Do I Need a Water System?

[quote style=”boxed” float=”left”]”Mediocre ?!?! Who does this guy think he is? I am the best coffee roaster in my state… maybe even the World!”[/quote][quote style=”boxed” float=”left”]“Mediocre?!? I can make pretty hearts on my drinks and I hand crafted an espresso blend that celebrates the taste characteristics of a bacon infused doughnut!”[/quote]


Your water sucks and thank goodness you have these other skills or your coffee would suck too. As it is you have brought your coffee UP to mediocre. I know this first hand, because I was mediocre too!
How many times have you heard “Coffee is 98% water?” (Enough to drive you crazy since gold cup standard actually has the water somewhere nearer to 98.55 – 98.85% water but that is not the point.) It is said so often that it is almost dismissed as a saying having no meaning at all. It’s kinda like “With all due respect…” and “A recent survey has shown…” When the concept has been devalued, it falls into the trap of mediocrity.
Let’s not be mediocre anymore. Let’s confront this 98% (argh) water with the same passion we put into roasting and rosettes. Just like your other skills, you are going to have to learn something and apply it. To help us do that we asked some experts in the area of water to assist in the education and solutions to common water problems. Almost all of them when asked pointed out that the biggest water problem in our industry, and in particular the coffee houses, is the apathy of the shop owners and staff. So THANK YOU for reading this article and starting the process to rise above common shop owners!
David Beeman, a consultant at Global Customized Water said, “Many potential clients express a desire to wait on the expense of a water system until they are open and cash flow improves. This ignores the fact that cash flow won’t improve when you make a poor first impression with your coffee.”
Other potential customers do not understand the taste, or financial consequences of using untreated water. When asked about the cost of treatment systems, Roy Parker of Pentair shared the following, “The cost per gallon of the various treatment systems looks like this if you are using 200 gallons of water per day in all of your shop:

  • Bottled Water: $5 per 5 gal jug = $1 per gallon
  • Year 1: Carbon Filter System (2 cartridge) with Scale Control ($370) with installation ($250)) + 1 filter change (2 x $100) = $0.011 per gallon 
Year 2: Replacement Carbon Filter (2 x $100) = $0.005 per gallon
  • Year 1: RO System ($1800) + 20-gal Storage Tank ($450) with installation ($325) + 1 filter change ($100): Cost $ = $0.037 per gallon; Year 2: Replacement Carbon Filter (2 x $100)+ Replacement RO membrane ($450) = $0.009 per gallon”

Even if your water seems to taste good and approaches the preferred water standard, certain compounds in water can damage your equipment. Parker went on to explain:
“Equipment that heats water (coffee and tea brewers, espresso machines, booster water heaters, ware-washing machines, combi or steam ovens) and equipment that freezes water (ice machines) are susceptible to scale buildup. For scale to form, there must be five elements – energy transfer, dirt, hard mineral, the right pH, and alkalinity. These cause the dissolved mineral to return to being rock, which then accumulates on surfaces forming a very hard crust. The only way to remove this scale (deliming) is typically with harsh acids . Scale causes three significant problems:

  1. Energy inefficiency (just ¼” of scale can cause a 38% loss of energy). Scale is a natural insulator, so when it coats heating elements, it requires more energy to bring the water to the proper temperature.
  2. Clogging. This can be especially problematic with espresso machines where there are small orifices and screens.
  3. Cracking. Scale can cause stress cracking on boilers, leading to leaks and costly replacements. Scale can also coat probes, floats and solenoids, causing them to not read water levels properly. This can lead to a number of issues such as leaks, dry heating, and misshapen ice.

Chlorides and chlorine in water when heated can create hydrochloric acid, leading to corrosion. This is a serious issue with combi and steam ovens, where these acids can cause corrosion and pitting even in stainless steel.
Sediment and dirt can lead to abrasion on ice machine augers and clog screens.
Organics, iron and bacteria can cause slime in ice bins and in equipment.”
And if this technical / cost analysis is not enough to convince you to stop being mediocre, there is the factor of TASTE in the water. The coolest thing about the various solutions to be found in the market is that they give you the personal control over the qualities in the water. You work hard to control your roaster, your brewer, and your espresso machine, so now you should do it with your water. Frank Rossi of 3M describes what goes on in the decision making process:
“While there can be many contaminants in water, for coffee, hardness, chlorine taste and odor tend to be the most critical to equipment life and cup quality. For water with very high hardness, a reverse osmosis system is the recommended solution. Preferably, an RO with an adjustment that allows the user to blend in filtered non-RO water to add just the right amount of minerals back into the product water for taste and consistency. We call this Recipe Quality Water.”
Keefe Alstadt of Optipure then suggests the following in order to focus on exactly what you want the water to be:
“For the specialty coffee business, the best approach to dealing with water and managing it with predictable results is to remove the broad range of impurities and minerals and basically “purify” water; and then enable the operator to accurately blend a portion of the water containing minerals to a desired level and balance. This BWS (Blended Water System) also allows the operator to establish a ‘standard’ that can easily be maintained with simple adjustments for seasonal changes or at different locations.”
Now it is up to you to rise out of the fog of mediocre coffee and discover a system of treatment, design a recipe of water, and bask in the control you will achieve on the ENTIRE brew including the 98.5%.
Ironic Author note: While finishing this article in a hotel room, I hand poured a cup of Brazil natural coffee using tap water because the bottled water from the mini bar was too expensive… I went back and did it over the right way!

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