Did you know the key to making a killer cup of coffee may be adding salt? Though it may be news to you, it’s not a new trend by any means. In fact, adding salt to coffee grounds prior to brewing has long been the customary way to prepare java in countries like Turkey and Sweden, while adding it straight into the cup has been a military and trucker trick for making bad coffee drinkable since forever. Like pretty much everything these days, its value is hotly debated both on the internet and at the table–and that made us curious.
The first thing we wanted to know was why anyone would put salt in coffee. Salty coffee sounds leagues less delightful than salted caramel, after all. We found three key reasons for the practice.
- Salt enhances flavors. The magic of salt is that it unlocks already-present flavors, making them stand out. In essence, it makes food taste more like itself. This is why we put it in pretty much everything we eat, including sweet things. Some people find that a touch of salt will bring out interesting flavor notes you wouldn’t otherwise notice in your morning cup–although sometimes, those characteristics may only serve to make you realize that you need to buy better coffee.
- Salt improves the water. People are fond of saying that your coffee is only going to be as good as your water. If you have hard water or the water you are using to brew coffee is less-than-fresh because it’s been sitting in your coffee maker’s reservoir all night, your coffee might end up being subpar. However, if you add a pinch of salt to the grounds, it can help counteract the effects of mediocre water and give you a better brew.
- Salt cuts bitterness. There is a surprising amount of scientific inquiry into this theory, and what it’s showing is that the sodium component of salt reduces our perception of bitterness–more so than sugar. This happens because instead of masking it with sweetness, the bitterness receptors in your tastebuds react to the salt, allowing fewer truly bitter compounds to get through. Calcium may contribute to this effect, which could be part of why milk is a popular addition to coffee.
Makes more sense than you’d expect, doesn’t it? So what’s the technique to create a cup of joe that’s sublime and not salty? Adding a pinch of kosher salt (¼ tsp or less) for about 6 tablespoons of grounds should do the trick, but you can always start with less if that sounds like a lot to you. Alternatively, if you find yourself stuck with some poorly-made swill at a fast food joint or your in-laws’ house, adding a bit of salt in the same way most people add sugar could save the morning. If you like sugar in your coffee, you can still add that, too. It will likely taste sweeter with those bitter notes suppressed. Food science for the win.