In short, a cup of coffee is 98% water, so the quality of water you use will have a important impact on the quality of your coffee and its taste.
When it comes to crafting the perfect cup of coffee, we all know that it’s important to choose high-quality beans and to use an accurate brewing method, but did you know that the kind of water you brew with can also make a huge difference?
When it comes to coffee, no variable can be left to chance, and using something as seemingly trivial as plain old tap water to brew your coffee could inadvertently be affecting the overall quality of your finished cup.
However, when you really think about it, the importance of water in the coffee brewing process makes perfect sense and you may want to ask yourself What kind of water should you be using to brew coffee, and what difference does it really make?
That’s exactly what I am going to be talking about today!
Tap Water and Coffee
For most people, using tap water to brew their coffee is an absolute no-brainer. It’s easy and accessible, but it might also have a negative impact on the quality of your coffee.
Depending on where you live, the tap water that comes out of your sinks might come from a nearby lake, river, or from groundwater. These different water sources mean that the quality and taste of tap water differs from region to region.
In the United States, you can generally expect tap water in the Northeast and Midwest to have higher levels of phosphate. In agricultural areas, tap water often has high levels of nitrate runoff.
In the western United States, tap water often tastes saltier, since these areas rely on brackish (salty) groundwater as a crucial source of drinking water.
No matter where you live, there’s a chance that your tap water contains traces of aluminum, copper, and manganese, among many other compounds, which could impart a slightly acidic or metallic taste to your tap water.
Consequently, even if your tap water has been 100% approved as safe to drink, its taste still might not be ideal. This unpleasant taste carries over when you use tap water to brew your coffee, potentially causing it to taste a little acidic or a little metallic, even if you’re using the best quality coffee beans and a tried-and-true brewing method.
Additionally, depending on where you live, the hardness or softness of your tap water could be impacting the taste of your coffee. Soft water has been treated to contain only sodium ions, as opposed to hard water, which contains other dissolved minerals like calcium, magnesium, and lime.
Additional dissolved minerals might sound bad, most people actually prefer the taste of hard water to soft water, which often has a slightly salty flavor.
In the United States, states in the Midwest generally have the hardest water, whereas the states along the East Coast, northern California, and the Pacific Northwest have the softest water.
In the world of coffee, there’s actually a fair amount of debate raging over whether or not hard water should be used for brewing.
The anti-hard water camp believes that the added minerals muddy up the taste of the coffee, leaving a finished product that tastes bitterer than it should.
The pro-hard water camp asserts that the additional minerals in hard water can “grab onto” the flavor compounds in coffee beans, creating a more robust flavor profile. If you live in an area with hard tap water, it’s pretty easy to test your preferences for yourself.
Brew one batch of coffee using regular old tap water, and then brew another batch of coffee using distilled or purified water. If you’re able to taste a noticeable difference between the two batches, then you can decide for yourself which type of water imparts a better flavor into your coffee!
Distilled and Purified Water
Speaking of distilled and purified water, there actually is a difference between the two. Distilled water is made by boiling contaminated water until it turns to steam.
Many minerals and metals have a much higher boiling point than that of water (212°F), which means that they get left behind when the water turns to steam.
Once the mineral-free steam condenses back into liquid water, it’s officially been distilled! The only problem with the process of water distillation is that many water contaminants have a lower boiling point than that of water. These contaminants also turn to steam along with water, which means that they still remain incorporated into the finished product of distilled water.
In order to truly eradicate all contaminants from water, you need to undergo additional steps besides just distillation. Purified water starts as distilled water.
In order to remove all of the remaining contaminants, water purification facilities a series of methods: coagulation and flocculation, sedimentation, filtration, and disinfection. Coagulation and flocculation involves adding positively charged chemicals to distilled water, which bind with negatively charged contaminants to form large contaminate particles called floc.
During the process of sedimentation, floc settles to the bottom of the water and can be removed. During the process of filtration, the floc-less water flows through various filters to remove any remaining dust, bacteria, and chemicals.
Finally, the process of disinfection uses chemicals like chlorine to kill off any remaining organic contaminants. After all of this is done, you’re left with purified water!
If your taps produce hard, mineral-laden water, but you find that you prefer the taste of coffee brewed with soft water, there are a number of ways that you can filter your water at home to achieve your desired coffee flavor.
Pitcher Filter Water
One of the easiest and most cost-effective ways to do this is with a pitcher filter, which uses an activated carbon filter to remove impurities, odors, and chlorine from your tap water.
The only downside to pitcher filters is that they can only hold about a gallon of water at a time, and they require that you replace their filters rather frequently. You can also buy a faucet-mounted filter, which attaches to your sink to filter your tap water as it comes out of the spout. If you don’t want to go through all of the trouble of buying a filter just to brew coffee, you can also try brewing your coffee with bottled water.
However, there is a caveat — different brands of bottled water have different mineral contents and pH balances, and not all brands are equally well-suited to brewing coffee. Some brands of bottled water are very alkaline, or basic, meaning that they have a high pH balance.
Other brands are more acidic, meaning that they have a low pH balance. Additionally, different brands of bottled water add different minerals that change the taste of the water.
If you’re looking for a brand of bottled water that’s well-suited for brewing coffee, try to find one that contains, added magnesium, NOT added calcium. This is because magnesium is great for “sticking” to the flavor compounds in coffee beans, whereas calcium can contribute a bitter flavor to your finished cup of coffee.
Third Wave Water
One of the most intriguing new innovations in the world of coffee brewing is Third Wave Water, a company that produces mineral-enhanced, flavor-optimizing packets designed specifically to enhance the coffee brewing process.
These packets (found on Amazon)are incredibly easy to use, and they come in an array of different variants that’ll work for any coffee machine or brewing method.
All you need to do is empty a packet of Third Wave Water into a gallon of distilled water and shake. Once the contents of the packet are fully dissolved, you’ll have a gallon of water that’s perfectly calibrated for the most delicious coffee results. Third Wave Water can be used with any variety of drip brewers, including Mr. Coffee machines and Keurigs.
It can also be used for manual brew methods, like a French Press or a pour over. If espresso is more your style, Third Wave Water also makes flavor-optimizing packets designed specifically to optimize the flavor of your morning espresso.
These espresso packets are especially convenient, since regular hard tap water is often liable to damaging the delicate inner mechanisms of espresso machines with its mineral residue.
Third Wave Water’s espresso flavor packets will leave no such residue behind, saving you from having to repair or repurchase your favorite espresso machine due to water damage.
If you’re really obsessed with maximizing the flavor and quality of your coffee, and are looking to take your brewing game to the next level, you should totally give Third Wave Water packets a try!
As you can see, something as basic as water can actually have a huge impact on the quality of your home-brewed cup of coffee.
Most people are totally content to just use regular old tap water to brew their coffee, but if you’re really serious about customizing your perfect brew, experimenting with different kinds of water might be worth a shot.
Try using harder or softer water, more alkaline or more acidic water, distilled or purified water, or even Third Wave Water packets to calibrate your perfect cup of coffee!