Coffee is a wonderful thing and enjoyed by many around the world in different ways. The temperature it’s brewed and served at can change the way it tastes, but nobody wants to enjoy a hot cup of coffee if there’s a potential risk of burning one’s self with it. So just how hot should it be served?
According to the National Coffee Association of the USA, coffee should be served between 180-185 °F / 80-85 °C. While this is standard practice by most establishments that serve the beverage, there’s more to serving coffee than simply following a guide.
What temperature will burn your tongue?
A nice steaming cup of coffee is an enjoyable pleasure in life, but not so much if it ends up burning your tongue. Although the exact temperature at which you’ll feel a burn on your tongue can vary between people, studies have shown that temperatures between 160-185 °F / 70-85 °C has the potential to cause significant scald burns, even in brief exposures.
While no one wants to serve a beverage hot enough to potentially injure someone, it is ideal that it’s at a temperature that is satisfying to the person drinking it.
How hot is Starbucks coffee served?
The popular coffee chain Starbucks didn’t get to where it is without knowing the finer details about serving the drink it’s renowned for, particularly the right temperature to do so.
With the exception of their Americanos, Starbucks serves their coffee between 150-170 °F / 65-76 °C. However, how hot fast food and coffee franchises serve their coffee has received a lot of attention in the last decade.
The infamous McDonald’s lawsuit – Anyone who drinks coffee has no doubt heard about the McDonald’s Hot Coffee Case where Stella Liebeck bought a cup of takeout coffee and spilled it on her lap.
The 79-year old woman suffered third-degree burns from the coffee which had indeed been deemed dangerously hot when it was served at 180-190 °F, prompting fast-food franchises around the world to revisit their operations manuals and re-examine what was considered a safe temperature to serve their coffee at.
What is the perfect coffee temperature?
The best temperature for brewing coffee – Figuring out the perfect temperature for coffee depends on several factors. First of all, the temperature that coffee is brewed may be different than the temperature at which it’s served.
Hot water is necessary in order to extract the flavor compounds, solids, and oils from coffee grounds, the elements that effectively make the drink. Brewing coffee with water between 195 and 205 °F / 90-96 °C is ideal, as temperatures hotter than that can scald the grounds and create an unpleasant burnt taste. Any cooler and the resulting drink may be under-extracted and not to your liking.
The best temperature for serving coffee – According to one study where consumers could mix hot and cool coffees, the average temperature people preferred to enjoy their coffee at was around 140 °F / 60 °C. Your individual palette may determine how hot you should enjoy your coffee:
- Drinking coffee below 120 °F / 50 °C allows for you to taste an enhanced sweetness and acidity.
- For those who want a sharper, more acidic cup of coffee, you’ll want to have it between 120-140 °F / 50-60 °C.
- And if you want to savor the sweet and bitter notes of your coffee, drink it in between 155-175 °F / 68-80 °C.
Tips for cooling down your coffee
So your coffee is too hot for your liking. There are ways of cooling it down so you can enjoy your drink sooner rather than later.
Blow on it – This classic move needs no explanation. The air you blow is cooler than the liquid you’re blowing on which helps exchange heat and cool your beverage faster. If you seem skeptical at the effectiveness, you can rest assured this method works and is backed up by science.
Stir it – Stirring your too-hot coffee also works surprisingly well. Doing so maximizes the surface area of contact between the air and your drink, cooling it fast.
Pour it between cups – If you happen to have a spare mug or cup on hand, carefully pour the hot beverage into the empty cup, and then back again into the original. You may need to repeat this a few times. Similar to stirring, this increases the surface area of the liquid during the exchange and helps to cool it.
Just add milk – There’s no fancy science here.
Adding a cold liquid to a hot one will make it cooler. This will obviously affect the taste of your coffee, so if you like your coffee black you may have to opt for another way to get it to the temperature of your liking. One way you can do this is by dropping in a “coffee joulie” which absorbs the heat and then releases it back slowly, keeping your drink hot longer.
Saliva – Don’t have milk on hand? No worries! Use your tongue to lick the inside of your mouth and give it an extra coat of saliva before you take your next sip. It might seem excessive or something your mouth would naturally do, but this simple preventative measure can give you just enough protection to keep you from burning your tongue.
Thermometer – We don’t expect you to actually stick a thermometer into every hot beverage you pour. With a wide range of unique heat-sensitive mugs available online that do the guesswork for you, you won’t have to. Whether your favorite new mug designs has a temperature gauge or a cute image that changes, it’ll let you know when your coffee is ready to drink.
Remedies for mouth burns
Fortunately because of the abundant blood flow the tongue receives, it won’t stay burned for long. You may want to avoid further hot foods and drinks until it heals, but in the meantime, you can try to soothe your tongue with these remedies and recommendations.
Cool foods – The logical solution to a burn from something hot is to cool it with something cold. Water is your go-to solution to sooth a burned tongue or mouth, but why waste a good excuse to enjoy cool foods like popsicles, ice cream, or yogurt?
Avoid hot foods – This is might seem obvious, but if you find yourself having burned your tongue or mouth on something hot, refrain from drinking more of it. This suggestion extends beyond hot drinks and includes avoiding spicy and acidic foods like tomatoes and citrus fruits. Alcohol and tobacco should also be avoided as these will irritate the already damaged tissue even further.
Saltwater rinse – A small cup of water mixed with one teaspoon of salt can help relieve a mouth burn and prevent infection. Just mix the saltwater solution, take a big sip, and swish it around in your mouth. Hold the saltwater in your mouth for a minute or two before spitting it out in a sink.
Sugar-coat it – If you have more of a sweet tooth, then skip the salt and sprinkle some sugar on your tongue. Don’t go overboard with this remedy as excessive sugar isn’t great for your teeth. Honey makes for a great alternative to sugar in sooth mouth burns because of its antibacterial properties.
Vitamin E – Vitamin E oil can help regenerate healthy skin and tissue. Just pop a capsule in your mouth and spread the oil to the burnt part of your tongue or mouth. Found in many moisturizers, Vitamin E also has other helpful benefits for your body.
A steaming hot cup of coffee is one of life’s simplest and greatest pleasures, but not if drinking one ends up with a painfully burned mouth. While high temperatures are necessary in order to brew the best flavors, there has been growing awareness surrounding what temperatures are ideal to serve coffee at.
Although this is typically cooler than what the coffee is brewed at, you may still find yourself with a sip too hot to handle and a burned mouth as a result. Put the mug down and find the best way to cool it. It won’t be long before you’ll be ready to enjoy another cup of coffee, hopefully, one that’s at just the right temperature.
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