Posted Sat Jan 5, 2013, 6:49am Subject: How to soften hard water without a softener if you rent or want to avoid expense
If you move frequently, as I do, or you rent for other reasons, then being a home barista presents challenges that more sedentary coffee lovers do not face. If you find yourself in a city with very hard water, you may start to notice scale forming in the bottom of your boiling kettle, or you may not notice anything until the scale starts to flake off and appear in your pourovers or reservoirs. If you read enough posts on the subject of water hardness, it seems that it is not much of a taste problem, although more moderate hardness is said to create a better tasting brew than extremely hard water and certainly better than distilled water. The problem is mostly that it interferes with boiler or kettle heaters, clogs diffuser screens (shower heads), and the like. Rankling the obsessive among us just by its presence also counts as a problem. As a renter, it is unlikely that you want to spring for an under-sink water softener or replumb the kitchen. It is possible to eliminate or significantly reduce extreme water hardness with a minimal outlay of cash. First, buy a water filter pitcher. Brita, I have learned, is prohibited from advertising its products as water softeners, because they only partially soften water, and then, most effectively when the filters are new and during the first part of their useful life. But the difference that they make is significant. I have had to stop getting extra weeks of use out of my Brita filter replacements and to change them more frequently (perhaps 2/3 of the life they suggest on their products), but they eliminate or significantly cut down on scale buildup when new or newish. When they are beginning to lose their water-softening property and scale returns to the kettle there are other maneuvers that can synergistically remove hardness from the water. Most easily, add a half-pinch of table salt (scant pinch) to the prefiltered tap water as it goes through the water pitcher. This does the same job that ion-exchange water softeners do, that is, chemically replace some insoluble salt ions (Ca++, Mg++) with soluble Na+ ion. You are not able to taste the salt at all unless you do not follow my directions and go completely overboard. Anyway, adding salt to coffee grounds to mellow out the bitterness has a long history among coffeehouses but you should not even consider doing it for that reason. This pertains to ‘chock-full-o’-nuts’ preground coffee coffeehouses of the last century and buying the premium coffees that are now available and grinding them before use obviates the need for salt for this purpose. I always add a half-pinch of salt to my hard tap water, regardless of the age of the filter. Finally, there is one more step you can add to the process: preboil the water (and cool it!) before filtering it. This cuts down on convenience and increases energy costs, but it adds to the efficiency. When you preboil the water you will see some of the insoluble minerals coming out of the water and appearing as scale floating on the surface of the water. They won’t redissolve when cool, so then filter them out. This does not seem to clog or otherwise shorten the life of the filter. No matter how hard your tap water is, these three steps will take even the hardest of water into the range of acceptable coffee brewing and espresso infusing. You cannot over-soften water with these techniques, you will not be able to stray into deionized or distilled territory. Best yet, you didn’t spend a lot of money to correct the problem.
efahl Senior Member Joined: 22 Dec 2011 Posts: 6 Location: Southern California, USA Expertise: I like coffee
Posted Sun Jan 6, 2013, 10:32am Subject: How to soften hard water without a softener if you rent or want to avoid expense
Thanks, Buckley, good stuff. Living in SoCal, where during droughts we sometimes drink 75% Colorado River water, the water is so hard that if you spill it on the floor it breaks the tiles. If someone at work puts tap water in the full auto machine, then I have to descale it within a couple days as it clogs the beast right up...
Posted Mon Jan 7, 2013, 8:10am Subject: Re:How to soften hard water without a softener
Boiling larg amounts of hard water to almost distilled is nice and cheap. I personally have tasted a huge diffrence in RO water compared to regular tap water. I think investing in an RO machine for your home or apt is ideal for the taste of your coffee, future machines as well as your health.
Something like this is around $40 Comes with a TDS meter too!
Posted Tue Jan 8, 2013, 7:47am Subject: Re: How to soften hard water without a softener
Thank you for your suggestion of a RO (reverse osmosis for you first-time readers) unit for us non-plumbed coterie. I will admit that I have not investigated free-standing RO units. The link you provided does not say "RO" anywhere and it is a review by a person who was given several of these pitchers for her feedback. I always thought that RO required a strong pressure-gradient to push the 'reverse' aspect of it - more than a gravity-fed pitcher - but I admit to not being up to speed in knowing anything about current RO technology. Neverthelss, this does not diminish the value of your contribution - RO sounds like a viable option and worth the investigation for its water quality. The initial cost and filter replacement are likely to cost more that a Brita, but if the quality is there, you can't beat it.
Posted Tue Jan 8, 2013, 8:57am Subject: Re: How to soften hard water without a softener if you rent
I used to sell the high end machines and trust me they are worth it. The taste is awesome. High end cafe's install these for optimum taste and long lasting machines. The 7 step RO machines strip the water down to 0.00 TDS and re-mineralize it to about 85ppm. The difference with these is they just don’t re-mineralize and gravity in the jug does it all if you don't mind waiting. What I learned at that job scared me when you run tests on regular water. Honestly disgusting. You will never drink Nestle water again.
For the record I am using a Brita with softened water and it tastes fine. Boiling water for 10, cooling and running through a Brita will do it for you. Just buy a cheap TDS meter or descale every 2 months or so.
Posted Tue Jan 8, 2013, 6:47pm Subject: Re: How to soften hard water without a softener if you rent
Thanks for the detail. I will look into RO arrangements, probably low-end like the pitcher, at least in the beginning. I may be settling down, which means there may be one, hopefully two boilers in my future. If so, a more permanent RO arrangement will be a parallel acquisition. My next coffee 'toy' is a better tamper, with a TDS meter to follow.
Posted Wed Jan 9, 2013, 7:03am Subject: Re: How to soften hard water without a softener if you rent
Sounds good. RW (Rattleware) Tampers are great and solid SS. Amazon sells them for only $30 I think. Lava tampers are nice looking as well. This is next on my list once I start making more shots at a time. Click Here
Posted Wed Jan 9, 2013, 10:06am Subject: Re: How to soften hard water without a softener if you rent
I'd be worried I wasn't applying even pressure with that adjustable Prima. Be very careful about that if/when you get it.
I've always liked Reg Barber tampers, you can interchange the bases, which come in any size you want in 0.1mm increments. the bases come in 4 different metals and have several surfaces to choose from. Last, you can get handles in different materials and different shapes and sizes for the wood ones, and you can also get custom engraving. Only downside is they are expensive.
...and Buckley, I saw you were looking for a 53.5, you can get one from Reg.
re: the water. I looked at the zerowater website and was intrigued. I looked through their faq and saw their filters don't remove pathogens like cryptosporidium and they don't remove arsenic (well, they haven't tested that it seems), and several other things. I guess if I were to get one, I could use the water water coming from my fridge dispenser, which will be pre-treated...at least until I get plumbed in.
. Always remember the most important thing is what ends up in your cup!
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