*This article is written by our roasting expert, Alexander Larsen.
Have you ever wondered why the coffee at your local coffee shop just seems to taste so much better? You purchase and brew their beans. You got a pair of thick rimmed glasses and grew a mustache. You pontificated to your friends about how your local coffee provider gives .01% of their profits to the "Save the Reticulated Squid of the Saharan Rain Forest Foundation." But alas, it just doesn't taste the same at home.
While many factors play into brewing coffee like a professional, a huge step you can take in improving your coffee flavor is making sure you are using the right water. Let's start with some characteristics of water.
He's just so much better than you.
He understands water like you never could.
Total Dissolved Solids
While Total Dissolved Solids may be an accurate description of your 401k after the politicians "saved you from covid-19," it actually refers to the total amount of minerals found in the water you are using. Iron, calcium and magnesium content are particularly important regarding coffee brewing. These minerals are responsible for the process of extracting the oils and other contents of coffee that give each cup its flavor.
They are also responsible for the built up chalky gunk you find on the inside of your coffee brewing equipment. It is important to understand how these minerals behave during the coffee brewing process to improve your coffee flavor and equipment function and longevity.
Homeostasis and the curse of Reverse Osmosis
No, this isn't the name of an upcoming Harry Potter reboot. It is, however, the cause of a lot of coffee brewers' woes. Let's start with water's forbidden desire for homeostasis. No homo.
Homeostasis is water's inherent desire to return to its balanced state. Water in its natural state contains a variety of minerals, microbes, bacteria and other goodies. Modern humans' desire to disinfect and "zero out" every aspect of our life and food has lead to a very unfortunate fate and state of water. Many households and businesses now use water that has been treated by a "reverse osmosis" system to purify it.
"What's wrong with that?" you ask.
"You're drinking water that is intended for science lab experiments." I reply.
"Well, so is the rest of the food I eat." you retort.
"Touché." I mumble.
In truth, "zero water" is actually not super great for us. It was created for medical and scientific experiments that require the molecules H20 with no other organisms interfering. Human bodies were designed by God to consume all sorts of living and naturally occurring material. In addition to missing out on often-deficient minerals and helpful bacteria, your reverse osmosis (R.O.) treated water is also acting like mild acid bomb in your gut.
Your reverse osmosis water at work.
Let's connect the ideas of homeostasis and zero content water. As water travels through a given vessel, it seeks to return to its natural state. Simply put, if water has too much mineral content with in it, water will seek to deposit that excess on the surfaces it travels. This is where lime scale on your shower and brewing equipment comes from. If the water is deficient in minerals (R.O. stripped-water) it will begin pulling minerals from the surfaces it crosses to return to a balanced state.
Anytime I encounter a person who complains of heartburn, I first clarify to see if they are simply talking about their love of Jesus Christ in a very Hillsong fashion. Once they clarify in a now-irritated state that they are actually talking about the constant acidic gurgling sensation that dwells in their throat, I immediately inquire as to whether or not they consume RO water regularly. Unfortunately, most bottled waters, home purifying systems and restaurants utilize RO water systems. I have had great success in relieving people's heartburn issues by making them aware of this little known fact. The sad lifeless water you are consuming is stripping valuable materials out of your body and making your digestive system an acidic pool of despair instead of an alkalized spring of elation.
Hillsong worship group performing their new song "Heartburn for Christ"
How does this relate to coffee brewing?
Enough with the strangely fleshed out descriptive state of your stomach ponds. Let's get to the goods, making your coffee better! Some of you need more minerals in your brewing water. If you are using stripped zero sadness water to brew your coffee, you are going to have stripped zero sadness flavor in your cup. Others of you need less minerals in your water. If you are using chlorine infused talcum powder lime juice to brew your coffee, you will have chlorine infused talcum powder lime juice flavor in your cup.
According to the Specialty Coffee Association of American standard, you should aim for 150 parts per million total dissolved solids in your brewing water to achieve maximum extraction. This amount will provide all the flavors of your favorite roast without muddying it up with unwanted extras.
Additionally, this level of mineral content will help to eliminate limescale build up deposits from hard water. It will also prevent pressure loss and leaky pipes in your system caused by corrosive zero state water. I will give you some quick and easy "solutions" on how to achieve this at the end of this article.
Tasting Notes: Fluoride, Chlorine, Phentynol, Stonefruit, Citrus
I live in the greater Phoenix, Arizona area. People who visit here often comment on just how putrid the water smells and tastes. This is mostly due to the fact that we live in an incredibly unsustainable city in the middle of a very brutal desert. Our Mad Max like environment that we dementedly choose to dwell in (for reasons none of us yet know) derives its water from surface aquifers. These underground water caverns are full of creatures and materials you may have seen in fictional shows such as Teenage Mutant Ninja Turtles, Attack of the Killer Tomatoes or Mike Rowe's Dirty Jobs.
To counter this delightful trait of our "water sources," local municipalities here take a sadistic joy in seeing how tightly they can scun the margin of legality in regard to Chlorine and Fluoride content in our water.
To make matters worse, people who live in Phoenix generally aren't right in the head. Sunshine is good for you. Surface of the sunshine, debatable. Often times, people suffering from the sunlight induced dementia of 330 cloudless days resort to narcotics to deal with the unrelenting gaze of Sauron. The waste from these products often end up in our sewer system.
Chemicals such as the above listed are not generally desirable tasting notes in your morning cup of Joe, nor great for your health. Reverse Osmosis does remove these, revealing one benefit to such purifying method. But I just told you not to strip your water. You're so confused. This is starting to sound like a Coronavirus task force briefing. Now you know why Specialty Coffee is such big business. It takes a lot of care to brew a truly tasty cup.
"Alexander, your sciency language and amazingly talented way of conveying ideas is so impressive and attractive. But I have a family, a job, a house to take care of, 14 seasons of "Friends" to re-watch and a list of about 213 other things I would rather do than measure TDS and chemical content of my brewing water."
While I do take that personally and feel attacked... and flattered, I have some simple "solutions" for you that do not require much investment. Do one of the following to improve your coffee brewing water today!
Brewing water solutions
You have a reverse osmosis water in your home.
Solution : You need minerals in that water.
- 1st place: Install a mineral injecting filter at the source you use to fill your brew water. These devices will inject minerals into reverse osmosis water to replace the materials stripped from it. This is also recommended in general for your health.
- 2nd place: Third wave water offers a powder that you can add to your reverse osmosis water and bring it to the perfect total dissolved solids level for brewing coffee. They sell 1 gallon and 5 gallon solution powders.
- 3rd place: A more accessible solution is to simply buy natural bottled spring water. The key is to make sure that it was not processed with reverse osmosis. Spring water is the most commonly available water that has good TDS and no chemicals.
You have straight tap water, unfiltered.
Solution: You need chemical free water with less minerals in it.
- 1st place: Purchase a filtering system for one of your water faucets sources that removes Chlorine, Fluoride and other chemicals. In most places, especially near mountains, municipal water has good TDS for brewing. You just need to take out the chemicals that cause flavor.
- 2nd place: Reverse Osmosis water jugs (often called "purified water") from the store + Third wave water powder. This will provide chemical free, mineral balanced water for brewing.
- 3rd place: 1 gallon spring water jugs from the store.
- Brita Filter: Though each Brita varies in what it filters, in general they are good for producing brewing water. The reason is that they filter out Chlorine across the board, take out heavy metals, and leave the three golden minerals we are looking for extraction. So over all I would say it's a pretty good solution for the price.
- Berkey Filter: Berkey filters are an awesome solution if you have the funds to get your hands on one. They are truly a great system. They filter out all types of heavy metals, chemicals and other contaminants from tap water. However, they leave the minerals in the water that are oh so precious to our bodies and our brewing water. If you are dissatisfied with your tap water or you are drinking reverse osmosis water, I would say this is actually one of the better solutions.
If you made it this far. I commend you. Also, what's wrong with you? Not many people would read that much about water and coffee brewing science. Well, I know what's wrong with you. You're a coffee weirdo like the rest of us and we love you for it. What other coffee science subjects would you like to learn about? Has your brewing improved because of this article? Shoot us an email and let us know here.
Order some expertly roasted coffee to test your new TDS brew skills here.