Coffee and Water: The Importance of Water Quality and Temperature in Pour-Over Brewing
In pour-over coffee brewing, it’s usually the coffee beans we focus on. But while the freshness of the beans and grind size are essential factors in making delicious coffee, there’s another ingredient involved that is equally important to your finished brew - water.
Achieving a good cup of coffee requires that we also give importance to the water we use. After all, what we pour into our cups is mostly concentrated water, with the ideal coffee-to-water ratio in the finished brew being about 2% concentrated coffee and 98% water. This is what dilutes the potency of the coffee grounds.
There are two areas we need to focus on when talking about water for brewing coffee: temperature and quality.
Water is responsible for extracting the flavors from coffee grounds. Water temperature plays a big role in this extraction process, so it’s important to know how much heat you’ve got going on in your kettle. If your water is too hot, it can lead to over-extraction that can make your coffee bitter. If it’s not warm enough, it won’t extract the full consistency of the beans.
The optimal temperature for brewing coffee is 195℉ to 205℉. It's the range where the flavorful compounds of coffee dissolve in water and will give you a balanced and flavorful cup. When water boils or reaches anywhere between 208℉ - 212℉, it will pull extra bitter compounds that will leave the resulting brew too strong and dry. On the other hand, water that falls below 190℉ will be unable to extract the sweet notes from the grounds, thus, leaving you with a weak and sour coffee. Which is why when making pour-over coffee at home, it’s important that you keep the water within the ideal temperature range.
Fortunately, pour-over kettles with a built-in thermometer are now available. Aside from giving you control over the water flow through their gooseneck spout, these kettles allow you to see when the water is in the perfect temperature that will give even extraction for your coffee. If you don’t have a gooseneck kettle with a thermometer gauge, buying a simple thermometer that can measure your water’s temperature would also work.
Typical drinking water includes mineral contents, dissolved substances, and additives. These might not be harmful to your health, but it can affect the quality of the coffee you make.
With brewed coffee, it’s good to have some mineral content in your water but too much can cause unusual tastes and odors. During the brewing process, the mineral balance in water reacts with the ground coffee. Depending on what kind of dissolved substances or the amount of mineral content there is in your water, it can have a significant effect on the extraction process of coffee that can make it over or under-extracted.
Most coffee shops and restaurants use a high-tech reverse-osmosis filtration system. These filters are customized to remove impurities from the water and then add a mixture of special salts and minerals to the distilled result in order to make a water solution that would complement their brewing process. This is the reason why even when you buy the same beans from a coffee shop, the coffee you make at home may not taste the same.
While you might not have a specialized filtration system in your kitchen, there are still ways that you can do to manage your water quality and make a great cup of coffee at home:
Use Pitcher Filters. Pitcher filters are cheap and readily available. This kind of filters use activated carbon to remove impurities and odors in your water. If you don’t want to buy a pitcher filter, an alternative would be a faucet filter.
Know Your Water. Understanding what kind of water you have can help you make a great cup of coffee. Even if you’re using tap water, you can easily search online about the “hardness” of the water in your area and use that information to purchase beans that are compatible for “soft” or “hard” water.
No To Distilled Water. If you want to use bottled water, make sure that it is not distilled water. Distilled water is just too pure to brew coffee with and will leave a lot of good flavors behind.
- Use Cold Water. Hot water from the tap has a higher concentration of minerals, so it’s always better to start with cold water. Also, it prevents too much evaporation during the boiling process that can lead to scale build-up in your kettle.
So the next time you make pour-over coffee, make sure you pay attention to the water as much as the grounds for it will definitely improve the quality of your coffee. Especially if you are already investing in quality beans, make sure you're using good water as well.