Can You Burn Coffee? And How You Can Avoid It

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Can you burn coffee when brewing your favorite cup of coffee? How about burnt coffee when roasting your own beans? When someone talks about burnt coffee they’re often referring to a bitter, acrid taste, an unpleasant, pungent aroma, and a dark, murky color.

Burning coffee can be the result of using water that’s too hot or over roasting the coffee beans. Often, stale beans lend to a “burnt” tasting brew, and some brewing methods may also result in your coffee brew tasting burned.

Find out what may be the reasons for your favorite coffee beans burnt.

Why Your Brews Taste Like Burnt Coffee: What You Need to Know

When you sip on a burnt coffee you’re likely tasting a brew that’s extra-bitter on the taste buds. You may also notice an aroma that’s lacking in crisp, bright notes and even the color looks dark and murky.

A number of factors influence how your coffee will taste by the time you start drinking it.

The Coffee Roast Profile

The roast profile of coffee beans plays a big role in determining how the coffee can taste. Roasting beans brings out the innate flavor and aroma of the green bean. Expert roasters know how to ensure different bean types are roasted correctly so their natural flavors are extracted.

During roasting, chemical changes take place within the beans. Once the beans have reached their perfect state, they’re cooled immediately. Roasting coffee beans is based on a lot of science but mastering it takes many years of training for the roaster.

Coffee beans typically have four roast profiles:

  • Light
  • Medium
  • Medium-dark
  • Dark

While dark roast coffee is normally bitter with lower acidity levels, the over-roasted coffee beans have a completely different taste. The dark roast will have a smokey flavor while an over-roasted coffee will have you exclaiming it tastes “burnt”.

Both are bitter tasting but when compared closely, you can notice the difference.

The Freshness of the Coffee Beans

If you use stale, dried out coffee beans the next time you grind for brewing, you’re going to end up with burnt coffee that’s unpleasant tasting.

Stale beans often end up tasting acrid and acidic. And, most times the flavor is bland. When grinding stale beans, you may notice that they look more like cardboard or ash than dark, rich grains.

Old beans often give off a sour, pungent smell which is not pleasant at all or it lacks in fragrance completely. Anyone who knows what freshly grind coffee smells like will know what we’re talking about here!

Another giveaway sign of stale coffee is by rubbing the ground coffee between your fingers. If it lacks in moisture and instead, feels grainy and dry without sticking together, you’ve got stale coffee.

The Temperature of the Water

One of the best ways to brewing coffee is to use hot water that ranges between 195 and 200 degrees Fahrenheit.

The hotter the water, the more it affects the extraction process during brewing. This, in turn, impacts the flavors, aroma, and taste of the end result. However, if you use boiling water (which normally measures at 212 degrees F), the extraction process may be hastened and you’ll end up with bitter-tasting coffee.

To avoid burnt coffee, you can wait for boiled water to cool down for a minute before pouring it over the coffee grounds. You could also use a thermometer to test the temperature.

Length of Time Coffee Pot Sits on Heat Pads

Another reason your coffee could be tasting burnt is that your brewed coffee has been sitting on heat pads all day. This is often a problem with drip coffee makers. The coffee is brewed and then sits in a coffee pot on a heater for long periods of time.

This results in coffee continuing to be heated or “cooked”. The constant heating will eventually leave you with a brew that’s bitter and unpleasant to drink.

This is a common complaint of coffee served in many coffee shops where the brew has been left to sit for hours on a heating pad. While the intention is to keep the coffee warm, its constant exposure to heat will alter the flavors and you can end up with burnt coffee.

Is Instant Coffee Safe From Burning?

We’ve been talking about drinking fresh coffee that’s been roasted freshly and ground just before brewing. But what about instant coffee? Can you burn it by pouring boiling water over it? The straight answer is NO. It may make a difference to the taste though, by using hot water instead of boiled water straight from the kettle.

The point to remember with instant coffee is it’s been specifically dehydrated using the freeze-drying method. Some ingredients are added to enhance the flavors and aroma. Instant coffee will not lose flavors or become acrid because of boiling water being added to it.

You can also add milk first to give you peace of mind you’re not burning your instant coffee!

Will Reheating in the Microwave Burn Coffee?

It’s not advisable to reheat coffee in the microwave. There are two reasons for this:

  • When coffee cools down, the acidity levels increase. This leads to a more bitter taste which many drinkers often refer to as that “burnt taste”.
  • Reheating changes the chemical make-up of the brew and instead of improving the flavors, it destroys any good flavor profile. This will ultimately give you a bitter-tasting coffee.

Stay away from the microwave when you thinking of reheating that cup of coffee leftover from your breakfast. It’s far better to make a fresh brew.

Is Boiling Coffee a Problem?

You can’t be faulted for believing boiled coffee is an absolute no-no and if anything, it’s a problem when you’re served this type of coffee.

Also known as cowboy coffee who like to boil coffee while on the trail, let’s get some facts together here:

  • Boiled coffee is a popular drink in India and in other countries such as Ethiopia who use traditional recipes to embellish this style of coffee.
  • It’s made with finely ground coffee which resembles powder and added to a pot of boiling water.
  • Sometimes, milk is added to the mix.

Research has shown that boiled coffee has a lower level of caffeine compared to filtered coffee. But, you’re going to get a strong, bitter-tasting coffee and if the burnt taste is not your style, then cowboy coffee will be a problem for you.

Tips to Prevent Burning Coffee

Here are some other tips that’ll help you avoid ending up with coffee tasting too bitter:

  • Fresh coffee beans: We can’t stress this one enough! Always use fresh beans and that means coffee beans that are between one week to two weeks old (from the roasting date). You can store your beans in an airtight container to keep them fresher longer.
  • Change your roaster: If you’re constantly battling with a sour or bitter coffee it may be because the beans are not being roasted properly. Over roasted beans will give you an acrid-tasting coffee. So, don’t hesitate to find a new roaster if you’re not happy with your current one.
  • Bean quality: This refers to both Robusta and Arabica type coffee beans. The best quality bean may cost you a bit more. But if you want to avoid coffee that tastes acrid, then pay a bit more for a higher quality bean.
  • Pick whole bean: While ground coffee is more convenient, you’re more likely to get a fresher brew from whole bean coffee. Grinding your own coffee will give you a better-tasting cup of coffee without the acridness and pungency of stale coffee.
  • Grind size: This makes a difference in the ultimate flavors and taste of your brew. It also depends on the type of brewing method used. A sour taste could be the result of using a coarse grind while an overly bitter taste is the result of using a too fine grind. To solve this problem, you need to know which grind size for which brewing method. The French press brewing method recommends a coarser grind while Turkish coffee benefits from a much finer grind.
  • Water: Many baristas will recommend using filtered water over tap water. While the taste difference may be minimal, some drinkers may complain of a burnt taste when you use tap water to brew coffee.
  • Equipment: If your coffee maker isn’t clean or simply too old, you’ll notice your coffee tasting differently. For many coffee drinkers, this taste can be described as bitter, acrid, sour. The color of the brew may be looking blackish instead of the healthier, rich brown appearance. Cleaning the coffee maker regularly will prevent your coffee from tasting unpleasant.
  • Brewing for too long: Coffee that sits for a long time before being served will end up tasting off. Take the French press brewing method. The coffee grounds should not sit in hot water for longer than four minutes before plunging and pouring. Any longer and the flavors will be over-extracted and you’ll have a bitter cup of coffee.

By following these tips, you can be sure you won’t be complaining about your coffee burning or tasting sour.

Final Thoughts

The best way to avoiding burnt tasting coffee is to make sure the beans have not been over-roasted and are fresh. You also want to avoid drinking a brew that’s been sitting for hours in a pot on a heating pad. The last piece of advice is to test the water temperature before adding it to the coffee grounds.

Follow our tips and you’ll never need to worry about burning your coffee.