Water treatment options for plumbed in espresso machine

Water analysis, treatment, and mineral recipes for optimum taste and equipment health.
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Rybolt

#1: Post by Rybolt »

...split from A Plea for Openness by moderator...
Marshall wrote:
The second issue is water treatment. My wife is a water treatment chemist. I have been through the Cirqua demonstration of the same coffee brewed with three different levels of mineral content. So I am sensitive to water issues. Water makes an enormous difference in brew quality. I like the fact that I can easily control my water quality with a pourover. I do not think most consumers give proper consideration to the impact that plumbing in to the local water supply may have on their coffee and what they will need to do to correct it.

As Dan, Ken Fox and others on this board know, I came within a hair's breadth of pulling the trigger on a Cimbali Jr. purchase before stepping back and considering the issues above. That is why I am waiting for a GS3 (fool that I may be).

Yes, I have tried several HX machines, and I am sure I could master them. I just came out differently on the decision than most people.
Hi Marshall,
I have recently began research on my upgrade path (from a old Gaggia ) and recently have been concerned with this very thing: water quality. I am not excited about flushing with $1.25 spring water. Anyhow, is there another thread, or can we create one for this topic, I don't want to hijack this one.

p.s. this board software doesn't allow searching on 'water' maybe we can substitute with 'H2o'.

Thanks.

Ken Fox

#2: Post by Ken Fox »

I think Marshall might have changed his opinion about "waiting for a GS3" in the last year :mrgreen:

Water treatment is a very complex issue that does not lend itself to simple answers unless you are starting with what amounts to distilled water (e.g. after RO treatment) that you are then going to add some minerals to.

It is easy to speak in platitudes about this subject, and equally incorrect. Any treatment needs to consider the water characteristics you are starting with from the tap. It is too simplistic to simply describe the hardness or softness of the untreated water. There are foul tasting examples of hard water (much of Southern California has this) and there are good tasting examples, such as what flows out of the tap where I live in the Idaho Rocky Mountains. There are other elements and compounds in a given water supply than simply grains of calcium hardness, which contribute (or detract from) water quality as relates to espresso production.

Similarly, the results of more simple treatments such as cation water softening vary depending upon the input water composition. The hard water that enters my house (around 11 grains) makes very tasty espressos with lots of crema when softened with a standard whole house cation (salt based) water softener. This standard type of cation water softener is apparently standard equipment in much of Italy, and I have not read a lot of complaints about the crema in randomly purchased espressos in Italy. I'm sure there are many places where the hard water does not produce good espressos after cation softening, and presumably this is due to factors other than simply the # of grains of hardness in the water coming in from the water utility.

To me, the Cirqua demonstration is halfway between a circus act and a valid demonstration. It is in reality a marketing technique that has some basis in fact, but only some, and does not in any way tell the whole story about what you should do with your water.

ken
What, me worry?

Alfred E. Neuman, 1955

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Rybolt

#3: Post by Rybolt »

Hi Ken,

Can you recommend any home test kits for testing water hardness. I know where I live the water is very hard, but I was told our city actually softens it.

Thanks.

MDL

#4: Post by MDL »

I have been using the following test strips and like them. The price is good and they have a wide and clear range of colors.

http://www.diywatertesting.com/sofchekx3.html

Mark

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Marshall

#5: Post by Marshall »

TDS meters have become so cheap (check the Hanna TDS-1, usually $30 or less), every espresso machine owner should have one. Both city and bottled waters vary over time and need to be checked. The information is important for setting descaling schedules, if nothing else.

FWIW, friends at Bunn had recommended their ED-11-TL filtering system (about $100) for home use, when I was planning to install a GS3. When I chose the Dalla Corte Mini, the issue became moot, since it can't be plumbed in. So I use a local bottled drinking water that is delivered in 5 gallon bottles for my dispenser.
Marshall
Los Angeles

Ken Fox

#6: Post by Ken Fox »

Rybolt wrote:Hi Ken,

Can you recommend any home test kits for testing water hardness. I know where I live the water is very hard, but I was told our city actually softens it.

Thanks.
Hi,

I have bought my test strips from McMaster-Carr ( http://www.mcmaster.com )

The item number is: 11235T41

There is no way to link to a page that shows the item and I don't think they have a picture of the bottle on the website. I am not home now (I am in San Diego visiting family) for another couple of days and don't have access to the physical product to tell you how it is labeled. It might might be the same product referenced separately in this thread. The shipping charges might be steep if all you are buying is one bottle of test strips. Fortunately, Mcmaster.com has so many things for sale that you undoubtedly will find a whole lot else to buy with a little bit of browsing :mrgreen:

Please note that a TDS meter is only useful on untreated water. After you have softened hard water, using a cation softener, you will get essentially the same reading as before the water was softened. TDS is measuring particles, and the fact that you have "exchanged" calcium ions for something else will not change the reading.

For this reason I think that in the hands of someone who is going to actually treat the tap water, and to use the test measurement to access the "success" of treatment (e.g. absence of compounds that will scale up the boiler), the test strips are more useful than a TDS meter. After successful cation exchange softening, your test strips will read "0" whereas the TDS meter will show essentially no change.

If on the other hand you were following a regimen of mixing distilled water with hard water, in order to get a "designer" type water (such as 3g of Calcium) then the TDS meter might be useful. You will, however, ultimately scale up the boiler with this approach, so you would have to be willing to do periodic preventative descaling if you choose to do this.

ken
What, me worry?

Alfred E. Neuman, 1955

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JohnB.
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#7: Post by JohnB. »

Another option would be the liquid hardness kits you can get at most fish/pet stores used to test aquarium tanks. They cost about $10 & will do many tests. http://www.aquariumguys.com/carbonatetest.html
LMWDP 267

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Martin

#8: Post by Martin »

Years ago I bought a Hach titration kit----about $25.
"Hardness (Total) Test Kit, Model 5-EP, Drop Count Titration, 1-30 gpg, 100 tests"

Pretty simple to use and seemingly reliable. Maybe no more than aquarium store chemicals, but makes me feel oh so scientific. :)

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sweaner
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#9: Post by sweaner »

Ken Fox wrote:If on the other hand you were following a regimen of mixing distilled water with hard water, in order to get a "designer" type water (such as 3g of Calcium) then the TDS meter might be useful. You will, however, ultimately scale up the boiler with this approach, so you would have to be willing to do periodic preventative descaling if you choose to do this.

ken
Ken, this is currently what I do. I use my tap water, which is about 120 ppm on the TDS. I dilute it down to about 45 ppm with distilled. Is this more scaling for the boiler than softened water? I would like to essentially eliminate scaling, if that is even really possible.
Scott
LMWDP #248

Ken Fox

#10: Post by Ken Fox »

I'm no expert on this stuff, but I don't think that the TDS reading tells you whether or not your water will scale up a boiler. The measurement that is important is the amount of calcium dissolved in the water, which will not be directly proportional to the TDS since other dissolved ions will also be measured in the TDS ("total dissolved solids").

My recollection is that having more than a couple of grains of calcium in the water will scale up a boiler and the higher you go the faster it will scale up. You can deal with this by periodic preventative descaling with activated citric acid (also called "sour salt") contained in various commercial descaling products, or in the "raw" citric acid products themselves, which can be purchased in home brewing stores and some supermarkets, if memory serves. I have done this before, myself, in the past but not since I started "feeding" my espresso machines with cation-softened water.

Cation softening will remove the calcium from the water used and hence will prevent "scaling." There still remains the possibility of deposition of a soft powder, since the softened water is not devoid of minerals. If you use cation softened water it is a very good idea to empty your boiler weekly and refill it, to reduce the probability of significant accumulation of dissolved (non calcium containing) minerals in the water. You can still get a fine powder precipitating out on your autofill sensor, something that has happened to me, which is more likely than having a noticeable accumulation in the boiler since the autofill sensor will by definition be at the top of the boiler water line, where mineral deposition happens first. If this happens to you and causes autofill malfunction, you will need to remove the autofill sensor (basically a metal rod, sort of a like a nail) and wipe the deposits off with a scrub sponge. This is a five minute job in most circumstances.

Cation exchange softening will eliminate the possibility of hard scale forming in your boiler or heat exchanger, but will not prevent a soft powder from accumulating over time (although this has not caused noticeable problems for me over several years usage of cation softened water). You can reduce the likelihood of the soft powder accumulation by changing your boiler water regularly. In any event, the soft powder accumulation is very easy to remove and will not attach itself in rock hard fashion as will calcium scale from using unsoftened water containing calcium.

ken
What, me worry?

Alfred E. Neuman, 1955