The Role Of Water Quality In An Espresso Machine

Are your automatic espresso machine started brewing mediocre espresso shots? It might not be the machine’s fault. The water you’re using could be the culprit. Water quality is crucial to your espresso’s taste, aroma, and overall quality. 

Hard water can create limescale buildup inside your machine, which can cause poor espresso extraction.

Here’s what you need to know about the role of water quality in an espresso machine.

Why The role of water quality in an espresso machine Matters

You may be wondering why the quality of the water you use for your espresso machine matters. The answer is simple: the water’s quality directly affects your espresso’s taste and aroma. Using water high in minerals, such as calcium and magnesium, can result in an unpleasant aftertaste and even damage your machine over time.

On the other hand, using water that is too soft or lacks minerals can result in a flat-tasting espresso with no crema. So, the ideal water for your best automatic espresso machine is balanced, with moderate minerals and a neutral pH level.

The Role Of Water Quality In An Espresso Machine and Taste

The water you use while brewing your automatic espresso machine is extremely important. In fact, it’s just as crucial as the quality of your beans, if not more so.

Water makes up most of your espresso shot, almost 90%, so using clean, high-quality water is essential to achieve the perfect extraction.

But what makes water quality so important? It all comes down to the minerals and chemicals present in the water. Tap water is often treated with chlorine and other chemicals to kill bacteria and impurities, which can negatively impact the taste of your espresso. 

Hard water, which is high in minerals like calcium and magnesium, can also affect the flavor and texture of your espresso. Poor water quality can also lead to scale buildup in your machine’s boiler and other components, causing damage and reducing lifespan. 

So not only does water quality affect the taste of your espresso, but it also impacts the longevity and performance of your machine.

That’s why using high-quality water for your espresso machine is essential. But what exactly constitutes “high-quality” water? Read on to find out the role of water quality in an espresso machine.

What’s Water Hardness

Do you live in an area with hard water? If so, it can significantly impact your espresso’s taste and quality.

Hard water is high in mineral content, such as calcium and magnesium, which can lead to mineral buildup in your machine’s inner workings. 

And what’s scary? This buildup can clog your machine’s filters, resulting in slower extraction times and a weaker espresso.

Water hardness is measured in parts per million (PPM) or milligrams per liter (mg/L). Water with a hardness of less than 60 mg/L is considered soft, while water with a hardness of more than 180 mg/L is considered hard.

showing the label of water hardness in ppm
Water Hardness in ppm and gpg

So, what’s the real scenario?

Ideally, you should use water with a hardness of around 120 mg/L for your espresso machine. This range allows enough minerals to contribute to the flavor and texture of your espresso without causing scale buildup.

How to Test the Hardness of Water?

The role of water quality in an espresso machine is integral to brewing a perfect espresso shot. So, test the hardness of your water before using it in the water tank of the espresso machine.

There’re several ways of testing the hardness of water, but I’ll show some most reliable ways of testing.

showing The role of water quality in an espresso machine
Examine Water Hardness using a Test Strip

Use TSD Meter

To assess the hardness of your water, you can use a TDS (Total Dissolved Solids) meter. Most of the super-automatic espresso machines include testing strips in their box-packing. How to use it?  

Simply fill a glass with tap water, turn on the TDS meter, and insert it into the water. The device will then display the TDS level in parts per million (ppm).

Once you have your TDS reading, compare it to the recommended range of 90-150 ppm for espresso extraction. If your TDS is too high or too low, you may need to consider using a water filtration system or adding minerals to your water to achieve the ideal balance for your espresso machine.

La Marzocco, a renowned espresso machine manufacturer, has provided water guidelines that can help you understand the quality of your water and set the tone for your machine’s future health.

Moreover, you can read the guidelines and recommendations of La Marzocco and compare your tap’s water quality.

It’s important to note that TDS only measures the concentration of minerals and other dissolved solids in the water and does not indicate the specific types of minerals present. 

So, while TDS is a useful indicator of water hardness, it’s not a perfect measure of water quality.

It’s important to keep in mind that the mineral content in water can differ by region and even seasonally.

To ensure accurate and current information about the water quality in your area, consider contacting your local water treatment plant. 

Achieving the perfect balance of minerals in your water can be a challenge. It may require significant investment in specialized water filtration systems like Reverse Osmosis, especially for cafes that prioritize equipment maintenance.

How to Measure Water Quality

Water quality can be determined by various factors, such as its taste, odor, appearance, and chemical composition. Here are some methods to check the quality of water:

Visual inspection involves checking the color, clarity, and presence of suspended particles in the water. Water should be clear and free from any visible impurities.

Smell test: Smelling the water can indicate its quality. If the water has a foul smell, it may indicate contamination.

Taste test: Water should have a neutral taste. It may indicate high levels of minerals, salts, or other contaminants if it has a metallic, salty, or bitter taste.

Chemical analysis: Water quality can be analyzed through chemical tests in a laboratory. This involves measuring the levels of various contaminants such as bacteria, viruses, chemicals, and heavy metals.

It is important to note that water quality can vary depending on the source, treatment process, and location. Therefore, it is recommended to regularly test the water quality to ensure it is safe and suitable for espresso brewing.

Solution of Hard Water

One solution to hard water is to use a water filter. Water filters help remove minerals and impurities from the water, resulting in a cleaner and better-tasting espresso. 

Some automatic espresso machines come with built-in water filters, like Jura’s automatic espresso machines. These machines filter the water and descale the machine when needed.

While others require a separate water filtration system. In this situation, you need to use filtered water or insert a filter into the water reservoir.

Types of Water Filters

So how do you ensure that your espresso machine’s water is of high quality? One option is to use filtered water. There are several types of water filtration systems available, including:

  • Carbon filters: These filters use activated carbon to remove impurities and chlorine from water.
  • Reverse osmosis systems: These systems use a semipermeable membrane to remove minerals and other impurities from water.
  • Water softeners: These systems use ion exchange to remove minerals like calcium and magnesium from water.
  • Combination systems: These systems combine different filtration methods to provide the best possible water quality.
Jura's Claris filter cartridge
Jura’s Claris filter cartridge

When choosing a water filtration system for your espresso machine, it’s important to consider factors like cost, maintenance, and effectiveness. Jura Uses a Claris filter cartridge which makes your machine smart enough that it lets you know when to descale your espresso machine. Learn more about the best Jura coffee machines.

Distilled or RO (Reverse Osmosis)

When considering the use of distilled or RO (reverse osmosis) water for brewing coffee or espresso, there are several important factors to take into account.

While these processes remove nearly all minerals, impurities, and other ions from the water, it can result in a flat taste due to the lack of minerals necessary to properly extract coffee flavors. 

Furthermore, this type of water typically has a pH level of around 5, which is considered corrosive and can cause damage to the internal parts of your brewing equipment over time, such as the Ascaso Dream.

It’s also worth noting that heat exchangers espresso machines like the Pasquini Livia or Nuova Simonelli Oscar use electromagnetic sensors to detect water levels and may not function properly with distilled or RO water.

Moreover, distilled and RO water leaches copper, brass, or aluminum from the internal parts of your espresso machine, which could eventually cause electrical shorts or leaks.

If you have a home RO system and want to use that water with your automatic espresso machine, installing a mineral or pH-balancing unit is advisable to protect your machine.

Alternatively, you can use Third Wave Water Mineral Supplement or similar solutions to add the minerals necessary for proper espresso extraction.

Finally, it’s important to understand the potential risks and effects of using distilled or RO water before deciding.

Filtration Pitchers

Filtration pitchers are an affordable and convenient solution for improving tap water quality. These pitchers typically use activated carbon filters to remove impurities, such as chlorine, sediment, and some metals, which can affect the taste and odor of water.

using a Filtration Pitcher with a tap
Filtration Pitchers Plus Tap Water

Using a filtration pitcher can improve your tap water’s overall taste and quality without the expense and hassle of installing a whole-house filtration system. Plus, it’s a more sustainable option than relying on bottled water.

But again, these pitchers are advisable only for localities with comparatively good quality. And impurities can be removed by just using these filters with your water tap.

Bottled Water

Various types of commercially bottled water are available, including distilled, reverse osmosis, drinking, spring, and mineral water. Mineral water is generally not recommended as it is naturally hard. Spring water can be either hard or soft, depending on the source.

I’ve already discussed the effects of distilled and RO water on coffee taste and equipment corrosion. Drinking water that uses these methods, it’s generally safe only if it has been enhanced with minerals or pH balanced. Most suppliers add a small number of minerals to the RO water to neutralize its pH level.

It’s important to note that before choosing a specific bottled water brand, you should test its hardness with a kit to ensure it meets your needs.

Built-in Water Filters

Some automatic coffee brands, such as Saeco and Jura-Capresso, provide internal water filters that can be easily attached to the water tank of your espresso machine.

These filters, including Aqua Prima and Clearyl, are optional add-ons with new and refurbished espresso machines.

These filters are made with carbon and organic compounds, and they can eliminate taste-altering impurities and most water hardness. 

So, they can provide a practical solution for those who don’t have access to suitable water sources.

YouTube video
How to Test for Hard Water in Your Home

Descaling the Machine

Descaling your espresso maker is an essential maintenance task regardless of the type of water you use. 

So, if you’re using harder water, it requires more frequent descaling, while a good rule of thumb is to descale your machine every two to three months. It also depends on the level of hardness and usage. 

Descaling removes the mineral and calcium buildup that accumulates in the boiler, brew group, frothing wand, and other parts of the machine. 

Further, descaling solutions are available in various forms, such as powder, liquid, and tab. Read more about how to clean and descale your espresso machine.

Final Words about The role of water quality in an espresso machine

The role of water quality in an espresso machine is as important as other factors like a good machine; the best beans are important to pull a perfect aromatic and richly flavored espresso. If you’re struggling with the hardness of your water, try the tips I shared with you and enjoy your brewing!

Using filtered or purified water in your automatic espresso machine is best. It will help to remove any impurities or minerals that could affect the taste of your coffee or cause damage to your machine over time.

While it is technically possible to use tap water in your automatic espresso machine, it is generally not recommended. Tap water can contain various minerals and impurities that can affect the taste of your coffee and cause damage to your machine over time.

When choosing a water filter for your automatic espresso machine, you should look for a filter designed to remove the specific minerals and impurities in your local water supply. You should also consider the filter’s capacity and how often it will need to be replaced.

Change the water in your espresso machine’s reservoir at least once a day or more frequently if you use your machine frequently. It will help to ensure that your coffee always tastes fresh and that your machine is running at its best.

You should descale your automatic espresso machine every two to three months. But if your water is on the harder side, then you should descale it more frequently.

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