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Why People Have Been Putting Salt in Coffee for Years

Why People Have Been Putting Salt in Coffee for Years

Clark Clark
8 minute read

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Over time, coffee lovers rack up some odd tips and tricks for achieving the best tasting coffee. One such tip is actually an ingredient that you probably use to enhance the flavor of your daily meals. That’s right: salt.

Livening up your cup of coffee may only be a pinch of salt away. It may sound strange as an addition to your cup of joe. However, a little salt can go a long way in eliminating the bitter taste of coffee.

A Brief History of Salted Coffee

Salt coffee has been around for some time. In particular, inhabitants of some island countries put that seawater to good use. They noted that it improved the taste of their coffee, especially lower grade coffee.

It’s not uncommon for brackish water (freshwater and saltwater combined for less salinity than seawater) to be used in order to make salt coffee beverages.

Salt coffee became a favorite among many sailors and seafaring peoples.

What are salted coffee traditions?Hungary, Siberia, and Scandinavian countries have enjoyed salted coffee for ages, thanks to the surrounding sea. 

Turkey has a unique premarital ceremony involving salted coffee. The bride prepares coffee for her future husband and his parents/family. This informal ritual requires the bride to make the coffee with salt. If the prospective husband drinks the cup to the last drop, the wedding is on! Supposedly, drinking the whole cup indicates that the bride has solid mastery of the kitchen.

In Vietnam, the city of Hue boasts to be the birthplace of the modern salted coffee drink. Coffee is brewed in a stainless steel filter called a phin. The coffee drips into a cup of salted cream. This coffee has a distinct caramel flavor.

Why Salted Coffee Tastes Better

Our taste buds are deceptively complex. There are only five basic tastes:

  1. Bitter
  2. Salty
  3. Sour
  4. Sweet
  5. Umami 

Finding the right combination of these tastes is vital for something to taste good. When one taste is a bit too strong, we easily detect the unpleasant sensation. Excess bitterness may be the most universally disagreeable taste.

Many assume caffeine is the compound responsible for coffee’s bitterness. Actually, caffeine accounts for just 15% of coffee’s bitterness.

Chlorogenic acid lactones and phenylindanes are the compounds derived from chlorogenic acid. These 2 compounds give coffee its bitter taste. They release during the roasting process. 

Chlorogenic acid lactones are more present in lighter coffee roasts. As chlorogenic acid lactones begin to break down during the roasting process, more phenylindanes are released, becoming more prominent in the darker roasts. Phenylindanes are more pungent and leave a lingering bitter taste. This is why the longer the roast time, the more bitter coffee will taste.

Certain types of coffee beans, such as Robusta, are naturally more bitter. But bitter coffee can result from brewing mistakes like:

  • Using too many grounds for the amount of water
  • Overheating by leaving coffee in the coffee maker for too long
  • Using the wrong grind setting for the brew method
  • Over extracting french press coffee

As we all know, coffee brewing is a bit of a delicate process, especially when it comes to crafting that perfect cup. Drinking coffee, from espressos to lattes, should be an enjoyable experience, not bitter. This is where salt comes in!

Sodium ions in salt are what neutralize bitter tastes. When something salty is consumed with something bitter, salt more or less blocks the bitter taste, causing the brain to more easily perceive whatever sweetness exists. This is the reason people salt their fruits or add salt to desserts–to better highlight the natural sweetness. 

Making Salted Coffee

There are a couple of ways of making salted coffee. Perhaps the simplest way of salting coffee is to add your preferred amount of salt directly into your morning cup of brewed coffee. The other option is adding salt to coffee grounds just before brewing.

How much salt should I add to coffee?The amount of salt added to curb the bitter flavor ultimately depends on your preference. A couple of dashes of salt (about ¼ of a teaspoon) will do the trick.

In 2009, popular cookbook author and celebrity chef Alton Brown, recommended adding salt to coffee. A quarter teaspoon of salt (kosher salt specifically) to 8 tablespoons of ground coffee, to be exact. Brown says this will “knock off some of the bitter edge.”

In a 2015 Facebook post, he amended the amount of coffee grounds to 6 tablespoons. Also, he added that salt can smooth out the taste of stale water stored in tanks. 

Brown is credited with popularizing the addition of salt to coffee. In fact, despite its long history, many call adding salt to coffee the “Alton Brown Trick.”

Coffee drinkers might also consider creating a saline solution. Water with about a 20% salt content will help with bitterness and even improve the mouth feel of coffee.

Health Benefits of Adding Salt

Coffee has a number of health benefits on its own, including:

On the flip side, we love to make things taste as good as possible. That means many of us combat the bitterness of coffee with less-than-healthy options like sugar, creamer, and syrups. Weirdly, salt is better at eliminating bitterness than sweeteners. Sweeteners tend to merely mask the bitterness.

Because the average American consumes about 3,400 mg of salt daily (instead of the CDC’s recommended 2,300 mg), salt has somewhat of a negative reputation. However, salt is still an electrolyte — in the proper amounts it has several health benefits:

  • Aids thyroid function
  • Prevents dehydration
  • Helps proper nervous system function
  • Promotes vascular health
  • Reduces risk of low blood pressure
  • Functions as an antibacterial

Because coffee is a diuretic, it can cause the body to lose more salt than it should. Adding salt to coffee can help regulate salt levels slightly.

What are the benefits of adding salt to coffee?Adding salt to coffee results in benefits such as 

  • Suppressing bitterness in coffee
  • Bringing out sweet flavors of coffee
  • Reducing added calories from cream and sugar
  • Ensuring the body doesn’t lose unnecessary amounts of sodium

When You Shouldn’t Add Salt

There are instances in which a bit of salt would not enhance the coffee flavor. High quality coffee, such as Third Wave coffee,  usually doesn’t require salt. In fact, salt could hide some of the more subtle flavor profiles. The same goes for light roast coffees. Light roast coffee beans are more flavorful as they haven’t been roasted long enough to have the abundance of phenylindanes in dark roasts.

Additionally, if you have conditions which require a low-sodium diet, you might not want to go the salted coffee route. Such conditions include

  • Acid reflux
  • Heart disease
  • High blood pressure
  • Kidney disease

Other Additives to Consider

While salt, from sea salt to Himalayan salt, is a great and simple way to enhance the taste of inherently bitter coffee, there are some other options to help improve coffee flavor. The best part? They’re healthy!

  • Flavored salts: Today, salts can be infused with myriads of flavors, some of which could result in a refreshing new coffee taste. The next time you’re at the grocery store, keep an eye out for apple-smoked, espresso, ginger, or vanilla flavored salts.
  • Healthy sweeteners: If your sweet tooth needs a little indulgence, natural sweeteners such as honey, agave, or molasses might be the ticket. They’re not as addictive as refined sugar.
  • Spices: Cinnamon, cardamom, and nutmeg add lovely flavor notes to a typical cup of coffee.
  • Plant-based milks: If you still desire a creamy quality to your coffee, yet need to ditch the dairy, great options include soy, oat, or coconut milks. They’ll add a nice richness!

Looking for Coffee Without Bitterness?

Gold coffee is an ultralight roast known for its smooth, almost tea-like taste. Our gold coffee lacks the bitterness and acidity of traditional coffee, so you don’t have to add anything to improve the taste.

If you want to mix it up, Golden Ratio has some flavors worth trying, like vanilla coconut and spiced cookie. If you want to enjoy a smooth daily coffee without any additives, give us a try.


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  8. Coffee consumption and health: umbrella review of meta-analyses of multiple health outcomes - PMC

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