The Key Is The Water

The Key to the Perfect Cup of Coffee is the Water

Chris Hendon, computational chemist, writing for the Royal Society of Chemistry, University of Bath, has assisted a local British barista win the title of “world’s best barista”.  He is quoted as saying, “the secret to success lies in using the perfect water.”  As brewing coffee is probably the most practiced chemical extraction in the world, it is not rocket science.

Now, everybody believes that they know the secret to making the perfect cup of coffee and breaking the coffee process scientifically.  Chris Hendon doesn’t discount obvious factors in making a the perfect cup of coffee or espresso including bean origin, roast, size of grindings and others, but, when it comes to the major ingredient, water he is quoted as writing, “

“This variable is less obvious, but it is clear that the chemical composition of water plays a very important role.” Specifically, different types of water bring out different flavors from the coffee bean – sometimes good and sometimes bad. And being both a chemist and coffee lover, Hendon wanted to experiment with how different variations could be used to extract specific flavors from coffee.

“This was particularly intriguing for the signature drink which featured an espresso shot mixed with two grape extracts brewed in different water – one with high cation content, one with high base content – to extract different flavours from the grapes,” he writes.

For its part, the National Coffee Association says, “The water you use is very important to the quality of your coffee. Use filtered or bottled water if your tap water is not good or imparts a strong odor or taste, such as chlorine. If you are using tap water let it run a few seconds before filling your coffee pot. Be sure to use cold water. Do not use distilled or softened water”.

Hendon’s explanation can sound a bit complicated if you don’t have a strong base of knowledge in chemistry. But put simply, he says many of the assumptions about the ionic composition in water types are too broad, since the actual composition of water varies in different regions across the world and in places, like England, where it rains a lot.

He and his team used an atomic absorption spectrometer to experiment with different ionic levels, leading to winning a national coffee competition which can be interpreted as a victory for science.

So, the next time you encounter a coffee snob who wants to tell you about the perfect type of coffee you can respond with, “Sure, but what’s in your water?”

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