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I love the smell of coffee. I enjoy eating coffee chocolate. However I am unable to drink straight coffee, because it is so unbearably bitter for me.

Obviously, no-one is compelled to drink coffee - and I'm perfectly fine without it. However so many people enjoy this drink so much, and it would be nice if I could experience the same pleasure. The fact that I like the flavour of coffee (as when eating a coffee-flavoured sweet) tells me that if only I could find a variety of the drink which did not include the bitterness, then I would enjoy it.

I have asked this question of several people over the years, who have suggested that I try latté, for example - however the fact that the coffee is diluted by a large amount of milk does not solve the problem. It means less flavour - and yes, less bitterness - but the bitterness is still there.

The other day I was recommended to try an Ethiopian coffee called Bukeela. I was told that this was especially weak, and that I might be able to take it. So.. I tried it. I added lots of sugar. However it was still too much for me. Yes, the coffee was weak - but that just meant that the flavour was weaker. The bitterness was still present, and still made me unable to drink it. The sugar did not help. It simply meant that I had two tastes in my mouth simultaneously: sweet: but still bitter.

Edit: the related question on this site regarding "sweet coffee" does not address my question. Sweetness isn't the same thing as non-bitterness. As stated here, even if I add lots of sugar, I just get 2 tastes simultaneously: sweet and bitter. The bitterness is still there. That other question doesn't mention bitterness at all.

It seems that my taste buds are especially sensitive to anything bitter. I can not drink beer, and I dislike certain vegetables like broccoli and Brussels sprouts, because of their bitterness.

So the question for all you coffee experts is: does there exist a variety of coffee which retains the yummy flavour, but which has no trace of the unpalatable bitterness?

  • Not a full (or even really partial) answer, but googling Non bitter coffee provides quite a few answers – caird coinheringaahing Apr 5 '18 at 8:11
  • Possible duplicate of Does sweet coffee exist? – MTSan Apr 5 '18 at 12:09
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    I saw the question about sweet coffee already. It doesn't answer my question. It's not a duplicate. The other question involves relative sweetness, but makes no mention of bitterness. Sweetness isn't the same thing as "not bitter": as stated in my question, even if I add lots of sugar, I just get 2 tastes: sweet AND bitter. I want no bitterness at all. – Chris Melville Apr 5 '18 at 13:55
  • Googling "non bitter coffee" provides tips on how to make coffee LESS bitter, in the context of people who normally enjoy coffee but want to avoid the "over-bitter" burnt taste. I haven't yet found another site which mentions any coffee which isn't bitter AT ALL, for people like me who find ANY bitterness repulsive. – Chris Melville Apr 5 '18 at 13:58
  • By the way - if the answer to this question is simply "all coffee is bitter to some degree: a completely non-bitter coffee does not exist" then that's fine. But please don't seek to close my question because it hasn't been understood what I'm asking - thanks :) – Chris Melville Apr 5 '18 at 14:00
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great question.

There are a few factors that will give your coffee the flavor and such that you want. To fully answer your question, we also need to understand some of your preferences and the answer may change slightly depending on your those.

One General question is when you say "bitterness", do you mean "acidity" of the bean, or potentially a taste associated with the water (hard or soft water taste, possibly acidic water or akaline water)? You may not know or be able to pinpoint what I mean. I get two different flavor results from when I brew at work versus when I brew at home in the same french press with the same beans.

I personally find that some of the bitterness is caused by the process of brewing, which has a few factors.
I personally enjoy the French Press, which not everyone has the availability or patience to do that. I found that the French Press makes the taste stronger, but less bitter, and I can dial back the strength of the flavor based on the amount I use in the french press.
Along those lines, the water you use can make a HUGE difference as well. I try to make sure my water is always purified and from a clean container, and that the temperature is not too hot (personally between 180-190). I worked at one place that had Keurigs, and some of them had the water container on the side. I would have to wash those out and flush out the water inside before I got a "clean" non-bitter tasting cup of coffee, although they were used all day. The company eventually switched to having an in-line water supply and filter for the Keurigs which greatly helped (when the water filter was clean). Another company I worked for only had the "Bunn-O-Matic" and the bitterness was also caused by a build up of calcium inside the brewer as well as too hot of water (200F+). I adjusted both of those things and would clean out the brewer weekly and people flocked to the coffee station after that.

Coffee type I think can be a factor depending on your method and your preference as well. A few friends like lighter roasts so they don't get the acidity of the roast / coffee, which they consider to be the bitterness. Some of those friends will also swear by "flavored" beans/grounds, as typically those are lighter roasts and the flavor will some of that bitterness they are referring to.

I have also tried Mystic Monk Coffee and I find them to not be bitter for both their regular blends and their flavored blends.

Last suggestion, I have another friend and his wife both love Columbian coffee because of the flavor and it doesn't have the acidity, but it has some bitterness with the coffee flavor.

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    Another possible suggestion, I have heard but not tried and possibly someone can elaborate, try Cold Brew coffee. I remember an old manager of mine would cold brew coffee overnight in a french press and he said it wasn't bitter. He sometimes would have it cold, sometimes with cream, and sometimes would heat it up. – Keith E. Truesdell Apr 5 '18 at 14:17
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    Thanks for your answer. You ask about "acidity", but I'm unsure what this means, because to me acidity is what you find in lemons and vinegar (which I enjoy). My objection is to bitterness itself: the taste of beer and tonic water. Regarding water quality, my wife (a coffee lover) makes coffee at home with filtered water, and I still find it bitter - so I'm pretty sure it's not simply a question of changing the water. Thanks for suggesting Mystic Monk: reviews mention lack of bitterness, so it sounds interesting - although I'd have to order it all the way from the USA(!) :) – Chris Melville Apr 5 '18 at 18:00
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    Furthermore, I have looked up "Cold Brew Coffee", and it also looks promising. 2 questions though: some sources say it has "half the bitterness" of regular coffee. Can you confirm whether it's possible for Cold Brew to have zero bitterness? As "half" is still too much for me. I really am that sensitive to anything bitter. Secondly, is it possible to warm up the drink so you can drink it hot - but still retain whatever lack of bitterness it possesses? Or would heating it up suddenly turn it bitter again? – Chris Melville Apr 5 '18 at 18:04
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    Regarding "Cold Brew" coffee, I also want to clarify that this is not "Cold Coffee" or "Iced Coffee". There is a process to actually brew it with cold water. In my experience, and this could be my delusion as I haven't researched it, but brewing at higher temperatures (regardless of water quality) affect the acidity. So possibly ask your wife (if possible) to brew at lower temps? Not sure your method, kettle, keurig, or something else that you might not have control over. However heating it up shouldn't turn it bitter again, based on what I remember from my old manager. – Keith E. Truesdell Apr 5 '18 at 18:42
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    Thanks again Keith. Yes, I understood the point about cold brew not being the same as iced: I just wanted to ensure you could heat it up again to drinking temperature. Re bitterness: you mentioned hops in beer. This matches this link, where I match most of the foods/drinks in that list! Yes, it is definitely the bitter chemical to which I am especially sensitive, to the point of rejecting foods which contain it. – Chris Melville Apr 6 '18 at 16:46
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To answer this shortly, no there is no coffee that has no bitterness. Bitterness in coffee is determined by different factors on which I will elaborate a bit now.

First of all there are bitter substances naturally in coffee. The most obvious and widely known one would be caffein. However in truth only around 15% of the bitterness in coffee comes from caffein. There are hundreds of active substances in coffee, some of which are bitter. Most importantly are chlorogenic acids. They contribute most to the bitterness. So it is unlikely that you will ever find a coffee that has no trace of bitterness at all.

There are however some influenceable factors that contribute to bitterness. I want to address first the roasting process, bean type and origins and then preparation methods and some tweaks that might help.

1. Roasting

As I've said before, key to how bitter coffee tastes are the kind of chemical compounds found in it. And the roasting process determines exactly this. When the beans are heated chlorogenic acids are broken down into first acid lactones and later in the roast process into phenylindanes. Chlorogenic acid itself is not bitter, but the compounds it breaks down into are and especially phenylindanes. As they appear later in the roasting, darker roasts tend to be more bitter than light roasts. So my advice here would be to try very light roasted beans. Here's another source that also refers to some of the other points I'm making.

2. Bean type and origin

There are two main types of Beans, Arabica and Robusta with Robusta containing both much more caffein as well as chlorogenic acids. Thus stay clear of Robusta or mixed coffees, since it will add extra bitterness to your cup. Also in my experience light roasted african coffees, e.g. ethiopean or kenyan coffees are the mildest coffees when it comes to bitterness, but do have more acidity than central or south american coffees.

3. Preparation methods

First of all, avoid espresso. Because of the pressure applied to the coffee much more bitter compounds are extracted. A general rule of thumb is that with higher extraction you will extract more bitter compounds, that quickly dominate the flavor of the coffee. The bitter compounds are usually extracted at later stages of the extraction process, thus the shorter your extraction the less bitterness. I would suggest you try pour overs, as extraction can be controlled very well and they are just by design made for a cup of coffee with a brighter, more acidic flavor. V60 or even better a Chemex are your best options. The thick Chemex paper will filter more of the bitter compounds and leave more of the acidic, fruity, floral flavors. There are plenty of instructions on youtube or also here in the forum. Avoid overextraction due to a too small grind size, too high water-grounds contact time and too hot water (around 94°C would be perfect, you can go a bit lower however). Additionally make sure you have a good grinder that produces a consistent particle size. If the variation is too big (the downward variation in this case) and if the grinder produces too many fines (very small coffee particles), they will be over extracted and add bitterness.

4. Possible tweaks

  • Adding a pinch of salt to your coffee reduces bitterness.
  • Use freshly roasted whole bean coffee from your local specialty coffee shop (you can recognize them because they usually offer a variety of pour over methods and have a generally kind of hipstery look) as preground packs of coffee tend to be over-roasted to mask the low quality.
  • Grind fresh, with a good grinder and even filter out the fines (just sift it through a fine mesh filter)
  • Lastly you could look for a specialty coffee shop that offers whole light roasted decaf beans. Although caffein only plays a secondary role, it still is bitter and removing it might help reduce bitterness. Of course there are other factors such as the water for example. However the answers there are not as straightforward and the influence arguably less than the above mentioned ones.

I hope this can help you in your quest for finding a coffee that you like. I suggest you also go to some local roasters and talk to them. They might be able to help you, suggest coffees etc. and who knows, maybe you can even interest one of them in experimenting with roast profiles that minimize bitterness.

  • avocado1 - I heard the "pinch of salt" trick before and I have tried it before. I think this will work to a small degree, and more dependent upon the roast and freshness as you have stated. A few friends in the military have said they use that, mostly because they don't have access to fresh coffee and it helps that. I worked in a factory and a few departments would do the salt trick as well, also because of the potential quality of the coffee and water going into it. I think the salt trick works to scale the bitterness back if you know its going to be bad, but I don't think it stops it – Keith E. Truesdell Apr 16 '18 at 17:33
  • also, that is great formatting of the answer and how you have it broken down. Keep it up! – Keith E. Truesdell Apr 16 '18 at 17:34
  • No, a pinch of salt alone will not stop bitterness. But as I've also stated, there will always be some bitterness in coffee. That's just the way coffee is like by definition and in the end there's nothing that can fundamentally change that. However I think applying all the suggestions I made can definitely help minimize bitterness. If it's still to better after following all the suggestions, it's probably time to quit and switch to alternatives like green tea. There you can reduce bitterness through proper preparation basically to zero and only get the desired umami and grassy taste. – avocado1 Apr 16 '18 at 17:49
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When reading about coffee roasting and searching around for espresso brewing, I have over the years learned that extracting coffee for too long will add bitterness to the coffee.

My experience also tells me that the roast of the particular bean makes a big difference in the bitterness. Currently, I roast Costa Rica Tarazzu Cumbre halfway between the first and second crack and do not find bitterness in my cup.

I started in the wrong order and bought an espresso machine as the first part but didn't find the coffee I liked. Then I bought a grinder (Rocky) but still didn't find what I was looking for. Lastly, I got a roaster and the magic showed.

Basically, once you start roasting your beans, you will find that you will get the truest coffee taste and least bitterness. From here on, it is a matter of finding the bean that is your favorite. The above mentioned is surely one of the least bitters I have had.

  • And btw, roasted beans start to lose their flavor quite fast. So the coffee flavor of pre-roasted beans has a higher chance of giving you a bitter coffee. The optimum time for a coffee extraction is around two days after it is roasted. From then on it starts to lose those wonderful flavors and preserves the bitterness. rule of thumb: green beans last around 2 years. roasted beans last around 2 weeks. ground coffee last around 2 hours after being in contact with oxygen. (seem to remember reading this in "Home Coffee Roasting") – Michael Apr 7 '18 at 15:55
  • I have heard, but never tried, home roasting. People using air popcorn poppers to more professional machines and everything in between. So its interesting to hear the suggestion and ideas from that perspective. Do you think that self-roasting will change the bitterness and acidity based on the brew style (besides cold brew)? – Keith E. Truesdell Apr 10 at 18:55
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Apologies, this is not actually an answer to your question [it's too long for a comment] - but it may be more useful to you than the answer to your question:

Crazy as this might sound given everything you've said, I would still suggest that the bitterness may be an integral part of what gives coffee the flavour that you enjoy smelling and having infused in chocolate - it's just that the bitterness needs to be within the right "flavour context". Like you, I love the coffee flavour, but cannot empathise with the love of a strong bitter cup of hot coffee that so many people have.

If you wish to enjoy that same coffee flavour on your tongue that you enjoy in your nose, I think the story is basically exactly the same as with chocolate: Pure cocoa has a gorgeously chocolately smell, and yet tastes overwhelmingly bitter; but when the cocoa is thoroughly submerged within a background of both rich dairy-creaminess and high sweetness -- just as in a good bar of milk chocolate -- the bitterness harmonises with the other flavours in such a manner as no longer to be harsh but actually to provide a gentle and pleasant effect, just like the pleasant smell. In this way, the wonderful flavour of cocoa that one can smell can also be tasted on the tongue, in a much clearer manner than if one were just to drink a hot cup of dissolved cocoa powder.

So likewise with coffee. There is simply no version or variant of the standard "morning cup of coffee" that you will be able to enjoy the taste of. Rather, you will need it in a different form where it is not only not too strong, but is also blended with a good non-watery dairy flavour and a lot of sweetness. Some possible suggestions:

Certain iced/refrigerated coffee drinks:

  • Many supermarkets sell a drink by Starbucks called "Starbucks Doubleshot Espresso" - the potentially misleading name makes it sound like it should be your worst nightmare, but actually you might really like it and not find it bitter-tasting.

  • A lot of oriental restaurants serve "iced coffee", made with sweetened condensed milk. Sometimes (especially in Thai restaurants) the concentration of coffee is quite high, in which case it might still be too bitter for you; but I've been to some Chinese restaurants where the ratios are perfect and it does not feel at all bitter-tasting.

  • Some (larger) supermarkets will sell refrigerated "cappuccino" drinks made by German manufacturers. For German manufacturers of refrigerated coffee drinks, "cappuccino" typically means a good mixture of coffee and chocolate. These can taste really nice. [Edeka's version, if you ever encounter it, is particularly delicious.]

Solid/dessert forms:

  • In my experience, coffee mousse often has a good coffee flavour without feeling bitter-tasting.

  • Likewise for coffee gelato (although sometimes this is made with quite a high concentration of coffee, such that it might be too bitter).

Hope this is useful to you and to future similarly paletted readers of this post!

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You can reduce the bitterness of coffee, but maybe not to a level that you'll like.

(One friend said he couldn't stand bell peppers, explaining that if they tasted 10x as strong, I probably wouldn't like them, either. I've since asked people if there's a particular flavor they don't like, and heard a variety of surprising responses.)

Judging by the coffee at many cafes, lots of people must not mind bitter coffee or covering it up with sugar and cream. I think good coffee should be good black.

It's possible to buy tasty 100% dark chocolate from some artisan chocolate makers. They have to start with suitable beans and use well-tuned processes. Sloppy won't cut it.

Similarly, it is possible to make coffee that's not (very) bitter. It requires selecting suitable beans and applying a good process.

I don't know how to find suitable beans in general, but try 100% Kona coffee. (If it doesn't say “100%” then it’s heavily diluted.) I've found some other excellent beans from Mexico and Colombia. I think all of these were medium roast.

Brewing technique is critical. Try using an AeroPress because it gives lots of control over the brewing variables, it limits extraction by brewing with a portion of the water (dilute it after brewing), and immersion methods are more forgiving.

This page on Angels’ Cup has a helpful introduction to brewing variables and experimentation. To summarize from that and other sources:

Over-extraction during brewing will cause bitter results. You can adjust that via: coarser grind, or shorter brewing time, or cooler brewing water [Angels’ Cup says hotter but other sources say cooler], or less agitation (stirring), or adjust the coffee:water ratio. These recommendations assume you're close, but any variable can be off in either direction.

All these adjustments can make the brew more sour, or too strong or weak, or otherwise unbalanced. There's a careful balance to achieve. They say temperature affects the sour notes more than the bitter notes.

(Heating the coffee afterwards should not make it more bitter, or not much, since it's no longer in contact with the grinds.)

Experiment! Start with adjusting the grind size. Finer grind makes for more bitter brew. Coarser grind makes for more sour brew. In between should be a happy trade-off.

Brewing is quite sensitive to grind size. If you don't get an even grind, you'll have some large particles and some small particles, which makes for some bitter notes and some sour notes together.

Therefore you'll need a good burr grinder. (I took recommendations from this Sweethome review.)

This NY Times article adds:

… water extracts flavor from smaller coffee grounds faster than bigger ones. An inconsistent grind means sour taste from the small grains, and a bitter one from the big, all at the same time.

… the colder the bean [when grinding], the more uniform particles it produced, and the more even the flavor.

… put the beans in the freezer — just keep them packed air tight to avoid staleness and moisture.

(However, the Baratza grinder is not designed for grinding frozen beans.)

Some tips to wrap up:

  • Clean the grinder often (monthly?) and clean the brewing equipment daily so they don't accumulate rancid oils.
  • Try decaf. The decaffeination process reduces bitterness.
  • Try medium and light roasts.
  • Start with the AeroPress manufacturer's recipe, but don't stir 10 times. Put in the grinds, pour in the hot water up to #2, dab it with the stir stick a little to help it all get wet, wait 10 seconds, stir gently 2-3 times, then press.
  • Use a thermometer to get the water temperature right.
  • Use a scale to measure out the coffee.
  • Start with grind size #14 if you're using the Baratza Encore grinder. With 40 grind size steps, adjusting by ±1 step makes a noticeable taste difference.
  • Don't bother with inverted (upside down) methods--those tend to produce more bitter coffee, and they risk a mess with hot water.
  • A paper filter produces "smoother" tasting coffee than a bamboo filter does.
  • Don't bother pre-wetting the filter, at least not until you've experimented with more important variables. Pre-wetting will mainly let your water cool down.
  • There are some errors. Bitter compounds are less soluble than the acidic ones. Thus hot water extracts them faster. To decrease bitterness you should use cooler water. The NY Times article also gets the extraction wrong. The smaller the grind the easier bitter compounds are extracted (which you say, but then you cite the NY Times). Thus a coarser grind can help reduce bitterness. The problem is that the coffee won't be balanced, it will be underextracted and taste somewhat sour. However it seems that this is what Chris prefers and it is the only way to reduce bitterness to a minimum. – avocado1 Apr 10 '18 at 22:33
  • @avocado1 are you saying that hot water extracts bitter compounds faster than cold water does, or faster than it extracts acidic compounds? The recommendation to use hotter water comes from the referenced Angel's Cup page, but I do wonder if their “hotter water” recommendation is backwards. Do you have a good source for that? Which part of the NYT article is wrong on extraction? – Jerry101 Apr 11 '18 at 18:13
  • That is exactly what I'm saying, since hotter water extracts faster in general and bitter compounds are extracted later in the extraction process. Acids are more soluble than the bitter compounds, thus they will also be extracted and in the cup, but the bitter flavors start dominating at some point. You obviously want some bitterness in coffee in general, the trick is to balance acidity, bitterness and body. The part where they speak of particle size. They state the right facts but draw a wrong conclusion. Smaller grind size, faster extraction, more bitterness (where they say more acidity). – avocado1 Apr 12 '18 at 11:14
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Look up Swedish Egg coffee! Egg coffee is DELICIOUS! The egg takes all of the bitterness away and you’re left with a smooth almost velvety texture. Hands down best coffe I’ve ever tasted but it is a bit time consuming and you will need a French press.

  • thank you for that tip, I will have to try it. Do you have any links or suggestions where to buy it? Is there a tip on what to do with it or a certain way? – Keith E. Truesdell Apr 10 at 18:56
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I too, seem to be perpetually searching for the perfect coffee. I am not looking for sweetness, but I want the least bitter-tasting coffee. I am not at all familiar with coffee terminology, but I think of a light tasting coffee, when I think of non bitter.

I have yet to find a light tasting coffee that does not linger in mouth, I think I mean less aftertaste. However, I recently tried Bullet Proof brand of coffee and I was surprised by the lighter, less bitter taste of the "original" BF brand. I don't own a grinder so I don't buy whole bean, and I am referring to "black" coffee, nothing added. So I am continuing my search for the grail of coffees; but so far, the original Bullet Proof brand of coffee best meets my own requirements for the least bitter coffee.

Good luck on your own coffee journey

I can not say it is not bitter tasting at all, but it is less bitter than everything else I have tried, and I believe I have tried most Starbucks brands and BP original is the least bitter without adding any sugar,cream or other modifiers. I have tried adding 1/2 tablespoon clarified butter, to BP, and if I use a whisk and aerate it well; it is not bitter at all to me.

  • Thanks for the recommendation. Is "Bullet Proof" bitter at all? Or is it just less bitter than other coffees? I find that many people will recommend a coffee which they claim isn't bitter - however to my own hypersensitive taste, the bitterness is still very apparent. – Chris Melville Apr 5 at 17:23
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Of course!

The main variable here are the beans; the process is of less importance. The main source of bitterness generally arises from beans that have been over roasted and have most of the flavor cooked out of them, unfortunately this is the case for many beans in popular places such as Starbucks and Peet’s. One quick way to tell is if the beans seem oily in the hopper; even worse if they have to chisel them off the sides of the grinder in order to grind them (not at all uncommon with these places).

I’m not affiliated with any of these shops, they’re opinions but backed by something factual. Here are some suggestions.

  1. Blue Bottle’s beans are... never over roasted whether you’re in their Tokyo shop or San Francisco, or just buying their beans and making them at home. The Costa Rica Lourdes de Naranjo Vista al Valle is a personal favorite, you might not think it’s even coffee at first.
  2. Artis Coffee is also usually pretty good w.r. to the roasting quality.

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