It might sound odd, but a tiny pinch of salt can cut the bitterness of black coffee, making it easier to enjoy. In this guide, we’ll share alternatives to cream and sugar, and show you how to brew a cup of black coffee that you’ll truly savor.
What is Black Coffee?
Black coffee is coffee brewed with water and enjoyed without any additives such as dairy products, sweeteners, or flavoring.
Why Do We Add Cream and Sugar to Coffee?
Plainly put, sometimes coffee just doesn’t taste good by itself. Sometimes it’s thin, bitter, sour, or lacking depth. So adding things like dairy products, sugar, or flavoring helps to improve the enjoyment of coffee.
Dairy products, and their alternatives, improve two factors. First, they add texture and creaminess to coffee, improving the mouthfeel which is vital to enjoying coffee. Second, the fat from dairy or alternatives smooths out coffee’s bitterness.
Sweeteners like sugar, honey, Splenda, or Stevia not only sweeten your cup, they cut the bitterness of coffee.
What Makes Coffee Bitter?
Bitterness is naturally produced while coffee solubles are extracted during the coffee brewing process. Coffee’s soluble materials include caffeine, acids, sugars, lipids, and carbohydrates, all of which contribute to coffee’s flavor. Chlorogenic acid is the particular acid to blame for coffee’s bitterness. Though this acid is found in all coffee, that doesn’t mean all coffee needs to taste unpleasantly bitter.
There is a science and an art to producing a balanced cup of coffee. This starts with the varietal of bean used. Arabica beans have significantly fewer chlorogenic acids than its sibling, Robusta, which is one of the primary reasons Arabica is the most popular varietal of coffee bean consumed. But how the coffee is roasted and how it’s brewed also contribute to producing a balanced and pleasant cup of coffee.
During the roasting process, chlorogenic acids are broken down into lactones and phenylindanes. Acid lactones contribute to a pleasant coffee-like bitterness, whereas phenylindanes contribute to the unpleasant type of bitterness we desire to mask. The longer coffee is roasted, the higher the presence of phenylindanes. This is why darker roasted coffees taste more bitter than lighter or medium roasted coffees.
During the brewing process, coffee that is over-extracted will also taste bitter. This is because the bitter-tasting solubles overwhelm the sweet solubles. To learn how to not over-extract or under-extract your coffee, learn about brewing on our Coffee Brewing Basics guide.
Benefits of Drinking Black Coffee
When drunk black, coffee is a zero-calorie beverage. And though not a recommended source of nutrition, it does contain micronutrients such as potassium, magnesium, and niacin, as well as very small amounts of sodium. Coffee also contains antioxidants and vitamins like B2, B3, and B5. Adding cream and sugar to your coffee can turn it into a high-caloric and unhealthy beverage. So if you’re looking to lose weight or improve your health, consider taking your coffee black.
Caffeine in Black Coffee
When measuring caffeine content, espresso typically has a greater amount of caffeine than batch brewed coffee. But dilution must be considered when measuring caffeine consumption. When espresso is added to milk or water, its caffeine content is greatly diluted. The same is true when creamer is added to a cup of coffee—its volume increases without increasing its caffeine content. So when switching to taking your coffee black, keep in mind your caffeine consumption may increase since you’re not diluting it with anything.
Alternatives to Sugar in Coffee
If you find yourself with a bitter cup of coffee and need to cut it with a sweetener, there are many alternatives to sugar.
- Honey: A healthier and natural alternative to sugar. Especially when locally sourced, honey contains antioxidants and other micronutrients.
- Stevia: A natural sweetener that comes from the leaves of the stevia plant. Stevia comes in a powder form that is great for convenience. Stevia does have a noticeable flavor that can impact the coffee’s taste.
- Synthetic sweeteners: Have long been the easy alternative to sugar. Just be mindful of the amount you use; they’re far sweeter than sugar.
- Agave syrup: Another natural alternative that dissolves really well in coffee. It also doesn’t impact quite as much flavor as alternatives like Stevia.
Alternatives to Milk in Coffee
Though we prefer milk from a local pasture-raised dairy, there are now more alternatives than ever to use in coffee.
- Oat milk: Quickly rising as the most popular alternative to dairy. It tends to impart less flavor than soy or almond milk.
- Almond milk: A great option, especially for cold coffee beverages. Its almond flavor tends to pair well with most coffees.
- Hemp milk: A bit harder to find but is another great choice. It also contains more iron than cow’s milk.
- Cashew milk: Quickly becoming a favorite. It provides a creamy texture without the additives found in oat and almond milk.
How to Make Black Coffee
Switching to taking your coffee black doesn’t mean you have to enjoy your coffee less. In fact, people who solely drink coffee black often do so because they enjoy it more.
Start with quality coffee beans from a local Minnesota roaster, such as Ember Coffee. That's step number one! Coffee that is over-roasted, low quality, or old, will produce an unbearable bitter cup. So start with fresh beans that are light to medium roasted and preferably, whole bean.
Then upgrade your grinder. Grinding your coffee fresh and taking the time to grind them at the appropriate fineness will produce a juicy and balanced cup that’ll make you completely forget about your creamer. Coffee that is ground too fine will over-extract and make your cup taste bitter. Coffee ground to coarse will under-extract and taste sour.
Lastly, find a brew method that works best for your preferences and schedule. We guarantee that if you master your brew method by following our brew guides, you won’t miss cream and sugar for a moment.