Should You Add Salt to Coffee? (Explained)

Last Updated on June 9, 2023 by Barry Gray

I’m always on the search for different things to either add to my coffee or ways to change my coffee experience. I admit this then tends to take me down some strange paths, and one path is the concept of adding salt.

So, can you add salt to coffee, and is it something you should do?

Salt in your coffee can make a difference in the taste. It can reduce the bitterness while also bringing out the sweetness at the same time. However, be careful, as too much will make your coffee too salty, and that’s not a good thing to experience.

I know I had never really thought about the concept of adding salt to coffee. However, I felt I had to try it out, and this is what I discovered.

adding salt to coffee

Salt Changes the Bitterness of Coffee

The first thing I noticed was that salt does indeed change the bitterness of coffee. I wasn’t expecting this, but then I didn’t know what to expect in general.

It certainly made a more considerable difference than I thought. I know I was worried that all I would taste was salt, but that wasn’t the case.

Now, I admit I used a coffee that I’m very familiar with. There was no point in using a new coffee when I didn’t already know what to expect with the taste.

As I already knew exactly what to expect with the coffee, I was then in a better position to determine the difference the salt could make. 

So, I added a pinch of salt to my coffee, sampled it, and, much to my surprise, I enjoyed it.

How Does Adding Salt Change Your Coffee?

coffee ready for salt to be added

After overcoming my initial surprise, I had to delve into the reasons as to why adding salt to your coffee is able to make a difference. This is what I discovered.

Salt, also known as Sodium chloride, is capable of doing this amazing thing. It changes how your taste buds perceive taste. 

The receptors in your tongue are sensitive to bitterness and sweetness, and adding salt changes how those receptors identify the bitterness of coffee

In a sense, it reduces its perception of bitterness, and as a result, you then perceive the coffee to be sweeter.

But here’s the coolest thing of all. The salt has not done anything to the actual taste of the coffee.

The Complexities of the Taste of Coffee

espresso coffee

So, I just mentioned how salt changes our perception of both bitter and sweet, but it works better with coffee than it does with other drinks. I’ll explain why.

The thing about coffee is that it doesn’t have just one taste. If you pay attention to your coffee, you will begin to notice different flavors in one sip.

In a sense, it’s sort of the same as wine, where they talk about all these different notes and tastes. Coffee beans have the ability to produce the same thing. 

You see, coffee has numerous layers to its flavor. Yet, taking each flavor independently is important, as that’s what makes up the overall taste experience.

Out of those different flavors, both sweet and bitter only represent two. There are other flavors in there, so if you do something that changes how you perceive both sweet and bitter flavors, it makes sense that different flavors will come to the fore.

That is what happens when you add salt to your coffee.

Honestly, other flavors in coffee are often more desirable and easy to drink. However, they are usually swamped by the sweetness or bitterness of the coffee.

Salt counteracts this, which is why you experience something different when adding it to coffee.

How Should You Add Salt to Your Coffee?

I took a cautious approach when it came to adding salt to my coffee for the first time. I really had no idea what to expect, so it made sense to go slow.

I’m glad I did.

It’s all too easy to add just a bit too much salt, which then ruins your coffee. I don’t want that to happen to you, so here’s my advice on adding salt without it becoming a disaster.

What I found was it was best to mix a pinch of salt with some water and add that solution to my coffee. I was able to control things more easily that way, and I could more accurately judge how much salt was being added.

I found the best level of salt to add was no more than 0.2g. I felt that was enough to change the flavor profile but not enough that you could actually taste the salt.

But there’s a problem.

That level of salt was okay for me, but we all have different ideas about what is too salty and not enough. So, it’s really all about personal taste in more ways than one.

But I have another problem I need to mention: the coffee.

The Coffee Dictates the Quantity of Salt

different coffee options

Right at the outset, I said salt helps counteract some of the bitterness of coffee. Well, not all coffee is clearly bitter, while other beans take bitterness to a whole new level.

So, it makes sense that the coffee you have will also determine the amount of salt that’s required to notice that difference in taste.

I had to test this theory, but any excuse to experience different coffee, and I did notice this to be absolutely true.

I tried adding salt to an Ethiopian coffee I have at home. This was a coffee that was overly fruity and floral.

The salt managed to dampen down its overwhelming flavor, and I was impressed with how it handled it.

But then, I felt I had to add in a touch more salt to deal with this coffee, and it was certainly more than when I tried it with a coffee from Guatemala

That coffee was neither too sweet nor bitter. Here, I didn’t require any salt as the different flavors of the coffee were already able to come out without any help.

Basically, what I’m saying is there’s not always a need to add salt to coffee to enhance or change the flavor. Sometimes, the coffee is able to do it all on its own.

Salt Replaces Sugar in Coffee?

dark brown sugar

But here is something you may not have thought about before, can salt replace sugar in your coffee?

Well, while it could do so to a certain extent, you do run the risk of making your coffee far too salty and simply impossible to drink. That’s not something I would advise anybody to do.

But that’s not to say the salt won’t play a kind of similar role. 

It is true that salt in coffee will reduce bitterness and enhance sweetness. In essence, that’s what sugar is designed to do.

So, while it may not completely replace sugar in your coffee, if you are trying to remove the bitterness, it may reduce the amount of sugar you need to make your coffee taste better. 

Will Adding Salt Change the Aroma of Coffee?

I was aware that salt had the potential to change the taste of coffee, but what about the aroma? I admit I love when coffee has that pleasant scent to it, and it certainly adds to the experience, so I hardly wanted to change that.

Well, it doesn’t do anything to the aroma, and I was pleased about that outcome.

It’s because the taste difference is via your perception rather than anything else. Salt is unable to change the chemicals in coffee that makes the fantastic aroma, so you have nothing to worry about there.

Should You Add Salt to All Coffee?

drinking coffee

Finally, should you always add salt to your coffee? Well, I don’t think so, and it’s for obvious reasons.

First, I feel poorer quality coffee will require salt in order to just make it easier to drink. Poorer coffee will have a less prominent flavor profile, and salt can make a difference.

Also, this all depends on your own preference when it comes to the taste. If you love the natural taste of your coffee, then why would you do anything to change this taste?

I know I have a couple of types of coffee to where I would never dream about adding salt. It just wouldn’t make any sense.

But some people also argue you should never add salt to expensive coffee beans. However, while I get what they are saying, it’s not always something I agree with.

After all, it’s not as if expensive coffee beans are then guaranteed to be perfect for your taste buds. It’s still very possible you could hate the flavor and need something to change it.

If that was the case, then surely it’s better to use salt to then enjoy the coffee rather than throwing it away?

My Recap on Adding Salt to Coffee

This has been an interesting topic, and it was fun playing around with salt in my coffee and seeing the results. However, I see the following points as being critical to it all.

  • It’s easy to add salt to coffee
  • Salt will reduce bitterness and enhance the sweetness
  • Play around with salt quantities depending on your preference
  • Make a saline solution and add it to your brewed coffee
  • Not all coffee requires salt to enhance the flavor
  • Salt allows other flavors to come to the fore
  • It doesn’t change the aroma of the coffee
  • It changes how you perceive bitterness on your tongue

Adding salt to coffee is not new. Some countries, such as Turkey and Scandinavia, regularly add salt to their coffee in a process that goes back centuries.

If you are new to the idea, I would certainly give it a shot. 

My Conclusion

What I discovered was that salt did make a difference to the bitter taste of coffee, and I was surprised by that. So, I would certainly look at adding it again if I felt the coffee was just a bit too much.

But I do so with some hesitation. It feels like a fine line between enough and too much, which then destroys the coffee. 

So, I would start off small and taste the improvements before adding more. Also, prepare yourself for some mistakes, and I really don’t think salty coffee is something most people would enjoy.