The Down-low on Low Acid Coffee
How to Drink Coffee When Coffee Doesn’t Like You
If you like coffee but your stomach doesn’t agree, you may have consigned yourself to a life without your morning brew. It’s hard to enjoy a cup of heaven when you know you’ll be paying for it with hours of heartburn or other GI symptoms, not to mention possibly doing actual damage to various internal organs. Let’s start with this disclaimer: if your doctor has told you not to drink coffee – just don’t. Your doctor – especially a GI specialist – knows what’s best for your condition. If coffee is really important to you, it may be worth having a discussion with your doc about whether low acid coffee is a reasonable possibility. Now that we’ve got that out of the way, let’s talk about …
Why Coffee Bothers Your Stomach
There’s no one one-size-fits-all answer, but there are a couple of likely possibilities.
- Your stomach is sensitive to acids and coffee is generally an acidic beverage. This can be especially true for people who have ulcers, IBS, Crohn’s disease, or other conditions that result in or arise from damage to the digestive tract. The acids in coffee irritate an already sensitive stomach or intestinal tract lining, causing pain, and sometimes making the damage even worse.
- The caffeine in coffee may stimulate your stomach to produce more hydrochloric acid. While the source of the acid is different – it’s your body’s own acids that are causing the problem – the results are the same. It hurts.
- Caffeine also relaxes the lower esophageal sphincter muscle, the muscle that keeps the acid in your stomach from backing up into your esophagus. That makes it more likely for stomach acids to rise up into your esophagus and throat, causing heartburn and nausea, and increasing the likelihood of damage to the esophageal lining.
- Some researchers suspect that the caffeine and other enzymes in coffee may make your stomach a better environment for the growth of Pylori, the bacteria that’s implicated in stomach ulcers.
- Even if your stomach isn’t especially sensitive to coffee, if you drink too much of it on an empty stomach, you’re just asking for indigestion and heartburn.
- It may not be the coffee at all. If you drink your coffee with milk or cream, your stomach may be reacting to the lactose in the dairy products.
Tips for Enjoying Coffee When Your Stomach Rebels
So what’s a coffee lover to do when they suddenly find that they can’t enjoy their favorite beverage because of stomach problems? Here’s a handful of tips that may help.
- If you haven’t talked to your doctor or a nutritionist, make that your first step – especially if this is a new development. It’s more important to figure out what’s going on than it is to save your coffee habit. Sorry.
- Don’t drink coffee on an empty stomach. Eat something BEFORE you drink coffee, not with your coffee.
- Reduce the amount of coffee you drink. Some people can tolerate one cup, but not three or four.
- Try decaf or half-caf. It’s come a long way since Sanka days. Some decaffeinated coffees have even received relatively decent cupping scores among world class coffee cuppers.
- If you take milk or cream in your coffee, try switching to a non-dairy substitute – or drinking it black – and see if you notice a difference.
- Switch to low acid coffee.
Low Acid Coffee – Is It Worth It?
Let’s start with a definition of low acid coffee. There are actually two ways you can reduce the acid in the coffee you drink. The first is by choosing coffees that are naturally lower in acid. The second is by drinking coffee that has been treated to remove most or all of the acids in the coffee bean.
Low(er) Acid Coffee the Natural Way
- Some coffee varieties are naturally lower in coffee than others. Arabica beans are lower in acid than robusta beans – so skip the instant coffee altogether, and choose coffees that are 100% Arabica.
- Indonesian coffees – including Sumatran, Indian, and Pacific Rim coffees, tend to be lower in acid than most South and Central American coffees.
- Contrary to popular perception, darker roast coffees are lower in acid than light roasts. Try switching to dark roast and see if it helps.
- Cold brew coffee is markedly less acidic than coffee brewed with hot water. Toddy, the company that makes the Toddy cold brewer, claims that cold brewed coffee is 67% less acidic than coffee made with hot water. Obviously, they have a stake in the result, so take that statistic as you will.
Low Acid Coffee Brands to Try
- Puroast is among the oldest brands to market itself as lower in acid than regular coffee. The company claims that Puroast has 70% less acid than other roasted coffees. It is also one of the few low acid coffees that don’t use a chemical or mechanical process to reduce the acid in their coffee. Instead, they use a proprietary roasting method. As to taste, one of my favorite quotes from Puroast coffee reviews is this one: “It tasted like what somebody who has never had great coffee expects coffee to taste like.” In other words, if you’re a specialty coffee enthusiast with a taste for single origins, you’ll probably be disappointed. In general, though – not bad at all. Bonus: it comes in several flavored versions if you like flavored coffees.
- Hevla Low Acid Gourmet Coffee offers a full range of roasts and flavored coffees with greatly reduced acid. They haven’t been around for quite as long as Puroast, but they’re not newcomers to making low acid coffee either. Their process involves steaming green coffee beans before roasting them to dissolve the waxy outer skin that contributes a lot of the acidic content. Hevla’s own coffee acid comparisons show that Hevla coffee is a little less acidic than Starbucks and Dunkins – and about half as acidic as Maxwell House and Folgers. As far as flavor goes, Kenneth Davids – possibly the most famous coffee reviewer in the world – is not terribly impressed, but then, none of the low acid coffees impressed him much. His reviews are also from 2007 and 2012 respectively, so things may have changed considerably since then.
- Tylers Coffee claims to be the only acid-free coffee in the world. Like Puroast, they use a proprietary roasting process, which they claim results in coffee that is nearly pH neutral – according to their website, when Tylers is made with alkaline water, its pH is 7.2. Neutral is 7. By comparison, the pH value for black coffee is 5 – lower pH is higher acid. How about taste? The reviews from Tylers coffee drinkers are generally positive – mild flavor, smooth drinking, and no stomach distress.