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The Water We Drink:
A Critical Component of Beverages


By Neal Robinson

Neal Robinson of BUNN reveals the importance of quality water in developing a great tasting cup of coffee or tea.


When we think about a cup of coffee or tea, we don’t normally think about water. Instead, we equate the flavor of the beverage to the variety of coffee or tea, the producing country, or the roaster. We might also consider how the beverage is brewed and how the elements of time, temperature, and turbulence are applied to affect the final brew.

While all these elements are important -- even critical to the quality of the final beverage served -- the fact is that you cannot dispense a great tasting cup of tea or coffee without the great-tasting water.

Many may ask why is water so important? A cup of coffee, espresso, or tea is 98% water - where only 2% of your beverage coffee or tea making the final brew extremely dependent on water. You can spend a fortune purchasing the best quality coffee beans or tea leaves, and then serve a less than perfect beverage if you brew with inferior water. Even if you serve post-mix beverages like juice or carbonated soda, you must consider the water quality, because water composes 83% of these beverages.

Since less than 1% of all water provided by the municipal water supply is used for drinking - the vast majority is targeted for other purposes - water safety is the top priority, taste is not. Yet these qualities are of paramount importance to assure superior beverage quality.

Water - Where Does It Come From And How Safe Is It?
The source of your water plays a critical role in its quality. Most drinking water comes from one of three sources: natural watersheds, groundwater, or man-made collection receptacles.

Natural watershed networks include rivers, streams and lakes, and are the most obvious source for drinking water. However, groundwater is also a major source of drinking water. Groundwater is water that has seeped underground and formed pools. Finally, water is collected in man-made receptacles like irrigation canals, reservoirs, wells, and water towers.

Regardless of the water source, it must first be made safe to drink. Usually this is done at municipal water treatment facilities by adding chemicals like chlorine. While these chemicals make the water safe by killing bacteria, they also degrade its taste and odor.

Municipalities rarely attempt to improve the hardness of the water. Hard water contains minerals like calcium and magnesium, which can build up inside beverage equipment and lead to costly downtime. Did you know that 60% of equipment failures are due to poor water quality? Hard water can wreak havoc in your brewing system, and a credit card-like thickness of lime can create a 30% energy deficiency.

Discover Water Problems By Testing Water Quality
It’s easy to identify the most common water problems by conducting three simple tests:

Test One
Hold a clear glass of water up to the light. It should appear crystal clear. If you see particles or tints of color, the taste of your water and beverages may suffer from a sediment problem.

Tap water often contains microscopic, suspended particles such as rust flakes from pipes, sand grains, and organic matter invisible to the human eye. High levels of these sediments will detract from the appeal of your brewed or mixed beverages. In addition, sediment can clog your beverage equipment, affecting its performance and increasing your service costs.

Test Two
Draw a glass of water directly from the faucet. Immediately hold it to your nose, smell it, and take a sip. Then open your icemaker door to smell, then taste an ice cube. Is there an odor or taste of any kind? If there is, you have a water quality problem that can have several causes.

Chlorine, required in municipal water supplies, can give water a bitter taste and a strong odor. Other tastes and odors, such as “rotten egg” or “musty” smells, result from naturally occurring elements and minerals in both tap water and well water. Achieving tasteless and odorless water is the key for consistently high beverage quality.

Test Three
Check for white lime scale deposits on the hot water faucet on your coffee brewer. Lime scale indicates high levels of minerals that will adversely affect your beverage equipment’s performance and increase service costs over time.

Natural minerals in your water are the cause of lime scale deposits in your beverage equipment. When water is heated or frozen, the minerals precipitate out and continue to leave a deposit. Excessive lime scale deposits or “hardness” of water will affect the performance of heating elements, reduce the volume of water in heating tanks, and clog - or even close - tubing. You’ll see higher service maintenance and energy bills as a result.

Water Filtration - A Solution to Your Beverage Program’s Problems
Since water plays such an important role in the success of your beverage program, it’s important to use the right water filtration solution to solve water quality problems.

If you took test three and spotted lime scale, you may have determined that you have “hard” water, or water with many mineral deposits. Ion exchange systems or water softeners, exchange calcium and magnesium in the water for sodium, thus reducing its mineral content so that little or no hardness remains in the water. However, by doing this, water taste may suffer and cause filter overflows in filter brew systems.

If your beverage program includes an espresso machine, you may need an ion exchange system or water softener. However, because of the overflow and taste issues, this type of filtration is not recommended for drip coffee brewers.

Inhibitors are another filtration method that reduces the effects of water hardness by sequestering the lime forming minerals in the water. Recommended for filter-style coffee brewers, inhibitors are inexpensive and have no negative effect on taste or odor; but they do not eliminate the minerals in water, just reduce them. As a result, lime scale build-up may still present a problem over time.

Carbon filters can help taste and odor problems by oxidizing all particles on the surfaces of the carbon particles so that they attract and hold organic substances and chlorine. These filters do not address water hardness problems and can be used with both espresso machines and coffee brewers.

If your tap water contains suspended particles, such as dirt, rust flakes, sand, and other organic materials (test one), you may want to use a sediment filter. Sediment filters trap debris, prevent equipment clogs, and may cause issues with beverage clarity. While these filters do an excellent job of trapping sediment, you’ll need a separate filtration system for hard water and water with taste and odor problems. Sediments filters are recommended for use with both espresso machines and coffee brewers.

Combination Filters For Multiple Water Problems
If your water has problems with sediment, taste and odor, and hardness, you may want to investigate a 3-in-1 filter. These filters contain an inhibitor, sediment removal, and a carbon filter in one housing. The 3-in-1 filters use silophos, graded density filter media, and activated carbon.

Silophos are a colorless, tasteless, and odorless food-grade mineral consisting of polyphosphate and silicate compounds. This unique combination inhibits scale and corrosion caused by hard water by sequestering or “tying up” calcium and magnesium. This filter also acts to coat all internal piping with a slippery material called silicate, preventing lime scale build-up.

Graded density filter media is constructed so that the spaces between the fibers is increasingly smaller towards the inside of the filter. With this design, the larger particles are trapped on the outer layers and the smaller ones towards the center, to ensure optimum filter life.

Activated carbon is constructed from a wide variety of materials such as wood, peat, nut shell, and petroleum.

Maintain Beverage Profits With Regular Filter Care
The world of water filtration is complex, so it’s important to work with a professional to specify a system to meet your needs. Water hardness, chemical content, and capacity will affect a system’s needs. Make sure the system is easy to maintain. For example, some systems have built-in shut-off valves for easy cartridge changing. Finally, once you have selected a water filtration system, maintain it by changing the filter cartridges regularly - generally every six months.

It is critical to have a through comprehension of the significance of water, even before you begin to cup coffee or brew a pot of tea. Eventually, after following the simple tests and practicing your skills, you will relish in the benefits of water that will have a lasting impact on your cup of coffee or tea.

About the Author: Neal Robinson is the senior vice president of international sales for the BUNN Corporation. He is a frequently requested speaker at several tea and coffee conferences.


Tea & Coffee - September/October, 2006
ASIC 2014

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