When we talk about coffee we talk about certain aspects of our favorite brew. The degree of the roast, the aroma, strength , coarseness of the grind and what we add to enhance the flavor. We talk about roasting and brewing methods, and all the latest coffee trends. Rarely, if ever, do we talk about the other component in coffee. Water. Coffee is 98% water. How can we have a conversation about only 2% of the cup? Proportionally speaking, you’d think we’d be having all kinds of conversations about the role that water plays in coffee production. It seems that this very important ingredient is being taken for granted. Well, no more. Here we’ll examine the influence that water plays in not only the roasting process, but in brewing your coffee as well.
Coffee beans themselves contain water. This water turns to steam during roasting as chemical changes occur within the beans themselves as they roast. Managing that steam is crucial to the outcome of the desired degree of roast. Water is also used at a key point in the roasting process. Many roasters use the “water quench” method to cool the beans. This jump starts and accelerates the cooling process to ensure that the beans don’t continue to roast. Those that promote this method cite efficiency and consistency in the flavor and level of roast on the coffee beans. There are two schools of thought about this use of water. Many roasters feel that water quench muddles the pure flavor of the beans when ground and affects the aroma of the final product,the brewed coffee. These purists favor air-cooling the beans with fans as they leave the roasting stage of the process. This does have to be carefully timed, as the beans cool down much more slowly with the air-cooled method affecting the darkness of the roasted beans. Another downside to wetting coffee is that the coffee itself will retain some of the water. Tests have shown that coffee that is wetted, even after grinding will retain water in the coffee particles. This can either detract or enhance your coffee drinking experience, depending upon what you are looking for in the final result.
There are also environmental concerns from cities where there are large roasteries about how waste water from the roasting process is handled. Environmental groups and watchdog organizations keep close tabs on roasters to make sure that they are practicing sound disposal methods in handling the by-products of their trade. Coffee companies are turning coffee grounds into compost, feeding mushroom farms and working with wastewater treatment plants to use their effluent to create energy such as natural gas and biofuels.
98% of your cup of coffee isn’t coffee. It’s water. Therefore, it’s obviously in your best interest to use the freshest, most pure water available to brew your cup. If you’ve ever gone into a restaurant and had a “terrible” cup of coffee, it probably had less to do with the coffee itself, and more to do with the municipal water quality of that particular city. Major coffee chains like Starbucks state that you should always use purified water, never tap water and avoid unfiltered or well water. They claim that the great- tasting water of the Pacific Northwest made a tasty cup of brewed coffee and was certainly a key factor in their initial success. You should also be mindful, especially if you’re using city water against advice, to regularly clean your equipment and coffee machines to avoid mineral build -up that can affect the taste of your coffee. Running a pot of white vinegar and water through your coffee maker once a month will remove scale and any mold or mildew that might form from sitting unused too long. Remember to run a pot of water through twice after cleaning to make sure your next cup of coffee tastes like coffee and not like vinegar. You can then enjoy your cup of coffee with the knowledge that you are brewing it with the best tasting water you can find, and getting optimum flavor out of every last drop.