Why does my coffee taste bad all of a sudden? Why is my coffee bitter, or too sour?
These things happen. For the longest time, you’re brewing really nice, consistent coffee and suddenly POOF! Your coffee starts tasting bad and it’s nothing like the dark brown goodness you’re used to.
There are a number of reasons coffee suddenly starts tasting bad. Let’s dive into them and see how to fix it!
Why does coffee taste bad?
Brewing coffee is part science and part art. There are certain absolutes you don’t want to push, and other factors are in your hand to adjust as you see fit. Generally speaking, though, coffee taste is influenced by the following factors:
- The coffee beans
- The water
- The equipment
- The X factor(something that’s not in the above)
The coffee beans
1) Using beans that are not fresh
Contrary to what some people think, and what some coffee manufacturers may lead you to believe, coffee does not last forever. For every 24 hours you leave coffee out, it loses part of its flavor bit by bit until it completely turns and tastes nothing like it should.
The science behind this is that roasting coffee generates carbon dioxide in the beans, which they begin to gradually lose. As the coffee beans degas, they lose their flavor, so if you’ve got some coffee beans sitting around for too long, chances are they’ve degassed and the taste is now off.
How to fix this problem: Use fresh coffee and only buy as much as you need! Ideally, you want to buy freshly roasted coffee rather than pre-ground coffee. Support your small roasters and you’ll be surprised how much of an improved taste you’ll see.
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2) Using low quality coffee
There are two kinds of coffee in the world: robusta and arabica. Arabica is generally richer and more flavorful than robusta coffee. Robusta is used in instant coffees and other bulk manufacturing, and most of the higher quality and artisan beans you’ll find are indeed Arabica.
You may just have bad tasting coffee or bitter tasting coffee simply because the quality of the coffee you’re using is just not up to par.
When shopping for beans, get good quality beans that have a stamp of approval from other coffee drinkers. Luckily, you’ll find plenty of reviews on sites like Amazon.
Unfortunately cost is a factor that will come into play, but this is part of the cost of good coffee. You can find subscription deals on Amazon for cheaper, so always be on the lookout for those.
In coffee, the adage rings very true: you get what you pay for.
Why does my coffee taste bitter?
Poor quality beans won’t have as many flavor compounds and oils as good quality beans, so the first warning sign of bitter coffee is bad beans.
If the beans are OK, then chances are they were over-roasted. Darker roasts tend to be much more intense(sometimes read as bitter) than lighter roasts.
If the roast is spot on, too, then chances are you’ve burnt the coffee by using boiling water, or you’ve over-extracted by letting the coffee sit for too long.
3) The coffee was poorly roasted
Roasting is quite an intricate process and there can be inconsistencies across a roast, whether you are roasting at home or you’re buying from a professional roaster.
Roasting at home means it is a lot easier to make mistakes unless you’re using a really high quality roaster, and even then, it’s still possible to make mistakes.
If you’re buying from the store, it is entirely possible that the roaster had a bad or lower quality batch. It’s unreasonable to expect that one roast will be exactly identical to the next, especially since there are so many factors that can screw it up, or at the very least, modify it.
How to fix this problem: It’s entirely possible you came home from the grocery with a bad batch, so just go pick up a new batch! You can find other uses for the bad coffee so you don’t have to throw it out. If you’re just not getting the taste you want from multiple batches of the same roast, try mixing it up.
4) The grind is off
Finally, the last coffee related reason is that your grind size is wrong. Grind size is really important because it controls how much of the coffee bean the water interacts with.
A grind that is too coarse will result in under-extracted coffee and will be sour, and a grind that’s too fine will be over-extracted and will also get in your filter and make a messy, gritty beverage, and it will end up being bitter.
A quick rule of thumb for coffee ground size is smaller, finer grounds for quicker, high pressure brews like espresso, and coarser grounds for slower, gradual brews like french press, drip, and cold brew, which requires the coarsest grounds possible.
How to fix this problem: You’ll need to make sure you’re buying the correct ground for the brewing method you’re using. If you’re grinding at home, make sure you either set the correct option in your grinder, or grind for the right amount of time to get the proper consistency.
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The next factor in bad tasting coffee is water. Did you know that using extremely hot water can burn your coffee?
5) The temperature is too hot or cold
Coffee grounds are very sensitive to temperature and if your water is too hot or too cold, you’ll end up with a bad tasting coffee.
If you’ve ever had some coffee and it tasted burnt, it’s probably because the water was too hot.
There are lots of differing opinions on the exact degree of temperature that coffee should be at, but a good benchmark is 205 degrees Fahrenheit, which is equal to about 95 to 96 degrees Celcius.
DO NOT use boiling water. This will burn the coffee and it will taste off!
How to fix this problem: You can either get a fancy(they’re really simple, actually) thermometer and measure the exact temperature before pouring, or you can wait about 30 seconds after the water has boiled to let it cool down by about 5 degrees.
6) The water quality is poor
Even if you drink water from your kitchen tap and it tastes okay to you, there’s a chance that it’s hard water, which is messing with your coffee extraction.
How to fix this problem: The best kind of water to use is filtered, soft water, so you can invest in a simple water filter, or if you have hard water, get a water softener(your hair and clothes will thank you too).
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6) Your coffee machine or grinder is dirty
You can’t expect a dryer to work if it’s full of lint, can you?
So you can’t expect a coffee maker to work properly if it’s not clean. Especially if you live in an area with hard water, you’ll see that limescale starts to build up inside the coffee maker, at which point you’ll need to seriously clean the machine.
Cleaning a coffee maker is quite easy – it’s also known as descaling, and there are plenty of solutions you can use.
Why did the coffee taste like mud?
Chances are, if your coffee tasted like mud, your filter is not doing its job correctly. You may have a dirty filter, in which case you’re drinking weeks if not years old coffee mixed into your fresh brew, or you’re using a grind that’s too fine and it’s slipping through the filter into the coffee.
Keurig coffee doesn’t taste good anymore?
If you’re a Keurig person and you’re seeing that your coffee doesn’t taste good anymore, chances are that your machine needs a cleaning and descaling. Descaling a Keurig is a fairly easy process, and you should do it regularly to ensure your Keurig runs optimally.
7) You’re not using the proper equipment
Have you ever tried making espresso with a french press? You can’t really get good results…
The point is, you won’t get good coffee if you’re using improper equipment. There are lots of ways to brew great coffee even if you don’t have fancy equipment, but there are some corners you just can’t cut.
Your filters can be off, your containers can be off, or maybe your espresso machine is just super cheap and not even an actual espresso machine.
Also, do yourself a favor and ditch using plastic for drinking – drink of out a glass or ceramic mug, or use a stainless steel thermos for when you are on the go.
8) Your equipment is dated
Coffee makers are machines, and with age and use, there will be inevitable wear and tear on the pipes and innards of the machine. As your machine gets older, the more complex it is, the poorer it will start brewing.
You can extend the life of your coffee maker for as long as possible with thorough cleanings, but eventually, the filters will start to work less efficiently, or the pipes will develop limescale, or the pressure just won’t be high enough anymore, and you can either try to repair the machine or just invest in a new one.
Unfortunately, there is no cheap fix for old equipment except getting better equipment.
The X factor
Sometimes it’s not the coffee, water, or equipment, but it’s just something else altogether.
Time. There’s been so much philosophical discussion about time – and indeed, time is a huge factor in coffee, too.
Espresso drinkers need not worry since espresso machines will handle the time part of brewing, but if you’re brewing drip coffee or french press, time is super important.
If you filter too early, coffee will be under extracted and tasteless, and if you wait too long, you’ll over extract and get all the bitter compounds in your beverage. No good!
How to fix this issue: There’s no fixed brewing time for these coffees. I personally prefer 4 minutes for French Press and 16 hours for cold brew, but it could be a little longer for you.
You don’t want to push 7 minutes on a french press, or 24 hours in cold brew, but the point in between which yields the flavor that you like will have to be discovered by you and you only.
10) Your personal tastes
Everyone is an individual and in something as subjective as coffee tasting, you may find that you just don’t like this particular coffee.
And you know what?
That’s totally OK!
Just because your friends like a particular coffee does not mean you have to like it too. The beauty of coffee is that there is so much variety available that there is literally something for everyone.
Like I’ve mentioned in other posts on this site, finding the right brew, beans, and roast will take some time and experimentation, and that’s really the fun part of being a home barista! You’ll get to try so many different kinds of coffees and methods, and you’ll get to learn so much in the process, too!
Last update on 2020-02-23 / Affiliate links / Images from Amazon Product Advertising API