Importance of the Water you use

Many times, I’ve spoken about the importance of the quality of the water used to brew coffee. And yet this week I ignored my own advice.

My espressos were just not cutting it. My go-to beans, a Philadelphia Roasted coffee, were flat and off putting. A new blend that I tried was no better, even though it had an excellent reputation. Something had changed. And I was bound to find out what.

First, I recalibrated my expresso machine. I raised the temperature 2 degrees F. and adjusted the shot volume to be exactly 2 oz for a double, as I prefer it.

Still unacceptable.

I tried slightly coarser and then slightly finer grind settings.

No luck.

I backflushed the group head and then decalcified the machine using Dezcal.

No change.

I increased the dosage in 1 gram increments. Then went the other direction and lightened it by a gram at a time.


By now I had changed so many parameters I didn’t know what to modify next.

The results so far: lots of coffee shots discarded. Mumblings about getting a new machine. Thinking about switching to tea.

As I was about to give up, I realized I missed something so basic it is embarrassing to talk about.

I use an inexpensive Brita pitcher to filter water for my espresso machine. It is just large enough to fill the machine’s reservoir and I go through one pitcher per day on average. The Brita has a replaceable filter cartridge, and I put in a new one every month. To keep it simple, I do that the first of the month. But this month, with the first being a holiday and falling on a Monday, I forgot to replace the cartridge.

We have municipal water, and it is treated for safety concerns as is the case for most municipal water. Taste is not something that is generally taken into account in large treatment systems. So without some mechanism to deal with any off-putting tastes, those tastes survive the brewing process. And since coffee drinks are approximately 98% water, those tastes are what come through.

When I put in a new filter and flushed the machine several times, my espressos regained their characteristic taste. The harshness disappeared, and I was able to recognize the flavor of the beans again.

So, my advice (especially to myself) is to always start with the basics when you are making changes to your coffee regimen. Whether in search of a better tasting brew, or to deal with some problem. And with all coffee brewing methods, starting with odor free, chemical free water is the most basic place to begin.

Al Mazzone