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Coffee lovers in search of low acid coffees have lots more choices on the supermarket shelves than they did a few years ago. Major coffee retailers are jumping on the bandwagon with options like Folgers’ Simply Smooth Coffee, while a number of other coffee roasters advertise their products as “low acid”. What’s the real scoop on low acid coffee? Is it really kinder to your stomach, or is it all just marketing hype?
Why Low Acid Coffee?
Let’s be straight, here. Brewed coffee contains a lot of natural acids. Some of them are present in the unroasted coffee bean. Some of them are the result of the roasting process. Others make their appearance during the brewing process. Most of them are the result of chemical reactions that happen when you heat the bean. Those acids may or may not cause heartburn and stomach discomfort.
According to the Cleveland Clinic, heartburn is caused by a whole laundry list of things. In general, they say, “Various lifestyle and dietary factors can contribute to heartburn by: increasing the relaxation of the lower esophageal sphincter, allowing it to open; increasing the amount of acid in the stomach; increasing stomach pressure; or by making the esophagus more sensitive to harsh acids.”
To date, there is no research that proves the acids that are present in coffee cause heartburn, acid reflux or indigestion, but there is a lot of evidence that coffee sometimes causes those problems for people. Some researchers argue that it’s not the acid, it’s the caffeine, which irritates the stomach lining and causes it to produce more stomach acid, and it is those stomach acids that cause the heartburn. In fact, doctors have recommended avoiding coffee and caffeinated beverages if they cause heartburn for decades. On the other hand, decaffeinated coffee has also been implicated in causing heartburn, so what’s a non-scientist to do if drinking coffee causes pain?
Maybe it takes a non-scientist to point out the obvious. Lots of people complain that coffee causes heartburn and sour stomach. Some people find that drinking decaf coffee gets rid of the sour stomach. Others find that decaf coffee causes just as many tummy aches as caffeinated. Lots of people who have tried Gentle Java, Puroast, Hevla and other low acid coffees find that they don’t get heartburn from drinking low acid coffee. Other people find there’s no difference at all. Some get heartburn from regular coffee but not from espresso, some with light roast and not dark roast, and for every person who claims that one variation of coffee reduces his symptoms, there are people who will argue that it has no effect.
The logical conclusion — whether it is scientifically based or not—is that heartburn is caused by different triggers in different people, and that coffee contains a lot of substances to which some people may be sensitive. In other words, there’s not ONE thing in coffee that affects everyone the same way. Because of that, there are many different solutions to dealing with the problem of coffee and heartburn, and one of them is drinking a coffee that is lower in acid.
Low Acid Coffees
There are a number of coffee brands that are marketed as stomach-friendly or low acid. They include Puroast Coffee, Hevla Coffee, Gentle Java, Helathwise Coffee and Simply Smooth.
There are several products on the market that claim to reduce the acid in your coffee when added to the cup. They include JAVAcid, Calciblend and Coffee Tamer, as well as the good old folk remedy—crushed eggshells.
Cold-brewed coffee is naturally lower in acid because cold brewing doesn’t cause the chemical reactions that create many of the acids in regular coffee. Check out the Toddy brewer, or look for instructions on how to make your own cold brewed coffee.
Coffee that is grown at low altitudes seems to be lower in acid than higher altitude coffees. If acidic coffee bothers you, try a Sumatran, Brazilian or Indonesian coffee.
Dark roasted coffee also seems to have fewer acids than lighter roasts. If coffee acid bothers your stomach, try a French or Italian roast coffee.