The worst feeling is when you take the time to make a cup of coffee, and it ends up tasting pretty rough. Automatically, you wonder what you must have done wrong.
It could have been the wrong coffee weight, water was heated to the wrong temperature, subpar coffee beans were used, incorrect equipment for the coffee type, or even the wrong coffee filter. However, none of these issues might be the reason your cup of coffee doesn’t taste spectacular.
There’s a lot of work that goes into a great cup of coffee, from the right machinery to picking the best in coffee beans. However, while equipment and beans are great, the water you’re using can create either a disgusting cup of coffee or completely enhance the taste. If you’ve ever wondered why you can’t replicate your favorite coffee shop’s coffee, it might all be in the water.
Why Does Water Matter?
Since coffee is made up of 98% water, the type of water you choose can significantly impact the taste. Why is this?
The flavor of the coffee is contained inside the oils of the beans. When you brew your coffee, you’re essentially extracting the beans’ flavors so they will mix with the water. It’s similar to the way you would make a cup of tea. You must use water to pull out the flavor of the tea. The same goes for coffee. After the water and coffee mix, the grounds are strained out in some way, leaving you with a cup of coffee.
The Specialty Coffee Association of America, or the SCAA, has published standards on how to create a quality cup of coffee. The factors associated with a good coffee cup include ensuring your water is clear in color, clean, odor-free, fresh, has a PH of7.0, and contains a mineral content of 150 parts per million. You can measure the amount of minerals or content of your water with a TDS (total dissolved solids meter).
You really can use any type of water you want for your coffee. However, the taste of your coffee will vary considerably. If you use lousy water, you’re going to get a lousy cup of coffee. If you’re ready to ensure that every cup of coffee you make is going to be your favorite cup, you need to evaluate the type of water you’re using.
Soft vs. Hard Water
Hard water contains more dissolved minerals and has a considerable amount of calcium and magnesium inside, which is ideal for your coffee. These coffee friendly minerals will enhance the taste of your coffee. With the amount of minerals, you will have to frequently clean your coffee machine to get rid of the mineral buildup.
Soft water is higher in sodium and contains significantly less calcium and magnesium. Many people frequently use soft water for their coffee, but it won’t necessarily enhance the taste. However, soft water is recommended for some espresso machines.
1. Tap Water
Tap water will be the easiest solution to make a coffee cup because of its availability. However, this type of water can create certain compounds and extra minerals that will not help you achieve a perfect cup of coffee.
Tap water can also hold an unpleasant taste or smell. If your tap water smells like chlorine or eggs, your coffee is not going to taste incredible. This taste may vary depending on where you live and how you get your tap water. Plus, with the amount of mineral buildup, you will have to clean out your coffee maker frequently.
2. Bottled Water
Bottled water can be a good solution if you’re looking for an easy fix for your coffee taste problems. However, not every brand of bottled water is created equally. You want to choose a brand of bottled water that contains more minerals. The ideal softness is hard to find in a bottle of water, but a few brands, like Volvic, are a good solution. Bottled water may also become expensive because of the packaging costs, so consider your budget before making this your go-to.
3. Distilled Water
Distilled water is created by first being boiled until it becomes a vapor, and then that vapor is condensed back into a liquid form. This a common tactic to purify the water around you where the water may not be safe to drink. Most types of bottled water will fall into the distilled category. However, the biggest problem with using distilled water is that it lacks key minerals like magnesium and calcium, which is needed for a great cup of coffee. Overall, distilled water is not recommended because of the lack of minerals to extract from the coffee beans.
4. Filtered Water
Using filtered water will make the taste of your coffee stand out. Not only does it help to create a better cup of coffee, but it’s regarded as better for your health. That’s because the filtering process for filtered water removes the acidic components typically found in water.
5. Reverse Osmosis
Reverse osmosis is a complicated process where the minerals from the water are completely removed. This is not the most ideal type of water to use because it will create a flat cup of coffee. However, if you own a system that will rebalance your water, it will make it just the right mineral content to create a tasty cup of coffee. Again, this takes a lot of work, so it may be more effort than it’s worth.
What’s the Best Water for Coffee?
While there are certain types of water, like filtered, reverse osmosis, or soft bottled water, that will taste better according to science, it’s important to remember it’s your cup of coffee.
It’s best to personally experiment with each of these types of water to see which cup of coffee tastes the best to you. You’re the one drinking the coffee, so it’s important you like the taste, regardless of the type of water you use.
If you’re trying to mimic a specific taste from your favorite coffee shop, consider stopping in to chat with the barista about the type of water they use. Baristas can give you tips on the kind of water you need to mimic their coffee taste.
Is it my water, or Is It Something Else?
Before blaming your water for the entire coffee tasting problem, there might be other problems lingering that you haven’t addressed that could contribute to the issue. Here are some other things that you should consider that could impact the taste of your coffee.
- Clean Coffee Maker – Some people never clean out their coffee maker, which is an issue because it will get dirty and significantly impact the taste of your coffee. Minerals from the water you use can build up inside your machine over time, and it does not make your coffee taste great. Make sure to do a deep cleaning of your coffee machine at least every three months. If you haven’t already, try cleaning out your coffee maker.
- Choice of Coffee Beans – If you roast your own beans, you might have found the reason your cup of coffee doesn’t taste great. It’s a complex process to ensure that coffee beans are roasted just right. Even if you have professional beans, sometimes the roast may not be up to par. Try switching up your coffee beans to see if it improves the taste.
- The Freshness of Your Beans – Even if you have the best coffee blend, your beans’ freshness will always have an impact on the final taste of your coffee. It’s important to grind your coffee right before you plan to create a cup of coffee. Try to avoid grinding your coffee in advance.
- Your Coffee Temperature – The ideal temperature coffee water temperature is 205 degrees Fahrenheit. You want your water not to be boiling, just very hot. That temperature will ensure that you’re not destroying the taste of your beans. However, if you use a cooler temperature, your coffee won’t take on the coffee roast’s full flavor. Using a thermometer is an easy way to ensure your coffee is at the right temperature.
- Your Equipment is Breaking Down – Even the best machines will eventually stop working for you. If your water is adequately heated, the machine is clean, and you’re using the proper water, it may just be your actual coffee equipment or the type of coffee you’re trying to make.
Water plays a significant role in the way your coffee will taste. Choosing the right type of water is all about personal preference, so use the water that tastes the best to you. If you’re using the proper water and something still isn’t adding up, consider one of the other tips we mentioned above as to why your coffee might not taste the best.
It’s a process to create the perfect cup of coffee. Be patient with yourself as you experiment through different types of water, beans, grinders, and equipment to ensure you have the best cup of coffee.