We love coffee, but it doesn’t always love us. More than 20% of Americans experience acid reflux or heartburn, and many of us cite coffee as a triggering food. Other people report stomach cramps, nausea, sweating, and increased anxiety. Love coffee but can’t deal with the side effects? A few tweaks to your cup might help.

First, a little science background. Coffee beans are the seed of a cherry-like fruit – a bright, sweet, and acidic fruit that infuses its seeds with citrus-y brightness. Acids and oils from the brewed beans are the main culprits in causing coffee heartburn, and the perceived acidity of coffee is affected by everything from how it’s grown, to how it’s roasted, to how it’s brewed.

So, what can be done?

Consider Switching to Cold Brew

This is the time-tested and true way to reduce symptoms of acid reflux from drinking coffee. As you probably know, cold brew coffee is made by steeping coarse-ground coffee overnight in cold or room-temperature water. The long, slow, heat-free brewing process (called “extraction”) pulls the flavor, color, and caffeine jolt from the coffee, leaving many of the heavier oils and acids in the grounds.

For even lower-acid cold brew, pour it twice through a Chemex or other tight-weave filters. This will catch extra oils, leaving you with a super-smooth cup.

Ask for Espresso

Many people think that because of its caffeine content relative to its volume, espresso will be the most intense on your internal system. But espresso is known for being easier on the stomach for a couple of reasons.

First, the combination of high pressure and short extraction time produces a different balance of chemical compounds than the same coffee would in a drip or pour over brew. Despite the pressure involved, the extraction is overall less efficient. This results in a brew that can highlight the sweetness and body of a coffee, with less emphasis on acidity.

Secondly, many coffee shops use espresso blends that are medium or dark roast, in order to get that classic caramel-chocolate flavor. The darker the roast, the less acidic the coffee because acid molecules break down the longer a bean is in the roaster. You can always ask a La Colombe barista about the roast and acid profile of the espresso they’re serving, to make sure it’s on the darker side.

Balance Out Your Breakfast

This one is common sense, but we’ll go ahead and say it: the effects of coffee are going to be stronger if you drink it on an empty stomach. If you’re planning on having coffee that morning, eat something substantial that will help absorb it, like toast or oatmeal. On those days you drink coffee, keep it to one cup and avoid other acidic foods like citrus, tomatoes, pineapples, etc., or anything else that normally triggers acid reflux or stomach problems.

Pay Attention to Processing

Like we said, the perceived acidity of coffee is affected by everything from growing conditions at origin to brewing methods in cafes. When buying a bag of coffee, check the altitude. Coffees grown at 1,300 meters and above are going to be higher in acid than lower-grown coffees.

Next, check the processing method. Washed coffees are often marked by a more acidic taste than natural coffees. It’s unclear whether washed coffees actually have more acid than natural coffees, but the perceived acidity is lessened in natural coffees due to the balance and body.

Third, when brewing at home, pay attention to grind size and brewing method. The finer the grind, the more acids are going to be extracted into the cup. If you brew on drip, try a larger grind size with more coffee — you should get a fuller, less acidic cup. Generally, immersion brewing (cold brew or French press) with a coarse grind is the best way to get a lower-acid coffee at home.

Turn to Tea

Tea is awesome. There’s nothing wrong with saying “bye” to the beans and switching over to a tea or tisane. Our Ruby Oolong Tea offers a gentle caffeine lift, with a round, sweet flavor profile.

Do you have any favorite coffee tips or tricks for dealing with a sensitive stomach? Let us know at @LaColombeCoffee. 

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