Blue Bottle Explains: Bitterness

Welcome to Issue 1 of Blue Bottle Explains, your coffee advice column. This month, Director of Training and World Barista Champion, Michael Phillips, tackles "bitterness."


Dear Blue Bottle Coffee,

I have been going to your cafes for awhile now and I love the brewed coffee I get there. Recently, though, I have been trying to make your coffee at home, and it always seems to come out more bitter than what I get in the cafe. What am I doing wrong?


Bitter Brewing in Philadelphia

Your Moment of Empathy

We've all been there: You have a delicious cup of coffee in a cafe. You’re so inspired that you decide to pick up a bag of those very same beans, so you can make it for yourself the next morning. You wake up with excitement—you’re about to prepare a delicious cup of coffee for yourself. But what you end up making is not the transcendent cup that you experienced at the cafe—it’s that coffee’s bitter cousin (you know, the one no one wants to dance with at the family reunion).

You are not alone. While brewing coffee at home is not technically very tricky, there are a few common mistakes that leave a great number of us with bitter cups. The good news is that bitterness is a relatively easy fix.

Coffee Gets Tired

Just as I get bitter when the world asks an excessive amount from me, my cup of coffee gets bitter when I ask too much of the grounds. The dose of ground beans that you use to make a cup of coffee only has so much goodness inside of it. If we try to take too much out of it (we call this “over-extracting”), bitterness comes along for the ride.

Adjust the Grind

If your cup is bitter-tasting, but it still feels very heavy or strong, chances are you are grinding the beans too fine. The smaller each one of those grind particles are, the easier it is for the water to take flavor out of them. Hence, bitter cups are often the result of water moving through a too-fine grind and sucking the life out of the coffee as it passes through. The simple solution is to grind slightly more coarsely for your next cup. Adjust the grind each time you brew until you find the sweet spot.

Up Your Coffee Quotient 

If your cup is bitter, but on the weaker side, you most likely are not using enough coffee. Again, the water is taking too much out of the coffee, but this time, it’s because too much water has flowed through not enough grounds. The fix for this is to simply bump up the amount of coffee you are using.

Add a Scale 

Small changes can make a big differences in how delicious your coffee can be. We suggest using a digital scale, so you can be spot on. For a great cup of coffee using one of our blends, our cafe recipe is as follows: 350 grams of water for 30 grams of coffee. This will make a pretty substantial cup, so feel free to modify up or down a few grams to suit your taste.

Follow these simple tips and the only thing you’ll have to complain about in regards to your morning cup is how quickly it disappears.