You’re probably ignoring the second most important ingredient in your coffee. Although coffee nerds meticulously select their coffee, equipment, and brewing techniques, most just use whatever water comes out of the tap. But water makes up more than 98% of filter coffee, so it shouldn’t come as a surprise that water can radically change the way your coffee tastes.
The chemical composition of the water both affects how the soluble coffee particles are extracted and how those flavors are perceived when consumed. For example, softer water will accentuate a coffee’s bright, juicy flavors, while water that is overly-hard will like taste flat and astringent. But it gets more complicated. As Maxwell Colonna-Dashwood and Chris Hendon explain in their seminal book, Water For Coffee, although water hardness is determined by the cumulative ppm of dissolved minerals, it doesn’t tell you what minerals are present. This matters because minerals like calcium and magnesium aid coffee extraction and don’t negatively affect flavor, but other minerals like iron and sodium bicarbonate can have an off-putting affect on coffee flavor. In other words, water matters.
While serious coffee shops spend thousands of dollars on their water filtration systems, for most consumers buying filtered spring water is the only viable option. But different brands and even different bottles of spring water can have very different chemical compositions depending on the source water. This problem bothered a couple of coffee-loving entrepreneurs in Southern Ohio which led them to create a product they call Third Wave Water.
Taylor Minor learned the importance of water when he opened Telemetry Coffee Roasters in Cedarville, Ohio. After building his own filtration system to address Ohio’s very hard water, he encountered an unforeseen problem: his coffee didn’t taste good when customers brewed it at home. Meanwhile, a regular customer had another problem. Charles Nick works as a consultant and often travels for work. Nick was frustrated that the coffee he brewed on the road tasted dramatically different from place to place. One day in the shop Minor joked he could dehydrate some of his shop’s water for Nick to take on the road and the idea for Third Wave Water was born.
We should probably note, although Third Wave Water might be the first coffee-related water product to be satired in the mainstream media, it’s by no means the first product designed to optimize water for coffee brewing. For example, Global Customized Water has been providing water for SCA barista competitions for years. But Third Wave Water is the first consumer-facing mineral packet we’ve seen.
The product is fairly simple. Each pack contains a custom blend of water soluble minerals designed to be added to a gallon of distilled water. These mineral, such as magnesium, aid in coffee extraction, i.e. help the soluble compounds in the coffee grounds bond with the water particles. All you have to do is empty the capsule into a gallon of water.
After enjoying using Third Wave Water at home for a few months, we were excited to conduct an experiment in the Quills Coffee lab with Quills’s head roaster Houston Miller. We cupped the same coffee with Quills’s shop water (reverse osmosis filtered, and then remineralized), Third Wave Water, and Global Customized Water. We conducted the experiment recognizing that in many ways the remineralized, reverse osmosis water Quills uses in its cafés influences how Houston roasts the coffee.
During the first pass around the table I had a strong preference for the Third Wave Water. It tasted juicy and bright. But as the coffees continued to brew the reverse osmosis water begin to edge ahead. It had more sweetness and though it was less fruity, exhibited more balance and complexity. Both the Third Wave Water and the RO water tasted considering better than the cup brewed with Global Customized Water, which tasted flat and overly bitter.
Third Wave Water is a great product for home brewers who want to enjoy consistently great coffee at home but don’t have access to an expensive water filtration system. Although buying distilled water and the mineral packets will add to the cost of your morning cup, we think the taste benefits more than make up for the $2 it takes to make a gallon of Third Wave Water. We certainly plan on keeping our kitchen well stocked with Third Wave Water.
Photo by Brian Beyke.