Monday, May 20, 2024

Danish researchers develop water specifically for coffee brewing – but just how valuable is it?


Ask almost any industry professional or enthusiast about water for coffee and they are sure to emphasise just how important it is. Accounting for up to 98% of filter coffee, water plays an absolutely vital role in how your coffee tastes.

So in line with this, it seems more and more water products designed specifically for brewing high-quality coffee are becoming available. The latest one is DesignerWater – developed in partnership with Kenneth Luciani, founder of Espresso House Denmark, Danish company Peter Larsen Kaffe, and the University of Copenhagen.

But it’s also important to question whether the market is becoming saturated with these products, and if they are still adding as much value to specialty coffee.

To find out more, I spoke to Maxwell Dashwood, founder of Colonna Coffee and water for coffee expert, and the team at DesignerWater.

You may also like our article on how cafés filter water for coffee.

A barista uses a Fellow gooseneck kettle to brew a Hario V60.

Specialty coffee’s fixation with the “perfect” brewing water

As an industry, we already know that water quality and hardness have a huge impact on final cup quality. The topic has been explored almost endlessly. But many coffee professionals and enthusiasts are still in search of the most effective way to treat and filter water for brewing coffee.

In addition to being a three-time UK Barista Champion and WBC finalist, Maxwell is the co-author of Water for Coffee – a book which explores the science behind water and its effect on coffee.

“Water is definitely playing an important role in the industry these days and so new products make sense,” Maxwell explains. “We’re also seeing it in education, whether it’s books or online courses, water is really emphasised as being vital to cup quality.”

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Alongside notable products like the Peak Water filter jug, Third Wave Water mineral packets, and reverse osmosis (RO) systems, there is an ever-growing variety of options.

The most recent is bottled water brand DesignerWater, which will officially launch in 2024. The company uses patent-pending RO systems and then adds optimal levels of salt and minerals to “enhance” the flavours in coffee.

“The industry’s focus on coffee quality, skills, and equipment naturally leads to increasing attention on the biggest ingredient by volume – water,” says the team at DesignerWater. “The results from our research with the University of Copenhagen are improved taste, easier equipment maintenance, and potentially prolonged equipment lifespan.”

But is there such a thing?

With so many water filtration systems and ready-to-use solutions now available, how can we know which is best to use?

While it ultimately depends on the quality and hardness of your original water source, there are also many other factors to consider when choosing a system or product to use, including:

  • Cost
  • Functionality
  • Convenience

“We wrote the first Water for Coffee book back in 2015, and one of the things we talked about was the idea of making your own water with mineral salts,” Maxwell says. “Now that we’re writing the second edition, I’m thinking about how much of that has been adopted and how much it’s changed.

“I think the solutions that use some kind of deionised and demineralised water and then add mineral salts are the most controllable,” he adds. “But when I take part or judge an AeroPress Championship, I can taste that people have added too many minerals to their water. I definitely think there is a trend of adding too many mineral salts.

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“But the reason that it’s so popular is that it offers control,” Maxwell continues. “So if you live in an area where your water source isn’t very good, then adding mineral salts is a good solution.”

A barista in a coffee shop prepares to make a Hario V60.

A passing trend, or here to stay?

There’s no doubt that the industry’s fixation on water for coffee will remain – and is likely to keep growing in the future.

“I definitely see more people trying to explore that space,” Maxwell says. “It’s also interesting from a consumer point of view because I think there’s still a lot of confusion around water – it’s a complex subject.

“But more and more people are aware of water and are playing around with trying to improve it – and awareness is key,” he adds. “There clearly is demand for these products. There’s recognition that water is really important not just from baristas and coffee enthusiasts, but also from more mainstream coffee drinkers.”

At the same time, however, we need to understand which water filtration systems and ready-to-use solutions are adding the most value to the industry. And to a certain extent, the answer is subjective as it largely depends on the quality of your water in the first place.

The search continues

Given his level of expertise, Maxwell believes that more work is necessary to not only know more about water for brewing coffee, but also to find the best options.

“As an industry, we’re going to develop our understanding of water even further. I think we’re going to see more and more products, and it’s very interesting to see which ones will be the most effective with consumers,” he says. “A lot of what I’m seeing is just people playing around with different ways of repackaging mineral salts, either as salts themselves or made into concentrations.

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“There is still more to learn about water and coffee,” he adds. “We know bicarbonate is massively important, and controlling it has the biggest impact on the way the coffee tastes.

“We know that the other minerals also matter, specifically calcium and magnesium, and we’re trying to control them more,” he concludes. “However, I think that a convenient water solution that is effective and produces the best tasting coffee is still something that the industry is searching for. I’m not sure anyone’s made it.”

A barista pours filter coffee into a ceramic mug.

In the end, maybe there is no one-size-fits-all solution to creating the perfect water for brewing coffee. With this in mind, considering your options – and understanding where your water comes from – is a vital first step.

It can be a complicated topic, but by knowing how to optimise water for coffee, you are able to potentially experience a whole new world of flavour.

Enjoyed this? Then read our article on how baristas can maximise water quality and consistency.

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