Why Does My Coffee Taste & Smell Like Cigarette Ashes? Yuck!

my coffee tastes like cigarette ashes

Have you ever had a pot of freshly brewed coffee, only to realize it doesn’t taste at all like you expected? Maybe it tastes bitter and smoky or reminds you of a cigarette. While it may sound like a strange way to describe coffee, it’s actually a somewhat common description. 

When coffee burns or grows too bitter, the sulfur flavor in coffee tends to get stronger. The sulfur leads to a taste reminiscent of cigarettes.

If your coffee tastes and smells like cigarette ashes, it’s usually a sign that you have burnt or old coffee. While these are the most common reasons, dirty machines, bad brewing methods, and water quality and quantity also cause ashy tastes. 

Key Takeaways

  • Over-roasted beans are the most common culprit when it comes to ashy-tasting coffee. 
  • Water temperatures, the amount of water, low-quality beans, stale coffee, and dirty machines also produce stale coffee. 
  • There are a few ways to change up your coffee flavor, including trying new brands and brewing methods. 

Over-Roasted Beans: Are They the Culprit?

There’s a good chance that over-roasted beans could be the culprit, especially if you haven’t bought high-quality beans. Coffee beans, like tobacco, have compounds containing sulfur. Normally, these compounds only add a small flavoring to the drink. 

However, when the beans start to burn, they taste and smell like tobacco. This is why ash-tasting coffee is more familiar with medium-dark, and dark-roasted coffee. 

Some coffee beans, like low-quality coffee and Robusta coffee, end up burning easily when brewed to a dark roast. This means they often taste more like cigarette ash, especially when roasted to a darker level.  High-quality or Arabica coffee handles high heats a little better.

Some brands known for over-roasting their beans are: Gevalia, Yuban, Green Mountain coffee, McCafe, and Starbucks.

Over-roasted beans aren’t always the culprit, though. Sometimes, other issues leave your coffee tasting like ash, like water temperatures and a dirty coffee machine. 

The Water You Use Matters

An ashy taste in your coffee may also be due to your water. Too hot of water during the brewing process might increase the sulfur strength in the coffee beans. The sulfur then makes the brewed coffee taste like tobacco. 

This is because the water can scald your coffee beans, and it mimics them burning. If you want to make sure you aren’t messing up your coffee, try to brew your water at a cooler temperature. Keurigs are notorious for tobacco-tasting coffee as they heat up water extra hot. Most of the coffee pods for Keurigs you commercially buy are of lower quality as well. 

When you’re brewing, you generally want your water to be somewhere between 195 and 205 degrees Fahrenheit. 

The types of water you use also influence the flavor. Tap water heavy in minerals tends to leave a more bitter aftertaste. Try using water bottles for a few days with your coffee. Do you notice an immediate taste difference just from changing the type of water? It might be a sign that some chemical or mineral in your tap water is affecting the flavor of your coffee. 

To fix the problem long-term, consider using bottled water. You can also get a filter like a Britta filter to help reduce the particles in your standard tap water. You should notice your coffee tastes better after that. 

You also want to make sure that you aren’t using too much or too little water. Too much water can leave your coffee over-brewed or bland while too little water can burn your coffee and make it bitter. 

There are a few ratios you can try to get your desired cup of coffee. The standard ratio is 1:15. This ratio means that for every 15 grams of water, you use 1 gram of coffee. For those who like a little lighter coffee, 1:18 might be a better ratio to start at. You can adjust the ratio later as needed, but this is a good start.

Brewing Technique Missteps

Another common issue is over brewing your coffee. When you use methods like the French press, it’s possible to let the coffee sit too long. This may cause the coffee to over-steep or over-brew and taste like cigarette ashes.

Your ideal brew is between two and four minutes for hot coffee. 

Machine and Grinder Maintenance

Your machine settings also lead to different flavors in your coffee. For example, an extra fine grind size can create a lot of heat from friction. This may lead your coffee to taste bitter. Extra fine grounds also hold onto water more since it is so dense. If water sits in the grinds too long, they may produce a bitter or ashy taste. 

Dirty machines also lead to foul tastes that may remind someone of cigarettes. Grinds and oils from the coffee beans may get stuck throughout the coffee machine. Even if you don’t use your coffee machine a lot, it’s a good idea to clean your machine between uses or every few uses. 

Too stale coffee (usually several months old and not stored properly) also tends to smell and taste a lot like cigarette ashes. If you think your coffee has been out in the open too long, it might be worth tossing it and trying a new batch. 

Stale coffee often increases the bad flavor profiles in a cup of coffee. If you’ve been brewing for a while with the same bag and the taste starts to grow ashy, then the coffee may be getting stale. 

Quick Fixes and Best Practices for a Clean Brew

Make sure you’re always using your coffee when it’s at it’s freshest. Pick one bag of coffee to try at a time and use it all before opening another. After opening the bag, store the beans in a dark and airtight container for maximum freshness. 

It’s a good idea to avoid leaving coffee in bags for too long. They aren’t made for storing coffee indefinitely. If you want to get the most out of your coffee, store it in an airtight container (in or out of the bag) as soon as possible. 

You may also want to play around with your water and coffee ratios. If you aren’t sure what your current coffee ratio is and you’re just eyeballing it, then try to measure it a few times and see if you can get an idea of your ratio. If you’re much higher than a 1:18 ratio, it may explain why your coffee tastes so bitter and ashy. Try to reduce the ratio some and see if that helps. 

You may find your coffee isn’t as strong as you like after changing the ratio. In this case, consider other brewing methods to make your coffee taste darker without crossing over to the rich and burnt taste. You may also want to try other coffee brands and roast levels to see if those are better. 

Conclusion and Final Tips

If you frequently get coffee that tastes like cigarette ashes, it’s time to look for higher-quality and fresh coffee. It’s also a good idea to clean your machine and try out different water sources. 

Your preferred brewing method may be different from what you’re trying as well. Consider trying out something different. If you normally use a Keurig, you may want to change it up and try a pour-over or French press method. You may find it’s easier to get the flavors you want without a burnt and ashy taste. 

Did this article help you out? If you’ve had bad experiences with nasty-tasting coffee before and one method worked better than others at fixing it, let us know!

FAQ:

How can I determine if my beans are over-roasted? 

Generally, over-roasted coffee beans are very dark, to the point that they look black. They will also be bitter. When you open the bag, you’ll get a strong smell, and shiny, oily-feeling beans. 

Does the ashy taste mean my coffee machine is damaged? 

There are many reasons why your coffee might have an ashy taste. It’s more likely that your machine is dirty than damaged. Consider taking apart your machine and cleaning everything, including the portafilter and heads. 

Are certain coffee brands more prone to producing a burnt flavor? 

Some coffee brands are more prone to producing a burnt flavor. Mass-produced coffee beans are commonly known for having a more burnt flavor. Starbucks and McDonalds are both great examples. 

How often should I descale and clean my coffee machine?

Your coffee machine needs simple cleaning and wipe-downs every few uses. However, when it comes to deep cleaning and descaling, you want to do this roughly every three to six months. It doesn’t matter how often you use it, the deep cleaning range is the same. 
Christopher Mize

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