We've got a fancy espresso machine in our office kitchen. (It's apparently the kind they used to use at Starbucks stores before they switched over to a more automated "point-and-click" type system.) I was trained on how to use the machine by an old pro, and have been successfully making delicious cups of espresso for a few months.

Lately, my espresso tastes distinctly salty.

I haven't changed the process at all. It has happened on a few separate days, with many other people using the machine, so I doubt it is an issue related to the substance used for cleaning the machine (since I believe that would have been flushed out between my attempts). I haven't heard any other complaints from the 50 (or so) other people who use the same beans, grinder, and espresso machine.

It's a mystery to me, but salty coffee is gross, so it's a mystery that needs solving. (My theory is that I've unwittingly altered my method in some tiny way that I haven't noticed, and that has changed the taste of my espresso. I just don't know what that alteration was!)

Edit: I had a thought: This morning, I made a cup that was salty enough that I didn't want to drink it at all. I poured it out and made another from the other basket on the same machine. It was salty, but drinkable. Potential clue?

'nother edit: Yesterday, my coffee was less salty. The only difference in my method was that I rinsed the basket for way longer than I usually do. It still tasted a little bit off (in the salty direction), but not nearly as bad as previous cups.

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    Have you taken any antibiotics recently? Sounds stupid, but some can affect your tastebuds in weird ways. It can also be a problem with Indonesian coffee beans. The other users of the machine may have noticed it but not mentioned it. Commented Sep 28, 2011 at 17:07
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    If you add sugar...are you sure its sugar? ;)
    – rfusca
    Commented Sep 28, 2011 at 19:47
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    @talon I haven't! I work for SE, so I like to turn here before I have to (shudder) actually talk to people...
    – hairboat
    Commented Sep 28, 2011 at 20:06
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    @AbbyΨ: It'll require talking to people, but I suggest asking someone else to taste the cup you've made, and inquire if its salty. Carry a clipboard labeled "research", and write down the answer. Repeat with several randomly-selected coworkers. It'll be OK talking to people in this case, because they're not people, they're "research subjects"—barely above lab rats, really. :-P
    – derobert
    Commented Sep 30, 2011 at 21:32
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    Other solution: Tell yourself, in a convincing tone of voice "Really good espresso is a bit saltier than what you get from a coffee shop." It's the same concept that allows yuppies to convince themselves to pay $100 USD/pound for post-pooped coffee beans. Commented Apr 21, 2017 at 14:11

10 Answers 10


It could simply be that it's a gustatory illusion! See my answer to this related question for more explanation.


Here is a summary of the relevant information (if you don't want to follow the links):

Human taste receptors don't simply react to how much actual salt there is in a food or drink; our perceived tastes are a fusion of both our gustatory and olfactory senses. In other words, the smell of a food or drink can affect how it tastes!

There are numerous studies that suggest foods with certain odors can be perceived as much saltier than they actually are. Coffee has a good amount of oil, there's even more fat if you add cream, and other studies suggest that high fat foods can also increase perceived saltiness.

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    It's an interesting thought, but I'm wondering how it applies given that I've had plenty of good cups of coffee via the same process before. Wouldn't my brain and taste receptors tell me that all of them were salty?
    – hairboat
    Commented Sep 30, 2011 at 13:58
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    Good point. I guess it could be that some small difference (e.g., inconsistencies on the part of the roaster or minor changes in the water hardness) that could compound to affect the senses?
    – ESultanik
    Commented Sep 30, 2011 at 16:00
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    @AbbyΨ: Could be that at this point you're so accustomed to the expectation of saltiness that you perceive it even when it's not there. Have you tried a blind taste test with a similar espresso machine/blend?
    – Aaronut
    Commented Sep 30, 2011 at 22:01
  • The link to springerlink.com is broken. I'm also unable to find any copy saved on the Wayback Machine.
    – user100070
    Commented Jul 21, 2022 at 5:33

What kind of water are you making the coffee with? Tap? Mineral? It dramatically affects the taste of coffee. Drink the water that you make the coffee with (if possible) to see if you get any salty taste.

Also, did anyone else tried the coffee from the same cup you are drinking?

  • I imagine it's tap water. I've had tea made with the hot water the espresso machine makes before, and it tastes fine (and not salty). I will make a cup this morning and make somebody try it, to make sure I'm not going crazy!
    – hairboat
    Commented Sep 29, 2011 at 12:29
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    @AbbyΨ: Just don't ask them point-blank if it's salty, otherwise you'll get a biased answer...
    – Aaronut
    Commented Sep 30, 2011 at 22:02

It's possible that someone has tampered with the coffee by adding salt. Some people prefer to add salt to strong coffee (like espresso) in order to cut the bitterness. If this hypothetical coffee salter accidentally added too much to some batches but not all, it could explain why no one else has complained and why the other basket wasn't as salty.

  • Are you suggesting that salt might have been added to the beans/grounds or that salt was added to the brewed coffee? I ask because it sounds like Abby Ψ is using a "super automatic" espresso machine (the kind that automatically grinds the coffee and brews an individual serving on demand), so the only way someone could have salted the batch is if they salted the whole beans in the machine.
    – ESultanik
    Commented Sep 30, 2011 at 12:16
  • @ESultanik is mostly right. The beans are ground in a separate machine, but it is one of those gadgets that automatically meters out and grinds the right number of beans, and then the machine has buttons for "I WANT THIS MUCH".
    – hairboat
    Commented Sep 30, 2011 at 12:34
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    @ESultanik I'm making no claims as to which point in the process salt may have been added. The only criteria for salt cutting the bitterness of the coffee is that the salt be present in the coffee. It could be on the beans, in the grounds, or added in the water (assuming there's a water tank and not a water line feeding the machine). The fact that extra rinsing of the basket possibly made the coffee less salty makes me think someone adds salt to the basket when they brew.
    – Fambida
    Commented Oct 1, 2011 at 1:50

This question was asked more than 1 year ago, so I don't know if you have found the cause of the salty taste.

I'm answering because I always get salty taste espresso if the extraction time is too long; usually when I grind my beans too fine.

You asserted you hadn't changed the process at all. Could it have been due to differences in weather those days? Is it possible your machine always brews the same amount of espresso in the same time because it automatically adjusts the pressure? (mine's doesn't do it, so I perfectly see differences in extraction time if I change the tampering pressure or grinding fineness)


I was reading my machine's instructions manual, and found this in the F.A.Q.s:

Q: The extraction seems too slow, somewhat drippy and doesn’t provide a steady pour. It may even taste salty.

A: This is a slow extraction and it may be caused by several factors:

  • You may have dosed in too much coffee.
  • The grind setting may be too fine requiring a coarser grind of coffee to allow water flow.
  • The cartridge may be near or st the end of its pressure. (Try the shot counter feature!)
  • In rare cases, tamp pressure will change the flow rate. Be careful you are not tamping too hard. Use a bathroom scale and a tamper to test how hard you are pushing down the coffee bed.

(note: the last 2 factors are not in the web version, but in my printed one).

  • 2
    I never did get to the bottom of this mystery. The salty flavor comes and goes. Reading your answer, it seems like the grinding might have something to do with it: our grinder is calibrated assuming there is a certain amount of weight (of the whole beans) left in the hopper, which I suppose can lead to inconsistencies in the grind if I don't check the level in the hopper first.
    – hairboat
    Commented Nov 10, 2012 at 4:38
  • I calibrate my grinder (change the fineness) whenever I see the extraction time goes ("too") far from the orthodox 30 seconds.
    – J.A.I.L.
    Commented Nov 11, 2012 at 1:35
  • @AbbyT.Miller: You could also check (this page)[home-barista.com/… (where it talks about "Taste Flaws"). It points to Indonesian beans, but I've had salty beans from all over the world (when lasting more than 1 minute to brew the espresso).
    – J.A.I.L.
    Commented Nov 11, 2012 at 1:37

The cleaning process for many coffee machines has a step of running salt water through it. It could be that someone forgot to run clearwater after to remove the saltiness of that they let it sit at this stage too long and some salt is crystallized inside. Another possibility is that salt could be added to help with the bitterness of coffee as Fambida said. My final thoughts would be the beans changed you're method or that because you're so sure its salty now that you're noticing it more than before.


I don't know if this has been answered but you might want to flush your machine with descaler. It needs to be done every so often.


I have noticed that my latest batch of coffee seems to taste salty, particularly on the left side of my mouth! Weirdly the salty taste seems to come from one particular tooth! There's no way salt has got into the coffee or the grinder, in fact it has tasted salty from the electric grinder and the hand grinder, so I don't think that's an issue. I have been taking eye drops containing antibiotics this week in my left eye - that could be a cause, but I'm fairly sure the salty taste started before the eye infection! Hoping I haven't damaged my tastebuds in some way. Maybe the next batch of coffee will not be as bad.


Had you taken any decongestants? If I take a Lemsip (contains phenylephrine hydrochloride) it makes my coffee taste very salty. Taken me years to figure it out!


I've been making pour-over coffee at home for many, many years. I never vary the method. For some reason, every now and then, I detect a salty taste in my morning coffee, and it really messes up a good thing! It's as bad as McDonald's coffee, which always tastes salty to me. I consider the salty McDonald's coffee to be a quality issue because I've experienced it every time...perhaps it's underextracted as discussed above; but when my at-home over-pour is occasionally salty, I think it is body chemistry...perhaps what I ate the night before, sort of like how brushing your teeth before you drink a cup of coffee can really ruin the taste. So I'm experiencing saltiness this morning in my home-brew (maybe because I ate potato chips before going to sleep last night?), so i tried licking a lemon mid-cup to see if it changes the way my coffee tastes. Wow! It worked! My morning meditation is back on track! Another testament to citrus magic!


Sinus issues can cause a salty taste. Early in the day it would be worse than after you’ve been vertical awhile

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