When Water Is the Enemy

Water is essential to life. It is also essential to the coffee industry. Since a cup of coffee is predominately water – about 98% – one would want it to be clean, safe, and free of nasty odors. Here in the United States, municipalities add chlorine and chloramine in local drinking water systems to combat diseases. But recently, people have been taking a second look at these components.
What is chloramine? According to the EPA, chloramine is a water additive used to control microbes. It is formed when ammonia is added to water containing free chlorine. It is an alternative disinfectant to chlorine. The EPA says that chloraminated water is safe to use, although they also point out that there are health risks with water containing an excess of the maximum level. For instance, one could experience irritating effects to their eyes and nose, stomach discomfort, or anemia.
Many cities are switching from using chlorine to chloramines due to costs and EPA regulations. One in five Americans have chloramines added to their water. But, the problem is that the health effects of its usage have not been thoroughly considered. Consequently, some municipalities have either stopped, or reconsidered its use. It is a controversial issue with many faucets.
Besides the health hazards it is costly and time consuming to filter. It does not dissipate easily and it is difficult to remove by boiling or distilling. They can give beverages an offensive taste or smell and can cause equipment damage. It is necessary to use an extensive carbon filter to remove the chlorine part of the chloramine molecule followed by reverse osmosis to remove the ammonia.

Asking The Experts

How can we not only ensure health, but also deliver a pleasant cup of coffee or tea to ensure costumer satisfaction? To answer these questions, we asked a few water and equipment experts about water testing, filtration, and effects on machines.

I. The Water We Use

How and where can one get their water tested?
Contact your local water treatment center for a free test. You can contact them through your water bill invoice. You can also get water tested through an independent agricultural consulting firm, advises Skip Finley of Cirqua Customized Water.
David Beeman says that his company Global Customized Water – as well as other water filtration companies – can conduct a free standard water test that includes testing hardness, alkalinity, pH and chlorine. They can also test for arsenic, lead nitrate, silica and iron upon request.
OptiPure Filtration Systems provide thorough tests as well as in-depth information to help customers understand water-related concerns, Keefe Aldstadt responds.
Roy Parker of Everpure offers a free water test kit through their website that includes strips to test your water, plus a disposable electronic TDS Meter (Total Dissolved Solids, the total of all dissolved minerals in water) and an iron test that uses a reagent.
How do I get my municipal water report?
Every city sends out a water test report annually and even small communities provide a water analysis upon request. These annual reports, called Consumer Confidence Reports (CCRs) provide information about your local drinking water quality. Or you can visit this website:
If well water is used, how often should they have their water tested?
Well water may change seasonally. It is recommended to test it every six months. According to David Beeman, “The whole meaning of proper water treatment is to put less money into the water treatment device.” And David points out that “you usually don’t have to deal with high levels of chloramine, but iron and sulfates can be found in wells, which are removed by municipalities.” Skip Finley advises that a qualified water well system contractor can determine if your water well system needs cleaning as  it can harbor microorganisms not found in municipal water systems.  A good source for finding a well system contractor is
What are the hazards of drinking water treated with chlorine?
Chlorine is a main disinfectant but may cause health risks which is why contamination from chlorination by-products have resulted in numerous hygenic studies. David Beeman agrees with the assertion: “Yes, the nature of the product and what makes it so effective at killing germs is in itself what people should be concerned about.” That is why the safe drinking act mandates chloramine in areas where they exceed certain limits.
And what about chloramine?
Chloramine is a weaker germicide than chlorine. But there are concerns that chloramine may be carcinogenic and conclude in additional mandates by the EPA. Also people with suppressed immune systems should  be cautious when it comes to the use of chloramine disinfected water.
David Beeman says, that “the ammonia in chloramine seems to cause people the most problems and is difficult to remove.” For more information Skip Finley mentioned reading the content of the website of Citizens Concerned About Chloramine (CCAC) at
Should I pre-filter tap water?
“Always!” is the consensus. All experts agree that tap water in homes should go through a pre-filter. “Pre-filters are inexpensive, and they help the more expensive fine filters last much longer.” Roy Parker of Everpure recommends.

II. How Water Effects Equipment

What are some components in water that could severely damage the equipment?
Brian Conroy of Espresso Me Service lists scale formation, cysts, bacteria, sediment and chlorines as some components that can severely damage equipment. “It all starts with water,” he says. “All of these in water will affect the taste and quality of brewing coffee or making an espresso.”
What effect would components in water have on the equipment and what are ways to prevent  damage?
While chlorine and chloramine make water safe for drinking, Keefe Aldstadt of OptiPure states that “Chlorine imparts an unpleasant taste and odor which can not only ruin coffee beverages but also can be corrosive to boilers, heating elements and other wet surfaces. That increases maintenance costs and reduces equipment life.”
“Effects could be damage to pumps, valves, boilers o-rings and seals,” says Brian Conroy. “Filtration is very important for the life of your equipment. Using a water filter system will insure great coffee or espresso.”
How often should equipment be cleaned?
At Melitta USA, they advise that coffee carafes should be well-rinsed after each coffee brew. “Approximately every two weeks, all equipment that comes in contact with brewed coffee should be cleaned with hot water and a very small amount of detergent. Make sure that following cleaning with detergent, all items are repeatedly rinsed so that no residual tastes of detergent remain.” Wilbur Curtis advises: “Regular cleaning of your coffee brewer will maintain the highest quality coffee your equipment is capable of producing.”
How, and how often, should one de-lime their equipment?
“Every six months the inside of the heating tank should be de-limed,” according to Wilbur Curtis website. But they warn that a qualified service technician must perform the de-liming procedure.
Expert Brian Conroy says that de-liming an espresso machine or brewer is actually not normal. “It is only needed if the machine was not properly filtered. It also depends on the location of the machine from an above ground water supply or well water supply. If using hard water and the equipment is not filtered, one will need to have this done often.” Brian recommends knowing your water type and filter to reduce service problems and having to replace equipment before its time.
What is the difference between water hardness and softness?
Water hardness is the measurement of calcium carbonate in the water. Soft water can mean two different things. Natural soft water is often considered water that has less than one grain of hardness. Softened water is any type of hard water that has been softened by used of a resin type softener.
Does coffee or tea taste better with filtered water?
According to Melitta, one should use only filtered tap water or bottled water. “We do not recommend using distilled water which is missing minerals that contribute to the water’s taste and aid in extraction.” Water should be fresh and be cold since hot water may have picked up minerals or solubles from your pipes.
What are the effects of water quality on ice machines?
Michael Rice of Follett Ice Machines says that water quality will, of course, have an effect on the ice.
“High mineral content in water, particularly hardness, will adversely impact most ice machines by forming scale as the minerals concentrate when the pure water is frozen into ice. That is why scale inhibitors are often used to treat the water being used to make ice and sometimes advanced technologies such as reverse osmosis and Claris are used to remove minerals.”
Mike’s bottom line is that “good tasting, high quality water will result in good tasting, high quality ice.”
And so does coffee and tea!

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