The Importance of Water
Water and Coffee
You can’t make great coffee without good water. What makes water good? Well there are actually a couple of things to consider. I won't get too technical here, but I really want you to understand some of the basics that can help you feel empowered to make your best cup each day.
Don’t Use Tap Water
There may be a few places around the country that just happen to have tap water which makes decent coffee. If you are in one of these blessed municipalities, chances are you know who you are. For the rest of us, knowledge is power.
Get ahold of a copy of your city’s water report. This can typically be accomplished with a quick internet search. Here you will see a lot of information about your local water. Some of this will have a huge impact on how your coffee will taste and how long your brewing equipment will last were you to use tap water.
The SCAA Is Your Friend
The SCAA (Specialty Coffee Association of America) has provided a list of what they determine to be ideal ranges of particular solids and total solids in coffee brew water. You can see it here. This takes into consideration things like water hardness, certain mineral content, total dissolved solids, and pH. Some of these things effect extraction (that means how your coffee will taste) while some effect your equipment and some impact both. If you really want to geek out about why, you can check out an interesting book called ‘Water For Coffee’ by Maxwell Colonna-Dashwood. Here is the link. His findings expand on what the SCAA has concluded.
If you are like me, you live somewhere where the tap water is nowhere close to these ranges. Keep in mind, these have been determined to be the ‘ideals’ and there is going to be some give and take no matter what you do.
You might be tempted to go in the completely other direction and remove everything. You can find distilled water (water with no added minerals) at any grocery store. Distilled water is great for car batteries but it is not the best for your coffee or your equipment. There is a reason that the ranges the SCAA provides do not go down to zero. You need some stuff in your water. Again, more information on why can be found in the book by Colonna-Dashwood. Trust me though, I have done the taste test. Distilled water may not be best for brewing, but it is not without a purpose here…
Making Coffee Water
If you have a home RO system (lucky you!), you can easily calibrate it to put out an acceptable range of TDS. If you don’t have one, you can make your own coffee water in seconds for relatively cheap. All you need is a TDS reader ($12 online) distilled water ($1 per gallon), some tap water, and a gravity carbon filter (like Brita) if your tap water happens to have any color or odor. Decide what your target is. You probably won’t be able to get all the elements in the perfect range, but I guarantee that getting them as close as possible will make a difference you can taste. An added bonus is you will see your brewing equipment last longer and have little to no scale build up over time.
This is getting you started with the very basics. The science of water and coffee is something that the specialty industry is just beginning to explore and at this stage every home brewer can be a fellow scientist.