Coffee, Anyone?

Nov. 4, 2016
The importance of water quality during coffee brewing & preparation

About the author: Andrew Roberts is assistant sales manager for Industrial Test Systems Inc. Roberts can be reached at [email protected] or 803.329.9712.

“The art of coffee brewing is in controlling the variables; and water quality must be controlled, and held in balance, in order to achieve a flavorful beverage,” wrote David Beeman and Paul Songer in The Water Quality Handbook. 

Think about it—approximately 98% of your cup of coffee is made up of water and because of this, the quality of your brew is directly linked to the water used to prepare it. The problem is that not all water is the same. The primary factors affecting water quality are location, source, filtration methods used and other special preparations done prior to brewing.  

We all know water is composed of two elements, hydrogen and oxygen. However, water is rarely found in its raw form without anything else in it, such as heavy metals and minerals. This should be taken into consideration when selecting a water source. 

Testing Parameters 

In recent years, developments in water testing technologies have enabled onsite water testing to become more cost-efficient and user friendly. 

Certain test results are key for the coffee brewing process. The testing parameters used are determined by the water source. Water acquired from a municipally supplied source often contains chlorine or chloramines, which can give a coffee a plastic “bandage” taste. When it comes to well water, the hardness and mineral content varies from coast to coast. Because of this, coffee brewers using a well water source should consider which minerals potentially are being introduced to their brews. 

The most common water quality parameters checked are: 

  • Chlorine;
  • pH;
  • Total alkalinity;
  • Residual alkalinity;
  • Total hardness;
  • Chloride; and
  • Iron. 

Onsite Testing

The aforementioned parameters may seem like an exhausting list for coffee brewers to consider. However, software now is available to input and calculate these particular known parameters in order to generate a full remediation report and instructions. 

Water tested with a traditional test kit will only determine a few of these parameters; mathematics using known ratios of the secondary parameters associated with the primary indicated parameters must be used to determine the remaining undetected parameters. Due to the complication of this procedure, the user must be well versed in mathematics and water quality testing. Fortunately, new water quality testing products on the market use software to automatically interpret and calculate these parameters, making the process easier. 

There are many reasons a brewer might want to use an onsite testing kit, including quality of the brew and longevity of coffee machines. The parameters on municipal water quality reports are seldom updated, and the water samples for the reports typically are taken from a location other than where the coffee is prepared. This produces a “good guess” report, but may not be a true reflection of the water the brewer is using. 

When using offsite water testing laboratories, water samples are collected at the brewer’s water source and shipped to the laboratory. The sample could become degraded due to transit times, heat exposure, aeration or contamination by the container used to transport the water, which could cause an erroneous report to be delivered back to the coffee brewer. 

The coffee industry is one of the largest consumer industries, with coffee consumption reaching more than 20 million bags of coffee per year in the U.S. The onsite testing option allows for quick, easy and cost-effective results that are accurate and up to date. Innovative tests use automatic calculators and Bluetooth technology to interact with mobile apps specifically designed to test water. This allows for the brewer to utilize his or her smartphone or tablet in conjunction with a testing meter to quickly evaluate the water, add testing notes, save the testing data, and share the information with colleagues. Most importantly, brewers can ensure their water quality is on point every time, allowing for the perfect cup and long life for the machines used to make it.

About the Author

Andrew Roberts

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