So, I recently read an article in a trade publication about using salt in your coffee to enhance flavors.
We all know what salt can do to enhance the flavors of a dish, but I was surprised by the idea of adding it to coffee.
I was also surprised to learn from my boss that this is not a new idea. Apparently, folks have been adding salt to their coffee for some time.
As I processed this idea, I began to think about the taste map of the tongue and what I already knew about how salts, sweets and bitters interact with one another.
These interactions are critical in cooking and are important aspects of cupping and evaluating coffee.
With that in mind, how do these basic tastes affect one another and what, then, can adding salt do to the flavor of a cup of coffee?
You are probably aware of the trend in coffee drinks with the salted caramel latte. Caramel is a very sweet substance, and by adding salt, you enhance that sweetness.
So, we can find a noticeable and pleasant affect of increased sweetness by adding salt to sweet flavors.
Conversely, sweets diminish the saltiness of salts.
We also find salts diminish bitterness and bitters enhance salts.
Because sweets and bitters have no affect on one another, there is no need to bother with their interactions.
But what about putting salt in my coffee?
How can that actually make my coffee taste better?
By putting as little as an 1/8 of a teaspoon of salt in your cup, you can expect two things to happen: The first is a diminishing of the bitterness that most people do not like in their coffee. The second is an increase in the sweetness of the coffee.
These are both excellent, but they are not all that will come out in your cup.
As we all know, salt intensifies flavor, so you will also notice the character of your coffee is enhanced.
The acidity will be brighter and the specific flavors of your coffee will all be more pronounced.
I experimented with a Rwandan coffee and an Ethiopian blend at home, and I found the cups to be more smooth due to the lessened bitterness. The citrus notes in the Ethiopian were also noticeably enhanced.
In the Rwandan coffee, I found the cup was in fact sweeter and the raisin notes were quite pronounced.
The key to this is to know just how much salt to add.
You want the positive effects, but you don’t want your coffee to actually taste salty.
Start with a pinch and work your way up until you find the flavors to your liking.
You may just find new flavors that you didn’t know were in your mug.