Alton Brown's Salty Hack To Boost Mediocre Coffee

On those mornings when coffee is the only thing standing between you and productivity, there's nothing worse than a mediocre cup of Joe. If you consider yourself a coffee connoisseur, you probably have your favorite beans tucked next to your beloved French press at home or maybe you even grind espresso for those fancy coffee makers. 

But when you're traveling, or away on a business trip, your only alternatives may boil down to diner coffee or the dreaded hotel room variant. Dealing with coffee that doesn't live up to your standards can be exceptionally frustrating due to its bitterness. So, the question arises, can you avoid this bitter flavor? Television personality and chef Alton Brown shares a simple hack in a Food Network YouTube video, explaining that adding ¼ of a teaspoon of kosher salt to his 12 tablespoons of coffee grounds significantly reduces the bitterness of the coffee.

Why putting salt in coffee works

Alton Brown is no stranger to sharing an array of quirky kitchen tricks, and like many of his other tips, this one has the backing of science. If you're a coffee drinker, then you know it is inherently bitter. But your brain might have grown to enjoy (or tolerate) the bitter flavor because it knows a reward is on the horizon. This reward is the alertness and euphoria that comes once the caffeine enters your system.

Yet, as much as you might have developed a liking for the taste of coffee, too much bitterness remains unpleasant. If your pot or cup of coffee turns out excessively bitter, can you salvage it with a pinch of salt? It seems that salt can actually block the taste receptors in the mouth that register sour and bitter flavors. Therefore, you can use salt to moderate the bitterness of a naturally bitter coffee. Whether you're making coffee at home or in a less-than-stellar hotel room, try adding salt to the grounds before running the coffee maker. Remember, though, everyone's tastes differ, so adjust the amount of salt to your liking.

Other ways to salt coffee

While Alton Brown suggests salting your coffee grounds before running them through the coffee maker, some might shy away from doing this. The reality is that if you add salt to an entire pot of coffee and you don't like it, there's no taking it back. While a 1/4 teaspoon of salt for every three cups of coffee shouldn't make the brew overly salty, everyone's tastes differ. If you wish to try salting your coffee under lower-risk conditions, consider making multiple cups of coffee and experiment by adding varying amounts of salt.

In a diner or restaurant, start slowly if you want to try this hack. Add just a small amount of salt at a time so you won't ruin your cup of coffee for the sake of experimentation. Keep in mind, however, that some bad cups of coffee simply can't be salvaged. If your coffee tastes burnt in a restaurant, don't hesitate to ask for a fresh pot from the kitchen. And at home, to avoid burning your pot of coffee, Alton Brown suggests transferring it to a thermos to keep it warm and preserve its flavor.