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Is Decaf Coffee Acidic?

Some coffees are more acidic than others, but what about decaf?

by Ever Meister | October 04, 2022

Does Decaf Coffee Have Acidity?

Understanding acidity levels and the pH of coffee is one of the most confusing things — and there are many confusing things about coffee, so that’s saying something!

So, is decaf coffee acidic? In this article, we’ll explore acidity specifically in relation to drinking decaf coffee: We’ll look at what acidity is (and is not), whether decaf coffee tends to be more or less acidic than other types of single origin coffee beans and blends, and whether drinking decaf coffee is easier on your stomach.

Defining Acidity in Coffee

If I could go back in time to the early days of sensory analysis in coffee, I would love to burst into the room where they were deciding coffee flavor terms and shout, “Wait! Stop! Don’t call it ‘acidity,’ whatever you do!”

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Alas, time travel hasn’t been invented yet, and so we’re stuck with the word “acidity” as a way of describing the fruit-like “zest” or effervescence that we often taste in fantastic coffees. One way to imagine what we mean by “acidity” is to imagine the sweet, somewhat flat flavor of a Red Delicious apple compared with the tart, tangy flavor of a Granny Smith apple. The mouth-watering effect of the Granny Smith can be described as its acidity—and therefore, a Granny Smith is a more acidic apple than a Red Delicious.

Now, both apples have the same pH level: They rank at about a 3 or 4, or slightly more on the acidic side. Coffee, on the other hand, generally ranks as a 4 or 5—that’s right, less acidic than apples. In fact, coffee has just about the same pH as bananas.

In a coffee sensory analysis, we use the term “acidic” to describe a perceived coffee acidity level: refer instead to coffee’s perceived acidity: How much of that zesty, mouthwatering experience do we detect when we’re tasting it? Just like how you can perceive flavors of blueberry or chocolate in coffee without either flavor being added actually being added flavors, you can perceive high, medium, or low acidity as you taste brewed coffee, regardless of its pH.

Does Decaf Coffee Tend to be More or Less Acidic?

While decaffeinated coffee might be mildly less acidic on a pH scale than caffeinated coffee—and this will vary based on not only the coffee bean’s variety but also the decaffeination process it undergoes—it is not significantly less acidic, perhaps the difference between a 4.7 (caffeinated) and a 5 (decaffeinated) pH.

So why does regular coffee upset some people’s stomachs, while bananas and apples don’t? For some people, it is likely an adverse reaction to the caffeine content of the drink or other stimulating compounds that exist in coffee.

Furthermore, some of the things we most like to add to brewed coffee — sugar and milk or cream — can be irritating to the stomach if you have a particular sensitivity to them. Research has shown that adding milk or cream to regular coffee generally won’t cause an upset stomach.

For other people, acid reflux, heartburn, or an upset stomach might be caused by an underlying condition like GERD or GORD (gastro-oesophageal reflux disease) that can be triggered—but not necessarily caused by—consuming coffee.

Is Decaf Easier on the Stomach than Caffeinated Coffee?

Because of the many factors involved in causing heartburn, acid reflux, and indigestion from person to person, it’s actually not possible to definitively say that decaffeinated coffee is easier for someone who suffers from these conditions to drink than caffeinated coffee. Some research implies that darker roast coffee tends to be more easily digestible, but so far there is no cut-and-dry solution to preventing an upset stomach after drinking coffee.

Whether you’re deciding between espresso vs coffee vs decaf, if you find that you’re experiencing regular gastroesophageal or gastrointestinal discomfort when drinking coffee of any kind, you may want to speak with your doctor about the possibility that there is a treatable underlying cause—and then maybe you can start enjoying coffee again without a care in the world!

Take our coffee quiz to help determine which type of coffee brew works best for you and your preferences. There are so many options to choose from, especially if you’re tempted to sign up for a coffee subscription that lets you try countless different brews.

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