Black coffee has a cult-like following. It can be stronger than regular coffee, but it’s earned a bad reputation for its bitterness.
But what causes black coffee to taste bitter, and does all black coffee taste like this?
Black coffee tastes bitter because it contains more caffeine than other coffee types. However, using low-quality beans, a darker roast, or the wrong grind size can also increase coffee’s bitterness. Over-extraction is also a common cause of bitter black coffee.
In this article, I’ll explain the reasons behind the perceived bitterness of black coffee and ways to brew sweeter black coffee.
What Makes Black Coffee Bitter
Unlike decaf coffee, where the caffeine is removed, black coffee is brewed in a way that preserves the caffeine and may have 10-15% more caffeine than other types of coffee.
If you’re already using beans with higher caffeine levels, you’ll also end up with bitter black coffee.
The coffee beans and brewing process aren’t the only reasons why your café noir may be bitter. Many people can handle the sharp taste of black coffee.
However, the additional bitterness caused by over-extraction, roasting the beans too much, and brewing coffee at temperatures that are too high can make black coffee less tolerable.
Fortunately, you can remove most of the extra bitterness from black coffee without affecting its uniqueness.
But before I discuss how to remove the bitterness from your cup of java, here are are some common reasons why your black coffee may be bitter:
You’re Using Beans With More Caffeine
While most people prefer to brew black coffee with espresso beans, you can use any type of coffee beans to make black coffee.
The bitterness of black coffee has more to do with how the beans were processed and where they were grown.
Coffee beans grown in higher altitudes are generally less bitter and have lower caffeine levels.
Beans grown at lower altitudes have more caffeine and are, therefore, less bitter.
Higher caffeine levels are produced to protect the plant from pests, but it also results in lower-quality coffee beans.
This is why coffee plants grown in the high-altitude areas in Brazil and Ethiopia produce the best quality beans.
The second thing that determines the coffee bean’s bitterness is the processing method.
Wet processing produces coffee beans with more consistency and less bitterness, although the beans may be more expensive than those produced by dry processing.
Lastly, the strain of beans may affect the bitterness of your coffee. Most people will acknowledge that Arabica beans have less bitterness than Robusta beans.
Arabica beans also contain the same chlorogenic acid lactones that make other beans bitter, but they also have more natural acidity, which gives them a slightly sweeter taste.
Since black coffee is made in a way that retains more caffeine, it’s better to use Arabica beans if you don’t want bitter coffee.
Your Coffee Is Over-Extracted
More is better, right? Not in the case of extracting the taste from coffee beans. Over-extraction is the main cause of bitter coffee.
This often depends on how long you leave the ground coffee in water and the water-to-coffee ratio.
Leaving the coffee in water for too long will cause most of the bitter compounds to be drawn out, giving your coffee a bitter taste.
When you mix ground coffee in water during extraction, the natural sugars and acids will be extracted first. This is why coffee made by light extraction is often sweeter.
The longer you leave the coffee in water, the more of the bitter ingredients that will be extracted, and you’ll end up with more bitter coffee.
Another factor connected to over-extraction is how much water you use.
The amount of water you need differs depending on the type of coffee you’re brewing and whether you’re using finely ground or coarse beans.
Only add as much water as mentioned in a recipe, and don’t be tempted to use less water for “stronger” coffee.
You’re Grinding the Coffee Too Finely
While the best espresso is made from finely ground coffee beans, you shouldn’t apply the same principle to making black coffee, especially if you don’t like bitter coffee.
Finely ground coffee beans will release their flavors in the water much faster, increasing the chances of over-extraction.
Black coffee is usually made with the pour-over method, and medium ground beans are ideal for getting all the flavors from the beans without extracting too much bitterness.
However, black coffee will still retain some bitterness even if you’re using coarsely ground beans.
If you have the right coffee grinder, this won’t be a prevalent problem.
You’re Using Darker Roast Coffee
Black coffee is made using dark roast beans, but that doesn’t mean you can experiment with medium and light roast beans if you don’t like your coffee bitter.
While making proper black coffee with lightly roasted beans is almost impossible, you can still experiment with a medium roast.
Darker roasted beans are often burnt, and this adds to the bitterness.
You may also not get the same flavors from dark roasted coffee as you would with medium roasted beans, especially if the beans are over-roasted.
You Aren’t Brewing the Coffee Properly
If you ask any good barista why your coffee is bitter, they’ll probably tell you that you aren’t brewing it properly.
Brewing the perfect coffee is all about recognizing fine margins, so there’s no harm in experimenting until you perfect the technique.
One thing that most people overlook is the brewing temperature. The ideal brewing temperature for coffee is around 200°F (93°C).
If you’re brewing coffee with boiling water, you’ll get a bitter taste. Instead, the water should be just hot enough to extract the natural sugars from the ground coffee beans without extracting the bitter flavor.
Also, make sure to check that your equipment is clean, you’re using mineral water or tap water (not distilled water), and that you’re using high-quality coffee beans if you want to make black coffee that’s not too bitter.
How To Reduce Bitterness of Black Coffee
Even though most people can handle a strong cup of Joe, there’s nothing worse than having black coffee that’s too bitter to start your day with.
That being said, less than 15% of the bitterness is caused by the coffee beans – the rest is dependent on how you brew your coffee.
Here are some ways to reduce the bitterness of your brew:
Use Medium Roast Coffee Beans
Dark roast coffee doesn’t have the same flavor as light or medium roast coffee and is usually more bitter.
However, it’s difficult to brew pure black coffee with lightly roasted coffee grounds, so you’ll have to use medium roast coffee instead.
The easiest way to avoid over-extraction when making black coffee is to be precise when measuring how much water you’re using. If your coffee is too bitter, use less water.
Also, use medium-ground coffee beans instead of finely ground ones to reduce the coffee’s bitterness.
Find the perfect balance that gives you great-tasting coffee, and stick to your method.
Use Fresh Coffee Beans
If your coffee tastes bland and bitter, you may have stored it for too long.
Fresh coffee has a distinct taste and will release more flavors than coffee that’s been stored for several months.
If you don’t drink coffee regularly, buy less coffee so you don’t have to store it for too long.
Use High-Quality Coffee Beans
The next time you’re buying coffee, don’t go for the cheapest option available. While Arabica beans are more expensive than other types, they also pack the most natural flavors and are less bitter.
Find a brand and coffee type that suits your taste and stick to it. While there’s no harm in experimenting, you should have a set selection that you can rely on for the perfect morning coffee every time.
While all coffee is slightly bitter, black coffee that’s too bitter can ruin your day.
Some of the bitterness is caused by how the coffee beans were grown and processed, but it mostly has to do with the brewing method that you use.
To get sweeter, more balanced black coffee, use high-quality beans and make sure they’re fresh.
Alternatively, you can opt for medium ground coffee beans.
Also, brew your coffee at the ideal temperature and avoid over-extraction for sweeter black coffee.