Pro-Tips from the Baristi!

unnamedWhen walking into the Coffee Company, you’re immediately greeted with a towering messenger. A quirky, handwritten board that welcomes you with all the wonderful flavors in our different coffees. When you’ve made your decision, the coffee arrives, and you take your first sip, sudden waves of flavor wash over your tongue and seem to fill your entire mouth. Those flavors are dependent on coffee origin, brewing method, and temperature (among other things). But did you know the flavors are also heavily dependent on water quality? Water may be the most important vehicle for flavor in our favorite morning beverage. No surprise there, as water makes up more than 90% of our beverage. In fact most brewed coffee is closer to 95% water!

We spend a lot of time thinking about how to make our coffee taste its best, so naturally water becomes a hot issue. We, at the Coffee Company have gone to great lengths to make sure our water is as good as it gets. Our filtration system uses reverse osmosis (the same process that won my elementary school science fair!) to break water down into pure H2O, then we have special formulas that balance the water’s mineral, alkaline, and pH levels. These levels are based off the Speciality Coffee Association of America’s (SCAA) recommendation for water used for coffee brewing.

But how much difference can the water quality make? Well, to help educate ourselves, and experience first hand the effect of water, we got together and had what we call a “klatch.” A klatch is basically a social meeting that usually focuses on coffee. We use them as a tool to educate ourselves about our product. This time we used the klatch to put water on trial, to discover if all this fuss is necessary.

We started with a conversation about water and what’s in what we drink. Things like chlorine content, total dissolved solids (mineral content relating to volume), calcium hardness, alkalinity, pH levels, and sodium. We went over the recommended levels and compared them to the levels found in local water samples from homes and businesses around town. Then we gathered water samples from a variety of sources, including: Ann Arbor city water, distilled water, and our own filtered water. We tasted each water and evaluated them for taste, aroma, and mouthfeel. To no surprise we all agreed that our filtered water was the best, with distilled being the next best, and Ann Arbor water bringing up the rear. We talked about the waters in the context of the SCAA recommendations. The filtered water felt almost sweet, very smooth, and refreshing, the distilled water felt very flat but pleasant, and the Ann Arbor city water was very metallic.

Rarely do we spend time tasting waters side by side so it was a surprise to many just how big the differences were. What was even more surprising was the difference it made in coffee. Coffee needs some minerality to help extract itself into the cup. Without it, the flavor is very flat and uninteresting. So when tasting coffee brewed with distilled water, it just felt empty, and lifeless, though no obvious flaws were present. The real eye opener was tasting the Coffee brewed with Ann Arbor water. The high metallic taste we experienced when drinking it plain was super present in the brewed coffee. It was so intense. It made tasting the coffee’s true flavors considerably more difficult to detect. Lastly, we used our customized water, and unsurprisingly, it was the most flavorful. With the proper balance of all the elements in the water, it really brings out the flavor compounds in the coffee. The alkalinity and pH levels helped the coffee’s acidity shine without being too sharp, the elimination of chlorine and the limited sodium levels let us taste a more true profile of the bean. The calcium content keeps us from unevenly extracting the flavor compounds in our brew.

Christopher Glasow