Salt in Coffee - Does it Make Sense?
Adding salt to your coffee cup, does it make your coffee taste any better? I've heard a rumour that people used to use salt in coffee to make it taste less bitter and I wanted to know whether it's true. Let's dig deeper into the magic of salt in coffee!
Salt in coffee - why?!
Few weeks ago, I ended adding salt into my tea by accident in a café. My Assam tea was excessively strong and I thought I would dilute it a bit by adding plain water to the mix. Soon I learned that we had been served mineral water, so ended with salty, bubbly, lukewarm cup of black tea. It surely was bad and accidental experiment for the reasons mentioned but it got me thinking about salt in other beverages too. Surely, some of you have heard a rumor of adding salt to coffee in order to make the flavor deeper or less bitter. At least some senior people brewing coffee seems to believe there are benefits in this habit. I of course had to try it and see for myself if it work and does the coffee get salty in unpleasant way as my tea did.
Let us first talk a little bit about tasting. According to research, most of us taste five basic tastes, sweet, bitter, salty, umami and sour. The tasting itself happens in the taste buds in our tongue where our taste receptors are hidden. Tasting is a complex mix of many of our senses, meaning we taste more if we also smell the product. Our senses can also lead us of as our sensory receptors respond to many flavors simultaneously. Basically this means some tastes are enhance and other suppress by other tastes. For this specific experiment, we are interested in salt suppressing the bitterness and maybe even enhancing the sweetness in our coffee.
Bitterness for me personally is something that is pleasant small amount in some products such as coffee, tea, cacao or some alcohol beverages but it always has to be balanced with other flavors. So I was really keen on trying how it can be reduce if needed. I decided to prepare coffee with few different methods and compare those with regular non-salty versions. I made cold brew, filter coffee and espresso. In some tests I found from online people had had added salt into the coffee grounds but I felt it would be hard to say if the salt has completely dissolved into the brewed coffee. So I made a basic salt solutions according to the Coffee Mind Sensory Intermediate guide, meaning 4g of NaCi (table salt) to one liter of water. Even if it sounds very weak solution I assure you, it has plenty of salty taste.
I brewed my cold brew for 12h and used Paulig’s Sydney coffee blend. Its light roasted and quite fruity, the cold brew on its own was nicely mellow, sweet and not that bitter. Therefore, I felt quite silly adding salt to the coffee I already likes a lot. I used 130g of coffee and 6g of solution (0,4g of actual salt) for the cold brew and felt that already a small amount of the salt solution did create surprisingly salty effect to my cold brew. So I would say no need to add salt to cold brew. This part of testing was easy.
For the filter, I used V60 and again the Paulig’s Sydney. I had very basic recipe of 20g of coffee to 340g of water with 3mins brew time. Again I liked the result was good on its own, but of course had to try the salt version as well. I used 130g of coffee and 6g solution, and surprisingly it was quite nice smooth. To see if it would turn salty I added 6g more but weirdly it still did very salty but the coffee definitely was a bit diluted as I had added 12g of extra water. I have to say I was surprises how smooth it was with the salt even though there was a bit of a mouthfeel.
For the espresso, I chose was Kipinä from the Notes of Nature series, a semi light roasted sweet and nutty coffee. I again made two espressos and added 6g of salt solution to the other one. I did a quite long brew on purpose to have maximum bitterness. The first sip from the non-salty coffee was so horrifyingly bitter, that this time I was even hoping to have some of the salted version. I first added 6 grams of the salt solution, and the taste was much smoother and less bitter and the mouthfeel had a bit sea saltiness. It felt like there was one extra flavor in the mix but it still didn't feel very salty. I added another 6 grams of solution and my espresso turned into something really bad. It was definitely bitter at all, but it was diluted and watery, salty and empty, almost without any taste. So I have to say I would not recommend salty espressos but making proper espressos with right ratio.
As a conclusion, I was very surprised that the trick actually worked well for the filter. I assume if I would have had a coffee with some defects or it would had been old, the salt trick might had cover some of the unpleasant flavors but now as my coffee was ok the difference was not as big but definitely noticeable. Also it’s good to remember salt does not cover other flavors aside from bitterness so it’s not a magic cure for bad coffee. For the cold brew, I cannot recommend adding salt as it was already smooth as it is, so no point adding anything. As for the espresso, it did work for covering the extra bitterness but didn't make the espresso tastier. But fun experiment to try out.