Filtered Water for your Coffee?
“Water, water, everywhere, And all the boards did shrink; Water, water, everywhere, Nor any drop to drink.”
The quartrain above, from Samuel Taylor Coleridge's "Rime of the Ancient Mariner," especially its last couplet, is one of the best-known in the English language. In the West, we take water even more for granted than we take our coffee. It's cheap, sanitary, and readily available. It can also be a source of worry; we're concerned with the quality and taste of our water, especially our tap water. That's one reason that companies like Nestle and Coca-Cola have turned bottled water into a multi-billion dollar industry. That industry, however, has its downsides, both in terms of human impact (water bottlers, unlike individual customers, aren't subject to California's water rationing) and environmental cost (a staggering volume of waste produced by glass and plastic bottles annually). That's left many of us looking at alternatives.
Do You Need a Water Filter? Personally, I use the same rule for water that chefs have always suggested with wine: if you wouldn't drink it, don't cook with it. If your water doesn't taste right, odds are better than even that what you're making with that water -- whether it's your next pot of coffee or your next pot of pasta -- isn't going to taste right either. Bottled water is expensive and creates waste (all those bottles have to go somewhere), so for many people filtering their tap water is the best option; if you're still having issues with taste or water quality after filtering, that's when it's time to consider a different filter, or to consider bottled water. Let's say you've decided that a filter is your best bet. Now what?
Pick the Right Filter for Your Needs: Use The Filter: As mentioned above, you don't want to use water you wouldn't drink to brew your coffee. This isn't the same as showering, shaving, or washing dishes; this is water that's going to either bring out the best in your brew, or that's going to turn an expensive bag of beans into something that tastes cheap. If you've gone to the trouble of researching and buying a filter -- even if it's a simple pitcher filter -- use it!
Service Your Water Filter Regularly: Your filter -- whether it's in a carafe, an under-sink unit, or attached to your faucet -- is going to be rated for a set period of time, or more commonly for a certain number of gallons. Be sure to change your filter on (or slightly ahead of) schedule to ensure that everything's working as it should.
And a Few Caveats: As Consumer Reports points out, most municipal water supplies are perfectly safe for human consumption, so don't be sold on the safety claims touted by many filter manufacturers http://www.consumerreports.org/cro/news/2014/05/don-t-be-tricked-into-buying-a-water-filter/index.htm. On the other hand, there are times -- if you're camping, for instance -- that a portable filtration system can be a good idea. Even if your water tastes fine, a filtration system can still be a good idea. Hard water wreaks havoc on coffee makers (especially single-serve machines like the Keurig). Make sure, also, that you're keeping your equipment clean -- water filter or not -- since mineral deposits, mold, and bacteria aren't your friend.
If you know your coffee, you already know that there's quite a bit that goes into getting a good cup. You may already spend top dollar on beans, may have shelled out for a grinder, spent even more on your brewing method(s) of choice, and may have also spent heavily on other accessories like pourover kettles and scales. After all that, the last thing you want to do is have your water undermining the time and effort you put into your coffee.
Further Reading: Read the rest of The Rime of the Ancient Mariner over a cup of our Flatiron Medium Roast coffee here: http://www.poetryfoundation.org/poem/173253 Consumer Reports on water filters PA Homepage: 12 portable water filters/pitchers that can purify your tap water