Newsflash: asking for milk or sugar in your coffee is so over

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Image: Weird or wonderful? Adding salt to coffee

bradleypjohnson/CC-BY-SA 2.0/Flickr: bradleypjohnson

Do you remember when people wondered if you’d like milk or sugar in your coffee?


Well the new question is: butter or salt. Anyone for a saline latte?


Back in 2010 co-author of multi-award winning cooking tome Modernist Cuisine, Chris Young, talked about salting coffee in an interview with Eater.


Young explained that contrary to popular belief research suggests adding salt masks the bitterness of coffee, not sugar.


"The idea is to add a tiny bit of salt to mask the bitterness of the coffee, and the trick when doing this is to get it so you don't really detect the saltiness. A salty cup of coffee is not tasty, but add just enough and it diminishes the bitterness of the coffee," he said.


"The easiest way to do it is to just add small amounts of saline solution, actually. That's a very dilute solution of salt, you don't have to worry about it dissolving at all, and it's harder to over do it. You can do that in your cup of coffee, you can do it with tonic water."


Saline solution in our coffee? We're not convinced.


Sea salt coffee has also long been a popular drink in Taiwan, served at top coffee chain 85°C Bakery Cafe. The idea behind it was initially inspired by the local habit of sprinkling salt on fruits to bring out their sweetness, according to an article in Time magazine. 


For the Taiwanese - currently enjoying a love affair with watermelon toast (which looks like watermelon but tastes nothing like it) - part of the appeal of the drink lies in the sensory process it evokes.


The idea is that the sharp salt gets your senses going, allowing you to enjoy the sweet coffee and giving you a textured, multi-sensory experience with each sip. 


Maybe we've been drinking coffee wrong this whole time? We had to try it out... 


Disclaimer: I love coffee and not in a coffee snob kind of way. My guilty-pleasure-that-I-have-at-least-four-times-a-week is a Starbucks caramel macchiato.


You could say I have a sweet tooth, which either makes me the best taste tester for this sort of experiment, or the worst.

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Instant coffee

First, I started off by sprinkling a bit of salt into instant black coffee. It took away the bitter edge, but the salty taste was pretty overpowering. Still, I preferred it to regular instant coffee.

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Starbucks iced coffee

There's nothing better than an iced coffee, especially in this extreme heat. And I'll admit it, adding salt to the drink made it even better. There was no bitterness, just a slightly salty tang which I enjoyed. In fact, I came close to understanding the multi-sensory appeal the Taiwanese are on about. I gulped this one down.

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Iced coffee

Marco Arment/CC-BY-SA 2.0/Flickr: marcoarment


Nespresso latte

​I think a Nespresso capsule coffee with foamed milk is a pretty satisfying drink on its own. With salt, it's horrible. I could barely manage three sips. I think the issue is that there wasn't much bitterness to counteract in the first place and it just tasted very, very salty.


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Nespresso coffee

Via author

I wouldn't call myself a salty coffee convert, but I was pleasantly surprised by the results. And I think I will be adding a pinch to my iced coffee from now on. Too bad Starbucks doesn't have salt packets readily available.


Not every coffee expert is a believer, however. 

"My feeling is that adding salt/sugar/anything else is a reaction to a coffee that isn't balanced in the first place," explains James Bailey, head of quality for Workshop Coffee Co.

"If the goal is to reduce perceived bitterness then you've got an issue with coffee that is too bitter in the first place.

"The science is correct that salt will reduce perceived bitterness, but an issue is that salt will also affect perceived acidity in a negative way.


"If you prize a sweet coffee with good acidity (which we definitely do) then salt and sugar will unbalance the cup, rather than add anything positive."

Would you try salting your coffee? Let us know in a comment below or tweet us @Homemade