Bitter Coffee: The Culprit(s)

We’ve rounded up the usual suspects—these guys are (most likely) responsible for the bitterness in your morning cup. If any of these look familiar, read on to learn how you can clean up your act and make sure your coffee routine at home or at the office results in delicious cup, every time.

  1. Time: brewing the coffee for too long
  2. Temperature: water that’s too hot
  3. Quality: stale or poor-quality beans
  4. Ratio: too much coffee for the amount of water
  5. Grind: coffee grounds that are too small
  6. Cleanliness: dirty brewing equipment

All of these coffee villains have a backstory, and we’ll reveal them one by one. We’ll also go over some easy fixes to ensure that good prevails and your coffee is safe and sound from bitter enemies.

Before we get started, there are a few tools that will make your coffee crime-fighting process painless:

 

The Road To Redemption

1. THE CLOCK’S TICKING

THE PROBLEM:
Over-cooking your coffee is one of the most common reasons your brew tastes bitter. Much like tea, coffee gets its flavor from steeping in hot water. If you let it steep for too long, too much of the bitter flavors come through and your coffee will taste burnt.

THE FIX:
1) Know how long you need to brew for the brewing method of your choosing, and 2) Set a timer so that you’ll know when it’s time to enjoy the good stuff!

2. IN (TOO) HOT WATER

THE PROBLEM:
Lots of people bring their water to a boil and get right to brewing. But 212°F is actually too hot for coffee brewing! This is another way that coffee gets over-cooked.

THE FIX:
Patience . . . but if you’re like us and want your coffee now, a kettle with temperature control will let you choose a temperature just below boiling (195 – 205°F), eliminating guesswork and the need for patience.

And if you’re doing it the old fashioned way, taking the water off the boil for 30-45 seconds is all it takes to bring the temperature down to the magic coffee brewing range. Just remember, hotter water = bitter coffee; colder water = weak coffee.

 



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3. QUANTITY OVER QUALITY

THE PROBLEM:
It’s a sad fact of life—not all coffee is created equal.  The problem with cheap coffee? It’s over-roasted to cover up imperfections caused by low-altitude growing and mass harvesting. When coffee is over-roasted, it tastes bitter and burnt, more like ash than the fruit it comes from. Once the beans have been burnt, you can’t un-burn them.

THE FIX:
Buy better beans! It may seem expensive to pay ~$16 for a 12oz bag of premium coffee, but when you realize that it comes out to a measly $.30 a cup (compared to $2-3 at a cafe chain) and you actually taste the drastic difference, you’ll never want to go back to the world of bitter beans EVER AGAIN.

Sign yourself up for a coffee club and you’ll be able to try freshly roasted, specialty-grade coffee at home, on your schedule. You’ll expand your coffee palate, tasting coffees with notes of blueberry, almond, and even green pepper as you travel the world, one cup at a time! Don’t believe your coffee can naturally taste like fruits, nuts, or spices? Check out our guide to the coffee taster’s flavor wheel!

4. TOO MUCH OF A GOOD THING

THE PROBLEM:
Don’t get too carried away with the good stuff. Adding too much coffee relative to the amount of water you use is an easy way to make your coffee taste too strong and in many cases bitter.

THE FIX:
Stick to the script. For automatic drip machines (see our top 5 picks here), try 1 to 1.5 Tbsp of coffee grounds for every 6oz of water used. For other brew methods like french press or pour over, try 1.5 – 2 Tbsp.

If you want to get it down to a science, we highly recommend using a scale (we love this one!) and following our guide to the brew method of your choice!

5. THAT DAILY GRIND

THE PROBLEM:
Sometimes when you grind your coffee too finely, you can over-extract and expose the coffee in the process. Much like over-cooking, this leads to a bitter brew.

THE FIX:
Make sure that you use the correct grind level for the brew method you plan on using—and you guessed it, we cover grind size and more in our brew guides!

6. A CLEAN SLATE

THE PROBLEM:
The leftovers from your last few brews can add up fast, and the math isn’t always pretty. The old coffee residue often adds bitterness and makes your latest brew taste stale.

THE FIX:
Clean, clean, clean. Quick tip: it’s always easier to clean your gear right after you use it (and you’ll have some fresh liquid will-power in your system!).

As an Amazon Affiliate, Atlas Coffee Club (at no cost to you!) earns a commission when you click through and make a qualifying purchase. We take coffee seriously and thoroughly research and/or test products before recommending them to our community of fellow coffee-lovers.

About The Author

Michael Shewmake

An entrepreneur and musician, Michael quit his full-time job in the corporate world to assemble a band of fellow storytellers, travelers, and coffee-lovers as enthusiastic as himself to share the unique stories and coffee from around the world.