The 2 Ingredient Trick To Upgrade Cheap Coffee

A good cup of coffee is one of the great pleasures of life, and the key to drinking coffee like a pro is sipping it like wine, but what if your "wine" of choice is more Two Buck Chuck than Silver Oak? Just as a bad glass of wine can ruin a party, a bad cup of coffee can put a damper on your day before it even begins. But it turns out there's a way you can salvage even a bitter, acidic, less-than-tasty cup of java, using two ingredients you probably already have on hand. Considering the fact that in 2022 coffee prices rose 20% year-over-year according to a report by Robobank (via Reuters), and that experts predict prices will keep rising, learning how to turn a cheap cup of coffee into something drinkable is a skill most of us would be wise to brush up on.

So, what two ingredients can you use to magically transform bad coffee into something worth sipping? Salt and cinnamon. We'll get into more detail, but the reasoning is pretty basic. Salt can help neutralize bitter flavors (ingredients like bitter melon and eggplant are often salted before cooking to help tame any bitterness), and cinnamon has a naturally sweet flavor. With their powers combined, they can turn a nasty cup of coffee into something you can at least chug down for a pre-work caffeine boost. But why does it work?

Why does salt make coffee taste better?

Adding salt to bad coffee may sound like a recipe for making homemade ipecac syrup, but there are a few different reasons why adding a little salt — and we mean a little, so don't go overboard — can make for a less bitter cup of coffee. For one thing, table salt decreases the solubility of caffeine, which has a bitter taste. That means adding a little salt to your coffee can prevent the caffeine from dissolving as fully when brewing, releasing less bitterness into your java.

Another reason why it works is that sodium salts help suppress the bitterness of certain compounds when mixed together. Our tongues then register the substance as less bitter. That means adding Alton Brown's recommended ¼ teaspoon salt for every 12 tablespoons of ground coffee can help your java taste less bitter. You could even try spritzing your coffee post-brewing with salt spray, the secret ingredient everyone should have in their kitchen

Salting coffee has historical precedent. It's been a common practice in Scandinavia, Hungary, Turkey, Vietnam, and other regions. It was also popular among World War II soldiers on Navy ships, both to reduce the bitterness of the coffee brewed on board, and once back home, because they missed the taste of the slightly brackish water used on ship to brew. 

But salt isn't the only ingredient that can tame the bitterness of cheap or old coffee — cinnamon works too.

Why cinnamon makes coffee taste better

Cinnamon is one of the oldest known spices, though in ancient times it was used more for religious ceremonies, to make fragrances, and even as an ingredient in embalming fluid. Yum? It's original Malay name, kayumanis, translates to "sweet wood," and that sweetness is what makes cinnamon such a good addition to subpar coffee. Though some cinnamon varieties, like those from Vietnam and China, are prized for their "red hot" flavor, milder Ceylon cinnamon has a sweeter flavor, which can make your bitter coffee taste less so. Cinnamon doesn't dissolve well in liquid, so for best results, add a pinch to your coffee grounds before brewing.

Doubling up and adding a pinch of both salt and cinnamon to your coffee is probably the easiest, most effective way to blast any bitterness from a disappointing bag of beans or grounds. The salt will make your tongue perceive the coffee as less bitter, while the cinnamon will add sweetness without additional sugar. The result? An inexpensive cup of coffee that you'll actually want to drink, all the while saving money by purchasing more affordable beans for your brew.

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