What to do if Your Coffee Tastes Burnt?

When that alarm sounds in the morning, there’s nothing like those first sips of steaming coffee to get you started. But when those sips present you with a burnt taste, it will surely put a damper on your morning and quite possibly your entire day.

So, this begs the question: Why does your coffee taste burnt, and what can you do to fix it?

Coffee can taste burnt for a handful of reasons.

  1. The coffee beans are over-roasted
  2. The coffee beans/grounds are old and stale
  3. Coffee is over-extracted
  4. Issues From Brewing Device

Coffee Beans are Over Roasted

Let’s discuss the first cause of burnt-tasting coffee: poorly roasted coffee beans. Unfortunately, unless you are a coffee roaster, you don’t have much control over the roasting process.

However, you can make informed decisions on who you are buying your coffee beans from. Be sure to purchase quality beans from a master roaster.

Over-roasted coffee beans is a common reason some coffee has a burnt flavor. The darker the roast, the higher likelihood of those toasty, smoky flavors emerging, which increases the chances of getting a burnt taste.

Coffee Beans are Old and Stale

After coffee beans are roasted, they, unfortunately, begin to grow stale or old. This is due to oxidation from exposure to oxygen. Moisture and heat can also lead to the oxidation of your coffee beans.

Coffee will lose its freshness (go stale) as time passes, but light and moisture speed up this process. As freshness lessens, that delicious smell will become less pungent, and the flavors will become less intense.

If you’ve bought a bag of coffee, chances are it will be in an airtight bag. Before you open it, be sure to store it in a dark, dry place like a cupboard. To preserve your bean’s freshness for as long as possible, try to limit as much air, light, and moisture.

Once you open it, if the bag can be resealed, great, just keep it in that and store in the cupboard. If you cannot reseal the bag, transfer all the coffee into an airtight container. If you have nothing, a quality ziplock bag will do, but I highly suggest purchasing a canister specifically designed to keep coffee in. I use and recommend a Coffee Gator.

Another crucial tip on keeping your coffee fresh is to purchase whole beans and grind them as needed. Pre-ground holds its freshness longer than ground coffee because there is less surface area being exposed to oxygen.

Click here to read more on why coffee goes stale and some great tips on preserving its freshness.

Over-Extracted Coffee

Extraction is the process of pulling the flavor out of the coffee bean through hot water. When water is combined with coffee grounds, a chemical reaction dissolves the flavor compounds.

When coffee grounds are over-extracted, it creates harsh flavors in your cup of coffee. People often relate these harsh flavors as a burnt or bitter taste.

Some tips and tricks to avoid over-extraction are explained below.

Water is Too Hot

Be sure your water isn’t too hot. Oftentimes, boiling water will be used in the brewing process, which is not ideal. You want your water to be anywhere between 195 degrees F and 205 degrees F. When your water is above 205 degrees Fahrenheit, it negatively affects the extraction process. You can use a thermometer to ensure your water is perfect.

Although hot water is used to extract the flavor from the coffee grounds, when it is at its boiling point, the flavor extracted tends to be too strong and harsh. Thus, negatively affecting your otherwise smooth cup of coffee.

For further explanation on why you shouldn’t use boiling water when brewing coffee, click here!

Steeping for Too Long

A common misconception is that the longer you steep your coffee, the stronger it will be. This is false. Steeping your coffee for too long can actually lead to bitterness or burnt-tasting coffee. If you enjoy your coffee being on the stronger side, add more coffee grounds for the same amount of water.

Steeping for too long is most prevalent when using a French press. Be sure to remove coffee immediately after use to avoid over-extraction.

Coffee Grind Size Too Fine

I always recommend buying coffee beans and grinding them freshly. By doing this, you can guarantee a much tastier cup of coffee.

Experiment with the grind size you use. Depending on the brewing method, your grinds may be too coarse or too fine. If grounds are too coarse, it can lead to under-extraction, and if they are too fine, it can lead to over-extraction and a burnt taste.

Unless you are making an Espresso, your grind size should not be super fine. Below you’ll find a chart explaining how fine you should grind your coffee.

Table showing how fine you should grind your coffee beans when using a espresso, aeropress, pourover, chemex, or french press.

Also, check out our corresponding article here. One of our favorite coffee grinders is the OXO Brew Coffee Grinder found on Amazon.

Brewing Device

The last reason we’ll look at for why your coffee may taste burnt deals with your brewing device. First, certain brewing methods tend to produce burnt-tasting coffee more than others, and second, whichever device your using may need a good cleaning.

Brewing Device Water Temp: Although automatic drip systems are convenient and easy to use, they are often the culprit of burnt coffee. One reason is that most of the less expensive machines don’t allow you to adjust the water temperature, thus using only boiling water to brew. As we’ve already discussed, boiling water is not optimal.

Brewing Device Heat Plate: Many automatic brewers come with heat plates to keep the pot of coffee warm. Even though these are nice, in that your pot of coffee won’t get cold on you, they prolong the extraction process. This will give your burnt-tasting coffee.

Brewing Device is Dirty: One last tip that doesn’t involve the extraction process is to ensure your brewing equipment is clean. Ideally, you should do a quick cleaning after each use to keep your machine running in tip-top shape. If left unclean, old coffee residue or limescale buildup can produce a burnt or bitter flavor.

Check out our other article for more Coffee Pot Mistakes to Stop Making Today!

How to Fix Burnt-Tasting Coffee

We’ve gone over all the reasons why your coffee has a burnt taste. You may need to try a couple different remedies to determine which problem you are having. To fix the flavor of your coffee, do the following.

  1. Buy high-quality coffee beans that aren’t over-roasted.
  2. Store whole coffee beans in an airtight container and use promptly.
  3. Avoid over-extraction by ensuring your water isn’t too hot.
  4. Adjust brew time so the ground coffee doesn’t over steep.
  5. Adjust grind size for your specific coffee maker.
  6. Keep your brewing device clean and in working condition.

Final Thoughts

Hopefully, you have a complete understanding of what causes your coffee to taste burnt and can now be on your way to solving the issue. Remember to buy your beans from a quality roaster, avoid over-extraction, and clean your brewing device regularly.

You’re on your way to an amazingly smooth cup of coffee!

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