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Water: if you won't drink it, don't brew with it.

Water: If you won't drink it, don't brew with it

Okay quick ... what is the optimum water temperature for brewing coffee ... what is the best type of water for brewing coffee ... coffee is what percentage water ... No, you haven't stumbled onto the study sheet for a coffee "Jeopardy," I am just indulging in my continuing quest for coffee knowledge.

The longer I am involved in the educational aspect of the coffee industry, the less I assume basic coffee knowledge on anyone's part. Don't get me wrong, more and more of the people I come in contact with know types of beans and roasts, they are learning about grinds and how to store coffee after it is brewed, but what about the very basics of coffee brewing ... water and water temperature.

Two absolutes that all coffee extraction processes have in common are coffee and water. Kenneth Davids in his book, Coffee: A Guide to Buying Brewing and Enjoying makes it very simple "you soak the ground coffee in the water until the water tastes good and then you drink it ... The few bright ideas to achieve greatness can be divided according to three variables: how hot one makes the water; how one gets the water to the coffee; and how one separates the spent grounds from the brewed coffee." (1) Something that I would like to add to this list of absolutes is that you can't have good coffee unless you have a good water.

Although there are many ways to extract coffee, many appliances in which to brew coffee and many coffees from which to choose, there are two constants in coffee brewing, water and coffee. To make coffee, you need water and you need coffee beans that have been roasted and ground. To make good coffee, you need good water and quality coffee beans. The coffee beans, (type, quality, roast color, and grind) will effect the final taste of the brewed beverage as will the water (both the quality and temperature).

I as well as many others have devoted much time to the discussion of coffee quality as it relates to the finished cup but let's not lose sight of one basic fact, coffee is roughly 98% water (depending on the extraction method used and the resulting percentage of soluble coffee solids in the finished product). In view of this information I would like to share one very basic truth about water ... if you wouldn't drink it plain, don't make coffee with it.

Water can be safe enough to drink, but that doesn't mean it will taste good. Chlorination, excessive hardness, alkalinity, brackness, organic content, and other factors affecting water quality found in local water supplies can downgrade brewed coffee quality ... the best water for coffee is free of off-tastes, odors, and impurities, not overly soft or alkaline, and possesses a mild mineral content, or slightly hard. (2)

If you have doubts about your water supply, use filtered or bottled water. Because of the varying levels of mineral content in "spring" water, you may have to experiment with various bottled waters to find the best one for your tastes. If you want to make good coffee and can't use the local water, you may have to consider implementing a water filtration system if you don't want to use bottled water.

Whether you start with bottled water, filtered water, or a good quality local water, start your coffee brewing with cold, fresh water. If you are using tap water, let it run a few seconds when you first turn it on to clear out the flat, stale water that has been standing in the pipes. Do not be in a hurry and use hot tap water, all you are doing is using stale water that has been heated and reheated in the hot water boiler.

Whether you hand drip your coffee a cup at a time at home or use large commercial urns in a food service setting, make sure the temperature of the water is correct. The idea temperature for water when it comes in contact with the ground coffee is 200 degrees F. If you are making coffee at home, don't get your thermometers out - 200 degrees is the range of temperature that boiling water falls to the moment it is removed from the heat. If you run a food service operation, either you or your equipment supplier should periodically check the water temperature of the brewers to guarantee that the coffee is brewed with water at the desired temperature.

Another very basic thing that can effect the taste of coffee is the cleanliness of the brewer. I prefer coffee brewed into glass, procelain, or stainless steel, because any of these surfaces can be cleaned easily. If coffee oil from past pots is not cleaned off, the oil that accumulates, will eventually make fresh coffee taste stale. A strong baking soda solution or strong commercial urn cleaner should take care of most coffee oil and if lime deposits are your problem, run a strong solution of vinegar and water through the works of the brewer and rinse thoroughly.

Just to leave you with a few brewing basics:

- Use good quality, fresh coffee, preferably ground just before brewing;

- Grind it fine as you can (to expose the coffee's surface to extraction) without making the coffee gritty or muddy;

- Use plenty of coffee (one to two tablespoons per five to six ounce cup;

- Keep your coffee maker clean;

- Use fresh, cold water, as free of impurities and alkalines as possible;

- Brew with hot water (200 degrees F is ideal);

- Remove the used grounds when the coffee is extracted;

- Do not hold the coffee on "active" heat for over twenty to thirty minutes.

Let's face it, one of the best compliments you can give, be it to an individual or a restaurant, is "that's a good cup of coffee" and by following a few basic guidelines, just about anyone can make one.


(1) Davids, Kenneth. Coffee: A Guide to Buying, Brewing and Enjoying, 101 Productions, Berkeley, California, 1987. (2) Quimme, Peter. The Signet Book of Coffee and Tea, New American Library, New York, New York, 1976.
COPYRIGHT 1990 Lockwood Trade Journal Co., Inc.
No portion of this article can be reproduced without the express written permission from the copyright holder.
Copyright 1990 Gale, Cengage Learning. All rights reserved.

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Title Annotation:coffee brewing tips
Author:Sturdivant, Shea
Publication:Tea & Coffee Trade Journal
Article Type:column
Date:Jul 1, 1990
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