In this study, the mechanism of the xanthine oxidase (XO) inhibitory activity of pyrogallol, the main inhibitor found in roasted coffee, was investigated. Pyrogallol was unstable and readily converted to purpurogallin in a pH 7.4 solution, a physiological model of human body fluids. The XO inhibitory activity of the produced purpurogallin was higher than that of pyrogallol, as evidenced by comparing their IC50 values (0.2 μmol L−1 for purpurogallin, 1.6 μmol L−1 for pyrogallol). The XO activity of pyrogallol was enhanced by pre-incubation in pH 7.4 solution. Although the initial XO inhibitory activity of 4-methylpyrogallol was weak (IC50 33.3 μmol L−1), its XO inhibitory activity was also enhanced by pre-incubation in the pH 7.4 solution. In contrast, 5-methylpyrogallol, which could not be transformed into corresponding purpurogallin derivatives, did not show XO inhibitory activity before or after incubation in pH 7.4 solution. Molecular docking simulations clarified that purpurogallins have stronger affinities for XO than corresponding pyrogallols. These results revealed that the potent XO inhibitory activity seemingly observed in pyrogallol is actually derived from its chemical conversion, under alkaline conditions, into purpurogallin.