Why the Water in your Coffee Matters

Did you know a cup of coffee is actually around 98% water? Therefore, the quality of your water can have a significant impact on both coffee flavour and equipment longevity.

There has been an increasing awareness about the importance of water in the coffee industry recently. The SCA’s Water Quality Handbook, the recent publication of Maxwell Colonna-Dashwood’s book Water For Coffee, and a spate of magazine articles in the last few months have made water something of a hot topic. Indeed, the role that water plays in acidity levels and the resulting effect on coffee flavour cannot be understated, but with a raft of water treatment products on the market and different manufacturers and filtration technologies available, how do you establish which system will best suit your setup?

Hard or Soft Water? – It’s a Balancing Act

When it comes to water filtration coffee is a little bit different, as small amounts of certain minerals found in hard water can actually make your coffee taste better. This happens because the calcium and magnesium molecules aid the extraction of oils from the coffee bean, delivering a more intense flavour. Water that is too soft can leave your coffee tasting a little dull and lifeless. Whereas water that is too hard can have a detrimental affect on your equipment, causing the boiler and pipework to scale-up affecting the heat element efficiency and causing potential maintenance issues.

Therefore, treating water for specialty coffee becomes a bit of a balancing act. Fortunately, there are a number of systems available that have been designed to help you achieve that ‘sweet spot’ of feed water hardness.

water treatment
Water treatment coffee uk

Size Matters

The size of your site will determine which water treatment system will benefit your business best. For lower capacity sites, a cartridge based water treatment system is recommended. Cartridge-based systems such as the Pentair Everpure Claris Ultra system employ a trick filter head which contains an adjustable ‘DuoBlend’ valve to give the operator precise control over the hardness of the feed water produced.

Whereas, for businesses producing a large number of beverages a day, or for sites with multiple machines, reverse osmosis systems are the most cost effective alternative. various reverse osmosis systems are available which feature blend valves to control water hardness. Small, hand held TDS meters are available which can give accurate readings of your feed water’s ppm value.

Let’s get technical

Water hardness is determined by the amount of total dissolved soilds (TDS), which is measured in parts per million (ppm). The Specialty Coffee Association recommends 150ppm as the optimum TDS level for brewing water for coffee. However, anywhere between 75ppm and 250ppm is considered within the acceptable range.

Water hardness can vary dramatically in the UK, even within small areas. The UK Water Hardness map can give you a rough idea of the water hardness in your area, however this is only an area average, and hardness can vary within these areas. In Lancashire, for example, water type varies from town to town with pockets of both soft and hard water sometimes in close proximity. As such we would always recommend testing the water before specifying any water treatment equipment.

How does your water shape up?

Testing your water is simple, and there are many low cost water test kits available. Once you know how hard your incoming water is, you can then calculate the capacity of the treatment system you’ll need.

Shop water test kits here.

The Right Stuff

Unfortunately there are a few other things to consider in order to achieve the perfect water for brewing coffee.

The minerals that cause hard water (calcium and magnesium) aren’t the only dissolved solids that might play havoc with your coffee. Certain sites in the UK receive mains water which contains chlorides and sulphates and these can impart a sour or bitter flavour in brewed coffee. Reverse osmosis removes these minerals, while for lower capacity sites ‘problem solving’ filter cartridges such as the Claris Prime have been developed to combat this very issue.

Neutral Territory

An additional factor which can affect feed water is the acidity or alkalinity, which is measured in pH. The pH scale measures from 1 to 14, with 1 being the most acidic and 14 being the most alkaline. For coffee applications your water should be completely neutral (i.e. 7 on the pH scale) though the Speciality Coffee Association of America states that a pH of between 6.5 and 7.5 is acceptable.

Water treatment coffee

The dissolved minerals that cause limescale are all on the alkaline side of the scale and removing them can cause treated feed water to become excessively acidic. The blending function of the Claris Duoblend head and the blend valve on Pentair Everpure reverse osmosis systems are designed to balance the pH to prevent this.

Protect Your Investment

Espresso machines are expensive and complicated bits of kit and they are susceptible to damage caused by the build-up of mineral scale in boilers and internal waterways. This can lead to heating element inefficiency – scale is a poor conductor of heat and just 1.6mm of scale in a heating system can cause a 12% loss in heat transfer. This not only means that the boiler consumes more energy but the heating element also has to work harder, meaning it can overheat and burn out. Scale can also block pipework leading to machine breakdowns which are not only expensive to rectify but can also cost your business in terms of machine down-time.

Reducing the scale content of your feed water can not only make your already great coffee even better but can prevent scale related break downs and machine inefficiency, saving money in the long term. Given the cost of professional standard espresso machines and their importance to any speciality coffee business, water treatment is an investment that’s well worth considering.

We understand the importance of your espresso machine to your business. We have a dedicated team of factory trained engineers fully experienced in espresso machine maintenance to look after our coffee customers equipment. If you have any questions about this article or treating your water, we will be more than happy to help. Give us a call on 0843 557 4669 or if email is more your thing we can be contacted at accounts@bristol-twenty.co.uk

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