Water Obsession: Filtering for Perfection

In the Specialty Coffee industry, we are tasked with communicating the care and effort that goes into producing and serving high-quality coffee. When we do this, we support communities that need a sustainable outlet for their green coffee–all while maintaining profitability. We hope to create devotees that can see and taste the difference. 

The Problem with Profiles

My evolution as a water enthusiast is wrought with trial and error like many I know. We planned and executed a cafe with brand new equipment and used a simple filtration approach to water treatment.  My assumption up until that point was that an inline softener filter or a basic ‘taste and odor’ filter were enough to do the job.  After months of use, I found myself removing scale build-up and seeing some corrosion in other equipment.  Our Cold Brew even tasted wildly different between seasons because of the waters changing chemistry.  This journey led me to lots of testing with surprising results, learning as much as I could about water chemistry before eventually installing a Reverse Osmosis system.  

How much does water factor into the end results? Coffees taste vastly different when using different water profiles. The SCA (Specialty Coffee Association) has been a guide to water quality, drawing from lots of research and providing standards and guidelines or a window of acceptability.  Some salts may help mask compounds that contribute to bitterness, and some bicarbonate hardness will help buffer the harshness of acidity in some coffees. More Magnesium might bring sweetness, or Calcium would help with balance and depth, but both can’t be present in excess. Otherwise, they inhibit extraction or mask nuances.

With all that ability to make adjustments via filtration or remineralization, ideal water for coffee sadly doesn’t work the best for your equipment.  Conversely, perfect water that follows all of the manufacturer’s requirements or softening recommendations leaves much to be desired in your extractions.  It’s a balance.

Water is now the Topic of Conversation

The home brewing market is exploding. We are seeing more individuals delving into the topic of water quality, and they are asking their favorite coffee professionals, baristas, and roasters for answers. The Global Pandemic has only accelerated this shift as consumers tried to recreate the cafe experiences they were missing, and water quality solutions have become one of the newest additions to home brewing setups.

Water Quality has been increasingly the topic of conversation 

Christopher Hendon and Maxwell Colonna-Dashwood published Water for Coffee, which explains water science, their findings, and the impact it has on coffee flavor. This book is a useful tool so that coffee people everywhere can dip their toes into the “water” quality conversation. DIY-enthusiasts are also crafting their water profiles with filtration recipes that allow you to adjust a few aspects of your water composition, remineralizing by measuring and mixing basic ingredients.  The Peak Water Pitcher allows for the blending of an ion exchange filter in varying degrees to get your desired total dissolved solids (TDS), a big upgrade to popular carbon filtration pitchers.  Third Wave Water has a different approach; start at 0 and add exactly what you need, removing testing and guesswork.

As consumers become more educated about water, roasters and cafes must adapt to remain relevant in the evolving specialty coffee market. Roasters and cafes now look beyond simple TDS measures to create their ideal water profiles. With businesses beginning to open their doors again, we may see another shift in how consumers ultimately evaluate their specialty coffee experiences.

by Joseph Capatosto

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