HomeRoast Digest

Topic: Water revisited.... (10 msgs / 290 lines)
1) From: Chris Beck
After reading Jim Schulman's totally awesome water FAQ, I had to get a 
test kit and actually measure what I've got.  I've been using 
ion-exchange softened water in the Silvia and straight, unsoftened tap 
water for coffee.  I also have at my disposal a countertop distiller 
(West Bend "Dove"), and Nicolet bottled water.
Here's the water test results:
                    Carbonate hardness            General Hardness
Tap water             18 deg.                       28 deg.
Softened tap          18 deg.                       <2 deg.
Bottled                6 deg.                        9 deg.
To get ppm, multiply the German degrees by 17.9.  A German degree is 
roughly equivalent to the US Grain measurement.  That said, my tap water 
is liquid cement.  I'd load up the Silvia boiler in a matter of weeks if 
I didn't do something.
Taste wise, I find coffee (vac pot, moka pot) tastes best with straight 
tap water.  The bottled water gives it an odd 'flat' taste, while for 
drinking, the bottled water tastes very good.  Likewise, our tap water 
(deep Wisconsin well water) tastes very good.
For espresso, I've found that an approx. 80% distilled/20% hard water 
mixture gives me excellent espresso, with a richer and more balanced 
taste compared to the softened water, which tends to be a bit more 
bright and harsh.
After reading more of the FAQ, I wonder if my bottled water is using 
magnesium salts to add in the hardness rather than calcium (which is our 
usual suspect in tap water here).  I don't see it listed on the bottled 
water site Jim listed (www.bottledwaterweb.com/bott).
In any case, it's amazing the range of tastes the water can impart to 
the coffee.  It's also amazing how friggin' hard my tap water is.  Whole 
house softeners are a way of life here unless you appreciate the use of 
jackhammers and other power tools to clean your sinks, tubs, and dishes 
of lime buildup.
Jim, any comments????
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2) From: Jim Schulman
Hi Chris,
I'm with you, I like hard water for my espresso (although my Chicago water (6 carbonate 9 
hardness) isn't even close to yours. I wouldn't mind your well water for a soda syphon - at 
that hardness it would taste just like my favorite San Pellegrino (I have a foodie friend who 
uses SP to cook pasta, since all Italian water is that hard, maybe you've got a business 
selling your well water).
But I've heard from others, mainly in the Northwest, who prefer the soft water they have 
locally. So despite all the official recommendations for 5 grains general hardness, there's 
still no disputing with taste.
In my personal taste test, I didn't find too much harm using ion exchanged softened water, but 
I've had emails from people who hate the stuff. 
But I'm finding the hose end softener too much of a hassle; and depite what everyone says, I 
find it easier to descale my HX machine every two months. Of course, at your water hardness 
(man, that's a lot of drop adding and shaking the test tube!), you would have to descale every 
other day, so cutting with distilled is a good solution. The rate you're using puts the water 
right at the SCAA recommendation. 
If you're using a whole house softener, you could also explore having a little of your well 
water reintroduced downstream to make it palatable for drinking and cooking.
On 27 Oct 2002 at 16:07, Chris Beck wrote:
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3) From: Chris Beck
I'll have to get one of those soda syphons.  I really like seltzer with 
a bit of lemon in it.  Any sources?  We have a restaurant supply place 
in Milwaukee, I'll have to check it out.
What I'd like to know is what impact the Carbonate hardness has on the 
taste even though the General hardness of my soft water is very low.  My 
bottled water makes lousy coffee, even though it's 6 Carb. and 9 General 
hardness.  It should work great.  Hmm, maybe it's your Chicago water 
piped up here????
Incidentally, Milwaukee has excellent water (from the lake), and I have 
almost no scale buildup in my Bunn home brewer I use in my cube at work. 
  Here at home, the town (West Bend) gets all water from a series of 
very deep wells (1000').  It's hard, but tastes really good.  A lot of 
people with shallower (300') wells get a LOT of iron in the water 
(liquid rust - yuck!) and other problems (odors, etc).
For now, I'll just keep mixing up my custom water.  I don't like to do 
it much in the summer as the distiller really puts out a lot of heat. 
In the winter, it's not a problem.
Thanks Jim!
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4) From: floyd burton
Does any of the salt in an ion exchange softener (most of use them with well
water in WI) end up in the water we drink.  If so wonder what that would do
to a boiler-don't think salt is very friendly stuff.

5) From: Owen Davies
Among other things, Chris Beck wrote:
Sounds like our part of Florida--except that there aren't any deep wells.
Even the city water is unpalatable, which is unforgivable, as the next
town to our south has water as good as we had in New Hampshire.
I wouldn't mind, but any bottled water we've bought has a strong
flavor of plastic.  Sounds like a reverse osmosis unit may be our
best hope, but apparently not everyone likes them either.  Sigh.
As someone once observed, "If it isn't one thing, it's two things."
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6) From: Jim Schulman
Hi Chris
Carbonate hardness is also called alkalinity. If the water has settled, and has 
no absorbed CO2, it determines the pH. At 48 mg/l, ca 3 grains, it's neutral. 
Distilled or RO water tends to stabilize at about 5.5 to 6 pH, which is why RO 
water tends to corrode metals. As the alkalinity gets very high, the water moves 
towards 8.5 pH. The benefit to ion exchanged water is that with the low calcium, 
it doesn't scale; and the high alkalinity, it doesn't corrode. For plumbing, 
especially sensitive espresso machines, like the Gaggias, it's the ideal 
As to taste, some people really hate it, even more than RO. I personally think 
it works nearly as well in coffee as regular water, but my palate may be 
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7) From: Jim Schulman
Hi Floyd
The salt itself doesn't get in, unless the softener isn't properly rinsed after recharging. 
However, ion exchange works by replacing each calcium ion, Ca++, for two sodium ions, Na+. So 
the amount of sodium in the water depends on how hard it was originally. If you want to get 
scientific, for each grain of calcium hardness removed, you get 8 mg/l or ppm sodium added, for 
each 100 mg/l hardness, 46 mg/l sodium. 
This water SHOULD NEVER be used to water plants (the sodium accumulates), and sodium restricted 
people are counselled to avoid using it as drinking water; however, at the amounts one drinks as 
coffee, even the most salt restricted person would hardly fill up their sodium budget. My 
information is that at these concentrations, the extra sodium doesn't affect corrosion. In fact, 
in hot water systems, ion exchange water is the least corrosive, since the alkalinity doesn't 
scale out and the pH remains high.
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8) From: Chris Beck
Hey Jim, I find it veeerrrry peculiar that the sample of Milwaukee tap 
water I just tested was 6 Carbonate hardness and 9 General hardness - 
exactly the same as the bottled Nicolet 'spring' water I have delivered 
to the house.  Hmmmmm, seems maybe this 'spring' might just be a funny 
name for Lake Michigan?????  You'd have the same water in Chicago, of 
Well, at any rate the Milwaukee water definitely makes a good cup of Joe 
in the Bunn I use at work, and doesn't make much scale at all.  Maybe 
I'll bring some home and try in the Silvia...
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9) From: Jim Schulman
Yep, that's lake Michigan water. Of course, there's springs on the delivery trucks.
On 29 Oct 2002 at 18:39, Chris Beck wrote:
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10) From: Chris Beck
Yeah, seems time to cancel that water account.  I don't use it enough as 
our tap water tasts fine as-is, and I don't use it for coffee or 
anything else.  Shoot, I can just bring home Milwaukee water from the 
coolers at work that have carbon filters on them...
Jim Schulman wrote:
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