As a rule, salt and drinks don’t tend to mix. Aside from a well-made margarita, the idea of quenching your thirst with something wet and saline is utterly nonsensical to most normal people. Anyone who has ever accidentally ingested seawater will be quick to tell you that there are far more enjoyable things for you to be swallowing. However, despite all common sense and taste telling you that it is a terrible idea, some people are insisting that morning coffee cups be tempered not with sugar, but a dash of sea salt.
Though salty coffee sounds disgusting and insane, the technique has some prominent advocates. A quick internet search reveals dozens of articles quoting a secret subgroup of disciples who all assert that salt is an absolute necessity. No less than foodie celebrity and “Iron Chef” host Alton Brown insists that he won’t touch a cup of joe unless it’s been subjected to a sprinkling of sodium chloride. They might sound deluded, but coffee salters are clearly a vocal and passionate minority.
The reasons for adding extra seasoning to your coffee cup are apparently two-fold, according to Brown. On his website, he states that adding a few grains to your cup or grounds will help “cut the bitterness of coffee”. This is based on the theory that salt, in small quantities, actually does more than sugar to temper excessive bitterness, and so can help enhance coffee’s flavour without over-egging the sweetness. The second reason is that salt will allegedly “also smooth out the “stale” taste of tank-stored water,” enhancing the flavour of the whole cup. Brown also stresses that only a small amount should ever be added.
On the surface, the argument certainly makes a lot more sense after hearing the rationale behind it. However, there is intense debate whether the technique actually makes any difference to flavour. In an interview with The Takeout, a professor of chemical engineering at the University Of California Davis and co-director of UC Davis’ Coffee Center, Tonya Kuhl revealed that, though there may be a few so-called “super tasters” who are exceptionally sensitive to bitterness that can detect a difference, “for the vast majority of people, it wouldn’t matter to us.”
In another interview with the food website, coffee quality expert Spencer Turer went further still. He alleged that “If you’re buying good coffee and you have a good roaster, you’re not going to get the bitterness you need the salt for. It goes back to the days when the quality of coffee wasn’t that good.” This seems to be a damning verdict for Alton Brown’s pro salt theory.
The importance of salt in cooking cannot be understated. But that doesn’t mean it belongs in absolutely everything. In general, coffee experts seem to agree that properly storing and grinding your beans is a much more effective way to get the taste you want than sprinkling salt crystals into your coffee pot. However, if you feel the urge to try it for yourself, be our guest. Just don’t say we didn’t warn you.