Water Wars: 1
This week I decided to try something new, to push my learning about water and how it reacts to coffee. I call it, water wars, and it’s very simple, take one coffee, and try it on the same recipe with three different waters. Now it may seem new to some people, or completely new information for others, but water, like any other force in the universe is made up of different minerals, and these minerals tend to react in many ways to our other main ingredient, the brown stuff known as coffee. When making coffee, we have two main ingredients (three if you count milk), so it is important to consider what type of water you want to use in your daily brews. Some waters have a real high mineral count that don’t really work well with coffee. A sparkling water for example, others, like Volvic, have a great ph with a higher level of sodium, calcium and magnesium than others. Black Forest, is a beautiful water that may not be available to most readers, its sourced in the black forest region of Germany has a very low mineral content for its ph level, and this makes it suited to baby formula amongst other things, and can help brew a fantastic cup of coffee.
I really wanted to try and go through how one great coffee can react to three different waters, knowing that the coffee will present itself different forms. Realistically I should have used normal house tap water for comparison, but perhaps we can do this in the future with some other home filtration choices.
So, for this first edition of water war, I chose an interesting coffee from Bonanza Coffee Roastery in Berlin. The coffee, is a Columbian called El Triunfo. This coffee was used by Bonanza in the recent B20 Summit, a competition held during the Berlin Coffee Festival where a large number or coffee roasters were invited to compete on their 1920 Barth Ball Roaster. I have no idea who roasted my bag, but the winner was Jessica Greene, former head roaster of The Barn. (I like to pretend that my bag came from her, just to make me feel better).
So my three choices of water were as follows,
1. Reverse Osmosis water I borrowed from my friends at The Barn.
2. Volvic Bottled Still Volcanic Water.
3. Blackforest Still Water.
Then how best to test this coffee, with a wonderful cupping of course. For my cupping procedure, I like to use the SCA standard of 12 grams to 200 grams of water, and I go quite fine, the same as one would for a standard hand brew or filter coffee (I know this will vary for many people but I am trying to avoid terms such as “same size as table salt or brown sugar”, this is also quite vague). I use water at a temperature at 98 degrees and allow it too steep for 4 minutes before breaking the crust, thus following the standard procedure. Then I like to allow my coffee to rest for at least 12 - 15 minutes before I take the first sip. It’s a painful wait, as I usually just want to dive in as soon as possible but, life is a waiting game they said and this is no different.
So how did the three brews taste?
They couldn’t have been more different.
The Barn water gave the coffee an incredible sweetness when the coffee was a little warmer, like creamy fudge toffee, that lingered a long while after the first sip. The body was perhaps medium to light but with a sweet mouthfeel and lingering sweet aftertaste. When warm, the acidity was quite low but as it cooled a bit more of the malic acidity became clear and present. For tasting notes, I tasted creamy milk chocolate, a hint of nectarine and red apple, and toffee fudge.
The Volvic water was a little bit different. The acidity, was much brighter even when warm, but it retained that smooth fudgy toffee sweetness. There was also a hint of plums, and a touch of hazelnut in the finish. The body was a touch lighter than the Barn water, but it hard that sweetness to carry it. The mouthfeel is light, lingering velvet sweetness. I could drink the whole brew.
Last came the Blackforest water, which was quite different again. This water is the softest of the three, meaning it has the lowest mineral content. When it was warm, the acidity was quite bright, with clearer notes of apple and even a hint of lime which became much clearer when it cooled down. The body, was much lighter, with a quicker and nuttier finish. When it was hot, it had a slight herbal note, that dissipated when it cooled down a bit, but that nutty chocolate texture is still present. I would say that this brew was the fruitier of the three, and did suit the coffee, but the sweetness of the brew from the Barn water and Volvic water is not as dominant.
For me, this was a lot of fun, and without getting too technical on the different functions of different water types, I could play around a lot with this one great coffee. If there was a winner, it would be hands down that Reverse Osmosis Water from the Barn, who clearly put a lot of work into making sure their water is ready to perform for any coffee they wish to dial in on the machine. For a home brewer though, Volvic really suited this coffee best, giving a great balance of acidity and sweetness. All other things considered such as finding the best ratio for a brew and the extraction, grind size etc, I would definitely recommend trying different waters with your coffees and seeing which water work for you. The SCA website, Barista Hustle and many other blogs and websites have information on the chemistry of water and coffee, but really the most important thing to do is just get out there and brew your coffee and see what works best for you. Have fun with your coffee this week and keep an eye out for the next water war, whenever it might come.