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"It's the Water..."
Improving Coffee and Tea Taste


Different geographical areas of the country have different water issues, with which they have to deal, and Marcotte gives us a few examples. “In southern California, it’s about mitigating the TDS and hardness. And in a place like Seattle, San Francisco or New York, it’s an issue of actually adding something into the water, instead of taking something away from it.”

Marcotte attempted to differentiate his company from larger water companies that may tend to take their water filtration equipment solutions and apply them to a variety market. “We find that the specialty coffee market is unique and it really needs an exact water ingredient, “ he says. “And it really requires a lot more attention to detail, than say, just general food service or the convenience store industry or the grocery store industry. Specialty coffee is a very unique industry. So what we do is not just build the equipment, but we have the support structure to service the equipment and we sort of customize that equipment to meet the needs of the specialty coffee retailer.”

In order to better market the Water System Group’s approach to their coffee industry’s water challenges, it recently launched the CIRQUA Customized Water division, a newly-formed branded division of the company.

The CIRQUA brand was developed in response to what the company believes were emerging needs of many foodservice operators to gain greater control over the incoming water supplies used for product preparation in coffee, tea, ice and carbonated beverages. CIRQUA Customized Water is designed to ensure more precise product consistency, especially for national retail chains, across the widely varying quality of regional water supplies. CIRQUA has used this model with their multi-store clients such as Starbucks Coffee, Wolfgang Puck Cafés and Peet’s Coffee & Tea.

According to Martin Swanson, vice president of operations of the Water System Group, “CIRQUA is in the business of customizing water for the specific needs of our customers. The development of CIRQUA is a natural extension of our ability to provide the finest in water filtration to principals in other food-related categories who view water not only as an operational resource but also as a key ingredient. As we grow, we find enormous interest from other food-related categories such as restaurant, baking, grocery and hospitality regarding our ability to provide the right water for their needs.” He continues, “As water continues to gain strength as a premium commodity, our customers rely on us to reproduce that quality in their cafes, restaurants, grocery stores and hotels as a key ingredient for their specific needs. CIRQUA Customized Water customizes programs for these companies and cost-effectively manages these programs across their multi-unit chains.”

Selecto Scientific, Inc. is a research and development company as well as a water filtration manufacturer. The Suwanee, Georgia, company began in the pharmaceutical industry and then later crossed over in to the foodservice industry. Bob Nist, national sales manager, talked about the goals the company first identified. “Most people don’t think of water as an ingredient. This is an education process that we’ve been trying to do along with a lot of people in the industry over the years to understand that water is the primary ingredient and it’s the only ingredient that you have virtually no control over. It’s whatever comes through the pipes, into the building, from the municipality, that’s what you have to work with. Municipalities, they have a tremendous amount of concern from the standpoint of FDA requirements, where they have to make water aesthetically pleasing to look at and not make you sick. That’s the requirements that the government puts on water. And in order to do that, there’s a lot of additives, a lot of things being put in water. Some of those additives, while they don’t hurt us, do cause adverse effects when you start using them as an ingredient. So what we try to do is develop systems that will address removing things from the water that will do that.”

He also speaks about conflicts between the two functions of water treatment: those concerning equipment and those concerning beverage taste. Selecto attempts to resolve this conflict with their systems. “If you talk to manufacturers of equipment, they’ll tell you they want the minerals removed - because by removing the minerals, the equipment lasts longer. The downside of this is that when you remove the minerals from the water, coffee manufacturers don’t want that because it adversely affects the flavor of the coffee and how the coffee behaves. So you’ve got this kind of push/pull thing going on. As a filtration company, we try and be in the middle where we can create solutions to both problems. We dealt with it in two forms. Our particular technology that we’ve developed is called nano-crystal technology, and what that basically means is that we take calcium and we literally break it down into what is called a nanocrystal carbon dioxide. When that takes place within our filter system, the calcium is still there in the water, but it loses much of its ability to stick to things, so you don’t have it sticking to the heating elements and the insides of the broilers and the coffee brewing elements and so on. It reduces maintenance costs and I always emphasize that it’s not a cure-all. It doesn’t eliminate maintenance. It greatly reduces those maintenance headaches, while giving you a very high-quality water.”

Nist explained the an alternative technology that they have developed at Selecto. “We also use something called hydrogen resin technology. It’s a little different, in that if you have a very high mineral content in water, where it really presents a problem in any application, as far as equipment, we have a filtration system that’s two stages. The first stage is the one that removes all the chlorine and the chloramines and the tastes and the dirt and the sediment. Then the second is the hydrogen resin and what it is, is a water softener. But it’s a softener that does not use salt. Salt is the culprit when you brew coffee because the over-extraction causes the problems with flavor. So we’ve developed a process where we can soften water, reduce the mineral content by about 90% - we still leave enough in there so you have the flavor that the coffee companies want. But we reduce them enough that you don’t have the high maintenance cost on equipment.”

The water treatment business is clearly becoming more sophisticated and less “cookie-cutter” in its approach to its customers’ problems. Water truly is the primary ingredient in a cup of coffee or tea and it’s clear that these water technology companies are trying to make sure that their work enhances the quality of the beverages, while not detracting this in any way. Roasters and tea purveyors are well-advised to keep abreast of the latest offerings from the water treatment industry and make sure that those solutions are in place anywhere their coffee and/or tea is being served.

Tea & Coffee - July/August, 2002

Theta Ridge Coffee

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