How does water REALLY affect the taste of coffee?

| August 20, 2015

98% of your coffee drink is made from it, so why do we have such a careless attitude when it comes to using the best quality water possible? Well this is not entirely true. There is a large amount of science around the quality of water, and some real world factors that affect water seasonally, and geographically.

These are

Sediment

Chlorine, Taste & Odor

Total Dissolved Solids (TDS)

Hardness (Scale)

Sediment

This is when you get fine particles from things such as dirt, and rust, which can come from the general wear and tear of water pipes. It is sediment that increase scale build up. Something that you’ll probably be more than familiar with if you’ve had your coffee machine for a few years. To get round this, you need to use filter equipment that has technologies such as depth filtration, which means the filter has a number of levels that the water has to pass through, and will trap dirt of various sizes.

Chlorine

Still think that water filteration is unnecessary? It might surprise you to learn that adding chlorine to water treatment has been part of the cleansing processing since 1904, however what is even more surprising to learn is that e-coli and also coliform can sometimes still be found in tap water, thanks to the outdated copper piping water transport system that i used for our homes. The taste of chlorine can also ruin a good cup of coffee, leaving an unpleasant smell, if you’re an aroma conasir. It also has the detrimental effect of damaging your equipment by corroding the water heating elements. The only thing that can really make a difference to the addition of chlorine in the water is having a strong carbon element in your filter.

Total Dissolved Solids (TDS)

TDS is a group of contaminants, mostly minerals that are dissolved in water. Hardness minerals are the most common type found in water, but there is also sodium and chlorides. TDS not only plays a huge factor in how your coffee tastes, but it will also dramatically affect your equipment life too. If you’re a commercial coffee operation, this can play a crucial role in just how long your equipment can keep making “loved by your customers” coffee.

Hardness (Scale)

Hardness, more commonly called scale, comes from the buildup of minerals including calcium, and magnesium. This is the number one cause of water related problems that people have with their coffee equipment. Your equipment will suffer inefficient heat transfer, as well as a reduction in  your beverages taste, as well as costly maintenance visits. Scale is a huge factor in the water that you get directly from the tap.

The science behind filtering water

There has already been a lot of science put into finding out what the perfect level of filtered water is for your coffee. The coffee industry has concluded that it must have an ionic concentration of between 150-300 parts per million (ppm). This allows the extraction of the coffee to the best it possible can be.

These however are just just guidelines, and to measure the water properly you need an atomic absorption spectrometer. The water has been measured across the world, and the results are startling at the microscopic level. In Bath, England, there is more calcium ions than magnesium ions present in the water, approximately 5 ppm. While the water in Melbourne, Australia the calcium to magnesium ratio is approximately 20 ppm. Its the combination of calcium and magnesium that creates the energy needed to extract the goodness from coffee.

How do coffee shops filter water?

Coffee shops have a couple of options available to them, depending on size and budget. For a smaller, local coffee shop, you might want to checkout a portable filter solution which will sit on your countertop. These are limited to usually a maximum of between 4-6 gallons.

A commercial water filter is the option that many of the larger chain, and specialist coffee shops prefer to use. Companies such as Everpure build and sell setups that are ideal for a medium sized coffee shop or restaurant, while for larger coffee chains, you can purchase a setup from a provider such as US Water Systems, that provide systems which use reverse osmosis, and can accommodate upto 80 gallon water tanks.

Filtering water at home

Although many home coffee machines come with filters, they are low quality, and can only filter out the largest of particles that come through from the water. This is why many people turn to a complete plumbing solution. Apec Water Systems provide some good solutions for this. They have a range of under the sink solutions that are easy enough for any plumber to fit into your home, and then all you have to do is change the filter every few months, and this is easy to do yourself

Sometimes plumbing a whole water system isn’t all that viable, especially if you stay in a rented apartment. You still have options though, you can use a water filter jug to give you as close to a filtered water taste as you can get. These systems are quite powerful, and although they don’t work instantly, with some careful planning and preparation, you can always have a jug ready in your fridge for when you need to fill up your coffee machine.

Is filtering water just overkill?

Hopefully you have learnt a bit about the difference that filtered water makes to creating the best coffee drink possible. Is it really just too much though? Well 2014 and 2015 UK Barista champion Maxwell Colonna-Dashwood doesn’t seem to think so. He has been at the forefront of bringing the purifications of filtered water to the general public with the opening of his coffee shop, Colonna and Smalls, bringing science and precision to coffee making like never before, and bringing the chemistry of water to the forefront of people’s minds.

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