Wednesday, March 1, 2017

How to Make Coffee Taste Good - Use Water, Really

To make coffee taste good you don't just use any water. Instead, use good filtered water. Sure, there are other things you can do for a better Java. But the coffee in your cup is 98% water and it makes a hell lot of difference to the taste if your water is awful.

So, what water do you use to brew your coffee?

how to make coffee taste good

Coffee and Water

Why water is the most important ingredient in your coffee is best explained by Matt Perger:
When you mix coffee and water, a lot of things happen. The most relevant and easy to understand of all these things is that water dissolves a lot of the coffee's flavors. These dissolved flavors make up almost everything you taste when you drink a cup of coffee. The rest is undissolved stuff. This is mostly very small coffee grinds that affect mouthfeel but can't be included in the extraction because they are just floating around in the water

~ Matt Perger of Barista Hustle

Use Filtered Water to Make Coffee Taste Good

Matt went on to describe water as the medium for flavor. That it takes in or extract the oil and solids present in the coffee.

But water also has several traces of minerals. These add flavor and aids in the extraction of coffee bean oils. It should have the right amount of calcium, magnesium, and bicarbonate. This will give the right flavor to your brewed coffee.

Magnesium in water aids the extraction of sharp, fruitier flavors in the coffee bean. Calcium will bring out the heavier, creamy notes and balanced the sharper, acidic notes. Likewise, bicarbonate helps balance the acid level. But too much of both will give calcium carbonate. This will accumulate in your coffee machines or ice-making machines as scales build-up.

Chlorides can enhance the coffee's body, creaminess, and sweetness. Sodium's role is to reduce the bitterness but too much will affect the flavor.

Tap Water for Coffee

This is where tap water failed. It has too much or even too little of these minerals to make coffee taste good. It even has traces of contaminants such as chlorine, fluoride, lead etc. or even pesticide.

So you need filtered water for your coffee. Water filtration for the restaurant business will not only reduce these contaminants, it also reduces scales build-up from calcium and magnesium deposits. Hence, prolonging the shelf life of your expensive coffee machines.

Total Dissolved Solids in Water

Total Dissolved Solids (TDS) is a measure of the combined mineral content of water. This includes soluble solids along with magnesium and calcium salts. Some experts say the ideal water for coffee will have TDS of 90-150 parts per million (ppm).

Sure, you can argue that not everyone has the same taste. Hence there is no such thing as the ideal or optimal water profile for coffee water. But if you must know how much is good, use the above TDS as a guideline.

how to make coffee taste better

Use Coffee-Specific Refractometer

To measure TDS, you can use the coffee-specific refractometers. Examples of such refractometers are by VST and Atago.

VST models are the industry standard. They are more expensive than Atago, which is smaller and have that 'fragile-feel'. Performance wise, most reviews find them comparable in measuring the TDS.

To check out Atago 3810 PAL-1 Digital Hand-Held Pocket Refractometer that sells for under $300 (as compared to VTS that sells for over $700), see the banner below or click here.

Matt Perger of Barista Hustle wrote an awesome article explaining the science of measuring coffee with a refractometer here at VST:WTF  If you have no idea what is VST or have never used a refractometer before, then this is a good article to read.

But TDS meter only gives you a measurement of solids, not the mineral content in your water.

How to Check Mineral Content in Water

To do water mineral testing, you can send your water sample to a local lab. For a fee of about $20, they will email you back the analysis.

Or, google water report for your area. Someone could have done this test before and had it shared online.

You can also use someone's swimming pool titration kit. This is to test for hardness and alkalinity.

You can refer to the Specialty Coffee Association of America (SCAA)'s recommended water for coffee extraction which are:

    • Total Chlorine         0 mg/L0 mg/l
    • Calcium Hardness  4 grains or 68 mg/L1-5 grains or 17-85 mg/L
    • pH                            76.5 -7.5

Odor Clean/Fresh color free Clean/Fresh color free
Color Clear color Clear color
TDS 150 mg/L 75 - 250 mg/L
Total Alkalinity 40 mg/L At or near 40 mg/L
Sodium 10 mg/L At or near 10 mg/L

Water Filter System for the Food Service Industry

The water filter system for your restaurant must meet your high volume traffic. It must have the Chloramine and Chlorine reduction capabilities that improve water taste. Or more make coffee taste good. It must also filter out contaminants such as cryptosporidium and giardia. These can impact the quality of your water.

If your area has hard water, install the scale inhibitor cartridges. These will reduce scale build-up from Calcium and Magnesium present in hard water.

Reverse Osmosis Filtration System

The Reverse Osmosis water filter system will remove everything from the water. This includes fluoride, lead, chlorine, chloramine, pesticides, detergents, nitrates, and sulfates.

But mineral-free water is not ideal for coffee brewing.

So you reintroduce the good minerals in the correct increments. You do this with water softeners and conditioners or remineralization cartridge.

Is Reverse Osmosis Water Acidic?

Yes, Reverse Osmosis water is acidic. When you complete the RO process, you get pure water with a pH value of 7. This is the desired target for good water for coffee.

But once you exposed the RO water to air, the pH dropped from 7 to the acidic range of 5 to 5.5. Because pure water is 'hungry' and will grab COright out of the air.

The common way to treat low pH RO water is to use a neutralizer. The neutralizer feeds sodium carbonate solution into the water which increases the pH.

So to get a desirable cup of coffee; water quality, the right amount of minerals and a constant pH are important.

Which Water Filter to Buy?

There are many different water filtration systems on the market using various technologies. Some examples of these systems are:

  1. Carbon/Activated Carbon

  2. Granulated Activated Carbon

  3. Deionization

  4. Distillation

  5. Ion Exchange

  6. Ozone

  7. Reverse Osmosis

  8. Ultra Violet

  9. Water Softeners

It also depends on what you need. If your area has soft water, you may not need a scale inhibitor.

Generally, the cartridges are the most cost-effective solution for better water quality. And to make coffee taste good.

Check here for my review of Aquasana Water Filter.

NSF Certified

What is important is to ensure it is NSF International (NSF) certified.

A water filtration system that is NSF certified tells you that it has been independently tested and meets the strict health requirements. That what it claims to perform, meet the standard.

But not all NSF certifications are the same. It will only certify what the company claimed it can do. So if a filter is to reduce scale build-up, it will not remove any specific contaminants. Hence, read the fine print.

Best Water Temperature for Coffee

Now that you have the right water quality/type, what is the ideal water temperature for making coffee?

If you pour immediately the hot boiling water all over your coffee, it will be scorched and you end up drinking coffee that has the burnt taste.

Water that is too cold will not extract the full flavors from the coffee beans (unless you are doing cold brew coffee and this takes at least 12 hours)

Ideally, use water between 195℉ (91℃) and 205℉ (96℃) and you will be OK with your coffee taste. If it is a little lower it is still bearable but it gets too hot and closer to boiling, you will taste the difference. It can tough to get it right if you don't have a thermometer. What you need to do is just wait for a couple of minutes after the water has boiled, before using it on your coffee.

Better still, get a pour over kettle that has a built-in thermometer and you can forget the guessing game over the water temperature. Coffee Gator's pour over coffee is one of the best and you must them out.

your coffee taste good

Make Coffee Taste Good

To make coffee taste better, use water that is just off the boiling point. It will extract the coffee’s full range of flavors. If it is too cool it will dull the flavor and aroma.

So now you know why water quality and water temperature are important for coffee extraction and brewing. How it can make coffee taste good or better.

Knowing how to store coffee beans correctly is also crucial. To read more on this check this article on how to store coffee beans.

So what's the big deal? Because coffee has many health benefits. Thus, important that we drink good coffee.

To know more about these health benefits, click on

If you have anything to share or comment, love to hear it from you. Please use the comment box below. Thanks.

Video Guide: How to Use a Coffee Refractometer


  1. My husband loves coffee, but we just use common tap water. That's why he probably thinks it doesn't taste so good. I will have to buy filtered water now to try your method of making coffee. But I agree with you fluoride, chlorine, and pesticides change the taste of the water drastically. I really didn't realize minerals give such flavor to a drink, but now I know why people preferred filtered water over normal water.

  2. Hi, Jagi. I remember during my University days way back in the early '70s, we will save money and buy our own hi-fi set. Besides buying a camera and immersed yourself into photography, music was the next best thing to do. No internet and wifi way back then. So we end up buying the set that we can afford, not the best but okay. As we started to listen to the music (playing LP on the turntable. Some will buy the cassette deck. The tape reel is better but not so popular) we get more sensitive to the wow and flutter, signal-to-noise ratio and other technical stuff.Likewise for coffee. If we are not 'into coffee' the tap water is just fine. But when you start to be critical of your coffee, then you get uptight with what goes into your cup. This is important if you run a cafe.Anyway, thanks for dropping by and I hope you choose the right water filter.

  3. You know I never ever thought that the actual water is what would make coffee taste good. I've had my fair share of very good and horribly awful coffee. But I never did stop to wonder if the water they used was actually filtered or not. This is an awesome point. I'm gonna have to try filtering my water now and see how my coffee tastes. Thanks for the awesome info!

  4. Hi Caleb. To the uninitiated, water for coffee can just be the good old tap water but if you are serious about coffee or running a business with coffee as one of your menu item, then you have to be extra careful with your choice of water. Thanks for dropping by and commenting.

  5. This is interesting. I must now change tap water to bottled mineral water (until I get a water filter) for my next coffee

  6. JLim, using bottled mineral water is a good stop gap measure. Enjoy your coffee!

  7. Never know that making coffee is an art! Must reprogram my mindset and follow your advice on using the right water.

  8. Loves coffee and now I know how to make it better

  9. I didn't know that once you exposed filtered reverse osmosis water to air, it will be acidic. We take too much of acidic stuff so RO water is bad for us?

  10. Interesting. Water is important for so many things in our lives. Never thought coffee will be one of them!

  11. I read somewhere that if you have to use tap water, then let it run for a few seconds before filling your coffee pot. And to use cold water.

  12. Haha, ABH, now you know! Thanks for commenting and enjoy your coffee.

  13. Greg, I am happy to know that you will now be enjoying better coffee!

  14. Kylie, there are many pros and cons of RO water. And there are also people who believe that RO is good. I don't want to go into this debate here. But all I have to say is, I will choose another type of filtered water if given a choice.

  15. Yes, good coffee beans will turn into a bad cup of coffee if you use the wrong water! So water is an important element for many things including your coffee.

  16. Joseph, water that stands idle in pipes for awhile or overnight tend to absorb materials from this pipe/plumbing material. This can be Lead or other toxic material which will affect the quality of your coffee and health. So yes, let it run for awhile before using it. Cold water is best as hot tap water is not boiling water and this 'low temperature' water will not brew your coffee effectively as compared to cold water that will be boiled to boiling point.