Demystifying: Why Does My Coffee Look Oily

why does my coffee look oily

Why Does My Coffee Look Like An Oil Slick?

Last week I purchased some new coffee beans. They were a nice Arabica dark roast from a local coffee shop I visited. The morning after I purchased them, I was excited to grind them up, put them in my French press, and brew up a nice refreshing cup of coffee. Only, there was a problem. Right after I grabbed my mug, I noticed a thin layer of oil at the top of my coffee. 

Immediately, I wondered if the new beans I purchased were expired. I checked the bag they came in, and they weren’t. Everything else about my brewing process had been the same. So I wondered to myself, “why does my coffee look oily?” I couldn’t figure it out, so I took to researching this topic in detail. Fortunately, I was able to find the answer. 

Dark roasts, arabica beans, and low-quality coffee beans have more oil present in them. If you put a dark roast through a French press or pour-over maker, it can produce more oil. Additionally, high water temperatures and tap water that’s high in calcium contribute to oiliness. 

So pretty much everything I was doing contributed to this oily film I was seeing. I did quite a bit of research to determine if the oil in coffee was bad and how to prevent it. I’ll tell you everything you should know in the rest of this article. Keep reading to learn all the details. 

Key Takeaways

  • Dark and arabica roast coffee beans have higher oil content. 
  • Hard tap water or extra hot water can cause more oil to form in coffee. 
  • Using a filtered drip-brew method can prevent oil from forming in coffee.

What Causes Oily Coffee?

I went over the causes of oily coffee in the intro, but let’s dig into it more here. There are six main causes that can contribute to oil in coffee. They are:

  1. Brewing method: Brewing methods that don’t use a filter can produce more oil. So using a drip-brew option that uses a filter can help remove the excess oil during brewing. Studies have also found that drinking filtered coffee leads to better long-term cardiovascular health, so it’s not a bad option to go for. 
  2. Bean quality: All coffee beans contain oil. However, high-quality coffee beans are roasted longer, which removes excess oil from them. So the bean quality does matter in terms of the coffee’s appearance. 
  3. Type of roast: Different roasts of coffee are made with different methods. Since darker roasts are produced with more heat, it creates more oil. That can lead to you seeing more oil in your coffee compared to light or medium roasts. 
  4. Water temperature: When you brew your cup of coffee with very hot water, it causes the beans to bond more effectively with the water. This sounds like a good thing, but it can lead to the natural oils in the coffee to become more apparent. One study found this is especially true with arabica beans which have the most oil present (15% oil content). 
  5. Water filtration: Using tap water can also contribute to the coffee’s oiliness. Tap water has higher amounts of calcium present since it isn’t filtered as thoroughly. Calcium combined with heat can activate the natural oil in coffee beans. So using filtered or soft water can help prevent this. 
  6. Type of filter: While filtered coffee works the best to prevent oil, the type of filter also matters. Activated charcoal filters are able to remove the most oil from your coffee brew. So going with one of those will have better results than built-in espresso filters or cheap coffee filters you can find at any grocery store. 

So if you want to brew oil-free coffee, taking these six factors into account will help. 

What About Different Types of Oil in Coffee?

Oil in coffee can also come in different appearances. The appearance will help determine what the cause of the oil is. Here’s a table to help you figure this part out:

Coffee AppearancePossible Causes
MuddyFine grind size allows coffee particles to pass through the filter
CloudyHard water, over-extraction during brewing, unusual emulsification of coffee oils
GreyToo much water or under-extraction during brewing
SparklyMinerals in water or light reflecting off coffee oils
CurdledDairy or dairy alternative curdling due to the acidity of coffee
RedFreshly roasted or certain specialty beans have a reddish tint due to the coffee oils and roasting process

Is Oily Coffee Bad for You?

As we all know, oils have fat content present in them. So from a health perspective, that can cause concern for some looking to manage their diet. 

We all need healthy fats in our diets, so consuming some natural oils is actually good for you. Most experts agree that there’s nothing wrong with consuming the natural oils in coffee. After all, oil is present in all types of coffee beans regardless of what you do. 

However, the one area where you should be concerned is if your light or medium roast beans are extra oily. Since light and medium roasts aren’t supposed to have high oil content naturally, a thick oil texture in your coffee could be a sign they’ve gone bad. 

So, in that case, you might want to check into getting new coffee beans. That may solve your problem right there. Plus, consuming expired beans could be a health concern. You might experience an upset stomach or feel a bit nauseous after drinking it. 

Does Oily Coffee Affect Taste?

Depending on the type of oil, it can affect taste to an extent. It can also depend on personal preferences and how you feel about the taste as well. 

Types of coffee, like dark arabica roasts, will have more oil present naturally. From the dark arabica beans I tried recently, I enjoyed the taste quite a bit. The extra oil actually gives the coffee a smoother taste. 

However, those who like more of an acidic flavor might not appreciate this as much. So you’ll want to choose the type of beans you use accordingly. A light or medium roast robusta bean may be better for you in that case. 

Does the Brand of Coffee Affect How Oily It Is?

The coffee brand can affect the amount of oil in your coffee beans. As I mentioned before, high-quality beans will have less oil content. 

If you’re looking for a brand with less oiliness, Starbucks usually does a good job of managing this. Since their coffee is in a mainstream, high-quality sector, they want their coffee to have a nice appearance. To do that effectively, they filter their beans quite a bit before putting them up for sale on store shelves and brewing them at their coffee shops. 

However, with certain roasts, the oil will be unavoidable. For instance, an arabica dark roast from Starbucks will still have some oil present. It’s simply the nature of that kind of bean and roast profile. 

Does Decaf Coffee Get Oily?

Decaf coffee is usually filtered pretty heavily to remove the caffeine content from the beans. As a result, it’ll have less oil content. So it’s much less common to see oily decaf coffee compared to its caffeinated counterpart. 

How to Spot and Choose Non-Oily Coffee Beans?

If you’re looking to buy coffee beans that won’t be oily, you should be able to notice it in their appearance. Some coffee beans will have a naturally oily texture. You’ll typically notice they look shinier when you hold them up in the light. 

To give yourself a comparison, the next time you’re looking at beans, hold up some arabica beans next to robusta beans. You should see the difference in shininess and texture between the two. 

Do Keurigs Produce Oily Coffee?

Certain roasts put through a Keurig may have more oiliness than other brewing methods. While Keurigs do have a built-in filter, it isn’t as high-quality of a filter as other drip brew methods. So typically, if you brew a dark roast in a Keurig, you may see an oily film at the top. 

What About French Press or Pour-Over Coffee Makers?

French presses and pour-over coffee makers also commonly produce more oiliness. The main component affecting these brewing methods is the water temperature. Both use higher temperatures to bond the beans better with water. While this helps you get more strength and quality from your beans, it can make the oil at the top more apparent. 

How to Prevent and Manage Oily Coffee?

So you’re probably wondering how to prevent oil from forming in your cup of coffee. Here’s a table explaining what to look for and check in this process. 

Why is my coffee oily?Check the roast level and type of beans usedDarker roasts and certain beans produce more oil
Is oily coffee bad for me?Understand the health implicationsIn moderation, oil in coffee is not harmful
My coffee tastes different. Could it be the oil?Assess the tasteOil can alter the flavor profile of the coffee
My Keurig coffee looks oily. Why?Check the type of coffee pods usedSome pods may produce oilier coffee than others
Is the oil in Starbucks coffee bad for me?Understand what causes oil in coffeeStarbucks uses a dark roast, which can appear oilier but isn’t necessarily bad
Why is my coffee machine clogged?Check the oiliness of your coffeeOily coffee can lead to residue in machines. Regular cleaning can prevent this
How can I tell if my coffee beans are too oily?Observe the beansShiny, dark beans are often oilier than dull, lighter ones
How can I prevent my coffee from becoming oily?Control the brewing processUsing the right water temperature, filter, and grind size can help
What is the oil in coffee?Learn about coffee chemistryThe oil is called coffee lipid and is natural to the bean
My coffee looks muddy/cloudy/grey/sparkly/curdled/red. Why?Understand different coffee appearancesVarious factors can influence coffee’s appearance, including brewing method, water quality, and coffee freshness

Final Thoughts on Oily Coffee

Oil in coffee, especially in dark roast, isn’t bad for you. I actually enjoyed the dark roast arabica beans I purchased quite a bit once I found out the oil was a natural part of the process. 

If you want to prevent it from happening, simply use high-quality beans, a medium or light roast, a drip-brewing method, filtered water, and an activated charcoal filter. You should be all set using that method. 

Other than that, don’t be afraid to experiment! Try different types of roasts and brewing methods. You may be surprised by what you like the most. 


Can I Remove Oil from Coffee After Brewing?

Unfortunately, there isn’t much you can do to remove oil from coffee after it’s brewed. Since the oil is a natural part of coffee beans, it becomes a part of the brewed coffee. The best way to prevent oil is to use a filtered drip-brew coffee maker, filtered water, and high-quality light or medium roast beans. 

What is Coffee Scum or Sludge?

Coffee scum or sludge are other terms for the oiliness you see in coffee. While these terms sound quite off-putting, it doesn’t necessarily mean the oil in your coffee is bad. Oil is a natural part of coffee beans that is generally safe to consume. 

Do Coffee Filters Filter Out Oil?

Coffee filters will help prevent oil from forming in your cup of coffee. Use an activated charcoal coffee filter for the best results. 

Why Does My Coffee Look Muddy?

A muddy texture is common with fine grind sizes. A finely ground coffee may still have particles pass through a coffee filter. 

Why Does My Coffee Look Cloudy?

The most common cause of cloudy coffee is using hard tap water. Hard water has more calcium present, which interacts with the natural oils in coffee beans. While this cloudy texture can look undesirable, your coffee should be safe to consume. Use filtered or softened water to prevent future cloudiness.
Christopher Mize

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