• Thu. Jun 30th, 2022
The Magic of Salt in Coffee

A topic a lot of you have requested which is should i be putting salt in my coffee and the answer is hopefully not but maybe.

To explain all this properly we’re going to have to dive a little bit just a little bit into some taste science to start off with and i’ll also say that for the most part we are going to talk about sodium chloride assault salt is considered one of the five basic tastes that are sort of a lie but aren’t. So you’ve got salt uh sour sweet bitter and umami there are other tastes that take place in the mouth i would argue that pecan see like heat is one of them astringency is another it’s a contentious topic.

I don’t want to get into it too far but salt is one of those things and it’s a very simple interaction your tongue has a bunch of taste receptors taste buds on it and what it’s generally doing is detecting sodium ions crossing a membrane and you experience saltiness and with that though you also experience some synergistic effects generally saltiness can amplify sweetness for example and it can also mitigate or reduce bitterness now i learned a lot of this from a book called tasting and smelling by gary beauchamp and linda bartoshuk it’s still available but it is ridiculously expensive now i did not pay that much money but i’ll put a link to it in the description if you find a secondhand copy cheap i would recommend it very highly now when it comes to researching salt and bitterness one of the compounds that they often test is caffeine now caffeine is quite a bitter substance it’s rare that you taste it on its own but it does contribute to coffee’s overall bitterness but if you’ve drunk decaf coffee you know that even without caffeine coffee is still bitter now thankfully it seems that salt does impact lots of different kinds of bitterness.

So salt is basically our friend we should be putting salt on our coffee all the time then right firstly one of the pleasures of coffee is when it’s good it has the right kind of bitterness much like beer or chocolate some bitterness is very pleasant when it’s balanced out properly by sweetness and some acidity and overall it’s a complex and enjoyable thing i don’t want to get rid of it anymore that i want to get rid of the acidity of coffee i want i want it to taste good and we should also consider salt to be an addition like milk or cream or sugar it might make the drink more palatable but it will change it it will obscure the truth of it in a way without sounding overly philosophical.

It’ll be harder to taste where that coffee is from and the journey that it’s taken from seed to cup secondly and this is very important salt perception is not universal what is my threshold of detection my threshold of recognition might be different to yours let’s talk about actually putting some salt into coffee now to start with i have a simple example i have a v60 that i brewed that was way too fine it’s over extracted i brewed it quite slowly at a too fine of a grind it will be harsh and a little bit bitter there will be some tastes that are unpleasant in it that are not bitter tastes things like astringency salt will do nothing for those often you’ll see a recommendation that you put the salt in with the ground coffee and that tastes better than putting it straight into the cup of coffee now that didn’t make much sense to me except that if you’re working at pretty low concentrations it’s probably easier to be accurate when you’re scaling up if you overdose or under-dose the amount in the actual cup that’ll be a much more noticeable fluctuation than doing it across an entire liter

liter and a half of coffee however in this situation i’m going to be dosing the cups and to do so  i have my good friend some saline solution this is just 20 salt 80 water so that i know in a gram of this is 0.2 grams of salt so here’s the test i’m going to take this particular cup i’m going to put in to start with half a gram of saline i’m adding 0.1 of a gram total salt into about 200 ml of liquid give you a little stir now this isn’t a blind test as you can tell because i can see the coffee let’s start with our undosed section not great a little harsh that is better but it’s actually noticeably salty to me that’s 0.1 grams of salt in 200 mils it’s really interesting it’s quite noticeable and it is better i think it’s a little bit tastier.

It’s a little bit softer it does have a touch of that salt water mouth feel but thinking about this how do you accurately dose with a teaspoon 0.1 gram of salt you can’t it’s not really doable now if i was trying to dose this into the basket i would have to presume that everything got dissolved but i wouldn’t know for sure and at that point i might be dosing you know less than half a gram of salt into a half liter v60 so for me this is one where you need a delicate hand i absolutely wouldn’t recommend just getting a pinch of salt and putting it in your coffee because you could very easily end up with something too salty to be honest i would say an overextracted v60 of coffee is not really an adequate endgame boss for salt to face in this one i think we need a bigger challenge for it to overcome to really endorse it as a good idea as a useful thing to have around there’s only one option for that nescafe original not even gold blend we’re going for the basics the basic basic basic this would be quite a bitter product i’m going to get a couple mugs of this brood and then we’ll dice it with salt and see how much it takes for it to be good and does it get too good before we get too salty.

Let’s find out these smell really bad really bad let’s um let’s make them better they’re made to spec you get a spec 1.8 grams of coffee to 200 ml of water these are exactly that each let’s start gentle 0.3 grams i think is probably about right now the idea of adding salt to coffee is not new it’s common in lots of cultures you see it often in particular in scandinavian countries they have a big history of that you might think that’s weird the scandinavians do the light rust thing but that’s a new thing historically dark roasted coffee was everywhere so let’s get our uh our sort of pain threshold set with the benchmark of just plain nest cafe it’s not for me it’s not it’s not it’s not for me oh then it’s better even at point three of a gram that’s better i’m gonna dice it up a little bit more though.

I’m gonna take it up to point six wow that is it’s pretty magical actually that’s pretty magical i’m going to take it up a little bit more let’s be clear about what this is not doing this is mitigating bitterness this is reducing my perception of bitterness slightly improving the texture and mouth of the coffee the flavour is the same it’s absolutely the same it just doesn’t hurt quite as much to drink but that is really surprising and it’s interesting so bear in mind in this 200 gram cup at most i had 0.2 grams of salt in it that’s very little salt that is that is a pinch and i hate things like a pinch i hate any volumetric measurements of anything because they’re very confusing and how much even is a pinch because it’s going to be different if i’m using table salt to using say kosher salt or even molded big flaky sea salt but a mass of salt is a mass of salt it is consistent and glorious and highly recommended speaking of which i would recommend making a salt solution like this with table salt with cheap cheap cheap salt it’s okay if it’s got a little bit of an anti-caking agent in it but you don’t want any other extras in there you don’t need raw salt and refined salt you just need sodium chloride as cheaply as you can get it so don’t bother with kosher salt don’t bother with expensive fancy salts.

They don’t have anything extra that’s going to do a better job here you just want cheap table salt a final word of warning this doesn’t work for everybody for some people the suppression of bitterness from salt doesn’t particularly happen you’ll get a little effect but not as strong as other people so if that’s you i’m sorry but don’t be weirded out if it doesn’t seem to work too much for most people though it’s a surprising and interesting little change i’ve seen people like scott ray are recommending this on instagram on his kind of tip of the day other places it’s a very old idea in lots of different countries so why not learn about how you taste a little bit more learn a bit more about what you like and how your sense of taste works if you do this.