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Examining The Relationship Between Coffee & Water

The critical role of water in coffee brewing often goes unrecognized despite it being the largest component in a cup of coffee. In fact, it makes up about 98% of your brewed coffee. Its characteristics can significantly influence the extraction of flavors and aromas from coffee beans. Water quality, ranging from its mineral content to its pH level, has a profound effect on the taste and overall quality of the final brew. Coffee enthusiasts and professionals alike stress the importance of using the right water to ensure that the complex profile of the coffee is adequately highlighted.

Many factors contribute to the dynamics of water used in coffee making. For instance, the presence of certain minerals like magnesium and calcium can enhance the extraction of coffee solubles, affecting acidity, bitterness, and body of the coffee. Conversely, excess levels or the presence of undesirable compounds in water can lead to flat or off-putting flavors. As such, the chemistry of water used in brewing is a field of interest for both scientific research and practical application in the art of coffee making.

Understanding the relationship between water and coffee is essential for baristas and coffee makers, as minor adjustments to the water can transform the quality of the coffee produced. It empowers individuals to tweak their brewing process to achieve a consistent and desired cup of coffee. Recognition of this relationship also encourages collaboration between water scientists and coffee professionals, aiming to optimize water composition for the enhancement of coffee brewing on a larger scale.

The Role of Water in Coffee Brewing

Water quality greatly affects coffee brewing. It is the solvent that extracts the flavors and oils from coffee grounds. Ideally, it should be clean and free of odors or impurities, which can alter the taste of the coffee.

Temperature is crucial; water between 195°F to 205°F optimizes the extraction process. Allowing the water to dissolve soluble compounds effectively without over-extracting, which can result in bitterness, or conversely, under-extracting which can lead to a hollow or sour tasting brew.

Water hardness is a measure of mineral content, primarily calcium and magnesium. Too few minerals can lead to a flat taste, while too many can overpower subtle flavors and hinder proper extraction.

Water Quality Aspect – Desired Characteristics

  • Purity – No odors, chlorine, or impurities
  • Mineral Content – Balanced hardness; not too soft or hard
  • Temperature – Consistent heat within ideal range

The pH level should be neutral, around 7, as acidic or alkaline water can interfere with the extraction process, affecting the overall taste and aroma.

Ideally, you want your water to complement the coffee grounds, creating a harmony that results in the perfect cup. Brewers should always focus on water quality alongside bean selection and particle size to ensure an exceptional brewing experience.

Chemistry of Water and Coffee Extraction

The interaction between water and coffee grounds during brewing is a complex chemical process. The chemistry of the water itself plays a vital role in the flavor extraction from coffee beans.

PH Levels and Mineral Content

Water's pH level and its mineral content significantly affect coffee extraction. Water that is too acidic or has too much alkalinity can lead to under-extraction or over-extraction, respectively. Ideally, water used for coffee should be neutral with a pH level around 7. The presence of minerals like calcium and magnesium aid in the extraction of flavorful compounds. However, excessive minerals can lead to scaling in equipment and an over-extraction of bitter flavors. A balance is necessary for optimal extraction and taste.

Optimal Water Composition for Coffee:

  • pH Level: 7 (Neutral)
  • Minerals:
    • Calcium: 68-100 ppm
    • Magnesium: 18-50 ppm

Water Quality and Its Impact on Flavor

Water quality significantly affects coffee flavor, as water makes up about 98% of a brewed cup of coffee. Impurities or variations in water composition can therefore alter the taste significantly.

Treated Water vs. Tap Water

Filtered water typically removes chlorine, minerals, and organic compounds that may be present in tap water, leading to a more consistent and neutral base for brewing coffee. On the other hand, tap water can vary greatly from place to place; what comes out of the faucet in one city might taste vastly different in another due to the presence of various minerals and additives. A bullet list provides clarity on these distinctions:

  • Treated Water:
    • Removes impurities
    • Offers a consistent taste
  • Tap Water:
    • Contains varying levels of chlorine and minerals
    • Can add unwanted flavors to coffee

Impact of Water Hardness on Taste

Water hardness is determined by the concentration of minerals, particularly calcium and magnesium, in the water. Soft water, having fewer minerals, generally results in a flat or under-extracted taste because it does not extract coffee flavors efficiently. Conversely, hard water, which is rich in minerals, can lead to over-extraction, making the coffee taste bitter. However, a moderate level of hardness can be ideal for extracting the full range of coffee flavors. The relationship can be summarized very simply:

Water Hardness – Impact on Coffee Flavor

  • Soft – Flat, under-extracted
  • Medium – Balanced, full-flavored
  • Hard – Bitter, over-extracted

It is evident that both the type of water used and its mineral content are critical to brewing a cup of coffee that is well-balanced and true to the intended flavor profile.

Brewing Methods and Water Requirements

Water is the solvent that extracts flavors and oils from coffee grounds, and its quality and temperature play a crucial role in the brewing process. Therefore, ensuring that you are using high-quality water in every coffee-brewing process is paramount. Consequently, the type of water that you use will also determine the lifespan of your commercial equipment. For example, while introducing calcium into your treated water can help achieve phenomenal results with filter coffee and pour-overs, it can lead to scale build-up in an espresso machine. Conversely, alkalinity in your water can help act as a buffer against harsh flavors and acidity, but the absence of it can cause corrosion to take place in your machines.

For the aforementioned reasons, we cannot stress the importance of using the best water possible with each and every brewing method. Luckily, we offer a plethora of water treatment kits and cartridges that can aid in reverse osmosis, remineralization, or just simple sediment filtering. Whatever your water needs, we’ve got you covered with the following brands:

OptiPure

Everpure

BWT

Homeland

If you have any questions about how to treat your water to get the best possible result, simply contact us! We love talking about all things coffee and would be thrilled to help you get started on your journey to find the water that will best suit your needs.

Written by James Baxter



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