I’ve never passed up an opportunity to add salt to anything—even bacon. But it hadn’t occurred to me to salt my coffee until, taking in my daily dose of breakfast news this morning, I came across a post recommending the practice. Apparently it’s been a thing for a while. In 2012, Liz Clayton did some experimenting for Serious Eats with the idea that salt cuts through coffee’s bitter flavor. She didn’t find that the addition of salt enhanced her cup all that much but allowed that “the flavors of an acidic and lively coffee did smooth and even out with a pinch of salt in the grounds.”
Not enough to deter me from trying it, but still not as enthusiastic a case as I’d hoped for. Then I came across a recipe from Alton Brown, who believes in the combo. “Not only does salt cut the bitterness of coffee, but it also smooths out the ‘stale’ taste of tank-stored water,” he writes on his website. “I’ve taken to adding a quarter teaspoon of kosher salt to every 6 tablespoons of grounds. That isn’t really enough to taste, but it’ll do the trick. And by the way, research has proven that salt is actually better at neutralizing bitterness than sugar.”
I’ll admit that bitterness has never bothered me much—I like grapefruits, horseradish, arugula and other typically bitter food items. But the notion that salt might smooth out a cup of coffee—perhaps in the same way adding an egg to your morning cup enhance coffee’s flavor—appealed to me. So, using an automatic drip coffee maker, I brewed up a pot of dark-roasted beans from Zabar’s and gave it a go.
Rather than adding salt to the freshly ground beans beforehand, I waited until the pot was ready. For my first cup, I poured a little fine ground salt from a shaker (kosher salt seemed extreme) into the bottom of my cup, added the coffee and then poured in more salt. I tasted it and was immediately repulsed. I’d put too much salt in, so the coffee tasted something like hot salt water, which was not what I wanted. I poured out the cup, rinsed it with water to get rid of any salt residue, poured in more coffee, and threw in a couple dashes of salt. I stirred the mixture for ten seconds and took a sip. Perfect.
Or at least as perfect as a cup of coffee with some salt in it can be. While I found that the salt muted the coffee’s bitterness somewhat, I can’t say I was all that thrilled about it, given that I like the taste of coffee as is and would rather pour in a bit of cream than salt if I want to lower the acidity.
Looking into the salt-and-coffee combo a little more, I came across a recent Marblehead Patch police blotter. “Officers took a report of someone who mixed coffee with salt and ‘has now learned her lesson’ on Saturday afternoon,” one entry read.
I can’t say I feel that way, but I probably won’t try it again.