Today, we may be at the beginning of what many are now claiming is the fourth-wave of coffee. Never before has more care been taken in selecting beans, roasting them, and brewing them for individual and market consumption. As Keefe Aldstadt of OptiPure explains, “People spend six, eight, even ten thousand dollars on their espresso machines. Baristas are concerned with regulating temperature of water to one or two degrees, concerned with managing pressure, concerned with regulating as many variables they can so they can be assured they will get consistent results every time they pull a shot.” And yet, with all of the care taken to control every variable of extraction and brewing, one glaring aspect of preparation is still often overlooked: water quality.
For those who have yet to implement a water filtration system at their coffee shop or at home, consider this: water is around 98% of a typical cup of coffee, and it therefore plays an enormous role in the actual taste of your final product. Aldstadt continues, “the one ingredient that has more variables than all the rest combined is water… and with that said I can’t imagine anyone who is serious about the quality and consistency of their products not focusing on water as much as every other aspect of the business.”
Even if your water is already conducive to producing a great cup of coffee, it is important to note that the mineral makeup of water varies a vast amount across the country, and often even across the span of a single city. 3M Purification’s Frank Rossi explains, “Water varies in different parts of the country. That is why it is critical to have the water tested before making a decision on a water treatment device.” The only way to implement a system appropriate to your needs is to first understand what exactly needs to be treated. Fortunately a lot of companies will provide initial water analysis free of charge. For instance, Everpure will mail you a water test and provide you with a complete analysis free of charge when you mail it back.
Paying attention to the mineral content of your water can not only improve the taste of your prepared in-store product, but can also help ensure consistency from your business to your customer’s home. If you sell roasted beans, it is important that your customers be able to recreate the coffee they had at your store while at home. In this respect, a water quality standard is necessary to ensure that coffee is appreciated for its actual taste, rather than the mineral makeup of the water in which it is brewed. As Skip Finley of Cirqua Customized Water states, “Coffee should flavor the water, water shouldn’t flavor the coffee.”
To this end, the SCAA has published a set of standards regarding mineral content that they consider optimal for coffee brewing. Coffee shop owners can implement water treatment in their stores based on these standards, and then educate and provide resources for their customers to recreate similarly formulated water at home. One great way to ensure customers are getting the same taste at home as they are at your store is The Formula™ by Cirqua Customized Water. The Formula™ is a packet of minerals that when added to distilled water produces optimally formulated water for brewing the best and most consistent coffee possible, without having to purchase expensive filters or equipment to do so. This is a simple solution for customers, and it can be displayed next to your roasted beans to encourage customer awareness of the impact of water in the coffee brewing process.
Not only should water treatment systems be valued for their effect on taste and consistency, but also for their role in the longevity of your brewing equipment. Espresso machines are intricate and complex, and using untreated water to brew espresso can lead to damaging mineral buildup and expensive repair or replacement costs. To this end, implementing a proper water filtration system can be seen as a wise investment to those interested in keeping their machines working properly and their overall costs down. Furthermore, the higher quality product that results from the use of a water treatment system, and the expected increase in profit that is likely to follow can also offset the cost of implementing such a system. To this end, Frank Rossi of 3M Purification comments that proper filtration leads to “better tasting coffee and less equipment down time. The formula we use is: Better Water = Better Coffee = Better Business.”
The important thing to keep in mind when pursuing water treatment for your coffee shop or home is that the intelligence of your system will only go as far as the knowledge of your treatment provider. There are many different kinds and combinations of systems, and solutions vary greatly depending on the mineral content of the water you will be using, as well as the volume you expect to use every day. It is advisable to find a treatment provider that is not only familiar with different types of treatment, but that is also familiar with the best water formulation for the coffee industry. Talk to several different providers, ask them what kind of systems they offer, what maintenance costs are like and whether or not they are familiar with water treatment for coffee brewing. Keefe Aldstadt of OptiPure comments, “a lot of companies have knowledge and expertise, and some have more than others, but until you actually talk to someone and find out if you are comfortable working with them it is hard to give relevant advice on how to pick a company. Call them!” Ultimately what is most important is to choose an informed and multi-faceted company that can help you come up with a water solution specific to your unique needs.
The specialty coffee industry is evolving rapidly, and more and more companies and cafes are utilizing water treatment systems to keep up. Overall, positive developments in water quality have helped elevate even the most prized coffee to levels that would be impossible without such developments. SCAA’s water quality standards benefit the coffee industry by providing for increased consistency, as well as the ability to more accurately determine quality. Greater adherence to such standards will make the industry more efficient, as coffee at origin can be priced accurately according to its true value. Furthermore, properly treated water can easily decrease operating costs for coffee retailers by reducing equipment repair and service costs. And finally, water treatment systems can help coffee shop owners rest assured that they are delivering a minimally variable product that doesn’t underutilize or under appreciate the quality of the bean.