My in-laws came to stay with us over the holidays, and while they couldn't be better house guests, my mother-in-law has one strange habit. Whenever she makes a pot of coffee, she insists on putting a pinch of baking soda on the grounds before brewing. This concept was totally new to me, but my mother-in-law swears the soda makes the coffee easier to digest for her sensitive stomach.
So I did a little digging to find out if this was simply a mild quirk of my MIL or an age-old technique I'd missed.
Coffee Is Acidic
Acid can be a good thing, as it brews up coffee with a delightful tang or brightness, especially in single-origin coffee beans. However, extremely dark roasts and cheap coffee beans are also notorious for being overly acidic. Acid can be hard on sensitive stomachs, particularly for those of us drinking more than one cup of joe a day.
This is why church basement coffee has a reputation for being stomach-churning; the cheap beans and big-batch brewing make for a highly acidic cup of coffee. It turns out that my mother-in-law had in fact learned to add baking soda to the brewing coffee in the basement of a Baptist church.
Baking Soda Is an Alkaline
Baking soda helps neutralize some of the naturally occurring acid in the coffee. As little as a 1/4 teaspoon of baking soda for a pot of coffee can smooth the harsh flavor of inexpensive coffee and make it easier to digest. Still, no matter the beans or brewer, my mother-in-law insists on adding a half teaspoon to the grounds before brewing. Surprisingly, the baking soda has no detectable flavor in the coffee cup.
Research suggests that the alkaline effects of baking soda on brewed coffee are purely anecdotal and that folks who have trouble with coffee and digestive issues should seek out low-acid coffee or cut the habit all together.
Personally, I'd rather invest in higher-quality beans and avoid the baking soda routine all together, but I'm curious: Have you tried adding baking soda to your coffee grounds before brewing? Does this make your cup of coffee easier to drink?