Does your tap water taste good? Do you drink it every day? Without making faces? Are there any little floaty things in it? Does it smell? It’s quite possible that your tap water passes every quality standard that’s ever been written, and still tastes or smells… well, icky. The quality of your water is a very important part of the coffee equation, as 98% of your cup is water, and bad tasting water makes bad tasting coffee.
If your water isn’t up to snuff, you have a number of options. You can use bottled water – but stay away from spring water that may be high in minerals that can cause odd flavors themselves. You can filter your tap water with an inexpensive filter pitcher, or by installing a filter on your tap, or under your sink. Don’t run off and buy a water softener in your quest for the perfect cup… softened water can interfere with the extraction of coffee flavors during the brewing cycle.
Now that we’ve got fresh, clean water, we need to make certain it’s hot. That is, just shy of boiling hot. The ideal temperature for nearly every method of coffee brewing is between 195 and 205 degrees F. Water that is too hot [boiling, for example] can scorch or otherwise cause ugly flavors. Water that is too cool simply won’t extract the full flavor of the ground coffee, and under extracted coffee tastes weak, or bitter, or both.
Attaining the right water temperature is a fairly simple matter for most manual brewing methods. Home auto-drip brewers are another matter – most simply don’t reach proper brewing temperatures – it’s a persistent and pervasive design failure on the part of most home brewer manufacturers, and frankly, they should be ashamed.
Maybe you can’t design your coffee brewer, but you can determine just about every aspect of the coffee you use. Let’s take a look at the next part of our formula… coffee and grind.