Cirqua AB Formula Packets for Pourover Espresso Machines

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shadowfax

#1: Post by shadowfax »

Some time ago, in connection with the Everpure ESO thread, I became interested in investigating "cost-effective" options for water flitration, particularly those that might work better than my ion exchange + carbon filter setup. I called Cirqua and looked into their AB Formulator ($4000 :shock:) and RO Systems. Unfortunately, their cheap one doesn't offer an RO bypass system to bleed back filtered tap water and maintain a reasonable level of TDS. And even if it did, you're still at least somewhat at the mercy of your tap water's PH; you also can't modulate alkalinity and hardness independently. Does this matter? I'm sure it does to someone, and I was curious if it did for me.

In the course of chatting with Cirqua reps, they recommended to me their AB Formula packets. I was initially pretty uninterested, as the Elektra's really not meant to run off a bottle without a Flojet, and I wasn't all that keen on running it from a bottle with the flush regime and all. So I put it off until I found out about LM USA's little GS3 sale and ordered one of those. I called Cirqua up and bought 20 packets of the AB formula to try with the GS3. Here's how they look:





You simply mix each packet into a gallon of virtually-zero water (distilled/RO), one at a time, mixing the first one thoroughly before mixing in the second one. Supposedly this yields you "WBC Standard water," as in water with the same PH, TDS, hardness, etc. as used at the WBC. It cost me about $25 for the packet of 20, including shipping.

Has anybody else tried these? I'm curious if this "designer water" is even remotely worthwhile. I've been pulling shots today, and so far my impression is "meh." The water does taste slightly better to me by itself, tasting blind against my home-filtered water. The difference is small, but it's a little "cleaner." Doing a side-by-side comparison with espresso is certainly not in the cards, but we'll cup some coffees with the Cirqua water and my home water later this week and see if we can perceive any differences. Anyway, I was just curious to see if there was any other buzz about this stuff out there, as I haven't read much beyond the coffeed discussion of the AB formulator itself.
Nicholas Lundgaard

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another_jim
Team HB

#2: Post by another_jim »

I got some packets from Cirqua for testing. However, I still have a bunch of other machine tests to do, so it's going to be mid-October before I can do it.

It's not really in the cards to directly test the espresso with a single machine, since the water can't be switched fast enough to compare shots. But there is a way, which I used for the water FAQ: Keep a log over a week or two of each water alternative, rating every shot you make, and comparing averages (two group ANOVA, if the averages are couple of standard deviations apart, you have a significant difference). This will be more convincing to yourself and others if you can manage to to prepare some "blind bottles" for the test. Take gallon jugs of the regular comparison water and the cirqua water, label them in a way that cannot be seen and shuffle them. When you use them, write the date of use on the empty bottle, store them without peeking, and when all the bottles are done, peek and assign your log entries to the right water.

Before bothering with this, my advice would be to do some triangle cupping. This will be my first test -- if I can't pick the odd water out in a brewed coffee, the espresso will probably be a wash in any case. I'll use filtered tap water (which scales, TDS around 150), ion exchange water (no scaling, TDS also around 150), and "drinking water" (no scaling, TDS around 50) as comparisons. I know I like the local unsoftened water better than softened or low TDS waters. If the formulator water does as well or better as the local tap and has no scaling problems, it would be a winner (Lake Michigan water is very close to SCAA recommendations for coffee water, but scales in espresso machines).
Jim Schulman

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shadowfax (original poster)

#3: Post by shadowfax (original poster) »

Good idea for testing on espresso, though you're right that a test of THAT nature is never going to reveal a subtle difference. If the triangle coffee cupping yields a result that's more significant than simply comparing my ion-exchange softened, filtered water with the Cirqua water (which I found subtle to my palate), then I'll move on to an espresso test. I anticipate subtlety, though.
Nicholas Lundgaard

rbh1515

#4: Post by rbh1515 »

Jim,
I just moved from the Milwaukee area with Lake Michigan water (about 7 grains of hardness--definitely will scale, and I used a cation exchange system similar to that seen on Chris Coffee). Now I have well water, that is way too hard, and frankly I won't drink it because I don't even know what is in it. I plan on getting an RO system at some point soon, but for the time being I am buying RO water at the local grocer for $0.39 per gallon. I have been adding spring water so I get about 3 grains of hardness. I started wondering the other day if there was a product that could be added to RO or distilled water that would give me good water for espresso that wouldn't scale my LM GS3. I posted this question on CG just the other day and got a post about Cirqua. I'm going to buy some of this stuff. I think it may be the perfect product, since RO water is so readily available and inexpensive. Will be curious to see what others think about it.
Rob

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another_jim
Team HB

#5: Post by another_jim »

Hi Rob, good to hear from you.

The GS3 doesn't look like an easily descaled machine, so some sort of treatment going in is probably a good idea. The Cirqua packets will certainly do the trick, but may not be the most cost effective solution if you pull a lot of shots. If your well has iron or nitrogen compunds, or is ultra hard, you'll need a whole house RO system in any case. You can add a calcite cartridge on the way to the espresso machine, but it won't add enough minerals to get to peak taste. It would be nice if Cirqua made something between the packets and their commercial formulator for this sort of situation.
Jim Schulman

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CRCasey

#6: Post by CRCasey »

I pose a question, following the theory that a level of hardness will extract better coffee flavors. How do we set up a experment to prove or disprove this theory? I am guessing that there are solid background studies that have some proof of that, but that since I am a newbie I have not read them. Can I get a good pointer to get up to speed?

-Cecil
Black as the devil, hot as hell, pure as an angel, sweet as love-CMdT, LMWDP#244

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shadowfax (original poster)

#7: Post by shadowfax (original poster) »

another_jim wrote:Hi Rob, good to hear from you.

The GS3 doesn't look like an easily descaled machine, so some sort of treatment going in is probably a good idea. The Cirqua packets will certainly do the trick, but may not be the most cost effective solution if you pull a lot of shots. If your well has iron or nitrogen compunds, or is ultra hard, you'll need a whole house RO system in any case. You can add a calcite cartridge on the way to the espresso machine, but it won't add enough minerals to get to peak taste. It would be nice if Cirqua made something between the packets and their commercial formulator for this sort of situation.
The GS3 actually looks like a decent machine to descale. I drained the boilers to take it home when I picked mine up. The steam boiler has a gate valve for draining, and the brew boiler is drained through the OPV. The OPV draining is kind of a pain in the butt, but it works. I think a very mild citric acid every 6 months (depending on scale) is still in order, and certainly it's less trouble than getting water out of some HX machines I could think of.

As for other Cirqua options, there's a $2-3k RO setup that Cirqua sells that has a mixing valve on it, so that you can bleed back filtered water that hasn't been run across the membrane (allowing you to dial in your desired hardness/TDS, though not independently. This could be used to bleed back a lot more minerals than a calcite filter would, but if there's something in your water that's nasty that only a membrane could take out, this is not the way to go. Sadly, a full-blown reformulation system for residential volume (at a residential price) isn't available.
Nicholas Lundgaard

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another_jim
Team HB

#8: Post by another_jim »

My respect for the GS3 just went up a few notches -- the more boilers, the easier they should be to drain.
Jim Schulman

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another_jim
Team HB

#9: Post by another_jim »

CRCasey wrote:I pose a question, following the theory that a level of hardness will extract better coffee flavors. How do we set up a experment to prove or disprove this theory? I am guessing that there are solid background studies that have some proof of that, but that since I am a newbie I have not read them. Can I get a good pointer to get up to speed?
Water at around 5 grains or 90 mg/L calcium hardness and 3 grains or 50 mg/L alkalinity is pH neutral, and will neither leach nor absorb minerals at around 95C. This is the SCAA and SCAE recommended level for brewing coffee or making espresso.

But, unfortunately, this ideal water scales in steam boilers. Water treatments for espresso machines attempt to get mineral formulations that do not scale and are close to optimum in taste. Cirquas mix of minerals is regarded as the best by most 3rd wave cafes.

For more and very tedious coverage
Jim Schulman

da gino

#10: Post by da gino »

HI Nicholas,

As a guy with only pour over machines, and soft local water I'm curious about this stuff. I tried calling the company (at the phone number on the website that also shows up in your photo of the packet) but only got an answering machine. Did you order it directly from them on the phone or is there another way to get it and try it out?

thanks,

Hugh