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All About Coffee – Salting Coffee

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Coffee lovers are hardly monolithic in their opinions on how coffee should be served. Some enjoy it black, some prefer it with milk and sugar, while others opt for no sugar but plenty of milk, sometimes adding cinnamon or vanilla. One subject that doesn’t receive much discussion is using salt in coffee, though some experienced baristas can’t get enough of it.

The rationale behind this practice is that salt serves as a bitterness reducer, potentially blocking or tricking the brain and tongue into perceiving less of the bitter taste. For some, the bitterness—found in grapefruit, bitter melon, radicchio, and cocoa—is an appealing aspect of flavor. However, in other contexts, such as identifying toxicity in foods or in professional coffee grading, bitterness can indicate undesirable characteristics. According to the Specialty Coffee Association, certain bitter flavors are classified as defects, with terms like “caustic,” “phenolic,” “creosol,” and “alkaline” used to describe them. These descriptors are unlikely to be desirable in a morning cup of coffee, regardless of their origin.

Bitterness in coffee is not always due to defects or poor brewing techniques and is not inherently a flaw. Nonetheless, many coffee drinkers choose to temper its effects with sugar, milk, or even salt.

Salt in coffee reduces the bitter taste

Enthusiasts of salt in coffee often stress that it imparts a more savory taste with less bitterness. Various factors can contribute to a less mellow taste in coffee, such as the brewing process and leaving a pot of coffee on the hot plate for too long. After about 20 or 30 minutes on a hot plate, coffee can start to transition from tasting fresh to tasting harsh.

The results on whether salting poorly brewed coffee reduces the bitterness from excessive steeping are mixed. While a severely botched cup remains difficult to salvage, some improvement in sippability might be noted. This technique could also apply to coffee beans that are roastier and more bitter than preferred.

The history of salt in coffee

In ancient times, salt was so scarce that it was, according to some historians, as valuable as gold. These days, salt is plentiful, affordable, and ubiquitous. With its easy availability, more people began experimenting with and endorsing salt in coffee. In recent years, some baristas aim for a combination of sweet and savory elements with certain beverages. For example, a barista might use sugar and some salt in a café mocha to achieve that sweet/savory balance.

Health benefits of salt in coffee

Although excessive salt consumption can be detrimental for those with high blood pressure, insufficient salt intake can also be problematic. Salt has health benefits, including improved metabolic function, better central nervous system performance, and enhanced muscle relaxation responses.

A shortage of sodium in the body can lead to dehydration, which can also be caused by drinking a lot of caffeine. As caffeine acts as a diuretic, it encourages urination, which can decrease the amount of sodium in the body. Adding some salt to coffee can help counter this effect.

Does it really taste good?

With coffee, what tastes good is often a matter of personal preference. Some coffee lovers like it sweet and wouldn’t consider drinking it without adding sugar; others prefer no sugar at all. Some adore black coffee, while others avoid it. Regardless of individual preferences for sugar or milk, salt in coffee can enhance both sweet and savory elements.

With black coffee, salt can enhance the nutty flavors of some brews. Salt in coffee can bring out a brew’s sweetness, making it less bitter and more mellow, even without added sugar. Additionally, salt can enhance the pleasant aroma of freshly brewed black coffee. Many coffee lovers enjoy the smell of black coffee right after brewing; a touch of salt can amplify that aroma.

Although some salt can enhance the flavor of sugar-free, milk-free black coffee, it can also work well with beverages that use both milk and sugar, such as hot chocolate or a caramel latte. In fact, some coffee bars and cafes use phrases like “salted caramel latte” to highlight their use of salt in coffee.

Coffee is usually sweetened with sugar rather than honey, which is more commonly used with tea. However, honey can be an appealing alternative to sugar in some coffee beverages, and when honey is used, salt can enhance its taste.

How to add salt to coffee

Proponents of adding salt to coffee typically use phrases like “a pinch of salt,” “a dash of salt,” or a “touch of salt,” as less is more when it comes to salt in coffee. One method is adding a touch of salt to the coffee grounds before brewing, allowing the salt to dissolve during the process.

Other baristas prefer to add a bit of salt right after the coffee has been brewed. The trick is to avoid overdoing it; coffee should still be treated like coffee, not French fries.

Some baristas remain skeptical about using salt in coffee, believing that salt and coffee don’t mix well. However, others wholeheartedly disagree and make use of moderate amounts of salt in coffee, whether with or without milk, or with or without sugar.

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