Coffee is an extremely popular beverage even though bitterness is a prominent element of its flavor profile. But why is coffee bitter? And why do people still enjoy it? This article will investigate what aspects of coffee and its preparation give it a bitter taste, and even show you how to give your coffee the perfect bitterness balance.

Bitterness in the Beans

Coffee naturally has a bitter taste to it. And for many coffee lovers, the bitterness of coffee is a desirable part of its flavor profile. In fact, research has shown that people who are more sensitive to bitter flavors gravitate more toward drinking coffee.


One main reason that coffee tastes bitter is the presence of caffeine. Since caffeine also causes coffee cravings for many people, it is no wonder that frequent coffee drinkers appreciate bitterness in their beverages. 

People often build positive associations between this bitter flavor and the burst of energy that drinking coffee provides.

Post-Harvest Bitterness

Caffeine isn’t the only thing that makes coffee taste bitter. Much of coffee’s bitterness is caused by cholorogenic acid lactones and phenylindanes, both of which are a product of roasting coffee beans. 

The more strongly roasted the coffee beans are, the harsher the notes of bitterness in the coffee’s flavor.

Are you Brewing Bitterness?

While bitter flavors are part of coffee and coffee roasting, there are many elements of your coffee’s flavor that are in your control when you are attentive to your brewing process. 

As with any culinary art celebrated for the finesse of its preparation processes, the best cup of coffee is carefully prepared to bring out the right balance of all its flavors, including bitterness, sourness, acidity, and sweetness.

If you are battling bitterness in your homebrew, there are several steps of your brewing process that you can investigate and adjust:


As mentioned above, much of coffee’s bitterness is part of the beans before they even reach you, and the roasting process can have a big effect on bitterness. It is important to invest in quality beans if you want the best flavors coffee has to offer.


Leaving your grinds to brew for too long can lead to increased extraction and stronger, more bitter tasting coffee. Make sure you are brewing for the correct amount of time given your desired brewing method.


Many people do not carefully consider the temperature of the water used to brew their coffee, but this can be very important for achieving the desired flavors from your roast. 

The hotter the water, the more efficient extraction will be. Temperatures just below boiling, (ideally 90-95 degrees Celsius,) are ideal for brewing coffee.


Your ratio of coffee to hot water can also have a big impact on your coffee’s flavor. While too little grinds can leave your coffee tasting watery and bland, the opposite is also true. Too many grinds can give too much bitterness to your brew.

You can check the specifics of your coffee machine or other brewing methods, but a good general rule of thumb is to use two tablespoons of ground coffee per six ounces of hot water.


A smaller grind size has more surface area, meaning that more flavor will be extracted from the same amount of coffee beans than when using a larger grind size. Make sure you are using the proper grind size for your brewing method, so you don’t get more flavor than you bargained for.


One factor that can cause bitterness in your coffee is unclean brewing equipment. If there are any leftover grounds stuck in the workings, they may affect the flavor of your freshly brewed cups, so it is important to clean your equipment well after every use.

Add Salt

For an unconventional option, one food scientist suggests that adding a bit of salt to your coffee will diminish bitterness and leave you with a well-rounded flavor profile. This is because salt binds to the taste receptors on your tongue that detect bitterness, allowing it to block your perception of it.

Making Bitterness Better

Controlling bitterness in your coffee is a delicate balance of many factors, but in the end, the right amount is entirely up to you! Personal taste should be your main guideline for how to make coffee that you find enjoyable.

Try out some of our tips if you want to adjust the bitterness of your brew, and if it’s quality beans you need, look no further than Red Cliff Coffee. And make sure to comment below and let us know how much bitterness you like in your coffee.