We’ve talked at length about the importance of water in our 4 Coffee Brewing Basics. If you’ve been to one of our Coffee Brewing Classes you know exactly how important water is to brewing good coffee.
The problem, for most people, is that they don’t know what they need to do to their water in order to brew the perfect cup of coffee. Fortunately, the coffee world has make things much easier for the average consumer to have the perfect water for brewing coffee.
What Makes Good Coffee Brewing Water?
The Specialty Coffee Association (SCA) has a document that details all of the lovely details that they recommend for perfect coffee brewing water. If you’re a chemistry nerd you might enjoy reading that and testing your water for all of those specifications. Most of us, though, have a life.
Water Hardness is Key
Water hardness is a measure of the amount of calcium and other minerals dissolved in water. Too much hardness in your water can greatly affect the flavor and extraction of your coffee. It can also damage your brewing equipment. Too little hardness is also an issue for coffee brewing.
Typically, in many municipalities, we see city water somewhere around the 10-12 grains per gallon of hardness. Although in some areas, we’ve seen it as high as 23 or 24 grains per gallon. That’s really hard water. If you’re on a well system, all bets are off. You could range from really soft to outrageously hard water.
If you have a water softener in your house, you probably have water that is somewhere around 5-7 grains per gallon. That’s not all bad. According the Specialty Coffee Association (SCA), water for brewing coffee should be, ideally, 4 grains per gallon. An acceptable range is 1-5 grains per gallon of calcium hardness.
How Can I Tell How Hard My Water Is?
This part is really pretty easy. Water hardness test strips are really cheap on Amazon. They’re probably available at your local hardware store in the plumbing section. If you have a bottled water provider in your area, they may be willing to test your water hardness for you.
If you’re in the Geneva area, feel free to bring a sample of your water to our roastery and we’d be glad to test it for you for free.
Here’s the important part…
Your water can actually be TOO soft! Yes. Too much of a good thing is bad. Personally, I’ve never seen city water that’s too soft. Typically, where we see this problem is people who have a reverse osmosis system for their drinking water. RO systems are pretty common and make nice, clean, fresh drinking water.
The problem is that most of the household RO systems remove all of the hardness from the water – resulting in a hardness of 1 or even 0 grains per gallon. The result is weak tasting coffee. There simply isn’t enough mineral content in the water to extract the solids from the coffee. We need a little bit of mineral content in the water in order to help extract the goodies from the coffee grounds.
How Do I Fix My Bad Water?
Ok – we’ve convinced you that water may be your problem. How do you fix it? Here are a couple of scenarios that we’ve seen and some simple fixes that you might want to consider:
Tap Water from a City Water Source: If you’re in this situation, depending on your city water, you might need some kind of water softener for your house. The most popular water softeners are filled with salt that aids in removing some of the calcium in the water. However, because of the salt, we’ve now added another flavor to our water.
If you do have a salt based water softener, we recommend adding some kind of basic filtration to your water line after the filter. This can be as simple as a water filter in your refrigerator or under the sink. It will help remove the salt content that gets added in during the softening process.
Super Hard City or Well Water: This is one of the more difficult situations to deal with. If you’re on well water you might have other flavors and elements in your water that also add to the flavor of the water and need to be removed.
Often times, a call to your local bottled water provider is in order. More extreme situations could call for a reverse osmosis system as well as a water softener in line. If this is the case, your final result might be water that’s too soft for making coffee. But don’t worry – there’s help!
Remineralization – Adding Minerals Back Into Your Water
It’s actually really easy to create water that is perfect for coffee if you’re starting from distilled or reverse osmosis water. One way is to create a concentrate of highly mineralized water and add a little bit of that into your water. One recipe for this is outlined on Matt Perger’s Barista Hustle web site. It involves bicarb (baking soda), epsom salt and distilled water. Mix up the concentrate, add it to your water in small amounts, off you go!
The Easier Way – Third Wave Water
Recently, a very interesting product has come to the coffee market called Third Wave Water. Third Wave Water allows you to remineralize distilled or reverse osmosis water using a small amount of a powder made up of basically baking soda and epsom salt.
Third Wave Water works the same way that the coffee water recipe above works. You’re adding minerals and hardness back into water that has no minerals. Only instead of making a concentrate, Third Wave Water has created these little capsules pre-measured to work in a gallon of RO or distilled water.
The process couldn’t be any easier – Take a gallon of water, add one capsule, shake and brew. Plus the price is super reasonable. Each capsule is about $1. Considering that it makes a full gallon of perfect water, this isn’t a bad price per cup of coffee.
What is your water like?
I’ve been using a Pur water filter before making my coffee or filling my espresso machine. It’s nothing fancy but I’ve found that it makes a pretty big difference — better tasting and my machines don’t need descaling nearly as often. I’m in a major city with great water though, so other people might have to take strong steps (as you’ve noted).
It all depends on what is coming out of your tap. If the hardness isn’t bad (less than 7-8 grains of hardness), a pur filter might be enough. If it’s much harder than that though, you probably need something more