The Weird Science Behind Adding Salt to Your Coffee

Are you looking for a way to amp up your cheap coffee? Add salt to it.

Some coffee lovers have discovered a “hack” to make cheap coffee more enjoyable by adding a pinch of salt. Should you add salt to your coffee routine? According to James Hoffman , the answer is maybe. We did our research on it and we think there is some advantage to adding salt yo your cup of joe, but not always.

adding salt to your coffee

Salt is one of the five basic tastes, along with sour, sweet, bitter and umami. According to Hoffmann, these five tastes can interact, so saltiness can amplify sweetness and mitigate bitterness.

You probably do not need to add salt to your coffee if it has been brewed properly and is of good quality.

You can upgrade your next cup of coffee with just a dash of salt, just as it can elevate dessert recipes. You can ‘neutralize’ some of the bitterness in coffee by adding salt to it. When you are brewing coffee, just add a pinch (about 1/8 teaspoon) to the grounds.

In his YouTube video, Hoffman tests the salt-in-coffee theory using an over-extracted coffee, which is coffee brewed with too fine of a ground for too long. When trying the coffee without salt, Hoffmann finds it harsh and “not great.” The coffee expert then puts .1 grams of salt in 200 milliliters of coffee, which he says is better but noticeably salty to him.

Coffee can range from not so great to really good, when it’s good, it has the right kind of bitterness, much like beer or chocolate. Overall, it’s a complex and enjoyable thing. But if you drink from an overly bitter cup of coffee, adding salt might be a good solution. At least this is James Hoffman’s opinion.

Our opinion is that a poorly extracted cup, or made with poor quality coffee grounds, cannot be salvaged. Adding salt is almost like adding milk or sugar, if the cup is bad. It will make the drink more palatable, but the coffee is still poorly made. It will will hide coffee’s imperfections.

Let’s take James Hoffman’s attempt to improve a cheap instant coffee. Adding salt to improve it, slightly improved the taste of the final cup, but it didn’t cover the instant coffee flavor.

The great advice from the video is that when adding salt to your coffee, make a salt solution with 20 percent table salt and 80 percent water rather than adding the salt as is. This way it’s easier to dosing more accurately, and get your perfect cup.

The Science Behind Bitterness in Coffee

There a scientific explanation of the tradition of preparing coffee with salt, and we’ll explore that in this next section.

Caffeine is not responsible for coffee’s bitterness, at least is not the only compound that gives it the bitter taste. According to scientists at the Technical University of Munich in Germany, caffeine accounts for just 15% of the bitterness in coffee. In fact, Chlorogenic Acid Lactones and Phenylindanes are responsible for the bulk of the coffee bitterness.

These compounds are antioxidants found in roasted coffee beans. Chlorogenic acid lactones are present in lighter roasts and phenylindanes, are present in darker roasts. The stronger you roast your coffee the harsher and more bitter it gets.

How Does Salt Combat Bitterness?

The answer lies in your tongue – there are about 10,000 taste buds on the surface of the tongue. These taste buds are capable of seeing five basic tastes: sweet, salty, bitter, sour and umami. Food sets off a chemical reaction that’s then transmitted to your brain.

Research shows that the biological mechanism of detecting sweet, salty, sour and umami flavors are similar. The interesting part is that salt, while being a taste itself, works to modulate the other flavors.

Salt cuts the bitterness, smooths out the “stale” taste of stored water. Research has proven that salt is better at neutralizing bitterness than sugar.

Adding salt to coffee was picked up by the mainstream media a little while ago, as the “Alton Brown coffee trick.” However, Mr. Brown wasn’t the first who put salt into the coffee.

The “Alton Brown Coffee Trick”

In a 2009 episode of his show, a cookbook author and TV personality Alton Brown suggested that adding a pinch of salt to a cup of coffee can neutralize the bitterness.

According to Alton Brown, adding a quarter teaspoon of Kosher salt into 6 tablespoons of ground coffee can diminish the bitter taste.

You can add the salt to your grounds before brewing or add it to the brewed coffee in the carafe. The salt will will balance the flavors and round them out, according to Mr. Brown.

I will reiterate this, adding salt to your bad coffee won’t fix it. You also won’t be able to revive stale coffee with salt.

The effect of salt on bitterness really depends on a lot of variables: the type and concentration of coffee, the temperature of water used, the amount of salt added, and also your genetics.

Believe It Or Not, This Is Not A New Trend!

For centuries, some people living in some parts of Northern Europe, Siberia, Turkey and Hungary have been adding salt to their coffee. In regions where rivers meet the sea people used to use brackish water as coffee as well as adding salt. Brackish water has more salinity than freshwater but not as much as seawater. Using this to brew coffee increases both the intensity and foaminess of the end product.

Health Benefits and Risks of Salty Coffee

Contrary to a popular belief, adding salt to coffee will not mitigate acid reflux. There is no science behind this claim found on coffee blogs. In fact, a diet rich in salt could cause an increase in the risk of developing acid reflux, according to a research study.

I assume this comes from the confusion of the term salt which includes both baking soda and table salt. Baking soda, which is sodium bicarbonate can ease your acid reflux, whereas sodium chloride, (table salt), does not.

If your daily intake of salt is very low, and you don’t have any underlining conditions, such as at risk of high blood pressure, adjusting your salt intake by adding it to your coffee might be beneficial. Our body uses salt to balance fluids in the blood and maintain normal blood pressure, as well as for nerve and muscle function.

There a a few myths about salt consumptions, but not all of them are true. Make sure you check all the facts before jumping to any conclusion. If in doubt, consulting a physician is the best choice. Keep an open mind on salt consumption, and take all the info with a grain of salt, if you are a healthy individual, (pun intended). A lot of what we know about salt might be wrong.

Another interesting fact is that caffeine is a diuretic. It stimulates your body to urinate more, and as a result, your body will lose salts and minerals. Because salt is such a critical element for our body, if your regular salt consumption is low, adding a pinch to your coffee might mitigate that. But this is true for other trace minerals in our body, such as magnesium and iron.