugar, milk, or cream to add sweetness
- Don’t forget syrups
Producing too bitter coffee does not have to spell the end of that cup. Instead, there are several things you can do to counteract the bitterness or even stop it from happening in the first place.
Of course, you do still need to know exactly how bitter you like your coffee to determine how sweet it has to be made to turn a lousy cup of coffee into something you could enjoy.
Ensuring you use fresh beans, the right roast, and adding milk or sugar to your coffee can result in it tasting less bitter. But remember, coffee is naturally bitter, so you are working against its normal flavor.
Learn all about your own personal preference for taste and see where on the bitterness sliding scale you want your coffee to sit. Once you master that point, you will have no problem producing the perfect coffee for your taste buds.