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The Perfect Shot of Espresso

July 09, 2024 9 min read

Imagine this: Sarah, a passionate coffee enthusiast decided to elevate her home espresso game. She invested in a top-of-the-line burr grinder, sourced freshly roasted coffee beans from a renowned local roaster, and meticulously mastered her puck preparation. She even splurged on a high-end espresso machine, complete with all the bells and whistles. Despite all these efforts, her espresso shots still fell short of perfection—lacking the vibrant flavors and balanced complexity she craved. 

To make matters worse, she even had to replace her expensive new machine’s boiler due to corrosion, leading her to seek a solution that would protect her investment from damage and improve her coffee's flavor.

Frustrated and determined to uncover the missing piece of the puzzle, Sarah delved into the science of coffee brewing. She had addressed nearly every variable, from grind size to extraction time, and was even brewing with filtered tap water, which she thought was good for her coffee since it tasted good enough to drink. Her espresso still didn’t taste right. It was then that she turned her attention to a crucial, yet often overlooked element: her water quality. She discovered that the water she used could be the key to unlocking the full potential of her espresso. Enter Third Wave Water, a solution that helped her transform her entire brewing experience.

Understanding the Importance of Water in Espresso

Water makes up approximately 90% of an espresso shot, making it the primary ingredient. The quality of water significantly influences the extraction process, affecting both the flavor and aroma of the espresso as well as the lifespan of your machine. Key factors in water quality include:

  • Mineral Content: The presence of minerals such as calcium, magnesium, and sodium.
  • pH Level: The acidity or alkalinity of the water.
  • Hardness: The concentration of temporary and/or permanent hardness.

Each of these factors can either enhance or detract from the espresso experience through the taste of your shots or the lifespan of your machine. Let’s explore these components in more detail, focusing on how Third Wave Water optimizes them for a better shot of espresso.

Why Minerals Matter in Espresso

High-quality espresso requires a precise balance of minerals in the water. These minerals are crucial because they interact with the coffee grounds during the brewing process, helping to extract the rich, complex flavors that make espresso so enjoyable. Without the right minerals, the water can either over-extract or under-extract the coffee, leading to bitter, sour, or flat-tasting espresso.

The right balance of minerals in water helps to:

  • Enhance Sweetness: The proper minerals can bring out the natural sweetness of the coffee.
  • Balance Acidity: Having the right balance ensures that the coffee’s acidity is neither too sharp nor too dull.
  • Improve Body: These minerals contribute to the body and mouthfeel of the espresso, making it richer and more satisfying.

The Specialty Coffee Association (SCA) provides comprehensive water quality guidelines to ensure optimal coffee extraction and flavor. According to the SCA, ideal brewing water should have a clean, neutral taste with the following parameters:

  • Alkalinity of 40-70 ppm
  • pH level between 6.5 and 8.0
  • Total dissolved solids (TDS) concentration of 75-250 ppm
These guidelines are designed to balance mineral content and alkalinity, ensuring the water enhances the coffee’s natural flavors without causing over-extraction or under-extraction, thereby contributing to a well-rounded and consistent coffee experience. Third Wave Water Espresso Machine Profile fits these guidelines to help your espresso taste great. 

Why the pH Level Matters in Espresso

The amount of alkalinity in your water plays a crucial role in influencing the flavor profile of your coffee. Alkalinity acts as a buffer against acidity, stabilizing the pH levels during the brewing process. When water has high alkalinity, it can neutralize some of the desirable acids in coffee, leading to a flatter, less vibrant flavor. This reduction in acidity can make the coffee taste dull and less complex, diminishing the bright and fruity notes that are particularly prized in lighter roasts.

If the alkalinity of your water is too low, or if there is no buffer, it may result in overly acidic coffee, which can taste sour and sharp. A balanced level of alkalinity is essential for achieving a harmonious flavor profile. It ensures that the coffee’s natural acids are highlighted without becoming overwhelming, allowing the full spectrum of flavors to be properly expressed. Therefore, managing water alkalinity is key to brewing a well-rounded, flavorful cup of coffee that showcases the beans’ inherent characteristics.

Water Hardness

Water hardness can significantly impact the condition and lifespan of your coffee making equipment and espresso machine. There are two types of water hardness: temporary and permanent.

Temporary Hardness

Temporary hardness is primarily caused by the presence of certain bicarbonate minerals such as calcium bicarbonate. When water with temporary hardness is heated, these bicarbonates decompose into carbonate, water, and carbon dioxide. The carbonates then precipitate out as scale, which can build up in coffee equipment and affect its performance. Below is an image of what can happen when your machine is fed with water that contains temporary hardness.

Permanent Hardness

Unlike temporary hardness, permanent hardness cannot be removed by boiling. This means that your kettle, coffee maker, and your espresso machine, will be safe from scale building up. All six (6) of Third Wave Water's profiles contain only permanent hardness.

The Benefits of Using Espresso Machine Profile

Enhanced Flavor Profile

The primary benefit of using Third Wave Water for espresso is the enhanced flavor profile. The carefully calibrated mineral content ensures that the water complements the coffee, highlighting the sweetness, complexity, and balance of flavors. Whether you’re pulling a shot of single-origin espresso or a complex blend, Third Wave Water helps bring out the best in your coffee.

The Espresso Machine Profile is designed to achieve the ideal mineral balance for espresso extraction, following the Specialty Coffee Association (SCA) guidelines. These guidelines provide specific parameters for the optimal water composition to enhance coffee flavors and ensure consistent quality.

Consistent Quality

One of the significant benefits of using Third Wave Water is consistency. By using the pre-formulated mineral packets, you can ensure that your water quality remains consistent for every shot of espresso. This consistency is crucial for achieving repeatable results, no matter where you are.

Reduced Equipment Maintenance

Scaling is a common issue with espresso machines, particularly in areas with especially hard water. The minerals can precipitate out as scale, affecting machine performance and requiring frequent maintenance. Third Wave Water’s mineral profiles are designed to provide the necessary components for improved flavor without contributing to scale build-up, reducing the need for descaling and extending the lifespan of your equipment.

Prevention of Corrosion

Third Wave Water Espresso Machine Profile also helps prevent corrosion in espresso machines. Chlorides, commonly found in tap water, are highly corrosive to espresso machine boilers, which not only compromises the machine’s performance but also its longevity.

Chloride ions are highly reactive and can penetrate the protective oxide layer on metal surfaces, especially in stainless steel boilers. Once this layer is compromised, the chloride ions can cause electrochemical reactions that lead to corrosion. These reactions can result in the formation of pits and cracks, weakening the metal over time.

Pitting corrosion occurs when chloride ions concentrate in certain areas, creating small, localized corrosion sites or pits. These pits can grow over time, leading to significant structural damage. Pitting corrosion is particularly dangerous because it can occur beneath the surface, making it difficult to detect until the damage is extensive.

To prevent chloride-induced corrosion in your espresso machine, it is essential to use water with low chloride content in espresso machines. This is where Third Wave Water comes in. By formulating the Espresso Machine Profile to exclude chlorides, your espresso machine boiler is protected from the damaging effects of corrosion, ensuring the longevity and performance of the equipment.

How it Works

Third Wave Water offers a unique solution to the challenges of water quality in espresso making. By providing mineral packets specifically formulated for different brewing methods, Third Wave Water ensures that the water used for espresso is perfectly balanced. Using it is simple. Add a stick to distilled or reverse osmosis (RO) water and mix until the minerals are dissolved. Then you are ready to brew with your own specialized water for coffee.

Using Espresso Machine Profile is a straightforward process designed to help you achieve the perfect espresso shot easily. Follow these steps to optimize your water for espresso brewing:

Step 1: Start with Distilled Water

Distilled water is free from minerals and impurities, providing a blank slate that allows the Third Wave Water mineral stick to create the ideal water profile. Some other good options for empty water are reverse osmosis (RO) water, deionized water or water from a Zero Water™ filter.

Using generic spring water, bottled water, or tap water is not ideal because you do not know what minerals at what quantities are present in the water. Adding our minerals to water with an unknown TDS content might inhibit their effectiveness and could cause scale or unfavorable flavors in your coffee.

Step 2: Add the Third Wave Water

Cut open a stick of Third Wave Water Espresso Profile minerals. Each one is specifically formulated to meet the Specialty Coffee Association (SCA) guidelines for water quality, ensuring the optimal balance of minerals for espresso extraction. There are 3 different sizes to choose from, sticks created for 1 gallon, 5 gallons, or 2 liters.

Pour the contents of the mineral packet into your distilled or RO water. Seal the container and shake it vigorously until the minerals are completely dissolved. This step is crucial to ensure the minerals are evenly distributed throughout the water.

Step 4: Fill Your Espresso Machine

Pour your mixed Third Wave Water into the espresso machine reservoir. Make sure your machine’s water tank is clean and free of any previous water to prevent any cross-contamination that might affect the mineral balance.

Bonus Tip: some espresso machines may not even turn on or operate correctly with just distilled or RO water.

Step 5: Brew Your Espresso

With the water reservoir filled with Third Wave Water, proceed with your usual espresso brewing process. The balanced mineral content in the water will help enhance the extraction process, bringing out the best flavors in your coffee.

Step 6: Enjoy Consistent Results

Using Third Wave Water ensures that your water quality remains consistent with each brew. This consistency translates to repeatable, high-quality espresso shots, allowing you to enjoy a well-rounded and flavorful coffee experience every time.

By following these steps, you can maximize the potential of your espresso machine and coffee beans, ensuring each shot of espresso is as delicious and satisfying as possible.

Water Filters and Third Wave Water:

Espresso machines often come equipped with water filters designed to remove impurities, chlorine, and other contaminants from tap water. However, when using Third Wave Water, which is already optimized for espresso with the perfect balance of minerals, it’s important to understand how these in-machine water filters might impact the added minerals.

Do Water Filters Affect Third Wave Water Minerals?

Generally, the purpose of in-machine water filters is to remove unwanted impurities rather than specific minerals essential for coffee extraction. Most standard water filters, such as carbon-based filters, will not significantly impact the minerals added by Third Wave Water, allowing the water to maintain its optimized profile.

However, certain types of advanced filtration systems, such as reverse osmosis (RO) units or deionization filters, can remove nearly all dissolved solids, including beneficial minerals. If your espresso machine uses such a filtration system, it might strip away the minerals added by Third Wave Water, negating its benefits.

Best Practices for Using Third Wave Water with Espresso Machine Filters

  • Carbon Filters: If your espresso machine has a carbon-based filter, you can use Third Wave Water without concerns. These filters primarily target chlorine and organic compounds, leaving the added minerals intact.
  • Resin or Ion Exchange Filters: If your machine uses resin or ion exchange filters, consider bypassing or removing these filters when using Third Wave Water. Since these systems can remove the essential minerals, bypassing or removing them ensures that the carefully balanced mineral content of Third Wave Water is preserved.
  • Check Filter Specifications: Always refer to your espresso machine’s user manual to understand the type of filtration it employs and adjust your use of Third Wave Water accordingly. If you are unable to find it in the user manual, check the machine manufacturer's website and you will probably be able to find replacement filters. For example, here is an image of Lelit's website with a description of the filter.

By understanding the interaction between your espresso machine’s water filter and Third Wave Water, you can ensure that you are getting the full benefits of the optimized mineral profile, resulting in consistently excellent espresso.

The End of Espresso Woes

Water quality is a critical component of espresso making that significantly impacts the flavor, aroma, and overall experience of your shot. Third Wave Water offers a convenient and effective solution to the challenges of water quality by providing mineral profiles specifically formulated for espresso. By using Third Wave Water’s Espresso Profile, you can enhance the flavor profile of your espresso, achieve consistent quality, improve extraction efficiency, reduce equipment maintenance, prevent corrosion, and enjoy environmental benefits.

Sarah finally found the answer to her espresso woes. With Third Wave Water, her shots transformed into vibrant, well-balanced masterpieces, full of the complexity and richness she had been missing. Not only did her coffee taste better, but her new espresso machine also stayed in perfect condition, free from scale and corrosion. Sarah’s investment was protected, and her daily coffee ritual was elevated to new heights.

Whether you’re a home barista, a coffee shop owner, or a specialty coffee roaster, Third Wave Water can help you unlock the full potential of your espresso. By appreciating the science behind water quality and leveraging the benefits of tailored mineral profiles, you can transform your daily espresso ritual into a truly exceptional and consistent pleasure. Elevate your espresso experience to new heights.

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