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Why Would Anyone Put A Match Head in Coffee?

For the better half of my life, I’ve been a devoted coffee fan. But delving deeper into the world of coffee can be an interesting business. Everyone has a better way to make the best coffee.

If all roads lead to Rome and a good cup of coffee, I’m willing to try any route to get there (at least once). So I’ve squeezed lemon into espresso, I’ve tried adding salt to my brew, and I’ve even looked into monkey poop coffee. But have you heard of putting a match head in coffee?

Many coffee drinkers swear that match heads can make bad coffee taste better. But how?

Match heads contain potassium chlorate which neutralizes the bitterness in coffee just like salt does. However, match heads were not made to be ingested by humans and often contain glass powder and chemical fillers.

Most medical experts agree that one or two match heads in a cup of coffee won’t cause harm to adults. However, there are better additives that can make bad coffee better.

We’ll fill you in on the nitty-gritty of this intriguing and unconventional hack. Then we’ll inspire you with other coffee add-ins that are worth a try.

A close up of a match head

What’s in the head of a match?

There are two different types of matches: Safety matches and strike-anywhere matches. Safety matches have only half the ingredients needed to make a fire (which is why they are “safe”), while strike-anywhere matches contain all the flammable components right on the matchstick.

Saftey match components

Saftey matches contain glass powder, sulfur, chemical fillers, and potassium chlorate as an oxidizing agent. Some tips also contain charcoal. The matchbox has a strip with red phosphorus, glass powder, and a binder for striking the match.

Strike-anywhere match components

Strike anywhere matches are made of potassium chlorate and phosphorous. Some types of phosphorus are extremely toxic if ingested. However, phosphorus sesquisulfide is a non-toxic (yet highly reactive) chemical that is used on most modern strike-anywhere matches.

Safety matches are considered less toxic than strike anywhere matches. So if you were going to try a match head in coffee, this would probably be the way to go.

Why would you put match heads in coffee?

While there are certainly many reasons for not adding matches to your cup of coffee, here are three of the reasons that some people do add a match head to their coffee.

1. To make a bad cup of coffee taste better

taking a sip of some bitter coffee

The main goal of adding match heads to coffee is to make bad coffee taste better. Match heads contain potassium chlorate which is similar to the potassium chloride in salt. So adding one or two match heads to a cup of coffee can neutralize the bitterness in coffee just like adding a few granules of salt.

2. To keep mosquitos away

Another ingredient in match heads is sulfur. Sulfur is known to be a deterrent to mosquitoes Some believe that drinking match heads in coffee will keep mosquitos away, thus preventing mosquito-borne diseases such as yellow fever and malaria.

Others say that the minuscule amount of sulfur in one match head is probably not enough to deter a mosquito. (And eating more than one or two match heads at a time can be toxic to your health.)

3. To calm oversensitive teeth

Potassium nitrate is a more recent addition to matches. This mineral is also used in some brands of toothpaste, to help alleviate pain from sensitive teeth. I don’t plan to add matches to my coffee daily, though, so I’ll just stick to my Sensodyne.

I tried adding a match head to coffee (so you don’t have to)

Did I mention that I would try anything once for the sake of coffee? Actually, the first time I tried putting match heads in coffee, I did it the wrong way so I tried this hack twice.

Did it taste bad? No. Is it my new coffee-drinking habit? Also, no. Here’s how that went.

Trial 1: Lit match

A lit match

Do you use matches that are lit or unlit in your coffee? This was my biggest question, but as many Google and Youtube searches as tried, I found no answer. So since you roast coffee beans, I figured that burning matches would be the right approach. I made some bad coffee, burned two matches, and ground the match tips into my hot coffee. My coffee didn’t taste worse by this addition, but with the slightly sooty aftertaste, I wouldn’t say it was better.

Still, I wasn’t convinced I’d done it correctly, so I did some research on the one character that everyone points to when they scratch their heads about putting matches in coffee: James Holden in The Expanse.

Trial 2: Unlit match

I watched Holden scrape the head off an unlit matchstick and then grind it into his cup of coffee. So, I tried again with two unlit match heads. I used a mortar and pestle to knock off the tip and grind it to a powder. Then I stirred it into my coffee.

You can definitely taste a match-y flavor this route. I see how it throws your taste buds a red herring and gives them something else to think about while you drink bad coffee. I didn’t find it to be a better flavor necessarily, just a little different. It also makes your mouth and throat tingle afterward as if you’ve eaten something spicy. Then, later on, you remember your cup of coffee with some light heartburn.

I came, I tried it, I don’t plan to do it again.

Why does Holden add a match head to his coffee in The Expanse?

In Dulcinea, the pilot episode of The Expanse, we meet James Holden—a coffee addict in 2350 who is unsatisfied with his probably freeze-dried, astronaut-style, instant coffee. While others are searching for drops of water and oxygen, you see Holden searching the galaxy for just one good cup of coffee.

After drinking bad coffee for most of the show, Holden finally scrapes off a match tip and adds it to his cuppa. There’s a whole Reddit thread speculating as to why Holden grinds match heads in his coffee. Some hypothesize that maybe he was in pain, his teeth hurt, maybe he’s under stress, or perhaps he did it for an extra kick. But I think most coffee lovers just nodded and thought, “If you can’t find good coffee anywhere in the galaxy, you’re desperate enough to try anything.”

The whole clip about adding a match head to coffee is only a few seconds long. In fact, if I hadn’t been primed for the scene, I may not have even seen that match. So, did grinding a match head into his coffee make Holden’s bad coffee better?

Well, Holden as a man of few words doesn’t comment on this trick. However, after drinking that cup of coffee, he does goes on to make a decision that changes the whole course of the show, for better or for worse.

You can put a match head in coffee, but should you?

Match heads are not made to be ingested and include a few components that are questionable at best. The head of a match often contains glass powder, sulfur, and other chemicals. While these may be perfect for making fire, they are probably not the best for your stomach.

In fact, chewing match heads regularly (or several at once) can be a risky business. According to The National Capital Poison Center, vomiting, diarrhea, dehydration, and respiratory failure can be side effects of ingesting match heads. Consuming too many match heads can also cause damage to your red blood cells, kidneys, and liver.

So while drinking a match head in coffee may not kill you, it may not make you stronger either.

How to make bad coffee taste better

Grinding matches into your coffee may not be the best route to take when you are trying to fix a bad cup of coffee. However, before you dump out your coffee on your hydrangea bush, there are a few other ingredients you can try. Here are some of our favorite coffee add-ins.

Add cocoa powder

a big spoonful of cocoa powder

Many coffee beans from Columbia, Brazil, and Vietnam have inherent chocolate flavors. Adding cocoa powder will draw out the best tastes in these coffee types.

Also, if your coffee is under-extracted it can become sour and acidic. By sprinkling a bit of cocoa powder in your coffee you can add richness and improve the flavor.

Add lemon or orange

In America, lemon peel or an orange wedge is often served next to an espresso. The citric acid in the fruit can balance the bitterness of your coffee for a smoother tasting cuppa. You can run the fruit around the edge of your cuppa, or squeeze a few drops into your demitasse. Citrus can curdle milk so try your coffee black with this one.

Add cinnamon

Cinnamon is a delicious addition to coffee and has some possible health benefits as well. Some studies suggest that cinnamon contains antioxidants, promotes heart health, and regulates blood sugar. You can add some cinnamon to your coffee grounds when you brew or use a cinnamon stick to stir your coffee.

Add cardamom

Try adding cardamom to your coffee Turkish-style. This zingy taste is perfect for crisp mornings. Pop one or two pods of cardamom into your coffee bean grinder and spice up your cup of coffee!

Add salt

Salt Crystals on a plate

Adding salt to your brew can neutralize the bitterness in your coffee… just don’t add too much! You can add a quarter teaspoon of kosher salt to every six tablespoons of grounds like the cooking guru, Alton Brown. Or, you can add a few granules to your cup of coffee (a pinch of salt is already too much!)

Add cayenne pepper

I tried coffee with cayenne pepper in Transylvania once in a coffee shop next to Dracula’s birthplace. And I became a believer. This coffee tastes like Christmas in a cup! Add a little spice to your ground coffee before you brew. You’ll want to keep a light touch with this one.

Add coffee

Another option is to add some coffee to your coffee. The official name for this drink is red-eye coffee. You make it by pouring a shot of espresso over a cup of drip coffee. Red Eye coffee is perfect when you need an extra kick of caffeine.

Add sweeteners

You can doctor up your coffee with sweeteners as well. Some of my favorite sweeteners for coffee are brown sugar and maple syrup. These tastes blend well with coffee. Or, if you want to go a natural route, you can try stevia which contains no sugar or calories.

Wrap Up

Coffee is a delicious drink, so it is always disappointing when you get handed subpar coffee. (We feel for you, Holden!) When life hands you lemons, you make lemonade. And when life hands you bad coffee, we suggest you skip the match heads you and improve your cuppa with cocoa, salt, cinnamon, or another add-in that is safe for consumption.

To make a better cup of coffee next time around, we’ve developed a coffee ratio app that we’re rather proud of. This app lets you know exactly how much water and coffee grounds you should use for a perfect extraction every time. You’ll no longer have to search the galaxy for the perfect cuppa because you’ll be able to brew it yourself at home!


Do coffee beans go bad?

Coffee beans can go bad, but coffee grounds will go bad even faster. For the best-tasting coffee, you want to use your beans 7-10 days after the roasting process. However, if you can’t drink all your coffee that quickly, you can store your coffee in airtight containers away from heat and light. Glass containers, while pretty, can make your coffee beans or grounds go stale faster.

How long can coffee last in the fridge?

One to two weeks is the absolute most that brewed coffee will last in a fridge. It will need to be stored in an airtight container to make it that long. However, even if your coffee is still safe to drink, you may be compromising on the flavor. Two to three days is an optimal amount of time to keep refrigerated coffee. And throw away coffee after just two days if there is any milk or creamer in it. If your coffee smells or tastes iffy, better just to brew a fresh cup.

How can I make a smooth-tasting cup of coffee?

For a smoother, less bitter brew, use high-quality, arabica beans and filtered water. Lighter roasts tend to be less oily so you can brew a cup of coffee without the bitterness. Your brew method can also influence how smooth (or not) your coffee is. Cold brews tend to have a smoother flavor and are less acidic and less bitter than other coffee types.


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