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Why Does My Coffee Have to Taste Burnt or Bitter? It's Bumming Me Out!

Posted by Brandon Pasa on

Why does my coffee have to taste burnt and/or bitter?  It’s bumming me out!


This is an interesting question you have posited!  The answering is actually very simple, it literally never should!  Coffee is a wonderful and delicious experience that is enjoyed over half a billion times each day in the United States!  Yep, I said billion with a B!  That is a lot of people who have either discovered the truth that coffee should be amazing and easily distinguished from burnt rubber or those that are crying out for someone to set them free from the tyranny of bad coffee!  Which one are you?


Let’s take a moment to talk about why your coffee may be behaving badly and giving you a bad taste in your mouth.  A few of the most common are: the roaster actually burnt the beans, the beans were over-extracted while brewing, they are actually Robusta beans or a blend of Robusta and Arabica, or a combination of some or all of the reasons above.


Let’s take a quick look at each of these!  Burning the beans during the roast, for shame!  This is simply unacceptable but happens quite frequently.  It is usually called a dark roast, espresso roast, or French roast.  Really, those are fancy ways of saying “oops!  I burnt them but if I call them a fancy name I can still sell them!”  Never will that be heard at Hidden River by the way, I would and have thrown away full batches if something has ever gone wrong.  Anyway, back to it.  It has long been believed in the profession that to get the darkest and fullest flavor in a bean you must go into second crack (a roasting term that we will cover in another post).  At this point the bean has basically decided that it has no more left to give and the cell membranes rupture and the oils leak to the surface.  This is bad for two main reasons: 1)  The oils oxidize extremely quickly when exposed to oxygen producing a bitter or acrid taste and (2) the oils are now subjected to the high temperature of the roaster with no protection and we all know what happens to oils when they get too hot!  Poof! Burnt!  


The next reason for burnt flavors can make even the greatest bean taste suspect of being burnt, the over-extraction of coffee by the preparer.  You heard me right, you can actually over brew your coffee beans.  Now let me clarify a bit, this usually happens only in an espresso machine where the grounds are subjected to high heat and pressure.  It is very important that the machine settings are correct to start for temperature of the water being used for brewing.  The next factor is grind size which determines the rate of flow of the water through the grounds, too slow and it burns whereas too fast and it strips the lightest compounds out of the beans and those aren’t all that great.  Too fast of an espresso shot usually tastes tangy and overly acidic.  Grind does matter in this case and the last one can be too much pressure on the tamping of the grounds into the portafilter prior to the extraction.  There are many thoughts and theories on the perfect pressure for a tamp such as 30 lbs.  I have found that a firm tamp that packs the puck evenly works great even without the scale under the filter.


Lastly, it may be the beans themselves.  There are many different types of coffee beans grown all around the world but the two most common are Arabica and Robusta.  Arabica comprises a bulk of the craft coffee market as it has a fantastic flavor profile and body that changes from region to region.  When roasted properly it is an absolute treat to savor a cup of 100% specialty grade Arabica beans.  On the other hand is Robusta, as the name implies it is a big bold robust flavor.  I have been roasting a very long time and I have never been able to roast this well enough to bring it into the same realm as Arabica.  Even when Robusta isn’t burnt during the roast or extraction it still tastes like dirt and burnt tires.  I mean no disrespect to Robusta, it can’t help what it is.  It has 3 times the amount of caffeine as Arabica and is usually about ⅓ or better of the prices.  Many of the large corporate roasters will add a certain percentage of Robusta beans to their blends to help increase the margins.  I can’t say all because I simply don’t know but if it tastes burnt then it is definitely indicated.


To sum it up, your coffee should never taste burnt or bitter!  It should be smooth and flavorful at any roast profile you choose and never leave a bad taste in your mouth.  You have our Hidden River guarantee that we will never allow bad coffee out of the roastery!  Don’t you think it is your turn to find your Hidden River!?  Go ahead and order some up right now and we’ll get it roasted and to you asap!

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