The 2 Types Of Acids That Can Be Found In Your Coffee

What's the difference between a good cup of coffee and a mediocre one that leaves you feeling a teeny bit cheated? Like wine, the flavor and experience are affected by various factors, from bean to brewing to your barista's individual skills (and we're not just talking about their latte art here).

For instance, when it comes to coffee beans, flavor profiles aren't just down to variety but also their terroir or environmental elements like the climate and soil in which they were grown. Also like wine grapes, coffee can take on the flavors of the flora growing around it, which is why, when describing the flavors in your cup, key descriptors can include floral, fruity, nutty, chocolatey, spicy, and berry (via DRWakefield). So, for instance, as explained by the Coffee with the Queen blog, a floral coffee might have delicate notes like rose, jasmine, or lavender. Other coffees might be "grapey," meaning they have a dry mouthfeel like wine.

Yet there is one coffee flavor element that's commonly misunderstood: acidity. Because when you're tasting coffee, it can mean two entirely different things. That's because desirable and less desirable acids mingle in your cup of joe, creating pretty different experiences. As outlined by Japanese Coffee Co., acidity in coffee refers to two types of chemical compounds — fine, flavor-intensive acids and chlorogenic acid.

Why acid is crucial to coffee's taste

Too much of the latter can create the "wince effect" because chlorogenic acid affects your perception of how acidic your coffee tastes (via Japanese Coffee Co.). It's not a harmful substance (in fact, it's a powerful antioxidant); it's just that you don't want it to overpower your coffee. Part of roasting is making sure that those sour chlorogenic acid notes don't take over and that the flavor-intensive acids can shine. But what are these, exactly?

This acid category creates coffee's bright, crisp, fresh effect — caffeine aside, it gives one those "wakey-wakey" vibes. When someone describes a coffee as having citrusy or berry notes, this is what they mean. With more moderate acidic effects, other fruity notes might come to the forefront, including apple or pear or even a "jammy" taste. And if you enjoy this livelier kind of coffee, then arabica beans grown at a higher elevation are your best bet. 

But what if berry or citrusy coffee isn't your bag, or you're just looking for a deep afternoon richness rather than a bright blast of morning sunshine? Then you'll want a low-acidity coffee, so keep an eye out for descriptors like chocolatey, caramel, or maple syrup. According to JavaPresse, smooth and sweet Brazilian beans can make a good choice.

So acidic coffee isn't necessarily a bad thing — it's just that you're going for a mellow lemon grove feel rather than face-puckering sourness.