The water pot bubbles to indicate that its contents are ready, the filter is perfectly in place, and your favorite Chemex, Hario, Melitta, or other Pour-Over brewer awaits underneath. Ready? Pour!
The pour over method is becoming widely adapted around the world. From chain coffee shops like Starbucks to independent cafes, the pour over method is being utilized to its full potential with growing popularity. This method also allows java junkies to craft a cup of coffee at home with a gourmet coffee shop feel.
However, while the method itself seemingly looks easy, its looks can be deceiving. There are many factors and variables that need to be taken into consideration to ensure the perfect pour over brew. The most important variable: water.
When dealing with water, it is important to note that everyone’s water is different. And I am not just talking about between cities and across states. You can live in the same city and still have different water than your competing coffee shop just three city blocks to the north.
Ronit Erlitzki, a marketing professional from Selecto Scientific says, “Since the water path to everyone’s faucet is different, everyone’s water quality is different.”
This leads me to my biggest argument. Since every coffee shop’s water is different, one single machine will not conform to every shop. It is extremely important to get your water tested to see what is hiding in your water. It is the most important thing to getting a good pour over brew. There are a few ways you can do this.
Scott Guglielmino, a product manager from La Marzocco USA says, “Never purchase a filter or a water unit from someone who has not tested your water. How will they know what they are filtering for?” Guglielmino is the leader of the water team at the company and will be speaking about the interactions between water and coffee at the Nordic Barista Cup in September.
Tim Hibbs, a business development expert with OptiPure suggests making a simple phone call to your water company. “It is the best way to get a year-round snapshot of specific minerals, water characteristics, and seasonal changes.”
OptiPure prefers to use a Hach Titration Kit, called Total Hardness Test Kit, Model 5-EP when specifically looking for the mineral content in water. It is offered on the Hach website for under $30.
“However,” Hibbs continues, “Water chemistry is a complex blend of physical and chemical reactions between the contaminants in each water source. Therefore, it is important to look at the whole picture rather than only a portion.”
Scott Burris from Pure Water Technology of South Louisiana suggests a total dissolved solids (TDS) test. This is a test that will weigh the total amount of dissolved solids, i.e. any minerals, salts, metals, etc., dissolved in your shops’ water. If the TDS level is high, this tends to generally mean that the mineral content is high, but not in every situation.
After figuring out what minerals and contaminants are in your shop’s water, it is best to contact a professional to see which system is best for your water. Some shops would be better with a reverse osmosis unit, others some kind of filtration system.
Philip Fralix, a Certified Water Specialist by the Water Quality Association, who has more than 40 years in the water treating industry, makes a highly notable yet simple comment. He says, “Not one system will solve all of the problems.”
After bombarding you with all of those technical terms, you are probably asking: well, what kind of water quality is needed to ensure a good pour over cup of coffee? Unfortunately, it is just not that simple. Some of these water variables depend on the preferences of the coffee shop.
The Specialty Coffee Association (SCAA) created water standards that they deem necessary for a good brew. The odor and color are the two things that you can ensure without any testing. The water should be odor-free and the color should be clear. The chlorine content must be 0 mg/L. As mentioned earlier, total dissolved solids are important. The target goal should be roughly150 mg/L. The acceptable rage for TDS is somewhere between 75-250 mg/L. The calcium hardness should be about 4 grains or 68mg/L. Again, the acceptable range here is between 1 and 5 grains. The SCAA recommends the total alkalinity to be at or near 40 mg/L, the pH level to be at about 7 with a half a point range, and the sodium is recommended to be at or near 10 mg/L.
Roy Parker, the senior marketing manager at Everpure says, “Some minerals are good for coffee. It gives it flavor. Do not use distilled water, ever. Minerals also help with the extraction of the oils from the coffee grounds.”
Minerals act as a buffer, it keeps the pH levels in line. The lower the pH level, the more acidic the water is. The lack of minerals in the water will over extract the oil from the grounds, especially in the pour over method. If you extract too much oil, you will get bitter coffee and you will actually be able to see an oil slick on top when brewing your pour over cup of coffee. Too much mineral content and you can end up with under extraction. This means you are not pulling out enough oil, which leads to a weaker coffee. Finding a balance depends on mineral content and coffee shop taste preference.
In the pour over method it is evident that shops must treat the water before brewing. The pour over is not similar to an espresso machine in that the machine itself helps with the filtration of the water. In a pour over, the water is brought up to temperature and then simply poured over the coffee grounds. There are companies that offer systems to accommodate water preferences.
Parker suggests, “Depending on your input water, depends on which system to use. A reverse osmosis unit with a blend capability is a good choice. Without the blend, it will take out all of the minerals. A blend feature allows you to maintain the minerals you want.”
Fralix, from MAVEA recommends their PURITY Quell ST filter. It is “A single customized filter medium that targets ions in the crude water that cause lime scale build-up. It results in partial demineralized water for use in areas where carbonate hardness levels may be considered too high and the added mineral content in the water is not considered critical.”
This filter system comes in three different sizes and capacities depending on what the coffee shop is interested in and what their coffee output is.
“Global Customized Water’s best asset is our ability to educate the customer to show them the most cost effective solutions that retain their customers and give them a return on their investment. Any water treatment system should make you money, not cost you money,” says Global Customized Water representative, David Beeman.
Global Customized Water offers a complete line of equipment to enhance and improve the taste and quality of water for the pour over brewing method. The company offers reverse osmosis systems, carbon filters, water softening, no salt water softeners, and even custom water formulations.
Beeman continues, “At Global we customize to the customer’s needs at the lowest cost of ownership in the industry. Global’s products can be installed and serviced by anyone, they are just that ‘easy’.”
At Global Customized Water, they utilize water analysis to specify based on 1-product quality 2-equipment protection 3-customer retention. Beeman says, “In this competitive environment a better tasting cup of coffee keeps the customer coming back and the right water makes an incredible difference in the flavor of the coffee.”
OptiPure provides Blended Water Systems (BWS) that allows the customer to dial-in the precise TDS they desire in their water. Hibbs also recommended, “Additionally, ScaleX2 is a non-chemical scale inhibitor that allows the Calcium to remain present in the water for good extraction, while minimizing potential scale problems with the equipment.”
Coming from a company that distributes espresso machines, Guglielmino raised the awareness and importance of ethics for the buyer of water filtration systems. The Water Quality Association published a Code of Ethics with marketing guidelines; a trade association for water filtration manufactures. There are a number of bullets that the buyer should be made aware of to avoid being misled into purchasing a unit that may or may not be suitable for their water.
While this article focuses strongly on the pour over method of coffee brewing, it is also important to mention that specialty teas are also making their way to coffee shop menus. Like coffee, tea is made up of about 98 percent water. Thus proving that water quality for tea is just as important as coffee. With the season soon turning to summer and iced coffee quickly growing in demand, the quality of water for ice is also important to guarantee a nice frosty glass of iced coffee.
As the pour over method of brewing coffee is rapidly growing in popularity, coffee shops must keep up and make sure that the water they are using is up to quality standards.