Nothing spoils a great cup of coffee more than a tepid temperature or a scald so hot it takes off half your mouth skin before you can swallow it. Coffee, like most hot drinks, is a straight-up Goldilocks situation.
It simply tastes better when it’s “just right.”
What is the right temperature for coffee, though? What temperature best brings out coffee’s flavors and aromas, can withstand the addition of milk or creamer, and won’t send you to the hospital with third-degree burns on your tongue?
It might seem subjective – some people like their coffee piping hot, others a little less brutal – but there is actually some general, objective guidance on the subject.
Ideal Coffee Brew Temperature
The first, most important question that sets all other coffee temperatures in motion is this:
What is the ideal water temperature for making coffee?
When you brew coffee, heat helps extract the oils (flavor and aroma) from the coffee grounds, at least when you’re using traditional hot water brewing methods, so the water needs to be hot enough to fully extract the coffee’s oils, but not so hot that it over-extracts .
The National Coffee Association has determined a temperature of 195-205° F (91-96° C) is the range for extracting the most oils (flavor) from coffee without over-extracting, making 200° (93° C) the perfect sweet spot.
Can boiling water burn coffee?
No. Not technically. But using boiling water in freshly ground coffee can result in a burned taste.
Temperatures exceeding 205 degrees (or lower for some roasts) are likely to over-extract coffee oils (as noted above), giving the coffee a bitter or “burnt” flavor.
It doesn’t actually burn the coffee, but it might as well.
How hot should coffee be served?
Brewing temperature is the most important temperature when it comes to coffee. The brew temp determines the quality of the drink. But serving temperature matters too.
Too-hot coffee can cause burns. Your mouth can withstand higher temperatures than your external skin without a physical reaction, like a flinch, but those temperatures still do damage.
If liquid is hot enough to burn your skin, it’s hot enough to burn the inside of your mouth. That’s how you end up with blisters from too-hot soup or drinks.
According to the American Burn Association, liquid at 155° F will burn you in just one second, while liquid at 127° F takes a full minute to burn you. Unsurprisingly, people’s preferred drinking temperatures lie somewhere between the two.
A survey of 300 coffee drinkers, as discussed in this study on Calculating the Optimum Temperature for Serving Hot Beverages found that the preferred drinking temperature for coffee is 140° F (+/- 15°) or 125-155° F (52-68° C).
Adding in some additional information, and with of bit of math and scientific hoodoo, the study further determined the optimal drinking temperature for hot drinks to be 136° F/58° C. Therefore –
As you can see, this is a great deal lower than the approximately 180° F/82° C at which coffee comes out of a coffeemaker when brewed at the ideal 200° F/93° C.
The good news is it’s not difficult to get coffee to that drinking sweet spot.
If you make coffee at home with a French press, by the time you let it sit for five minutes, your coffee drops multiple degrees. How much it drops depends on numerous factors, including the size of the press, how full it is, and the air around it.
Likewise, adding chilled (or even room temperature) liquids, like milk or creamer, to coffee brings the temperature rapidly down.
How hot is the average cup of coffee?
180° F/82° C straight out of the pot when brewed in a standard coffeemaker that brews at the ideal 200° F/93° C.
But there is no average temperature when it comes to home brewing, since it’s dependent upon water temperature, brewing method, and the surrounding environment.
Popular coffee spots Starbucks and McDonald’s serve their regular coffee up at temperatures right off the brew, or at 180-190° F.
Why is my coffee not hot enough?
It’s your machine, most likely.
If you are making coffee in a French press, AeroPress or pour over, it’s easy to get the temperature right. Since water boils at 212° F degrees, letting it sit for 30 to 45 seconds will bring it to a near perfect temp for brewing.
However, not all drip coffeemakers are designed to brew as hot as they should. Many drip coffeemakers (especially lower-end coffeemakers) fail to reach 195-205° F, sometimes only reaching temperatures of 170-180° F.
This is too low to extract all the oils and flavors out of the coffee grounds.
An older coffeemaker may also fail to reach 200° F long before the unit actually stops working. That’s why you should periodically check the water coming out of your coffeemaker’s brew head (the place where the water pours into the basket) to ensure it’s reaching 200° F or close to it.
If the brew head water isn’t reaching 200° F, either the heating element is too weak or its failing.
You can also check the temperature of the brewed coffee. If the coffee is coming out hot, but not staying hot, the problem is likely a failing warming plate instead.
While either of these issues with your coffeemaker will give you lower temperature coffee, only a problem with the heating element/brew head will affect the coffee’s taste.
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