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What's better for your stomach?

What's better for your stomach?

A couple of weeks ago a friend of mine asked if we sold coffee that was "less acidic" and easier on the stomach. We get a lot of customers who ask the same question, particularly when it comes to the acid levels of other brands or roasters. The short answer is no. That's really a myth but there is a solution, well, kind of.

All specialty-grade Arabica coffees have the same pH level. Roast profiles, different coffee varietals, or even different brew methods do not have a substantial effect on cutting down the acidity found in coffee.

Science Time

Let's start with the basics. Remember the science experiments you did in the 7th grade? Those little white strips were called pH Test Strips and were used to measure pH levels.

To refresh your memory water is neutral at a pH of 7, lemons are pretty acidic at a pH of 2, and drain cleaner is very basic at a pH of 14.

A typical black coffee measures at a 5 which is similar to the pH of a banana, yup a banana. As you can see from the scale below, coffee is technically acidic, but not by much. You will find similar acidic levels in soda, orange juice, and even some beers.

Time To Experiment

But there are customers that swear a light roast is easier on their stomach, or a particular region sits better.

So I decided to run an experiment on my own and test out a variety of different coffees, roast profiles and brew methods.

I purchased a digital pH meter that has an accuracy down to the hundredth of a pH. I also setup a "control" with a pH of 6.86 for calibration. Distilled water was used in between each test to make sure there wasn't any contamination. I ended up testing nine different types coffee.

pH Results

What clearly stands out from the graph below is the minor difference in pH levels between roast profiles, brew methods, and coffee origins. The pH difference from our Costa Rica Light to Cold Brew is only 0.52. Even our Kenya coffee, which is known for its citric flavors had a very similar pH level.

If you ever had a cup of coffee that didn't upset your stomach think about what else you ate that day, or if you added milk. It most probably isn't related to the coffee itself.

So Is There A Solution?

You do have a couple of options to "tamper" down the acid levels, but to be honest, it's not by much. I encourage you to test the two options below and see if they're able to help you out.

Dark Roasts - a study published in 2010 found that dark roast coffee is easier on the stomach than light roasts because it produces an ingredient that prevents hydrochloric acid from building up in the stomach.

Cold Brew - brewing coffee using the cold brew method has been shown to increase the pH level of coffee. The theory is that the cold water extracts less of the oils found in hot water extraction which results in a lower acidic coffee. In my experiment I was able to "bump up" the pH level by a very small amount. How To Make Cold Brew.

Photo credit: Bigstock

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paul hillman

- February 01, 2022

Thanks Michael & Hrag, I was wondering if the coffee expert (OP) and the scientist got together and came up with any new insights? Everyone I ask has a different opinion on the matter (even at the roasteries)! The only thing I know is that my cold brew costs just $0.16 per cup


- February 01, 2022

Hi. I just need to know which coffee is best for reducing gerd.

Michael Mojaver

- February 01, 2022

Hi Henry,
Very good article, I was looking online to see what coffee is best to drink and still don’t know the answer. Your article is exactly whatt I was looking for but I am not sure it makes sense.

First of all the pH meter you are using is probably only good for water and most certainly not accurate to +/- 0.01, maybe +/- 0.1 if you are lucky and more likely +/- 1. Please see document below for how to measure pH for food. Note that the calibration is also affected by the temperature of the food. Also, you probably know the difference between pH 4 and 5, for example, is not 1 but 10x – 10x each level. So I am not sure what you measured, maybe it is right but most likely not.

BTW I live in Bay area, and came to the US from Iran when I was 15, my best friend there was Armenian. I certainly don’t know much about coffee but I had 10 years of training as a scientist and do know how to make measurements. If you decide to do this again (properly) please let me know and I will come by and help you do it right :-)

Alex Chen

- February 01, 2022

Fully agree with Michael’s comment. pH is measured in magnitudes; using Costa Rica Light and Kenya Dark, assuming your results are accurate – the DIFFERENCE between the concentration of hydrogen ions is 7.57e-6, while the concentration in the Kenya dark was 5.01e-6. In other words, there is a bigger difference of Hydrogen ion concentration than there actually is Hydrogen in the Kenya Dark.

I haven’t done chemistry in a while – please correct me if I’m wrong!

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