Coffee lovers are hardly monolithic when it comes to opinions on how coffee should be served. Some drink it black, some prefer it with milk and sugar, some drink it with no sugar but a lot of milk — and sometimes, cinnamon or vanilla is added to coffee. One subject that doesn’t receive a lot of discussion is using salt in coffee - although some experienced baristas can't get enough of it.
Salt in coffee reduces the bitter taste
Enthusiasts of salt in coffee often stress that it gives coffee a more savory taste with a less bitter taste. However, it’s important to know some of the things that can give coffee a less mellow taste. One is the brewing process; another is leaving a pot of coffee on the hot plate for too long. After about 20 or 30 minutes on a hot plate, coffee can start to go from tasting fresh to tasting harsh.
The history of salt in coffee
In ancient times, salt was so scarce that it was, according to some historians, as valuable as gold. But these days, salt is plentiful, affordable, and ubiquitous — and when it became so easy to obtain, more people started experimenting with and endorsing salt in coffee. In 2021, some baristas aim for a combination of sweet and savory elements with certain beverages. A barista might use sugar and some salt in a café mocha, for example, to get that sweet/savory balance.
Health benefits of salt in coffee
Although excessive salt consumption can be bad for people who suffer from high blood pressure, not getting enough salt can be problematic as well. Salt has health benefits, including better metabolic function, better central nervous system performance, and improved relaxation muscle responses.
A shortage of sodium in the body can lead to dehydration, which can also be caused by drinking a lot of caffeine. Because caffeine acts as a diuretic, it encourages urination — and urinating a lot can decrease the amount of sodium in the body. Coffee lovers can counter that by adding some salt to their coffee.
Does it really taste good?
With coffee, what does or doesn’t taste good is often a matter of personal preference. Some coffee lovers like coffee sweet and wouldn’t think of drinking it without adding some sugar; others don’t want any sugar at all in their coffee. Some coffee lovers adore black coffee; others won’t touch it. But whether one likes coffee with or without sugar — with or without milk — salt in coffee can benefit either sweet or savory elements.
With black coffee, salt can enhance the nutty flavors of some brews. Salt in coffee can enhance a brew’s sweetness, making it less bitter and more mellow — even when sugar hasn’t been added. And salt can enhance the pleasant aroma of freshly brewed black coffee. Many coffee lovers have noted how much they enjoy the smell of black coffee right after it has brewed; a touch of salt in coffee can enhance that aroma.
Although using some salt can enhance the flavor of sugar-free, milk-free black coffee, it can also work well with caffeinated beverages that liberally use both milk and sugar — for example, a hot chocolate or a caramel latte. In fact, some coffee bars and cafes are using the exact words “salted caramel latte” and drawing attention to their use of salt in coffee.
Coffee is usually sweetened with sugar rather than honey, which is more commonly used with tea. But honey can, in fact, be an appealing alternative to sugar in some coffee beverages — and when honey is used to sweeten coffee, the use of salt in coffee can enhance the taste of the honey.
How to add salt to your coffee
Proponents of putting salt in coffee typically use phrases like “a pinch of salt,” “a dash of salt” or a “touch of salt.” That’s because when it comes to salt in coffee, less is more — in other words, baristas who use salt in coffee tend to do so sparingly. And there are different ways to go about it. One is adding a touch of salt to the coffee grounds before brewing the coffee; that way, the salt will dissolve during the brewing.
Other baristas, however, prefer to add a bit of salt right after the coffee has been brewed. The trick with salt in coffee is to avoid overdoing it; coffee still needs to be treated like coffee, not French fries or fried plantains.
Some baristas are skeptical when it comes to the use of salt in coffee, maintaining that salt and coffee don’t go together. But other baristas wholeheartedly disagree, and they are making use of moderate amounts of salt in coffee whether they are doing it without or without milk — or with or without sugar.