What does the bitterness in coffee depend on?

I maestri della tostatura media
Have you ever wondered why coffee is bitter? Do you know what the bitterness depends on? In your opinion, is this a virtue or a flaw of coffee?

We are all familiar with the taste of our beloved drink, and we almost always connect it with a feeling of bitterness, but that we promptly sweeten with a little sugar.

What if there is another solution?

Let’s start with the factors that influence bitterness:
  • concentration of caffeine in the bean
  • toasting level
  • type of extraction and required coffee grind
  • temperature and extraction time
  • cleaning of used instrumentation

The first key figure is the concentration of caffeine: generally . Robusta quality coffees have about twice the caffeine of arabica coffees . From here it can be understood very simply that a blend with a higher percentage of robusta will be more bitter than a blend with a higher percentage of Arabica.

The second data point, however, that we need to be very careful about is the level of roasting.

There are 3 macro categories of roasting:
  • clear
  • medium (used for all Ernani cafes)
  • dark
Exactly as with any food: the more you roast the coffee, the more bitter it will become.

From this we understand that a light roast will have less bitterness, in favor of acidity; a medium roast will have a good balance between acidity, sweetness, and bitterness; while a dark roast will have a very pungent bitterness, which will cover the other flavors.

In Italy, most roasters use dark roasting; when it is very dark, it tends to black and is also called Italian roast. This is why most of the coffees we taste at home or at the coffee shop are excessively bitter and require a little help from sugar.

In contrast, medium roasting maximizes all the natural characteristics and aromas of the raw beans, making the drink less bitter and with a wide range of flavors.

The light roast also brings out the flavors to the fullest. However, it is little used in Italy because it does not produce cream and body in the cup, which we so love in espresso.

If you want to know more about roasting click the link below and read.

At this point we come to extraction, which depends on: type, size of mince, timing and temperature.

Each type of extraction, such as may be mocha, espresso, filter coffee, Neapolitan, French press, and many others, have different ways, grindings, times, and temperatures, which affect the final bitterness in the cup.

For example, if we take the exact same coffee and use it in different equipment we will get a different drink every time.

In fact, the higher the temperature of the water, the more it will reach the burn point of the mince. Same goes for the extraction time as well. If water at 100°C passes through a panel of very fine ground coffee for a prolonged time, the risk of burning will definitely be high. In contrast, if you try filtering water at 80°C through a panel of very coarse ground coffee for a short time, you will extract fresher, sweeter notes and less bitterness.

From this we can therefore guess that the extracted coffee will definitely be more bitter with mocha or Neapolitan, medium in espresso and minimal in filtered coffees.

Finally, there is one last and crucial parameter to consider: the cleanliness of the equipment. This is also very simple.

Just think of a pot with frying oil: would you use it for a month without changing the oil and cleaning it every time it was used? No, and the same goes for coffee.

If the equipment is not properly cleaned after each use, spent coffee will build up over time, which, as it continues to cook, will also transfer burnt smells to the cup.

As trivial as this concept is, I still go to coffee shops and see that they do not purge the machine after each espresso and clean the group.

You know that little arm that the ground coffee goes into and gets stuck in the machine?

That’s what’s called an “assembly,” and it should be cleaned with a rag after each use, and so should the surface of the machine in contact with the grind, from which the water comes out.

Let’s say the case of a coffee shop that makes an average of 500 coffees a day and never purges it after each espresso, by the end of the day a crust of burnt coffee will have formed. Imagine how bitter an espresso prepared that way can come out!

Here, then, is what the bitterness of coffee depends on: it is partly natural and varies depending on the concentration of caffeine, and then it is accentuated or not depending on how you cook and how you process the ground coffee.

A delicate and pleasant dose of bitterness is a virtue, but when it becomes excessive, it becomes unpleasant and annoying and is a flaw. And that’s where sugar comes in.

We have become accustomed to the fact that coffee is a very bitter drink, so bitter that without a softener it is almost undrinkable.

But if you try a “different” coffee from the usual, never too bitter medium-roast coffee, it only takes a week to get used to drinking sugar-free coffee and discover a whole new way to drink the cup and appreciate it even more.

Want to try drinking sugar-free coffee for the first time? I recommend the two most suitable Ernani coffees:

Santos Cerrado bom chocolate, natural arabica.

Harmony, balanced blend of bitterness sweetness and acidity.

Marketing, E-commerce e Social Media Manager
Coffee Lover


Martina Mazzoleni

Marketing, E-commerce e Social Media Manager Coffee Lover

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