Minimizing Scale Buildup Without Causing Boiler Leaching - Page 5

Water analysis, treatment, and mineral recipes for optimum taste and equipment health.
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#41: Post by another_jim » Sep 23, 2009, 3:29 am

Ken Fox wrote:Jim,
I think you and Marshall should give it a rest. Honestly.
In your case, you just find these sorts of discussions to be tiresome. I (personally) find most threads on this and any other board to be tiresome, and when I get to the point where I want to throw things, I just stop reading the thread. I suggest you do likewise.
Perhaps you're right. So you're elected to inform your co-owners that the idea of water treatment is to get the most minerals into the water compatible with minimal scaling costs, not the fewest that won't leach the boilers, pop welds, or create other interesting GS/3 exclusive catastrophes.
Ken Fox wrote: I think you are reading things into some of the posts on this thread that are not there, and perhaps there is a tad of "machine envy" :mrgreen: in there as well.
The not-there thing is water with enough minerals to make coffee.

As to GS3 envy, If they ever come out with a 27 inch wide, 12 inch deep, 1800 watt, two group machine, then I'll trade in my pair of Semis. Until then, Mr Green is reserved for owners of 3 barrel Probat sample roasters.
Jim Schulman

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#42: Post by misterdoggy » Sep 23, 2009, 6:56 am

You know water by itself has a taste. I'm not talking about just hard or soft, but a taste that is due to many factors.

IE: We love Volvic, but can't stand Evian so on and etc.

So its pretty important to get the water mix right, as part of the entire taste along with tamping, beans, temperature, pressure, grind etc and I sure wouldn't want to skimp on the taste because I was avoiding descaling. Yeah we are afraid of those horrible foto's of heating elements encrusted with Calcaire, and for good reason, but in the end, we are searching for the best taste. If I could be assured that descaling once a year would avoid any problems for the years to come, then that's the route for me.

In any case as Stefano wrote, that even people using Brita @ 30ppm, he had seen plenty of buildup anyhow, and you shouldn't take it for granted that you don't have to go in there and take a look or descale for good measure anyhow. So In the end no matter what you should do a descale.


#43: Post by coffeefrog » Sep 25, 2009, 9:10 pm

Regarding the original question about low mineral content water and its effect on welds.

I have always understood that deionised water can attack metals (and a bit of Googling indicates that low carbon stainless steel is resistant to this). Presumably the weld sites are more likely to have an uneven distribution of metal and carbon than the metal of the boiler and fittings, and so be prone to pitting. The leaching effect on copper is another interesting consideration. I have no idea whether these effects could be significant in a domestic environment.

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#44: Post by erics » Sep 25, 2009, 9:54 pm

Of interest and just as an FYI, here are Synesso's PUBLISHED water requirements:
Water Requirements

Proper water filtration and regular filter changes are a requirement to keep your factory
warranty valid and your machine functioning properly. It is highly recommended that you
contact a professional water filtration specialist in your area and have your water tested
to determine the proper filtration system. It is important to note that many municipalities
change their water sources throughout the year, so periodic water tests may be necessary.

Water Standards to keep your warranty valid:

Total Dissolved Solids (TDS) 30 to 200 ppm (parts per million)
Total Hardness - in ppm Less than 85 ppm
Total Hardness - in grains 3 to 5 grains (divide ppm by 17.1 to get grains)
pH 6 pH to 8 pH
Chloride 0 ppm - any Chlorides can be corrosive and harmful
Total Alkalinity Less than 100 ppm
Chlorine 0 ppm
Iron 0 ppm
as taken from: ... 202009.pdf

Eric S.
E-mail: erics at rcn dot com

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#45: Post by JmanEspresso » Sep 26, 2009, 1:16 am

If I may... I'd like to add my opinion on the question of what to do with water for coffee. And also remember, this is just my opinion.. Some people may think Im wrong, others may not, and I gladly welcome anyone to contest my thoughts... Okay...

Everyone knows that the water in your espresso machine can't be Pure RO, or Distilled water. There needs to be some minerals in the water so your coffee doesn't taste like crap. But everyone has a different idea of how hard or soft that water should be.. Because of the "fear" of descaling, or whatever.

Descaling is simply a part of espresso machine maintenance... Just like using detergent to backflush the group, Dropping the shower screen, changing gaskets, replacing pressurestats, etc etc... My feeling is that, descaling comes off as a hard process, or something that can easily be screwed up... This is probably because descaling doesn't take 5 minutes to complete. However.. No one drinks less coffee so they can backflush less, or change gaskets less often, because we understand it is part of owning an espresso machine. Rancilio says to not backflush the Silvia, and apparently La Marzocco says not to descale. I have to conclude that this is because they want to cover all their bases for warranty or disclaimer purposes or whatever. I can't imagine a company such as La Marzocco advocating NOT to make your coffee as good as it can be, or to NOT maintain your machine as needed for any other reason. Thats my feeling anyway.

Does it make sense to buy a nice machine(whether a a prosumer HX or a commercial single group), buy a nice grinder, use fresh coffee, and purposely make your coffee worse then it can be? Crafting the perfect espresso is hard enough when you're doing everything right, so knowingly making it impossible is ridiculous to me... And even more so as the price of the gear goes up!

Using super soft water simply makes it impossible to make the best coffee you and your gear are capable of. So, the plus side of this, is once or twice a year you don't have to descale, but the negative is that you put a permanent handicap on your coffee(the whole POINT)? Maybe I'm crazy, but that doesn't make sense.

Chris' Coffee Service is my #1 vendor, my go-to guy. And they suggest using water at 3grains or less, to avoid descaling. And to be honest, for many of their customers, this is good advice. But, for the people on this board(IE: serious enthusiasts), it ceases to be good advice. You don't have to have a lot of knowledge about espresso prep to own great gear.. and Ive seen people buy expensive machines and feed it sh*t coffee, never backflush, let the steam wand turn to a cheese maker.. For these people, yeah, they should be using the softest water that allows to machine to work... The best water in the world won't change the taste of lavazza or illy, and if they don't wipe their steamwand, you can be sure they wont be descaling.

But for a serious enthusiast, I think it only wise to use the best water you can for your machine. Why wouldn't you? You don't compromise any other part of your setup, so why cripple your coffee purposely?

And for what its worth.. If the GS/3's boilers welds will weaken due to a little citric acid, then I'm sorry, it is FAR from being worth ~$5000. And, for me, if it cant be descaled, it isn't worth anything to me. Why would you spend so much on a machine that either (1) doesn't let you produce the best coffee you can, or, (2) Can't be maintained. However, I am off the opinion, that the GS/3 CAN be descaled, without worry for some citric acid breaking down a weld. Flushing the boilers periodically should help keep the frequency at which the machine needs a descale further apart.

If your water is too hard, soften it. If it's too soft, add some minerals to it. But don't purposely handicap yourself just to avoid a once a year procedure, which at the absolute MOST, takes a day. There are lots of affordable options on the market for water treatment, and if you keep an eye on your boilers, you won't have to worry about a serious scale problem ever. If you do this, the concentration of the citric acid solution doesn't even need to be that strong...

Descaling isn't hard... Don't handicap your coffee every time you want some to avoid, at most, a twice a year task. You wouldn't buy a nice car and barely drive it just so you can change the oil less, would you? If you want great coffee, and are willing to spend a good deal of money on equipment, then not wanting to maintain it is ridiculous. Don't want to maintain your gear and still have good coffee? Then get a french press.

This is my feeling.. Feel free to tell me Im wrong or contest it.. That's the whole point of an opinion.

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#46: Post by another_jim » Sep 26, 2009, 1:49 am

Thank you, +1
Jim Schulman

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#47: Post by shadowfax » Sep 26, 2009, 1:56 am


Thanks for mentioning that link. I'd reiterate the take-home I got from the Water FAQ that if you want to make the best coffee with the least boiler scaling you want to split "hardness" into mineral and carbonate hardness and try to keep the mineral high and carbonate rather low (~50 ppm nicely fits neutral equilibrium pH)... and then concede that there's probably not a ton of practical value to that, even. I don't think it's necessary to be super-obsessive about water the way you ought to be about coffee quality and learning proper, consistent technique; I'd bet that once you get into Synesso's published range, you're probably talking seriously diminishing returns trying to optimize into 'designer' specs like the Cirqua AB packets would get you.

I have two quibbles with their table of recommendations, though, as long as numbers are getting thrown down. First, they suggest 3-5 grains hardness, but claim that 30-200 ppm TDS is OK. I don't think it's possible to have 3-5 grains (~50-90 ppm) of hardness and have <50 ppm TDS... maybe I am missing something. Second, their range rules out using cation softening systems with very hard water (like here in Houston). This type of water is perfectly safe for espresso machines in my experience.... Basically, I really don't see the point of the TDS range; I think suggestions based on hardness ought to be plenty adequate to prescribe water that's safe for the machine and proper for making excellent coffee.

Jeff--Great thoughts, and I think you've presented a well-balanced perspective on this issue. Just to add to that one last bit, to anyone running very soft, low-TDS water in your espresso machine: Forget the leaching issue, as a calcite filter or a very modest mix of tap water will more than likely solve that problem. However, the effect of soft water on espresso extraction is well-documented and well-known (in addition to there being a lot of silly misinformation out there that spreads through hearsay and ignorance). I don't want to try and hammer that data in anyone's face, and if it's right it's completely unnecessary to bully it on people. Run 150 ppm TDS water in your boiler for a week or two, and compare your experience using the same coffee with very soft water. If you notice a difference, then you know that you're pursuing false economy trying to protect your machine while crippling it from producing the very thing you dropped $$$$ to get it to make. If you don't, well, perhaps 30ppm is OK for you... or maybe there's something bad in the harder water you're using that's masking the effect. :lol: If you suspect that's the case, try these for a week as a final measure. The crux is, there's enough data out there from people who are really into coffee and really care about helping people experience coffee at its best that contradict the idea that very soft water is good enough for great coffee; it'd be a silly idea for you to write off modestly hard water without trying it for yourself to see if you can perceive that difference in the cup. Certainly, I think you'd look silly presuming to publicly contradict actual comparisons that have been done by enthusiasts and professionals with a simple claim that coffee tastes "fine" with soft water. With that info, we have no way to gauge your experience, and out of context like that it's not helping anyone and only muddying the waters, right?
Nicholas Lundgaard

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#48: Post by JmanEspresso » Sep 26, 2009, 2:59 am

Well said, Nicholas. Don't knock it til' you try it.

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#49: Post by Peppersass » Sep 26, 2009, 3:15 am

Jeff, I don't think there's anything fundamentally wrong with what you're saying, but like a lot of other people who have posted on this thread, there's a slight misrepresentation of what has been said about descaling.

No one suggested that the descaling process, if done properly, harms the welds in a GS/3. It was Roberto from LM who expressed concern that use of soft water over a period of time might damage the welds, as it apparently did in the case of an owner in Isreal. But we have no idea what the composition of that water was. He didn't say descaling hurts the machine. In fact, he said to use water with 70-80 ppm hardness, which is consistent with the minimum coffee experts recommend, and said to descale the machine once a year. That's straight from the factory in Florence.

However, there are no recommendations or instructions for descaling in the GS/3 manual, other than draining the boilers once a month. When I asked LM USA about it, they said don't descale the machine, just drain the boilers once a year. Seeing as how Seattle, where they live, has very soft water, and even the manual says to drain the boilers once a month, I found the recommendation less than satisfying.

As for Chris, he (actually Mary) told me the same thing they told you: 3 grains hardness max, don't descale, bring the machine in after a few years and they'll take care of it. Chris would be the first to admit he's not a coffee cupper. He sells and services coffee machines. From his perspective, a slightly more tasty cup is less important than a working machine. I have no doubt his techs have received machines that were shedding metal because they were designed improperly or were descaled improperly. Different perspective.

But when you look closely at Chris's recommendation, it's 52 ppm of hardness. Roberto's recommendation was 70-80 ppm. We're not talking about RO at those levels, and they're consistent with what Jim Schulman recommends in his water FAQ. Heck, according to the FAQ, if your water is very alkaline, you're going to get scaling in the steam boiler at 50 ppm anyway and will have to descale. So, what I'm saying is that the recommendations from Chris and Roberto aren't entirely inconsistent with expert recommendations for taste, and are likely to require descaling. So be it.

I think there's been a misimpression that I and others are afraid of descaling or don't want to be bothered with it. That's not the case, at least for me. I'm willing to do whatever it takes, provided it's safe for the machine. It's true I've been concerned that the company that sold me the machine, and the company that distributes it in this country, both discouraged me from descaling. But that advice has effectively been trumped by the factory's recommendation to descale once a year. If they recommend it, I'm sure it's safe.

That said, while I've descaled cheap coffee machines and water boilers, I've never descaled a really expensive espresso machine. Can you blame me for being cautious about it? What I'd really like is a set of instructions from the manufacturer telling me exactly which product to use, exactly what concentration, and exactly what procedure. I find it unconscionable that perveyors of expensive equipment like this, that likely requires periodic descaling, don't provide instructions for how to do it safely. This would be like the owner's manual of your car not providing information on how to change the oil.

[I realize manuals are not the answer to everything. The GS/3 manual says to use a tablespoon of detergent for backflushing. Even I know that's a typo!]

I appreciate people on this board telling me it's no big deal, etc., etc., but no one here has offered even general guideliness for concentration, how long to let it sit in the machine, how long to flush, etc. I suspect no one really knows exactly what these parameters should be for a GS/3. That's why I want to the people who make the darned thing to tell me! For heaven's sake, they should include a packet of descaler with the machine, just as they include a container of detergent for backflushing.

On taste: I've taken a lot of grief for using 30 ppm water initially with my GS/3. I thought it best to do that until I could learn enough about water treatment to optimize taste and minimize scaling. So what if I go a week or two with less-than-optimal coffee while I do the research? Sheesh! As it turns out, somewhere in the middle of this thread I switched to 70 ppm, and this week I've switched to 50 ppm. I wanted to see if I could detect any major difference (there are so many other variables going on, like different grinders and coffees, that I can't.)

Oddly, some have jumped down my throat as if I'm using RO. In fact one poster derided the idiots in this thread who use RO. I don't know where any of that comes from.

It's amazing to me that so many people consider me an idiot, and they haven't even met me (perhaps they would have better cause if they did :lol: ) They seem to think that I'm cowering in some corner, too afraid of descaling to use harder water. That's absurd. I'm simply being cautious until I learn more. I have very hard well water here, and I've seen thick sheets of scale floating around in a Japanese water boiler we used to have. I do think about that stuff coating the steam boiler/heater or building up in the GS/3's very small gicleur. Until I get a better handle on available options, I'm going to play it safe. I think I'll survive even though my coffee may not yet be the best my machine can produce.

I'm probably going to plumb in, and will likely use a cation system. Many experts on this site use such systems, so I'm reasonably confident that I'll get good taste. I also assume that I'll need to flush the boilers regularly and descale probably once or twice a year.

As I posted in another rant, I get really tired of people telling me that I'm not concerned enough about taste, or that I'm a dilettante. The questions I've asked about the tradeoffs between taste and scale, and how to safely descale, are legitimate. I don't need a lecture on what my priorities should be.

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#50: Post by Peppersass » Sep 26, 2009, 3:33 am

shadowfax wrote:I'd reiterate the take-home I got from the Water FAQ that if you want to make the best coffee with the least boiler scaling you want to split "hardness" into mineral and carbonate hardness and try to keep the mineral high and carbonate rather low (~50 ppm nicely fits neutral equilibrium pH)
shadowfax wrote:Second, their range rules out using cation softening systems with very hard water (like here in Houston). This type of water is perfectly safe for espresso machines in my experience.
These two quotes exemplify my frustration with this topic. Yes, the FAQ suggests that higher hardness (for taste) and lower alkalinity (around neutral pH) should be the target. But cation systems remove the hardness and don't lower the alkalinity. So, if you start with hard water that's high in alkalinity, and run it through a cation system, you're doing exactly the opposite of what the FAQ suggests.

The other thing that puzzles me about cation systems is why they are acceptable to coffee experts if they remove virtually all the hardness. Does the sodium substituted for calcium provide the same magic that hardness provides for making coffee? I don't recall seeing that stated explicitly anywhere.