It’s essential to all life on earth…
and a proper cup of coffee. Water; it makes up a total of ninety-eight percent of your coffee beverage. Think of the blood, sweat, and tears that went into bringing those beans into your kitchen. How can you not give them a proper bath after that journey? In this post I’ll talk about the importance of using the right water for flavor, as well as maintaining your beloved equipment.
First, lets get some of the lingo out of the way. When it comes to water quality for specialty coffee the acronym TDS is thrown out quite a bit. It stands for Total Dissolved Solids, which refers to salts, minerals, and other organic bits that are, you guessed it, dissolved into your water. Another common acronym is PPM, which stands for Parts Per Million. This describes the concentration of a substance in water. Which means 1 PPM is equal to 1 milligram of a substance in 1 liter of water.
Contrary to what your average person may think, you want to keep some of that stuff in your water. Water that is too clean, like distilled, will leach metals from your equipment and cause your coffee to taste extremely bitter or flat. According to the Specialty Coffee Association (SCA) you should aim for a TDS of 70 to 250ppm, with the ideal target being 150ppm.
That being said, there are a few ways to make sure your water isn’t negatively affecting your coffee’s flavor. One is picking up a TDS meter, or what I recommend is La Marzocco’s testing kit. The kit itself will give you some good information on hardness, pH, and chlorine, among many others. The benefit of that is you get a solid overall grasp of your water quality.
Personally, for all my coffee brewing needs I use Crystal Geyser bottled water. It ticks all the boxes, and as a renter it’s less expensive than setting up a reverse osmosis system. The TDS falls into the 125-150ppm range, and still has all the traces of calcium and other minerals to keep your coffee tasting great, and your equipment at minimum risk of costly scale build-up. Which is especially important for espresso machines, which push 9 bars (130 psi) of pressure through a jet that is .07 millimeters in diameter. Think about how small a piece of calcium or debris needs to be to clog up your entire system.
Coffee is a complicated beverage; so many small factors go into making a quality cup. Water, up until recently, seemed to be an often-ignored piece of the puzzle. It means nothing to have the best equipment, the best beans, and the best barista skills if ninety-eight percent of your product is not only damaging your equipment, but also making your coffee taste bad.