Why Do Stouts Taste Like Coffee? (Explaining the Beer’s Ingredients)

If you’ve ever wondered why stouts taste like coffee, you’re not alone. It may taste like these beers are made using multiple pots of coffee, but – more often than not – that’s not the case. so why do stouts taste like coffee?

Stouts taste like coffee because of the grains used. Roasted barley, chocolate malt, black malt, and debittered dark malts all give stouts distinct coffee flavors and aromas. These roasted coffee flavors are characteristic of stouts and often do not come from coffee additions.

For more information on where stouts get their coffee flavors and how to roast your malts, continue reading. We’ll also cover ways to use coffee to brew stouts including whole beans and espresso additions.

Two ingredients that make stouts taste like coffee

Stouts are known for their dark, almost black, appearance and their deep, rich, and roasted flavors and aromas. Flavor profiles range from dark berries to bitter coffee. If stouts don’t typically contain coffee, why do they taste like everyone’s favorite cup of joe?

The main ingredient that makes stouts taste like coffee is grains, specifically roasted barley and chocolate malts. Actual coffee can also be used in the brewing stouts, although it is not required to achieve the coffee flavor. Stouts brewed with coffee beans or types of coffee taste more like coffee than those brewed without it.

Not all stouts are brewed with coffee. It’s more common that they aren’t brewed with it. The dark coffee flavors come from the roasted malts used during brewing. The bitterness also comes from a combination of the malts and the hops used.

Coffee stouts are stouts brewed with coffee and offer potent coffee flavors and aromas. These beers are specified as such and use beans, grounds, or a type of brewed coffee in the recipe.

Using grains to add coffee flavor to stouts

Some grains, typically roasted ones, induce beers with coffee flavors and darker hues. It’s the roasted grains that give stouts that distinct rich, sometimes coffee, flavor. These days, there are plenty of grains that add coffee flavors to stouts. Some of these grains are meant to add coffee flavors, while others are used to provide a roasted taste where the coffee flavor is a byproduct.

Here is a list of grains used to add coffee flavors to stouts:

  • Roasted barley malt
  • Chocolate malt
  • Black patent malt
  • Debittered malt

Let’s get into how these grains impart a coffee flavor to beer.

Roasted barley malt

Roasted barley malt is one of the most commonly used grains to brew stouts. It’s an extremely dark-colored malt that gives off pleasant roasted aromas – a scent often characterized as coffee notes.

To make roasted barley malt, first, mash your grains; roasted barley malt is made using pale malt. Dry your malt in the oven on a baking sheet for two hours at 220℉ (104℃). Then, turn the oven to 300℉ (149℃) and roast for 50-60 minutes. Let them cool off and then store them for about two weeks, allowing undesired characteristics to dissipate.

Roasted barley comes in a range of colors (350-550 degrees Lovibond) and, as that number increases or decreases, the color of the malt gets darker or lighter. The darkest barleys at 550ºL are commonly used to make stouts.

Chocolate malt

Chocolate malt is another popular grain used for brewing stouts. As the name suggests, it imparts bitter and mildly sweet chocolate flavors in beers, highly sought-after in the realm of stouts.

To make a chocolate malt, dry mashed, pale malt in the oven on a baking sheet for two hours at 220℉ (104℃). Then, heat the oven to 420-450℉ (220-230℃) and let roast for 2 to 2.5 hours depending on the desired intensity of flavor–less time for mild chocolate notes, more time for potent chocolate notes.

Chocolate malt has a color range of 200-500ºL with American versions being the lightest and English versions being the darkest. 

Black patent malt

Black patent malt, or just black malt, gives an extreme, highly roasted flavor to beers. Think super dark roast coffee. It’s bitter and acidic with rich and dark fruity flavors. It’s often used in small quantities due to its potency and is best used to contrast paler malts.

Black malt is made from pale malt. To make black malt, place wet pale malt kernels on a baking sheet. Roast the malt at 420–450℉ (221–233℃) for up to four hours depending on how much is used. Closely monitor the oven and malt to reduce the risk of fire. Too much of a roast can decrease extractable colors.

Black malt has a color range of about 470-620ºL. Additionally, most of the extract from this grain is not fermentable.

Debittered malt

Debittered malt is a malt that has had its husk removed to reduce the bitterness it gives the beer. Debittered malt is used in stouts where bitterness is low or where hops provide most of it. These malts impart fuller flavors to the beer, often including notes of chocolate and coffee.

Debittered malt is used to add deep, black colors with full and rich flavors while lessening the bitterness. Different types of grains can be debittered, but dark debittered malts impart exceptional sweetness and roasted flavors.

The color of debittered malt varies depending on the type of malt used. Debittered malts roasted for longer have darker colors.

Using actual coffee to add coffee flavor to stouts

Brewing with coffee doesn’t have to be complicated. After all, experimentation is part of what makes us homebrewers. For stouts, because many of the roasted grains already produce coffee notes, adding coffee during the brewing process can be a small or big job–it just depends on how much coffee flavor you want. It’s encouraged that you use high-quality coffee beans.

There are multiple ways to add coffee flavors to stouts:

  • Brewed coffee
  • Coffee beans
  • Specialty brewed coffee
  • Coffee extract

Let’s take a look to see how each type of coffee can affect the final flavor of the stout.

Brewed coffee

One way to add coffee flavor to a stout is to use brewed coffee. Be it a few cups or an entire pot, coffee can be added during the brewing process at different times.

For stouts, add brewed coffee to the wort before pitching the yeast. Alternatively, you can add the coffee during secondary fermentation. Use as much as you want in the recipe; obviously, more coffee will result in more intense coffee flavors in your stout.

For a five-gallon batch, consider using anywhere between 1-30 fl. oz. of brewed coffee.

Coffee beans or grounds

Another way to add coffee flavors to a stout is to use coffee beans.

To brew a stout with coffee beans, first, put the beans or grounds in a grain bag. Next, decide when to add the beans or grounds to the process: steeped with the grains, in the wort during boil, or primary or secondary fermentation.

Beans can be used at just about any stage of the brewing process to impart coffee flavors into the beer. Use either slightly, medium, or coarsely ground or whole beans for beer brewing.

Specialty-brewed coffee

Specialty-brewed coffee is known to be one of the best methods for brewing beer with coffee. Espresso is the most common specialty brew used to make stouts.

Use specialty-brewed coffee in a stout recipe to give it coffee flavors. Espresso is commonly used for its potent, rich coffee flavors and bitterness. Add espresso during fermentation or upon bottling.

For a five-gallon batch, consider using one to three shots depending on the desired coffee flavor intensity. 

Coffee extract

Coffee extract is one of the easiest and safest ways to add coffee flavor to a stout.

A coffee extract can be used to add coffee flavors to stouts. The extract can be added during or after primary fermentation.

For a five-gallon batch, one to ten ounces of coffee extract during or after primary fermentation will add coffee flavor to your beer.

Do all stout beers taste like coffee?

Not all stouts taste like coffee. Certain substyles of stouts contain fewer coffee notes than others. The coffee flavor often comes from the roasted grains used. Stouts that emphasize ingredients other than roasted, dark malts have less of a coffee taste.

Stouts that have fewer coffee flavors are chocolate and milk stouts. Although just about all stouts will have at least a hint of coffee flavor from the roasted grains used, chocolate and milk stouts mask that coffee flavor with a more prominent sweetness or bitterness.

Specific examples of stouts that don’t taste like coffee include Left Hand Nitro Milk Stout and Samuel Smith’s Organic Chocolate Stout. Each of these beers emphasizes a sweeter profile that takes away any coffee notes left behind by the grain bill.

Why does Guinness taste like coffee?

Guinness tastes a bit like coffee like most stouts, including other Irish Dry Stouts. Why is that? Where does Guiness’ coffee flavor come from?

Guinness tastes like coffee because of the roasted barley used during the brewing process. Guinness is brewed with roasted barley, giving it a roasted coffee flavor and bitterness. There is no coffee in Guinness – the only ingredients are roasted barley, malted barley, hops, yeast, and water.

Guinness has roasted flavors from its ingredients used, which do not include coffee.

Want to know more about the most iconic stout? Read all about Guinness in this article.