Acidity in Coffee


Predicting what a coffee will actually taste like before purchasing online or buying from your local cafe can be challenging when first getting into coffee. Getting familiar with some facts and terminology will help guide you towards selecting the ideal coffee for you. Acidity of the coffee is major make or break for some people. Some love bright crisp coffee, others want more mellow smooth deep flavors, and some like us want it all. Here is some terminology and how it plays into the overall taste and experience of the coffee.


Some major factors that contribute to varying levels of acidity in arabica coffee:


  • ♨️ Roast Degree - that is how light or dark the coffee is. Generally, the lighter roasted the coffee the more prominent the acidity might be. BUT! These are not all “sour tasting” acids. Roasting coffee lighter reserves more acids that can contribute to more noticeable & pleasant flavors and aromas. As you roast session goes on it begins to breakdown existing acids such as citric acidic and malic acid and also begins to convert the ever so prominent chlorogenic acids to different forms and one major one is quinic acid. (Note: there are acid definitions at the bottom!) So for a dark roast, the majority of the overall sugar content & moisture content of the coffee is roasted away as well as the tasty acids, like citrus and malic, that contribute brighter, fruited flavors leaving behind the chlorogenic acids and the new created quinic acid that in turn produces the bitter taste in your coffee and also reduces caffeine. A small amount of this development of quinic acid is good for depth and balance but too much and you have an unpleasant & sometimes metallic or medicinal tasting cup. Our lighter roasted coffees try and balance the development & reduction of acids in the roaster to make a cup with clarity and complexity. Say no to bitter & burnt cups of coffee. 
  • 🌍 Origin Country - the different terroir of each nation, coffee growing region, and the farm/estate the coffee is grown on. There is a common coffee stereotype that African coffees pack a punch and South American coffees are more mellow. This is not always true, BUT it’s important to understand that every coffee producing nation has themes within their flavor profile. Try tasting coffees from lots of varying origins to get a feel for the differences and for what your pallet prefers. This is a big reason why we are always alternating our offering list. 
  • 🌱 Processing Method - how the coffee is fermented & dried once ripe and picked.

Natural Process: the coffee beans are dried and fermented inside the fruit yielding an often sweet heavier bodied coffee.

Washed process: The coffee bean is removed from the coffee cherry, washed in water, and dried. This yields generally a refined acidity and a cleaner cup.

There are additional experimental processing methods that contribute to the development of more fruit sugars and acids which can make the cup more sweet, increase complexity, but not necessarily more acidic! Producers like our friends at El Vergel Estates in Colombia use experimental and non traditional methods to create new and exiting flavor profiles!  Check out our coffee: Colombia - El Vergel's Guava Banana


  • Elevation - an essential part of the terroir, like we mentioned previously, that contributes to how long it takes for that coffee cherry to ripen. High elevations can often cause extended ripening times that can contribute to more complexity and a more refined acidity in the coffee. For example. A Kenyan coffee can be grown at times 2000 - 2200 meters above sea level and Brazilian coffees can be as low as 800 - 1000 meters. That Kenyan coffee cherry often spends more time ripening on the coffee tree and can start to develop more fruit sugars and more complexity in its acidity!


Freshly picked coffee cherries getting ready to be washed and cleaned of all debris before processing at El Vergel Estates in Colombia

So to wrap up our acid chat, this is explanation of why two of our coffees taste the way that the do.


Brazil - Fazenda São José

Processing Method: Natural Process

Elevation: 1015 masl

The tasting notes that we felt this coffee expressed are citrus peel, apricot, and chocolate chip. You might taste other things, but we felt in our cupping process those were prominent and recognizable flavors. Based on our vocab lesson above do you think is coffee will be more or less acidic? Correct!! This coffee will be less acidic because of its lower elevation, natural processing method, and origin location.


Kenya - Ruarai Factory AA

Washed Process

1700 - 1900

We tasted pineapple, candied lime, black tea. You are seeing where we are going right? Yes! This coffee will have a more noticeable acidity. This can be assumed because of its origin location, washed processing method, and higher elevation. As with all our coffees, we have selected it’s roast degree (how dark those beans are), to help balance sweetness and acidity so each cup is pleasant and clean.


We place all this information on our bags for your convenience, and to give our partnering producers credit for their role in taste of the cup. Once you start to really understand these elements of your coffee you can start to select the right coffee for you.


If you want to go even deeper. Keep reading for some more basic vocabulary on the types of acids in coffee!


  • 🍊 🍋 Citric acid: Everyone knows the and loves the bright refreshing smell of citrus. Citric acid is one of the most prominent acids in coffee. This acid contributes to bright citrusy and crisp experience. This acid is naturally occurring from the coffee plant, different varieties have different amounts. This acid breaks down during the roasting process.
  • 🍏🍐Malic acid: this acid might be as recognizable too some as the citric acid is but it greatly contributes to flavor. This acid is one that is prominent in green apples, pears, and white wine. This acid also breaks down during the roasting process
  • Acetic acid: this is an acid that is created during the roasting process. It actually is the main acid in vinegar. This acid actually helps bring a clarity and cleanliness to the cup. So roasted just right and it’s not as gross at it might seems.
  • Chlorogenic acids: there are many acids under this umbrella, but it’s the largest make up of acids in coffee and it is what overall contributes to coffee being an acid beverage on the pH scale and to flavor. This is also where the caffeine lives. These do break down as you roast the coffee.
  • Quinic acid: this is a byproduct of the breakdown of chlorogenic acid in coffee. Quinic acid is known for its bitterness and sometimes off putting flavor. There will be some amount of this in all coffee but it’s important as a roaster to balance its development with the naturally occurring  acids and the newly caramelized sugars to create a complex and balanced cup of coffee.
  • Phosphoric acid: This is a naturally occurring acid in coffee that you usually comes from the soil the coffee is grown in. It contributes to sparkling and crisp sensations that happen on your palate.
  • Tartaric acid: is a noticeable acid that is found in many fruits but especially grapes and cranberries. You might be familiar with this one.
  • Lactic acid: an acid that contributes to the body and “heaviness” of the coffee. Producers will often select processing methods that promote the development of lactic acid to help create more body to help balance high acidity with a heavier feeling coffee.


Well, we made it. I hope you enjoyed this acidic journey and feel empowered to start branching out in your coffee selection. We make it a goal to provide as much information as we can to help educate you but also try to showcase what the producers of the wonderful coffees. We partner with amazing producers that work hard to develop high quality and amazing coffees.




More great info on acid & coffee processing:

Forest Coffee: The 7 stages of the coffee production process