Coffee 101: The Importance of Water

By Ruth Ann Petroff
Coffee 101: The Importance of Water
At one of the first coffee brewing classes I attended, the instructor started by saying, ‘water is the most important aspect of coffee, but we’re not going to talk much about it because it’s too hard to control.’

It is hard, but worth understanding the basics. Water is NOT just about the flavors and aromas it imparts on the coffee, but equally or even more important is the characteristics IN the water that allow proper coffee extraction.

In a professional environment, accurate testing gear is essential. At home, a simple test strip from a hardware store can work.  In an ideal world, we would use reverse-osmosis to strip the water and then run it through filters that add the components we want in the ratios we want. The systems that do this are very expensive.
Most people do the best they can to find an appropriate water filter. The readings will change over the life of the filter. However, it’s a good alternative.
Some folks choose to use bottled water. We’ve tested quite a few brands. The closest we’ve found to SCA standards is Arrowhead, but the one I like the best is Aqua Vista out of a limestone well in the Bighorn Mountains.

Basically, the water should be clean, fresh, chlorine-free, odor-free and color-free!

We want some hardness in the water. It would be great for our equipment if we could use soft or distilled water, but if you think about taking a shower in soft water and how it kind of skates over you, it’s the same with coffee. Soft water skates over the grounds – you need some hardness.  Too much hardness and the bicarbonate will neutralize some of the most flavorful aspects of the brew.

150 ppm or mg/l is ideal.
The acceptable range is 75-250 ppm.
Neutral ph Alkalinity at or near 40 mg/liter
Sodium at or near 10 mg/liter
Calcium 17-85 mg/liter

Some things you might hear about water:
Use fresh, cold water. This advice comes from not wanting water that’s been sitting in your hot water tank. Hot water also can pick up more particulate from your home’s pipes. Moreover, hot water doesn’t perform well in water filters.

For hot brew methods, brew at a temperature between 197 and 202 degrees. We want the water to be just below boiling. Boiling evaporates some of the water, leaving a higher concentration of hardness.  However, hotter water will extract volatile compounds faster, which is generally desirable, especially for drip and pour over methods.

At a higher altitude, we’re brewing at – or even below – that ideal temperature. That’s the same, for most home brewers, which is why it’s hard to get a good brew from cheaper home brewers. We compensate in other ways, like a finer grind and more turbulence.
We hope you enjoyed this water tutorial! Give it a try with our certified organic Calamity Jane Cafe Femenino blend.

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