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Why Does My Coffee Look Oily? Can I Drink It?

If you are feeling sluggish and chilly on a cold morning, there is little competition for a freshly brewed cup of coffee.

Even in the heart of summer, you may find it much easier to face the day with one of the world’s most popular go-to beverages.

Depending on how observant you are, though, you may notice an oily residue floating on the surface of your java.

No one likes to see an oily film on their coffee.

Perhaps you even tossed it down the drain, thinking that you accidentally used a dirty mug or unknowingly purchased tainted coffee beans.

However, before you run all your mugs back through the dishwasher or, worse yet, take your coffee beans back to the store for a refund, you should consider the following information:

Is Oil in Coffee a Good or a Bad Sign?

When inquiring about oil and coffee, you may find yourself with different answers depending on who you ask.

Some people may tell you it is not a good sign, while others insist there is nothing worrisome about an oily film on the surface of your cup of ambition.

Ultimately, there is merit to both sides of the argument.

Because natural oils are found in coffee beans, most of which come from fatty acids, it is not always a bad thing for coffee to appear somewhat oily.

However, much depends on the type of beans used in the coffee’s preparation, as well as how the beans are stored.

If you grind your own beans, you have likely noticed that some appear dry, while others have a shiny, oily surface.

This is because there is less oil in light and medium roast coffee beans and more oil in dark roast coffee beans.

If you drink light or medium roast coffee and notice a significant amount of oil, it may indicate that the coffee beans were incorrectly stored. It may also mean they have expired.

On the other hand, oil in coffee made from dark roasted beans indicates that the beans are fresh and have been stored appropriately. Below are some other facts to consider regarding oil in coffee.

The Water Factor

If you use tap water to brew coffee, it may be a significant factor with regard to whether or not the coffee has an oily appearance.

Hard water is far more apt to create an oily film on the coffee’s surface due to the high levels of calcium it contains.

The latter bonds quite easily with fatty acids in the coffee grounds, which ultimately increases the oil’s visibility.

As you might suspect, soft water has less calcium content, and therefore does not bond the same way with fatty acids, hence no oily residue.

The Role of Filters

Water filters also affect the amount of oil you see in coffee, since they are typically designed to absorb organic residue through an activated carbon coating.

For this reason, coffee made with filtered water is often less oily than coffee made with standard tap water, whether hard or soft.

Grading Your Coffee Beans

Coffee beans are graded on numerous factors, such as freshness, production process and variety.

High-grade coffee is less acidic and features a smoother taste than lower-grade coffee.

This is because higher grade beans are put through a milder and more intricate production process than their lower-grade counterparts.

Low-grade beans are processed more vigorously and are subsequently more acidic.

Therefore, coffee made from such beans has significantly more oil.

Roasting Methods

Roasting methods have a direct effect on whether or not an oily residue shows up in your cup of coffee.

For example, slow roasted coffee is not bitter, has a smoother taste, and features substantially less oily residue than flame roasted coffee, which generally produces a significant amount of fatty acids and has a bitter taste.

This is why flame roasted coffee almost always has an oily residue.

Common Myths About Oil in Coffee

Unfortunately, you may still be a bit confused because there are so many myths about oil and coffee.

Let’s debunk some of those myths for good.

Myth #1: Price Determines Quality

The quality of coffee beans and their price have little to do with each other.

Some people believe that lower-priced coffee beans from brands that are not well known are of a lower grade, but this is not the case.

Even world renowned coffee brands with the highest priced beans can make oily coffee.

For instance, the beans may have gone through a harsh roasting process or they may have been improperly stored.

Myth #2: Oily Coffee was Made Wrong

Coffee making has been referred to as both an art and a science, and there is probably a lot of truth in these statements.

However, even expert coffeemakers sometimes brew a batch of oily coffee.

Once again, how you make the coffee is not as relevant as whether light, medium or dark roast beans were used to brew the beverage.

Myth #3: A Good Espresso Shot Must be Terribly Oily

A good espresso shot does not have to be extremely oily.

While it is true that dark roast coffee beans offer the rich, stinging taste for which espresso is famous, it is still possible to get quality espresso from medium or light roast coffee beans. 

It may be wise to simply experiment a bit and see what you come up with regarding the different beans you can use for espresso.

Now that you have a little more information about these common misconceptions, you may want to start brewing your own coffee.

However, it is important to maintain your coffee maker if you plan to use dark roast beans that leave an oily residue behind.

Avoiding Coffee Machine Clogs

It is usually not necessary to clean your coffee machine after each use, but if you brew batches of dark roasted coffee on a regular basis, your machine may block up faster than you think.

Accumulated oil can clog the screen or other parts of the machine, which may eventually cause it to break down.

Oily coffee beans may also stick to the surface of the walls of the bean hopper, which makes the process more difficult for your coffee maker.

If you prefer dark roast beans, it may take its toll on your grinder as well, because the oil could result in the beans sticking together.

This ultimately leads to the grinder being unable to effectively break the beans into smaller bits.

If you hear the beans spinning but see there is little or no product going from the grinder to the brewing unit, there is probably a serious clog.

Fortunately, there are two practical solutions to avoiding clogs in your coffee maker.

Avoiding dark roast and using fresh beans are the best ways to prevent such clogs.

For instance, if you prefer light or medium roast beans, buy them in smaller batches so that you’re using a fresh pack each time you make coffee.

Keep in mind that poor storage conditions lead to faster oxidation, and ultimately oily coffee beans.

If you prefer dark roasted beans, which you now know are very oily and are almost certain to produce oily coffee, use multiple filters when brewing your coffee.

Cleaning your coffee maker often also goes a long way toward avoiding clogs from dark roast beans.

Now that you know what causes oily coffee, you are likely far less worried about its implications. In fact, you may find that oily coffee is the most flavorful.

Nevertheless, if you still hate the sight of that shiny residue in your mug, simply use the aforementioned tips and you will barely notice any traces of oil.

Enjoy your java and have fun passing on these interesting facts about oil and coffee.

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