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Water and Chemistry

Water and Chemistry

This article was originally written by Matt Campbell for the membership of Coffee Props.  Please visit www.coffeeprops.com to join the conversation and be a part of the community!

So much focus has been put on the coffee itself, and rightfully so. The grind size, consistency of grind, freshness and quality of the bean, roast quality and method of brewing are all important factors when considering the end result of your brew. Traditionally when we would talk about water we would be discussing water to coffee ratio, temperature of brew water, speed and type of infusion method, and filtration. While these factors are all important, recent studies have broadened our understanding of our water.

 

What can be so complicated? Water is H2O, right? Well, yes; and no, not always. Without getting too deep into the physics and chemistry of it all, water is made up of hydrogen and oxygen atoms, and the liquid we all know and love is capable of dissolving all sorts of other molecules. The makeup of water depends on a multitude of factors and conditions, and it is a complex array of chemistry and physics. Each water sample can react differently with its surrounding environment, and it is no different when we heat it and pour it over a bed of coffee.

 

It has been shown that magnesium (Mg +2) and calcium (Ca +2) are important to extracting flavor from coffee. These two atoms readily dissolve in water to create ions. These ions have a charge, which reacts chemically with flavor in the coffee to extract it into solution. Adding the sum of these two minerals together to calculate their abundance in parts-per-million (PPM) will give us an idea of general hardness, or GH.

 

On the opposing side of these ions are carbonate ions (HCO3 -1), which is more commonly referred to as the alkalinity or buffering agent (KH). This also contributes to coffee flavor, but it must be kept in check to prevent undesirable changes.

 

Although there are other minerals and ions in solution, the three mentioned above are the most important factors that impact flavor. These ions must be kept at the right level of hardness, but they must also be in proper quantities relative to each other. The preferred ration seems to be 2:1 in favor of the general hardness when the GH is around 100 ppm.

 

Believe it or not, that was actually a pretty dumbed down version of the whole story. Although these are just the basic facts, there is a whole textbook of information called, “Water for Coffee.” If you are they type that needs to know more, there is no more relevant and thorough information available. It isn’t exactly an easy read, but it is articulate and complete.

 

All this fantastic information has been made available recently, but now what can we do with it? Sure, we can purchase titration test kits and expensive filtration solutions to make the perfect water for coffee, but for the average household this is not a feasible option. Is all lost?

 

Not quite. The chemistry may be complicated to understand, but some very smart people have broken it down for us. Matthew Perger, WBC all-star and coffee guru has been dropping knowledge for us, so I will yield the floor to his recipe for perfect water:

 

Water Recipe:

 

Based on instructions from Matthew Perger, and the book Water for Coffee

Ingredients: Sodium Bicarbonate (aka baking soda); magnesium sulfate (Epsom salt); distilled water

NOTES:

  • Distilled water, spring water, and purified water are not the same. It must be labeled distilled for this to work.
  • The Epsom salts must be unscented, and read magnesium sulfate. MgSO4

 

INSTRUCTIONS:

 

To make concentrate:

  1. Add 8.6g baking soda, and 25g Epsom salt to 500g distilled water. This is your concentrate.
  2. Shake this concentrate until it is all dissolved.

 

To make perfect coffee water:

  1. Place 500g of distilled water into a clean glass container.
  2. Carefully mix 2.5g of CONCENTRATE into the distilled water.
Cascara: A new take on an old drink

Cascara: A new take on an old drink

This weekend we released a new product; something that we have been working on for several weeks. As far as we know only a few cafes in the nation are offering cascara on their menu, and of those that have it only a fraction of them are serving it as soda. So what exactly is cascara, and how did this drink come to be?

 

Cascara is the Spanish word for “husk,” and it is the perfect description. Many of you know that coffee grows on a tree inside a cherry. When ripe, it is picked by the farmer and delivered to a washing station. The pit of the cherry is then separated from the fruit, and that pit is dried out and prepared to be the coffee that we enjoy daily. That remaining fruit or husk is called cascara.

 

Normally, the remaining cherry, or cascara is either discarded or thrown into a compost pile to be used as a fertilizer for the coffee trees. This has been the custom for decades, especially when global focus has been on maximum production for the corporate coffee world. With attention shifting from mass-produced coffee consumption to quality-centric specialty coffee, more focus has been placed on the coffee plant itself.

 

Cascara has qualities of both coffee and tea, putting it into a league of its own. It can be earthy, with many of the qualities of an Indonesian coffee, or a root-type spice. Usually that mild earthy taste is accompanied by a cherry or raisin-like flavor, and a pleasant sweetness; especially as it cools. There is caffeine content as well that is about the same amount you would expect from a cup of black tea.

 

For as long as coffee has been around, the cascara has been used as a tea, or eaten as a cherry. Coffee lure actually attributes the discovery of coffee to goats that were hyper-caffeinated by eating these cherries from the local coffee plants in Ethiopia. The farmers discovered the energy-inducing fruit, and began harvesting, cultivating and trading it. As the coffee trade took off, the seed became the central focus, but for many of the local producers the cherry would be steeped into a drink of its own.

 

In order to be made into a drink, the cherry must be carefully prepared and dried to a tea-like consistency. This dried cascara can then be stored, or shipped as a commodity, much like the coffee itself. Cascara has long been enjoyed in many European countries, often as a coffee and tea alternative. Of late, many leading specialty coffee companies have begun introducing it to the American market.

 

 

So how did we end up with a cascara soda? After learning about the flavors and qualities of cascara, we ordered some to find out for ourselves. We were immediately blown away by the taste and versatility that we found. Cascara was a huge hit among our baristas.

 

We immediately knew that we had something special on out hands, and we began to work tirelessly to create a drink that would be unique to Youngstown. After a few recipe attempts, we realized that there was more than one way to brew this cherry up, and we are planning on having an entirely unique cascara menu.

 

So what is the Cascara Soda? It is an amazing combination of flavor that is similar to coffee, tea and soda. The only way to truly experience it is to grab one of your own. This soda is only the beginning of the fun we will have; ask about the unique ways that you can enjoy cascara!