In our house, instant coffee is the bane of existence. But we keep it around anyway for baking, camping, and for the toddler to run around with because it makes a good rattle.
For many people though, instant coffee is a staple and it’s easy to see why: if you only need a cup, it’s easy to prepare, you don’t need any special material other than hot water, and it’s easy. And some people also claim that instant coffee is less acidic, so they can drink more of it without risking problems with their digestive system, heart burn or acid reflux, or wearing of the teeth over time. But is this actually true? Is instant coffee less acidic than its counterparts?
Short answer: No. Instant coffee is just as acidic as regular coffee, all things being equal. But there are a few things to consider if you are looking to reduce the acidity of your morning cup and instant coffee may help you get there – or it may not.
Where Does the Coffee Acidity Come From?
When we are looking at coffee acidity, we are actually looking at a few things:
- The coffee bean
- The roasting process
- The place of origin of the coffee bean
- The grind, with large grounds being less acidic than finely ground
Instant coffee is by and large, a larger grind of coffee, which does help it to be less acidic than the regular brewed coffee which is often more finely ground. Of course, you can get larger ground regular coffee and finely ground instant coffee, so it’s all about reading the labels and being careful about what you choose.
All coffee beans have acids in them, it’s what gives coffee its flavor profile. But there are ways to get less acidic coffee, including less acidic instant coffee.
The Coffee Bean Matters
The most important thing to consider when looking at a less acidic coffee is the bean. And the best bean for low acidity is the Arabica bean. It’s also the most popular and makes up over half the world’s coffee production, so finding it shouldn’t be that hard. Arabica beans are popular because they are sweeter with less caffeine and less acid, meaning you can drink more without feeling sick or overstimulated.
Even here though, there is debate! Some people claim that the other common Robusta bean is less acidic than the Arabica bean. This is likely because of where the Robusta is grown more so than the inherent acidity and can also be due to how it is roasted. We’ll dive into that more next.
You should also consider the roasting time. Dark roasted coffee is actually less acidic than light roast coffee. This may sound counterintuitive, but the roasting process not only helps to remove acids, but also develops a compound that reduces the acid production in the stomach, which is pretty cool.
So, the best low acid coffee bean is a dark roasted Arabica bean, assuming you’re not looking at anything too specialized and hard to find. But what about the origin of the bean?
Oh, Coffee Bean! From Whence Do You Hail?
The origin of the coffee bean matters a great deal because where the coffee bean was grown will affect flavor and acidity. Lower altitude coffee beans are less acidic than those grown at a higher elevation. And Brazil is considered to be one of the best places to grow low acid coffee beans. Sumatra is also a great place to get low acid coffee from, again, because the beans are grown in low elevation. On the other hand, Ethiopia, Kenya, and Peru are all higher acid coffees (And some parts of Brazil too because of where the bean is grown) because they tend to grow at higher elevations.
Coffee by location can be an expensive way to buy your coffee, but we are building up a profile here. So far, low acid coffee would be a dark roast Arabica bean from a low elevation such as Sumatra or some part of Brazil (though Sumatra is the safest) or a Robusta bean that is also dark roasted and grown at a low elevation, though the Arabica will probably taste better on average.
Brewing the Coffee
The final factor in coffee acidity is how it is brewed and the grinding. Course ground coffee is less acidic when done with a long brewing time and fine ground coffee is less acidic with a short brew time. The trick is how much time water spends in contact with the coffee bean. The coarser the grind is, the more brewing time is required to get the coffee out of the bean. If you don’t give the brewing enough time to run through, your coffee will end up more acidic. At that point, it won’t matter where the bean came from or how acidic it was originally – a short brew on a coarse grind will make for an acidic coffee.
Of course, you don’t’ want to over-brew either as that leads to a very bitter cup.
Cold brewed coffee is also a lot less acidic, so it’s a popular method, albeit a longer one since it takes 12 to 18 hours to cold brew! It works because the acidic part of the coffee bean isn’t extracted nearly as much in cold brew as it is in hot.
How Much Control Over Your Coffee Do You Want?
A side factor to acidity in coffee is the amount of control you have. The plain fact with instant coffee is that it is often made to be affordable and that can mean a worse bean with less quality and a lot less consistency. You also cannot ‘tweak’ instant coffee; it’s made with water poured over it and then stirred. Brewed coffee on the other hand can be tweaked by choosing different beans, different grinds, different brew times and different brew methods. Instant coffee doesn’t give you any of that and it can vary from package to package (even from the same brand!) so you really are stuck with what you get. (More convenient often means less control).
As you can see, the simple question of whether instant coffee is less acidic than regular brewed coffee is murkier than one would think. It depends on a number of factors and it depends on how you brew your drink. This isn’t even taking into account specialty coffee that is grown specifically to be low acid and is marketed as such! It’s really impossible to say definitively that instant coffee is more or less acidic than brewed coffee, though it can be said that regular brewed coffee is far easier to tweak and modify to be low acid than instant.
In general, instant coffee is probably going to be more acidic than brewed coffee because we can’t control the beans that went into it, we cannot tweak it as easily with brewing times, and many instant coffees are made with lower quality beans. But that is quite the generality, and you can probably find low acid instant coffee as well as low acid regular coffee.
At the end of the day, it will really come down to which you prefer: Instant or regular brew?
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