4 Reasons Your Coffee Tastes Bitter

By Robert Parsons March 29, 2021

There is nothing better than a fresh cup of coffee to start your day. However, the enjoyment of sipping on a hot cup of joe is quickly over when your lips are welcomed by bitter coffee (talk about a buzzkill!).   

You may be wondering, “Isn’t coffee supposed to be bitter?” While it is associated with bitterness, you don’t want it to overpower your cup. You should get a variety of flavors from your first sip, like floral notes to chocolate ones. There is an entire wheel of flavors dedicated to describing amazing brews, but bitter isn’t one of them!

What is Over-Extraction? 

Bitter tasting coffee is a result of over-extraction. 

Extraction refers to the process of pulling flavor out of the coffee. Think about pouring clear water into your brewing device and then coming out a delightful chocolate brown. This is what the extraction process looks like. You can extract delicious java from fine to extra coarse grinds. 

When users use finely ground coffee, they can fall victim to over-extraction. This is because fine grinds burn easily when the water is too hot or if you’re pouring it too fast/too much. Think about overcooking a meal. Naturally, it’s going to burn. The same applies to over-extraction. 

The extraction process determines so many different aspects of coffee brewing:

  • – The flavor
  • – The body
  • – The acidity 
  • – The aroma 

A balanced extraction leads to wonderfully brewed flavors, while over-extraction goes beyond that sweet spot. It results in extracting too much from the grounds leading to an unpleasant taste and aroma. 

Why is my coffee bitter? Here are 4 very common mistakes that lead to over-extraction, followed by tips on how to make coffee less bitter.

1. Steeping For Too Long 

Many people tend to let their brew steep for too long. When this happens, too many of the bitter flavors come through, making your coffee taste burnt. The goal is to stop the brewing process when grounds release their delicious flavors. 

Think about tea. You don’t want to leave the teabag sitting in your hot water for too long. Otherwise, you’ll be left with bitter-tasting tea. The same goes for coffee – when left steeping for too long, bitter chemicals are released. 

The Solution

If you brew your French Press coffee for six minutes and find it turns out bitter, reduce brewing to four minutes. The secret to making coffee less bitter is knowing how long you need to brew your java for. Each coffee maker or gadget is different, so pay attention to the manufacturer’s instructions and set a timer if necessary.

2. Wrong Grind Size 

Grinding your coffee too finely can lead to over-extraction. The finer your grounds, the more quickly the water extracts the flavor from them. Finer grinds also bring out more flavor but also contribute to the bitterness of your cup. Coarser grinds make lighter, sweeter brews. If you’re a beginner, we recommend you go with a medium coarse grind. 

The Solution

You need your grind and brewing methods to align. This may take a little of experimentation, but with some practice you will be well on your way to delicious brews.

Here are some quick tips on grind size versus brewing methods: 

  • – For French Press percolators, use a coarse grind size.
  • – For coffee makers with flat filters, use a medium grind. 
  • – For coffee makers with cone-shaped filters use a fine grind size.
  • – For pump and steam espresso machines, use an extra-fine grind size.
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 3. Water Is Too Hot

Coffee needs to be prepared with hot water, not boiling water. Temperature plays a huge role in the brewing process. The last thing you want to do is overcook or burn your brew. 

The boiling point of water is 212℉. This is much too hot for brewing. You want to go for a temperature between 195℉ and 205℉. Remember that hotter water = more bitter brews, and colder water = weaker brews.

The Solution

Check the temperature of your water before pouring it over your grounds. Or invest in a coffee pot that offers temperature control. This will eliminate the guesswork (and won’t test your patience either). 

4. Dirty Equipment 

Dirty equipment leads to funky tasting coffee. Many users don’t know this, but you need to clean your appliance after each use. If your coffee tastes bitter and dirty equipment is the issue, we will cover how to fix this next.

The Solution

Clean your device after every use to remove leftover grounds. Make sure you rinse out the lid, brew basket, and carafe. You also want to deep clean your machine at least once every three months. Descaling will remove all mineral deposits for a deeper cleaning. 

Final Verdict 

Why is my coffee bitter? It may be a matter of steeping for too long, the wrong grind size, water that is too hot, or dirty equipment. Following these tips will ensure you avoid bitter coffee and enjoy fresh, clean cups of joe.