Water: The forgotten ingredient

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20th of February 2017

Whether you see the brewing of coffee as a science, an artform or an alchemy, one thing is clear: the ingredients matter. And yet, of the two principal ingredients in coffee, one of them is often neglected. Water.

Over the coming weeks, we are going to look at the different types of water for coffee, how using the correct water can help maintain your coffee machines; we are going to tell you more about water TDS and extraction. But, to start with we are going to ask a question…

If water makes up 97% of our brew, why is it seen as the least important ingredient?

It’s true, water is around 97% of every cup of coffee we brew. And yet, it’s the ingredient many probably think about the least. But, as any passionate, informed barista will tell you: water is vital. And not just because of the brewing taste. It’s also an essential in maintaining your coffee brewing equipment. We’re going to find out why…

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Well, for a start, water can completely transform the character of brewed coffee. Water contains a vast number of minerals that contribute to the flavour of coffee when it’s brewed. Part of the reason is that, chemically speaking, most brewing water is not pure. This is not to say that it’s bad, just that water varies significantly from place to place. These water ‘impurities’ include dissolved minerals, chemicals and gases, all of which have an effect on the taste of brewed coffee. A particular type of water can help accentuate coffee’s acidity or it can remove this taste entirely. Good tasting coffee needs metallic ions (like calcium and magnesium) to properly interact with the flavour molecules in the coffee grounds. For instance, research has shown that the element magnesium combines with eugenol (a chemical found in coffee) resulting in a pleasing, well-balanced taste. As with all forms of chemistry, adding two elements together causes a reaction. In coffee making, the extraction (the way water dissolves the coffee’s flavours) fundamentally define the taste of the brew. So it stands to reason that using water which effectively balances these flavours is essential. And, on the flip-side, using the wrong water will negatively impact upon this taste.

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When brewing your coffee using an espresso machine, one of the other factors to consider is the condition of the machine’s boiler. While baristas the world over, have found the design of a classic dual-boiler system is great for making coffee in busy coffee shops, bars, restaurants and hotels, over time the water you are putting into the machine can have a drastic impact the durability of your coffee machines—particularly if it’s the wrong variety. As all coffee practitioners will know, certain types of water can cause a buildup of scale (the mineral-based deposits from your water that coat the internal surfaces of your boiler) which, with frequent use, can cause the machine to not perform at its highest capability. For a start, scale build-up in your coffee machine boiler can lead to inefficient heating. This can cause brewing temperature variations, which can significantly affect coffee flavour. If the temperature is too low, your coffee is going to be acidic; if it’s too high, it’s going to taste bitter. This scale can also break off and clog up other parts of your machine. If left unchecked this can lead to expensive repairs. While descaling regularly can help to maintain your coffee machines, by avoiding hard water, which is high in minerals, you can preemptively help to reduce the problem. Not only will this allow your machine to run effectively, it will also extend the life of your investment.

So now we know a few of the issues with using the wrong types of water for making coffee. Being conscious of the water you’re using is essential—both to the taste of your coffee and to the longevity of your coffee machine. Over the coming weeks, we are going to talk more about types of water, extraction and the science behind finding the perfect brewing balance, temperature and consistency for coffee. Captura de pantalla 2018-02-20 a las 16.03.44

 

Future VISION

Worried about getting the right water for your coffee machine? Our friends over at Iberital have developed a revolutionary new state-of-the-art espresso machine the Iberital VISION, which employs a unique, new boiler system—the first of its kind in the world. The multi-boiler system of the VISION coffee machine utilises a completely separate water system for coffee, tea and for the steamer. The result is fresh water without the usual residual salt build-up, helping create consistency in your coffee brewing and longevity in your coffee machine.

Want to see a VISION of the future? Head over to the Iberital website for more details.

Pics by Naty Creci, Salva López and Levi Xu.