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Why Is My Coffee Espresso Bitter Vs Sour: How To Taste

As a coffee enthusiast, you might have come across the terms bitter and sour when it comes to describing espresso. Here’s the scoop on espresso bitter vs sour!

espresso in a cup with coffee beans

Understanding the difference between these two flavors can greatly enhance your coffee-tasting experience and help you fine-tune your brewing techniques for the perfect cup.

Bitter and sour are not the same. 

While bitter coffee has a sharp and pungent taste, the sour taste in coffee results from the acidity found in most coffee beans. 

There are nine major acids in coffee, and knowing how they affect the flavor of your espresso is essential in achieving the balance you desire. 

Some adjustments in factors like water temperature or brewing time can help you reduce or enhance these flavors according to your preferences.

Here’s the scoop on the various factors and different reasons that contribute to the bitter or sour taste in your espresso, as well as the techniques you can employ to adjust these flavors to your liking. 

By mastering the art of identifying and modifying these characteristics, you’ll be well on your way to brewing great-tasting espresso every time.

Bitter vs Sour in Espresso

espresso brewing from machine

Bitter Taste

Why does your espresso taste bitter?

Bitterness in espresso can be a result of several factors, including the type of coffee beans, amount of coffee used, roasting, and brewing process. 

It’s important to note that a certain level of bitterness is expected in espresso, as it contributes to the overall flavor profile. 

However, excessive bitterness may ruin your espresso experience.

One of the primary reasons for bitterness in espresso is over-extraction. 

When the amount of water used in the coffee brewing process passes through the coffee grounds, it extracts the various flavor compounds, including sugars, acids, and oils. 

A longer extraction time can lead to pulling out more bitter compounds from the coffee grounds. 

Try adjusting your grind size to be coarser, thereby shortening the extraction time and reducing bitterness.

Another cause of bitter coffee can be the water temperature during the brewing process. 

If the water is too hot, it can extract more bitter flavors or notes from the beans. 

Aim for a lower temperature between 195 to 205 degrees Fahrenheit when brewing coffee.

Moreover, it is not a good thing to use too much water when making coffee, as there will not be enough coffee to balance out the excess water. This results in a bitter espresso flavor.

Sour Taste

So why does your espresso taste sour?

Sourness in espresso can be an indication of under-extraction. 

Unlike bitterness, sourness is associated with a faster extraction time, leaving behind some of the sweetness and acidity that balance the flavor profile. 

To avoid sour-tasting coffee, try a finer grind size to increase the extraction time and reduce sourness.

Additionally, water temperature plays an important role in determining whether your coffee taste sour. 

Lower water temperatures are more likely to result in a sour espresso. 

In order to avoid sour coffee, make sure that you use higher temperatures for the water. 

As mentioned earlier, make sure your brewing temperature is in the ideal range of 195 to 205 degrees Fahrenheit.

Acidity is also a factor that contributes to sour notes in espresso.

All coffee is acidic, containing nine major acids such as citric, malic, and phosphoric acids. 

While some acidity is desired for a balanced espresso, too much can result in a sour taste. 

Consider experimenting with different coffee bean varieties and roast profiles to find a good shot of espresso with the right level of acidity for your taste preference.

Moreover, if you do not add enough water in your coffee, you will get a sour espresso shot.

Remember, finding the perfect balance of bitterness and sourness in your espresso may require some tweaking and experimentation. 

Adjust your grind size, brewing temperature, and choice of coffee beans to achieve the ideal flavor profile for you.

Identifying Espresso Flavors

hot espresso being brewed into a cup


When tasting espresso, it’s crucial to understand the difference between a bitter and sour flavor. 

This skill helps you appreciate the coffee’s taste profile and enhance your palate. 

The most common reason for bitter tastes is over-extracted coffee, while sour tastes are associated with under-extracted coffee. 

Over-extraction creates an intense bitterness much like dark chocolate or medicine, while under-extraction leaves a sharp acidity reminiscent of a sour lemon.

To enhance your sensory experience, take note of the espresso’s aroma as well. 

Aromas can give hints about the overall flavor profile and provide additional depth to the tasting experience.

Flavor Nuances

When evaluating the taste profile of an espresso, consider these key factors:

  • Balance: A well-balanced espresso has a pleasing harmony between the flavors. If the taste disappears quickly or is overpowered by bitterness, that’s an indication of poor balance.
  • Sweetness: The sweetness in your espresso should complement the natural acidity and bitterness, creating a balanced taste profile.
  • Body: The body, or mouthfeel, can enhance or detract from the flavors. A full-bodied espresso feels creamy and velvety, while a lighter body may seem watery or thin.

To truly appreciate the nuances in espresso flavors, try exploring different roasts and origins. 

Beans sourced from various regions have distinct taste profiles, ranging from fruity and floral to nutty and chocolaty. 

By experimenting with different beans and perfecting your extraction technique, you’ll develop a well-rounded palate and a deeper understanding of the complex world of espresso flavors.

Coffee Beans and Roasts

espresso machine brewing coffee

When it comes to the taste of your espresso, the type of coffee beans and the roast level play a significant role. 

There are different roasts, such as light roast, medium roast, and dark roast, and how they can affect coffee flavor is important.

Light Roasts

Light roasts tend to have a higher acidity level, which could result in a more sour taste. 

These beans are lighter in color and have a more pronounced origin flavor. 

If you come across a sour espresso shot, you might consider avoiding lighter roasts by trying a different type of coffee bean or roast level.

Keep in mind that single-origin beans often have a higher acidity level than blends, which could contribute to the sour taste.

Medium Roasts

Medium roasts strike a balance between acidity and bitterness. 

They have a more developed flavor, leaning towards caramel and chocolate notes rather than fruity or floral tones. 

If you’re using a Breville Barista machine, medium roasts often work best for espresso. 

Medium roasts provide a good middle ground where you can enjoy a smoother and balanced taste that isn’t too bitter or too sour.

Dark Roasts

Dark roasts are, as the name suggests, darker in color and produce a more robust, bitter flavor. 

These beans have more oil on their surface and tend to have lower acidity levels compared to light roasts. 

The roaster will usually use Robusta beans for darker roasts and espressos, which have more caffeine than the Arabica variety made up of arabica coffee beans, but also a more pronounced bitter taste. 

If you keep getting a bitter espresso shot, try using a lighter roast or switch to arabica beans to avoid the bitterness often associated with robusta beans.

Remember to experiment and find the perfect combination of coffee beans and roast levels to suit your taste. 

It may take some trial and error, but once you find the ideal balance or sweet spot, your espresso experience will be much more enjoyable.

Extraction in Espresso

espresso shot in a glass and coffee beans


When you’re pulling a shot of espresso, one key aspect to consider is the coffee extraction process. 

Uneven extraction may be one of the possible reasons why your cup of coffee tastes bitter or sour. 

Under-extraction happens when not enough flavors are pulled out of the coffee grounds. 

This leaves your espresso tasting sour, as the fruity acidity tends to be released first during extraction. 

The main causes of under-extraction are a combination of grind size, extraction time, brew ratio, and water temperature.

To improve under-extracted espresso and deal with a sour coffee taste, you can try adjusting your grind size by making it a tad finer. 

This will help increase the extraction time, allowing more desirable flavors from the coffee grounds to be released. 

Also, double-check the water temperature in your espresso machine – it should ideally be between 195-205°F (90-96°C).

Under-extraction occurs when the water is at a lower temperature. 

Another helpful tip is to weigh your coffee dose and ensure consistency in your tamping pressure. 

Ensuring you have the correct dose of coffee and a consistent tamp will help with achieving a more even extraction.


On the other hand, over-extraction occurs when too much coffee is extracted from the grounds. 

This results in a bitter, harsh, or burnt taste, as excess unwanted flavors are pulled out from the coffee grounds. 

Like under-extraction, over-extraction is influenced by factors like grind size, extraction time, and water temperature.

To fix over-extracted espresso, try increasing your coffee dose while at the same time coarsening your grind size. 

This will help shorten the extraction time, leading to a better-tasting shot of espresso. 

Keep an eye on the extraction time, aiming for around 25-30 seconds.

Monitoring your shot volume is another useful step to avoid over-extraction. 

Many espresso machines today have built-in shot timers to help you measure the extraction time accurately. 

Keep in mind that experimenting with these variables can take some practice, so don’t be discouraged if you don’t achieve the perfect espresso shot immediately. 

The key is to stay persistent and make incremental adjustments to your extraction process.

Brewing Techniques and Equipment

shots of espresso on wooden board and beans


Choosing the right coffee grinder is essential for achieving the perfect espresso. 

Blade grinders are inconsistent, so invest in a burr grinder for a more uniform grind size. 

Remember to set your grinder to a fine setting, as espresso requires a finer grind than extra coarse grind compared to other brewing methods. 

Espresso should have more of a fine grind rather than a coarser grind in order for the water to flow through the coffee more slowly. 

Dosage and Tamping

Getting the right dose of coffee grounds in the portafilter of your coffee maker can make a big difference in your espresso’s taste. 

Typically, 18 to 20 grams is the amount of ground coffee suitable for a double shot. 

Use a scale for accuracy, as visual estimations can be misleading.

When tamping, apply even pressure with your tamper in the right place within the portafilter to ensure an even extraction. 

Using too much or too little pressure can lead to over-extraction, resulting in a bitter taste, or under-extraction, resulting in a sour taste.

Water Temperature

The ideal brewing temperature for espresso is between 195°F and 205°F. 

Monitor your espresso machine’s water temperature to ensure it stays within this range. 

Too much hot water can cause bitterness, while too low can lead to sourness. 

Brew Time

Proper brew time is crucial for a well-balanced espresso. Aim for an extraction time of 25 to 30 seconds.

Adjust your grind size or tamping pressure if you’re experiencing a brew time outside of this range. 

A shorter brew time can yield a sour espresso, while a longer one can result in a bitter taste.

Remember that achieving the perfect espresso requires practice and adjustments based on your preferences. 

Experiment with the factors mentioned above to find the right balance for your taste buds. 

Enjoy the journey as you perfect your espresso brewing technique.

Experimenting with Espresso

espresso shot in a cup and on a glass coaster

Adjusting Variables

When experimenting with your espresso brew, it’s crucial to focus on adjusting variables. 

The main reasons why you may be getting unpleasant flavors in your coffee include grind size, brewing time, and water temperature. 

For example, to achieve a balanced espresso shot, you might find that you need to change the grind setting on your barista express or barista pro machine.

If you’re experiencing bitter or sour flavors in your espresso, it could be due to over-extraction or under-extraction. 

Try adjusting the grind size and brewing time to see if it resolves the issue. 

For instance, coarser grinds typically result in faster extractions and less bitter or sour flavors.

You can also experiment with brewing methods, such as using a French press or creating a cappuccino, latte, or double shot to ensure you get the perfect balance of flavors.

Common Goals

Here are some common goals to keep in mind when you’re experimenting with espresso:

  • Balanced flavors: The goal is to achieve a balanced espresso, where bitterness and sourness are kept in check. The general rule is to start with a decent coffee bean and adjust the grind size and brewing time as needed.
    • Bitterness: If your espresso tastes too bitter, try using a coarser grind or decreasing the brewing time.
    • Sourness: If your espresso tastes too sour, consider using a finer grind or increasing the brewing time.
  • Consistency: As a home barista, aim for consistency in your espresso shots. Keep track of your adjustments and how they affect the taste, so you can replicate the results and create your specialty coffee.
  • Experiment with your brewing method: Don’t be afraid to try different brewing methods or machines like a French press, cappuccino maker, or even a double shot feature on your machine. Experimenting with the way you make coffee is the best way to find that good espresso you’ve been looking for.

Remember, there’s no one-size-fits-all approach to creating the perfect espresso. 

Feel free to continue experimenting with various variables and methods to find the perfect balance that suits your taste buds. 

Troubleshooting Espresso Flavors

shot of espresso under machine

When you’re trying to perfect your espresso, it can be frustrating to encounter bitter or sour flavors. 

In this section, we’ll go over some possible fixes to help you achieve a balanced, delicious espresso.

Bitter Espresso Fixes

Bitterness in espresso is often caused by over-extraction. Here are some recommended adjustments to address this issue:

  • Grind size: Ensure your coffee beans are not ground too finely, as this can cause over-extraction. Aim for a coarser grind to allow water to flow more easily through the puck, which can help alleviate bitterness.
  • Coffee-to-water ratio: Ideally, you should use a 1:2 coffee-to-water ratio. If your espresso is too bitter, consider adjusting this ratio to attain a more balanced flavor.
  • Equipment cleanliness: Dirty equipment can contribute to a bitter espresso taste. Regularly clean your espresso machine, group head, and grinder to prevent residue buildup from causing this issue.

Additional Taste Factors

cup of espresso on coaster

When it comes to the taste of your espresso, there are several factors that can influence whether it leans more bitter or sour. 

Understanding these factors and knowing the difference between sour vs bitter can help you tweak your brewing process and achieve the perfect balance of flavors in your espresso.


One of the primary factors influencing the taste of your coffee is the acidity, which creates the chemical reaction that produces coffee flavor. 

Coffee beans contain various acids such as citric acid, malic acid, phosphoric acid, and tannic acid, which contribute to the overall flavor profile. 

For example, the presence of citric acid gives your coffee a taste that can be compared to citrus fruits. 

It is believed that coffee oils may contain the flavor of citrus oil extracts. 

If the acidity in your coffee is too high, it might be perceived as sour. 


On the other hand, high levels of caffeine and other alkaloids can lead to a bitter taste, similar to dark chocolate.

The coffee-to-water ratio in your espresso shot makes a difference too. 

An incorrect ratio could result in under-extracted coffee, which tends to taste sour. 

Don’t forget to pay attention to the water flow, as inconsistencies in the flow and resistance created by the coffee grinds can also affect your shot’s taste. 

Make sure your equipment is clean, as dirty equipment may introduce unwanted tastes that throw off the balance of flavors.


Extraction is crucial in determining the ultimate taste of your espresso. 

The oils, sugars, and caramel developed during the roasting process greatly influence the taste. 

Improperly extracted coffee potentially leaves out some of the nuance and characteristic flavors of the beans. 

Pressurized water passes through the coffee grounds in an espresso shot, releasing these flavors and creating a rich flavor or crema.

Remember to experiment with your coffee grounds and brewing technique, as different grinds and brewing methods can yield varying taste profiles. 

Comparing espresso to its gentler sibling, drip coffee, you might notice the former often has a stronger, sometimes more sour taste. 

Keep in mind that finding the perfect balance of flavors requires patience and practice.

An important factor such as acidity, extraction technique, coffee-to-water ratio, grind size, and clean equipment plays a significant role in determining the taste profile of your espresso. 

By understanding and adjusting these factors, you can create an incredible cup of espresso that matches your taste buds’ preferences.

Final Thoughts

small shot of espresso in short glass

When it comes to espresso, understanding the distinction between bitter and sour is crucial for achieving the perfect coffee taste.

Bitterness in espresso can result from over-extraction or burnt beans, while sourness can be caused by under-extraction or the use of low-quality beans.

Balancing the flavors is key to achieving a harmonious and enjoyable cup of coffee.

By adjusting variables such as grind size, brew time, and water temperature, baristas and coffee enthusiasts can fine-tune the extraction process to avoid an overly bitter or excessively sour espresso.

So, the next time you savor a cup of espresso, pay attention to the delicate balance between bitterness and sourness, and appreciate the craftsmanship required to achieve that ideal coffee taste.

espress bitter vs sour Pinterest image

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