Why Does Coffee Smell Like Cigarettes?

As a coffee enthusiast, you may be familiar with the rich, earthy aroma that comes with brewing a fresh cup of coffee. However, have you ever noticed that with certain coffee brands, when you open them, they smell like cigarettes or a filthy ol’ ashtray?! I definitely have!

Well, you’re not alone. If you’ve ever wondered why your cup of Joe sometimes reminds you of a night at the bar, keep reading. In this blog post, I’ll dive into the curious connection between coffee and cigarettes and what causes this unexpected nasty aroma.

Why Can Coffee Smell Like Cigarettes?

a cup of coffee with a burning cigarette

Firstly, it’s important to note that not all coffee smells like cigarettes. This occurrence is most commonly found in darker roasts, which typically have a stronger, smokier flavor compared to lighter roasts. While the flavor profile of darker roasts may appeal to some coffee drinkers, the smoking aroma can be a turn-off for others.

That’s the main reason I stay away from dark roasted coffee: at best, it smells and tastes burnt. At worst, it smells like cigarettes.

Where Does the Cigarette Smell in Coffee Come From?

nasty old cigarettes

The answer lies in the process of roasting coffee beans. When coffee beans are roasted, they go through a chemical reaction called the Maillard reaction. This reaction occurs between amino acids and sugars in the bean and generates hundreds of different aroma compounds that contribute to the overall flavor and scent of the coffee.

In darker roasts, a particular aroma compound called pyrazines is produced. Pyrazines are also found in cigarettes which explains why some people may detect a smoking-like scent in their cup of coffee.

Another factor that can contribute to the cigarette-like smell in coffee is the equipment used to brew it. If you’re using a French press or other similar brewing methods, the residual oils left behind from previous brews can start to build up and oxidize. This can lead to a stale odor, which may be reminiscent of cigarettes. To avoid this, it’s crucial to clean your equipment thoroughly between each use and store it in a cool, dry place.

There’s a Psychological Connection Here

But wait, this gets even better. Interestingly, there’s also a psychological component to the connection between coffee and cigarettes.

For many people, the smell of coffee can trigger nostalgic memories of their parents or grandparents smoking while drinking their morning cup. This can lead to an association between the two scents, even though they don’t actually share the same components.

Lastly, it’s essential to point out that a smoking-like aroma in coffee doesn’t necessarily mean the coffee is low quality or bad. Taste and aroma are subjective and what smells like cigarettes to one person may be an enticing aroma for someone else. It’s all a matter of preference and personal taste.

Does Coffee Actually Have Tobacco In It?

burning cigarette resting in cheap ashtray

No, coffee does not contain any tobacco in it. The smoky aroma in darker roasts is caused by the Maillard reaction that occurs during the roasting process. This reaction produces an aroma compound known as pyrazines, as explained earlier, which is also found in cigarettes and can cause some people to detect a smoking-like scent from their coffee.

Why Does Coffee Taste Different to Me Suddenly?

There are several factors that can affect the flavor of your coffee including the type of beans used, how long it was roasted for, and the brewing method.

If you’re noticing drastic changes in taste from one day to the next, it’s likely due to a change in one or more of these elements. It may also be caused by a buildup of oils from previous brews if you’re using the same equipment for more than one cup.

However, once in a rare while, your taste buds may be playing tricks on you. It’s entirely possible that the flavor suddenly changed due to a psychological association with cigarettes or another scent, even though there are no actual tobacco products present in coffee.

If coffee is simply tasting ‘blah’ for you, then take a week off from it and try it again.  I’ve gone through periods where coffee didn’t taste that great to me but when I took a break and returned, it tasted much better.

Why Does Coffee Remind Me of Cigarettes?

the association between coffee and cigarettes

As mentioned above, the smoky aroma in some coffees is caused by an aroma compound called pyrazines which is also present in cigarettes.

This can lead to an unconscious association between the two scents and cause coffee to smell like cigarettes in certain cases. It may also be a psychological reaction due to fond memories of your parents or grandparents smoking while drinking coffee.

Why Does My Coffee Smell Like an Ashtray?

If your coffee is smelling like an ashtray, it’s most likely caused by either the type of beans used or a buildup of oils from previous brews. Darker roasts tend to have a smokier flavor profile and produce the pyrazines aroma compound which can be reminiscent of cigarettes.

What Should I Do If Coffee Tastes Blah To Me?

coffee tastes burnt or ashy and gross

There are two things you can do.

First thing you can try is to go lower in your roasting preferences. If you love dark coffee, then try medium coffee; similarly, if you enjoy medium coffee, try light coffee.  You can also try different brands to see if you just needed a change.

With that said, if you’ve been drinking coffee for years, a break might be in order. I took a couple weeks off from coffee and while it was difficult (I experienced caffeine headaches, etc), when I made the same coffee that tasted icky before, it now tasted delicious. Figures.


Coffee is a complex and fascinating beverage with countless sensory profiles and an intricate brewing process. While the cigarette-like smell of some coffee types may be surprising or unappealing to some, it’s just another aspect of the nuanced world of coffee.

Whether you prefer a lightly roasted, fruity cup or a bold, smoky dark roast, the beauty of coffee lies in its versatility and the joy it brings to so many coffee enthusiasts around the world.