5 Reasons Your Coffee Tastes Burnt (And How To Fix It!)

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As regular coffee drinkers, we’ve become accustomed to a particular taste. It could be an espresso to wake you up in the morning, or a ‘white with two sugars’ several times a day.  

However, every now and again, you may try a different blend that does not quite hit the spot, or you may find that your regular brew tastes off. You might even describe the taste as burnt. There are several reasons for this, and in this article we are answering the question, ‘Why does my coffee taste burnt?’

Why does my coffee taste burnt?

Coffee beans are prepared for our consumption by roasting. When we open that brand new sealed pack and absorb that unmistakeable aroma, we know that they have been flawlessly cooked to tantalise our taste buds. Roasted to perfection. 

To ensure we enjoy this blend as intended, a few simple guidelines need to be followed.  In order to prevent the potential for burnt or bitter tasting coffee, I have listed the possible reasons your coffee might not taste as it should, as well as solutions.

Possible causes:

1. Water Temperature

We extract the best out of our coffee beans when we do not use boiling
water.  By running just-boiled water over roasted grinds we are inadvertently re-cooking an already roasted bean.  We are literally burning the ground coffee, creating a burnt or bitter taste.

How to correct:

The ideal temperature for making coffee is between 195 °F and 205 °F, with boiling point being 212 °F.  A good rule of thumb for the best brew is to allow 30 – 90 seconds for the water to cool before pouring it over the grinds. This will not only prevent the coffee from burning, but will also minimise the natural bitterness associated with coffee.

coffee tastes burnt

2. Over-brewing

Keeping coffee grounds immersed in hot water for longer than necessary can lead to an increased bitterness and burnt coffee.  This increased contact time with the water means that they are more likely to be over-cooked.

How to correct:

The water contact time, for example when using a French-press or Aeropress, should be between 2 to 4 minutes, dependant on your taste. 

3. Finely ground coffee

Fine ground coffee has a higher probability of tasting burnt and bitter than
coarser grinds. The reason for this is that fine ground coffee has the potential to create too much resistance.  The grounds get clogged with water which means it take time for it to pass through therefore increasing contact time of water and grounds.

How to correct:  

If you are using fine grounds, limit the contact time to suit your taste and prevent burning. Alternatively, you could try using a coarse ground coffee. This will allow the water to filter through quicker and more evenly, giving a smoother drink.

4. Tamping down

Tamping is the action of pressing the grind into a basket or sleeve. Be sure
not to compress the coffee too much, especially if using fine ground coffee, as this will create further resistance and increased contact time with the hot water, as mentioned above.

How to correct:  

Instead of pressing the grind down, fill the basket until level only. This will help the through flow of water and prevent the burnt bitter taste.

my coffee tastes burnt

5. Dark roast

When trying to achieve a dark roast coffee, it is best to remember that the dark roast beans have been roasted to the fullest degree for the uniquely strong taste. Too much contact time with the water will literally burn them.

How to correct:  

Limit water contact time and do not use boiling water to ensure you do not end up with a burnt brew.

What if you've tried everything above?

Of course, there is always the possibility that you have done everything to make that perfect cup of coffee, but it still tastes burnt.  Every now and again it could just be the beans themselves.  They may be old and stale, or they could simply be poor quality over-roasted beans.  

Purchase your beans from a reputable company as this will ensure that you always have the freshest coffee possible.

Why does my coffee taste bitter?

So we’ve covered why coffee can taste burnt but what if your coffee tastes bitter all of a sudden?  You may have been drinking the same coffee all day, prepared in the same way, with no deviations when your cup of Joe suddenly tastes bitter.  Or, you may well be enjoying a cup and between one sip and the next the bitterness comes through unexpectedly.

Those cups of coffee suddenly becoming bitter may be caused by over-extraction of heated and saturated grinds over an extended period in a drip style coffee machine.  If the machine is fitted with a heated plate to keep the brew warm, it may be that it is inadvertently killing the flavor and leaving only
the bitterness.

Another likely candidate would be taste buds. You may have just had something sweet to eat or drink.  Drinking coffee soon after your taste buds have adjusted to the sugar intake, will amplify the natural bitterness associated with coffee. Even if you decide to sweeten the coffee itself, it won’t make enough of a difference.  Your taste buds will need to re-adjust before that coffee tastes right again.  

In fact, if you pay attention to what you are eating in association with coffee, you may find a few different foods that throw the taste of coffee off.

coffee tastes burnt

Why does my coffee taste burnt from my coffee maker?

The number one reason coffee will begin to taste burnt from a coffee maker, such as a Keurig, is that it is in need of a clean.  Coffee contains natural oils and residue that builds up over time.  Although there will be no discernible taste difference in the beginning, as it builds it will begin to taint the newly brewed coffee.  The older the coffee remnants, the more potential it has of tainting your fresh cup with a burnt or bitter taste.

However, here are a couple more reasons why this can happen:

  • Your coffee machine may be over-saturating the coffee grinds.  Generally speaking, it is always best to make a new coffee with fresh grinds. However, as us humans can sometimes be a short on time or honestly, a tad lazy, we don’t always empty out the old grinds before running the machine a second time.  By reusing grinds we are repeatedly soaking them in hot water so that they become over-saturated and begin to taste burnt and bitter.

  • Hand in hand with over-saturation is over-cooking. This is simply due to hot water cooking the grinds and thereby causing the burnt taste.  Quality auto coffee makers are better at regulating the water temperature which ensures that the coffee grounds don’t get burnt, but they do still require regular cleaning to ensure fresh brews do not become tainted due to residue build-up.
why does coffee smell burnt

Coffee tastes burnt after COVID

COVID-19 is commonly known to have affected smell and taste. This could be due to a condition called parosmia, where tastes and smells become distorted. 

If you have this condition, which can last up to 10 months after COVID, it may well be the reason for coffee tasting burnt, or just different. Additionally, nasal blockages can have a similar effect.  If you are physically unable to smell the aroma of coffee which we are accustomed to, you could become more aware of the natural bitterness or roasted ‘burnt’ taste.

Why does my coffee smell burnt?

If you are smelling burnt coffee, the likelihood is that you are unknowingly burning your coffee. You may be inadvertently overheating the grinds, which is essentially burning the grinds.

Is burnt coffee dangerous?

Not only does burnt coffee not taste great, but it also contains acrylamide.  Acrylamide is a known cancer-causing carcinogen. As a general rule, it is better to avoid consuming burnt coffee.

why does my coffee taste burnt?


Here are some answers to other common coffee related questions:

Why does my coffee taste like cigarette ash?

You may have chosen a roast that is too dark for your palette. Some dark roasts have toasted flavors evocative of burnt toast, tar and cigarette ash!

Why does my coffee taste like soap?

If you are tasting soap in your coffee, it is probably being picked up from your coffee mug or cup.  This is usually caused by a lack of rinsing after cleaning.  Running your mug through water after washing should remove the taste of detergent.

In summary

There are a number of reasons coffee can taste burnt.  If you can eliminate each cause mentioned above, you’ll more than likely find that your coffee will taste bolder and more like it should.  

The two quickest and most common solutions are to clean the coffee machine and use good quality, FRESH coffee when making a brew.

Cover image:  Image by stockking