… so if you want to brew great tasting coffee, start with great tasting water. Simple, right? Not always.
For years I used a Brita water pitcher to filter my tap water. It definitely improved the taste of the water… and the smell. [This was two moves ago, and the water in that house smelled awful… we never knew why.] The Brita pitcher, however, was inconvenient to keep filled, and, if its filter cycle wasn’t complete it would dribble unfiltered water while you poured. Newer designs have, I understand, resolved some of the sloppy factor, and a recent model that holds two gallons would likely be an improvement… but there’s still those filters to replace every month or two.
Of course, you can buy tasty filtered water at the grocery store — in liters, gallons, or even five gallon jugs — but who really wants to slog that much water home from the store… and at such a premium price? [Lots of people evidently, and my wife among them.] And there there are those dongles — faucet-mount filters — which may or may not fit your faucet, and which look pretty silly, besides.
A ready supply of fresh, great-tasting water really demands a full-time solution… one that requires minimal futzing with filters, and — hopefully — one that’s more or less invisible. There’s a huge variety of under-sink, plumbed in water filters… enough to make the decision of which one to buy a bit tedious.
The winner in terms of sheer filtering capability are reverse-osmosis [RO] filters. Fact is, they can filter too well, by eliminating virtually all mineral content from the water. Without minerals, the water-level sensors in auto-filling espresso machines get confused. More to the point, RO water tastes a bit peculiar, and many companies that produce filtered water with RO methods actually put some minerals back in to improve the taste. Finally, RO filters can waste as much as eight gallons for each gallon of water that they purify. We’ll call that strike three, and move on.
There are single, dual and triple-stage filters with cartridges that remove chemicals, heavy metals, and organic things that live in your water supply. There are also cartridges that soften water. These are great for espresso — eliminating scale before it ever starts — but not so good for brewed coffee, as softened water doesn’t brew very well… it slows extraction. In general, it breaks down this way: a single-stage filter that has to do everything will require more frequent filter replacement than a dual or triple. A triple will last longest of all, but it requires three cartridges. A dual-stage filter struck me as a fair trade-off in convenience, capability and economy.
And so, this weekend I spent some quality time under my kitchen sink installing a Plymouth Products dual-stage filter. It was a snap to install — particularly compared to the kitchen faucet I replaced at the same time — good instructions, and no leaks. [Given my plumbing skills, this is quite remarkable.]
The water? Very tasty. And I think there’s a marked improvement in the taste of my coffee. In particular, I think there’s a bit less of the “muddy” aspect to earthy coffees like Sumatra Mandheling, and Costa Rica Tres Rios. I think there may be a bit more of a floral note in the killer Ethiopian Yrgacheffe that was part of the Mystery Cup Challenge. ‘Course, I might be imagining these things, and it will take a number of rounds of blind cupping to know anything for certain.
What is already *very* clear is that all of the coffees I’ve brewed with this new water system are better over time… that is, they maintain better flavor while being held in a thermal carafe. Not that a pot of coffee lasts that long in this house…