Why Do People Put Salt in Their Coffee?

You’re likely familiar with adding sugar, milk, cream, and even honey to a cup of black coffee. These all seem ordinary and commonplace to do. You’ve recently heard of adding salt to coffee, which seems odd. Why do people do this?

People add salt to their coffee to neutralize any bitterness. Adding salt to bitter coffee helps balance the flavors and enhance the coffee’s sweetness.

There’s a lot more science around this, so let’s dig a little deeper into why salt can help your coffee taste sweeter. 

Why is Coffee Bitter?

Before we understand how salt helps eliminate bitterness, let’s quickly go over why some coffee tastes this way. Bitter-tasting coffee can result from a number of things, as we discussed thoroughly in our post, “Why Does My Coffee Taste Bitter.

Due to coffee’s caffeine content, it naturally has a bitter component. This only accounts for around 10% of the bitterness tasted when drinking coffee, though. This begs the question, what accounts for the other ninety percent?

The majority of coffee bitterness is from chlorogenic acid lactones and phenylindanes. These compounds present themselves as the coffee beans are roasted. 

Another culprit of bitter coffee is the over-extraction of the grounds. Extraction is the process of pulling flavor from the coffee bean using hot water. A chemical reaction occurs when water is combined with coffee grounds, dissolving the flavor compounds. When the beans’ flavor is extracted too long, a bitter taste will emerge in the coffee.

This is especially true when using a French press. If coffee is left in the French Press after the plunger has been pushed down, the grounds will continue to be extracted, thus producing a bitter cup of coffee. To avoid this, be sure to remove coffee immediately from the device. 

Some tips and tricks to avoid over-extraction

  • Ensure your water isn’t too hot: Water between 195 and 205 degrees Fehrenheit is perfect. You don’t want your water overboiling when pouring over the grounds. Let it sit for thirty to forty-five seconds to cool off.
  • Don’t steep coffee for too long or the bitter flavors to come through.
  • Experiment with the grind size you use. Depending on the brewing method, your grinds may need to be more coarse or finer. If grounds are too coarse, it can lead to under-extraction, and if they are too fine, it can lead to over-extraction and bitterness. Read more on “How Fine Should I Grind My Coffee Beans?”
  • Don’t use too much water. When brewing, too much water can lead to bitterness because the excess water extracted from the coffee grounds is past the desired point. Read more on “What is the Best Coffee to Water Ratio?”
  • One last tip that doesn’t involve the extraction process is to ensure your brewing equipment is clean. If left unclean, old coffee residue or limescale buildup can produce bitterness or astringent flavors. Using a coffee maker cleaner or descaler is a great way to keep your devices clean and brew delicious-tasting coffee every time. 

How Does Salt Eliminate Bitterness?

Salt is a staple for any kitchen as it has many uses, including adding flavor to bland food. Even so, many people don’t realize that it can also be used in your daily coffee routine. 

Our taste buds allow us to precieve what flavors we are experiencing, but bitterness is a bit different. Calcium ions tell our brains that we are tasting something bitter.

Salt, or more specifically sodium ions, help eliminate coffee bitterness by activating the salt receptors on our tongues, this blocks the bitter flavor. As sodium is a primary component of salt, it neutralizes the bitterness we taste when drinking coffee. As the bitterness fades, the coffee’s natural sweetness is able to be tasted.

In fact, salt has been shown to do this better than sugar. Whereas sugar merely masks coffee bitterness, salt neutralizes it. This is excellent news if you are trying to cut down on your sugar intake, but can’t tolerate bitter-tasting coffee. 

How Much Salt Should You Add to Coffee?

How much salt you should add to your cup of coffee varies from person to person and cup to cup. If coffee is more bitter, the amount of salt needed is going to be more than a less bitter cup of coffee.

A coffee made with high-quality Arabica beans that are not over-roasted or over-extracted is only going to need a pinch of salt. For an average cup of coffee, about 1/4 teaspoon of salt is needed to neutralize the bitterness. If your coffee isn’t using quality beans or they are over-roasted or over-extracted, you’ll likely need about 1/2 to 1 teaspoon of salt. 

Table showing how much salt is needed for your coffee to counteract bitterness. 

slightly bitter needs 1/4 tsp. of salt
moderately bitter needs 1/2 tsp. of salt
very bitter needs 1 tsp. of salt

When to Add Salt to Coffee

There are two ways to add salt to your cup of coffee: before it is brewed and after.

I recommend adding salt to the coffee grounds before brewing the coffee. 

TIP: You can always add more in, but you can’t take salt out. So add less than you think you should initially, and then once the coffee is brewed, take a small sip, and add a little more if necessary.

Positives of Adding Salt to Your Coffee

The greatest positive of adding salt to your daily coffee is not having to add the extra sugar and creamers to it to coverup the bitterness. The American Heart Association notes that American adults consume about 77 grams of sugar per day, which is triple the amount women should be consuming.

It goes on to say that men should only be consuming 9 teaspoons (36 grams) or less of sugar per day while women should only be consuming 6 teaspoons (25 grams) or less per day.

Cutting out extra sugar from your morning coffee could have positive health benefits for your body. Salt serves as a good alternative.

Negatives of Adding Salt to Your Coffee

Just as consuming too much sugar is not good for your health, neither is consuming too much salt good for your health. Everything is about moderation.

If you’re eating too many sodium-rich foods throughout the day and then adding it to your coffee, your intake may be too high. According to the FDA, most Americans eat about 3,400 mg of sodium each day, while they only recommend less than 2,300 mg per day.

It’s important to note that the American Heart Association estimates that about seventy percent of this salt intake comes from “packaged, prepared, and restaurant foods, not the salt shaker.” So if your sodium consumption is too high, it’s likely from the foods you eat, not your morning cup of coffee. 

Final Thoughts

Adding salt to your morning or afternoon coffee can help reduce sugar intake while neutralizing the bitterness you taste. Instead of covering up the bitter taste, it helps eliminate it, and allows you to taste the inherent sweetness of the coffee.

By eliminating the sugar, you can be sure to gain all the benefits of drinking coffee. Not only does it give you that extra boost, but you’re also consuming nutrients like magnesium and antioxidants. Plus, there are studies that have shown that drinking coffee everyday can help reduce your chances of developing certain diseases including Dementia and Alzheimers.

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