Coffee, the drink so many of us love! Whether on the front porch, in your favorite chair, with your morning meal, with friends and family, or on route to work, coffee has become more than a habit for many, it’s a greatly enjoyed ritual. Unfortunately, millions of people experience the discomfort of heartburn, acid reflux, and other digestive disorders due to acid levels in coffee. Before giving up that morning cup of coffee, you might consider low acid coffee brands. With the development of low acid coffee, millions continue to enjoy coffee without experiencing heartburn.
Can You Drink Coffee If You Have Acid Reflux?
If you regularly experience acid reflux, coffee may aggravate your acid reflux symptoms. If your doctor has put you on a low acid diet due to gastroesophageal reflux disease (GERD) or other digestive disorders, you may still be able to enjoy coffee by switching to a less acidic coffee. Please consult with your doctor before switching to low acid coffee as an alternative to standard coffee.
How Coffee Causes Heartburn and Acid Reflux
Coffee is a heartburn trigger that contributes to heartburn and acid reflux symptoms in the following four ways:
1) Coffee Acidity
Is all coffee acidic?
Yes, all coffee is naturally acidic. Not only is coffee acidic, it also stimulates stomach acid production. Coffee acidity depends on the coffee bean, coffee roast, and coffee brewing methods.
- Coffee Bean: Some coffee beans are less acidic than others.
- Coffee Roast: Dark roast coffee is less acidic than light roast coffee or medium roast coffee.
- Coffee Brewing Methods: Different coffee brewing methods produce different acid levels. Cold brew coffee can be 65% less acidic than other coffee brewing methods.
2) Caffeine in Coffee
Caffeine in coffee not only increases the release of stomach acid,1 it causes the lower esophageal sphincter (LES) to relax. The LES is the ring of muscle between the esophagus and the stomach that closes to keep stomach acid from refluxing into the esophagus. When caffeine in coffee relaxes the LES, stomach acid leaks back upward into the esophagus causing the irritating pain we call heartburn.
It’s difficult to determine the level of caffeine in coffee. The type of coffee brewing method, brew time, coarseness of the grind, and type of roast all factor into the level of caffeine in a cup of coffee.
Light roast coffee generally has a higher caffeine level.
To reduce the chance of heartburn from coffee, consider drinking dark roast coffee, half-caff coffee, or decaf coffee to reduce caffeine intake. Decaf coffee still contains a small level of caffeine, but it’s a safer alternative to caffeinated coffee.
3) NMP Level in Coffee
N-methylpyridium (NMP) is a chemical produced during coffee roasting. There is a benefit to NMP as it has the ability to block the production of stomach acid (hydrochloric acid, HCl). Drinking coffee with high NMP levels can reduce the risk of acid irritation.
Dark roast coffee has significantly higher levels of NMP, though exact levels vary by the variety of coffee bean and roasting method.2
4) Coffee Oil Level
Generally speaking, oils slow digestion causing acid buildup in the stomach. There are oils in coffee, though the small amount in a cup of coffee is not likely to be overly significant.
To lower the possible risk of heartburn and acid reflux from coffee oil, consider dark roast coffee and decaf coffee.
- Longer roast times destroy oils contained in the coffee bean.
- The decaffeination process uses solvents to dissolve oils containing caffeine.
Now that we know how coffee causes heartburn, we can make a wiser decision when choosing our coffee bean, roast level, and coffee brewing methods to reduce the likelihood of heartburn from our morning cup of coffee.
For the remainder of this article, we will focus on low acid coffee for reducing the occurrence of heartburn and acid reflux symptoms.
Low Acid Coffee
Coffee doesn’t have to be overly acidic. There are a number of flavorful low acid coffee options available in both caffeinated and decaf versions. Low acid coffee provides those with heartburn and acid reflux problems an alternative to standard coffee allowing them to enjoy that morning cup of coffee without the misery of heartburn. Before eliminating coffee from your diet, consider one of the many low acid coffee brands on the market.
Low acid coffee is made from one or more of the following:
1) Low Acid Coffee Bean
The best low acid coffee starts with a raw, green coffee bean with naturally low acid levels. It’s important to consider the coffee bean before it’s roasted and the origin of the coffee bean.
Low acid coffee beans are grown in a number of regions. The basics are that coffee grown at lower elevations have lower acid levels. Brazil, Mexico, Peru, Venezuela, Guatemala, and Indonesia are some of the countries producing naturally low acid coffee beans.
2) Shade-Grown Coffee
There is a difference in shade-grown coffee and sun-grown coffee. Sun-grown coffee is commonly found on market shelves. The direct sunlight makes for a faster-growing coffee plant that produces a poorer quality coffee bean with higher acid levels and higher caffeine levels.
Shade grown coffee is slow growing producing better tasting coffee from a low acid coffee bean with lower caffeine levels. Being low in acid levels and caffeine levels, shade-grown coffee is a much healthier option for those who have GERD or experience heartburn after drinking coffee.
3) Coffee Bean Processing Methods
A coffee bean is actually a seed which resembles a bean. It comes from the red or purple fruit of a coffee plant. There are three methods for processing harvested coffee beans: wet, dry, and semi-dry process methods. Two of these coffee processing methods reduce acid levels in the coffee bean.
Dry Processing Method
The dry process, also known as the natural process or dry natural, is the oldest method of coffee processing where the newly picked fruit from a coffee plant is sorted and dried in the sun over a period of days. The dried fruit is then stored until the outer layers are removed from the coffee bean by a hulling machine.
The dry process produces coffee beans with lower acid levels and sweet, earthy flavors. The dry process, however, does not produce consistent outcomes due to weather conditions and human factors during the drying process.
The dry process is predominantly used in dryer regions due to the lack of water needed for the wet process and semi-dry process.
Wet Processing Method
In the wet process, also known as washed coffee, the coffee fruit is separated from the bean in a washing process before the beans are dried. Coffee beans produced through the wet process have higher acid levels and fruity flavors.
During the wet process, the bad or unripened coffee fruit is separated from the good fruit by water immersion where the good fruit sinks and the undesirable fruit floats. The skin of the coffee fruit is then removed by a machine that presses them through a screen. The remaining pulp is removed by one of two wet processing methods. In one, a machine scrubs the coffee fruit until the pulp comes free of the coffee bean. In the second wet processing method, the coffee fruit is fermented in water or its own juice to break down the pulp. After the fermentation process has completed, the fermented pulp is washed free of the coffee bean.
Semi-Dry Processing Method
The semi-dry process, also known as the honey process, or pulped natural, is in-between the dry and wet processes. After harvesting, the fruit is separated and the skin is removed like that of the wet process, however, the fermentation or machine removal of remaining pulp is skipped. Any remaining pulp is left to dry with the coffee bean like in the dry process.
The coffee produced through the semi-dry process produces a coffee somewhere between the dry process and the wet process. It has lower acid levels than the wet process while retaining some of the sweet, earthy flavors developed during the dry process along with some of the acidic fruity flavors from the wet process.
4) Steaming of the Coffee Bean
Before roasting, the acid levels of the coffee bean can be reduced by removing the bean’s waxy outer layer by steaming. This process, however, can mute the coffee’s aroma.
5) Coffee Roasting Process
Is Dark Roast Coffee Less Acidic?
Dark roasting coffee beans by slow or interrupted roasting reduces acid levels. There, however, is a trade-off for those who seek the delicate notes of citrus, herbs, and berry found in certain coffee beans. The dark roasting process will mute these qualities where the earthiness and dark chocolate of other coffee beans hold up quite well.
The process of roasting coffee beans produces the chemical N-methylpyridium (NMP). The darker the roast the more NMP. NMP blocks the production of stomach acid (hydrochloric acid, HCl). This makes dark roast coffee a great choice for reducing the risk of heartburn.2
6) Acid Neutralization Treatment
Coffee can be specially treated with antacid compounds to neutralize the acid. When considering a coffee that has gone through an acid neutralization treatment, it’s healthier to consider one that’s been treated with natural antacid compounds as opposed to chemical treatment.
If you’d like more control over the acid neutralization of your coffee, you can add a coffee acid reducer that you know and trust. Many coffee drinkers have found coffee acid reducers to be effective in reducing the acid levels in coffee and minimizing the occurrence of heartburn and acid reflux symptoms. Some popular coffee acid reducers are Coffee Tamer and CalciBlend.
Adding baking soda or an eggshell are also options for reducing acid levels in coffee. Eggshells are semipermeable and comprised of calcium carbonate. The calcium carbonate in the eggshell can help neutralize coffee acid levels during the brewing process. Just add one or two cleaned and crushed eggshells to your coffee grounds before brewing. Baking soda is a natural antacid that can neutralize acid levels in coffee. One added benefit of baking soda is that it’s high in salt. Salt works well to combat bitterness in coffee.
7) Coffee Brewing Methods
Is cold brewed coffee less acidic?
Coffee brew coffee methods have an effect on the acid level of coffee. Acid levels of cold brew coffee can be up to 65% lower than conventionally brewed coffee. Less acid, oil, and bitterness are extracted from the coffee bean when cold water is used as opposed to hot water making cold brewed coffee better for those with acid reflux problems.
Can you warm up cold brew coffee?
Yes, if you like your coffee hot, don’t worry. Heating cold brew coffee doesn’t increase acid levels. The extraction process has already occurred. Any conventional heating method will work fine. I usually pop mine in the microwave.
How do I make cold brew coffee?
Cold brew coffee can be made with a canning jar or with a variety of inexpensive, cold brew coffee makers. We’ve previously posted on how to make cold brew coffee in a canning jar. I think you’ll like this inexpensive method for making your coffee.
8) Decaf Coffee Vs Caffeinated Coffee
Low acid coffee is available in decaf. Switching to decaf coffee may reduce heartburn, acid reflux, and GERD.3 Caffeine causes the LES to relax allowing stomach acid to reflux into the esophagus. Decaf coffee, however, still contains some caffeine. Those with digestive disorders should avoid drinking decaf coffee in excess.
Is decaf coffee less acidic than regular coffee?
No, decaf coffee is not necessarily less acidic than regular coffee. Coffee acidity depends on the coffee bean, roast, processing method, and the brewing method used. The primary benefit of decaf coffee for reducing acid reflux symptoms is the lack of caffeine. Caffeine relaxes the LES increasing the likelihood of acid reflux.
9) Arabica Coffee Vs. Robusta Coffee
The variety of coffee bean is important when choosing a low acid coffee. Two main varieties of coffee bean are widely used in making coffees, Arabica and Robusta. Robusta coffee beans contain a significantly higher level of caffeine than Arabica coffee beans. For heartburn sufferers, the hyper-caffeinated Robusta coffee beans are undesirable.
10) Coffee Fruit Maturity
Fully ripened coffee fruit produces a coffee bean with lower acid levels than unripened coffee fruit. Coffee beans from unripened fruit can be found in many cheaper coffees.
11) Aged Coffee Beans
Aging the coffee beans may also reduce the risk of heartburn. Aged coffee beans have lower acid levels and a loss of coffee oil (see “How Coffee Causes Heartburn and Acid Reflux: Coffee Oil” above).
12) pH of Water in Coffee Brewer
Have you ever thought of the pH of water when brewing coffee? The pH of water can have an effect on your cup of coffee. For low pH water and a better tasting coffee, try using Essentia 9.5pH drinking water. Essentia Water is one of the best brands of alkaline water on the market.
Best Low Acid Coffee Brands
The coffee brands listed below specifically advertise themselves as selling low acid coffee. The brands or their coffees are in no special order.
These low acid coffee options offer a variety of great tasting choices with a lower risk of heartburn and acid reflux symptoms. Try a few and discover your favorites. Feel free to let other readers know about your favorite low acid coffee in the comments below.
Lucy Jo’s Coffee
What can I substitute for coffee?
Many coffee alternatives include chicory. Chicory is non-acidic with around a 6pH. It’s rich in vitamins and minerals and can help with digestive issues including acid reflux, heartburn, indigestion, and constipation. Like all other herbal alternatives and remedies, check with your doctor to make sure it’s safe for you to use. Check out these healthier coffee alternatives.
Other Coffee Alternatives
Kaffree Roma – Pero – Cafix – Postum
Low Acid Coffee Conclusion
Coffee can trigger heartburn, acid reflux, and other digestive disorders. If you experience gastrointestinal problems but love coffee, consider switching to a low acid coffee. Low acid coffee can provide a satisfying cup of coffee with lower chances of heartburn.
1) Kathrin Ingrid Liszt, Jakob Peter Ley, Barbara Lieder, Maik Behrens, Verena Stöger, Angelika Reiner, Christina Maria Hochkogler, Elke Köck, Alessandro Marchiori, Joachim Hansc Sabine Widder, Gerhard Krammer, Gareth John Sanger, Mark Manuel Somoza, Wolfgang Meyerhof, & Veronika Somoza. “Caffeine induces gastric acid secretion via bitter taste signaling in gastric parietal cells.” National Center for Biotechnology Information, U.S. National Library of Medicine, Proceedings of the National Academy of Sciences of the United States of America, July 25, 2017.
2) “Brewing up a gentler java: Dark-roasted coffee contains stomach-friendly ingredient.” American Chemical Society, March 21, 2010.
3) C. Pehl, A. Pfeiffer, B. Wendl, & H. Kaess. “The effect of decaffeination of coffee on gastro-oesophageal reflux in patients with reflux disease.” Alimentary Pharmacology & Therapeutics, December 28, 1996.