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The water used to make coffee in Western Europe

The water used to make coffee in Western Europe
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  • The water used to make coffee in Western Europe

    Post #1 - April 17th, 2019, 7:41 am
    Post #1 - April 17th, 2019, 7:41 am Post #1 - April 17th, 2019, 7:41 am
    One of the things I have noticed over the years is that the water used to make coffee in Western Europe is clearly different from what we use in Evanston. (I specify Western Europe since I haven't noticed the phenomenon to the same degree in Eastern Europe or Russia.) Since I'm not a professional, I don't know the appropriate word or jargon to describe what I'm experiencing, but I've noticed--as an almost regular thing--that the coffee there is "thicker" or more "syrupy" than here. I'm not sure how much of a change it makes to the actual taste of the coffee, but it's happened so many times, that I've found it impossible not to notice. And so I wonder: is it the hardness of the water (the water in Evanston is from the lake and is hard, without being extremely so)? Is it a particular mineral (or combination)? Is it the pH? Is there anyone who can shed any light on this? Thanks.
    Gypsy Boy

    "I am not a glutton--I am an explorer of food." (Erma Bombeck)
  • Post #2 - April 17th, 2019, 8:27 am
    Post #2 - April 17th, 2019, 8:27 am Post #2 - April 17th, 2019, 8:27 am
    My experiences are that they like their coffee very strong. Hence, it is like tar at at times because of the process more than the water is my guess.
  • Post #3 - April 17th, 2019, 1:07 pm
    Post #3 - April 17th, 2019, 1:07 pm Post #3 - April 17th, 2019, 1:07 pm
    I used to think that--and you may, in fact be right. But I've only very rarely found the coffee over-extracted or too strong (although, in fairness, I prefer it strong).
    Gypsy Boy

    "I am not a glutton--I am an explorer of food." (Erma Bombeck)
  • Post #4 - April 17th, 2019, 2:29 pm
    Post #4 - April 17th, 2019, 2:29 pm Post #4 - April 17th, 2019, 2:29 pm
    I know many people from France that say, the reason why it's impossible to make bread taste the same here as in France is that the water here is so different. I have never been to France, but it is on my bucket list, if only to sit in a cafe and eat bread.
  • Post #5 - April 18th, 2019, 6:25 am
    Post #5 - April 18th, 2019, 6:25 am Post #5 - April 18th, 2019, 6:25 am
    I happen to go to Geneva a couple of times a year for meetings. Most times they are in the French Alps. My breakfast is always the fresh baguette type breads (I am sure made that morning as there are many bakeries all over the small towns, I learned what the word Boulangerie was very quickly) with a bit of proscuitto, and salami. No condo's needed. The bread is the star. Every morning the same. I rave about those breads.
  • Post #6 - April 18th, 2019, 5:49 pm
    Post #6 - April 18th, 2019, 5:49 pm Post #6 - April 18th, 2019, 5:49 pm
    The tea and coffee in some parts of the world taste better than in other parts partly because of the mineral content of the water. I have found the same of drinking water in Santiago, Chile, which is in a mountainous region with a high mineral content in the water, so it wouldn't surprise me that it would also be true in Geneva, eastern France, and other mountainous regions of Europe.

    The minerals calcium and particularly magnesium make tap water taste better and make drinks made with tap water (coffee, tea, cold-brewed coffee, sun tea, Kool-Aid, etc.) taste better. This is the appeal of bottled "mineral water," whether carbonated or not.

    Lake Michigan water (with an equivalent calcium carbonate content of consistently about 137 mg/l) is on the low end of the range defined as moderately hard (120-180 mg/l). Some products sold as "mineral water" are no harder; some are. This US Geological Survey website shows a chart and map of water hardness in the US. As the map shows, terrain is not necessarily an indicator of water hardness; in the US, water hardness is high predominantly in the Rocky Mountains in the west and in some pockets around the Great Lakes but not in the Sierra Nevadas in the west, the Smoky Mountains in the east, or the Appalachians in the northeast.

    I like to use a particular type of faucet-mounted Pur filter that adds some calcium and magnesium to the water and improve its taste. You wouldn't want to run all your cooking water through such a filter; that would be a waste; you just want to use it for infused beverages such as tea, coffee, Kool-Aid, etc., and drinking water straight from the tap.

    So yes, harder water makes for better-tasting coffee, and if you want the water that you use to make your coffee even harder than what comes out of the tap, there are faucet-mounted and pitcher filters you can buy to increase the hardness (calcium and magnesium content) of your water.
    Last edited by Katie on April 25th, 2019, 1:46 pm, edited 4 times in total.
    "Your swimming suit matches your eyes, you hold your nose before diving, loving you has made me bananas!"
  • Post #7 - April 19th, 2019, 9:28 pm
    Post #7 - April 19th, 2019, 9:28 pm Post #7 - April 19th, 2019, 9:28 pm
    Water and how it effects the taste of food:

    When Lou Malnati's opened in Arizona, they had to adjust the ph of the AZ water to replicate the Chicago taste when making their dough.

    From the Lew Malnati's website:
    John on Nov 3, 2015
    "Will the dough be EXACTLY like Chicago? Arizona water leaves a bit to be desired when compared to Lake Michigan…"

    From Lou Malnati's on Nov 3, 2015:
    "Funny you should ask about the water! We totally agree with you, and we’re working with companies in Arizona to replicate the pH of Chicago water so the taste is just right."

    My Hot Dog U graduates in the Florida Keys and many other locations throughout the State of Florida cannot use tap water for simmering Vienna Beef hot dogs and Polish unless it's properly filtered. Most use bottled water. This is not just for health reasons, it's also because of the unfiltered water adversely effects the taste of the product.

    CSD
    Mark A Reitman, PhD
    Professor of Hot Dogs
    Hot Dog University/Vienna Beef
  • Post #8 - April 19th, 2019, 10:00 pm
    Post #8 - April 19th, 2019, 10:00 pm Post #8 - April 19th, 2019, 10:00 pm
    Katie wrote:



    I like to use a particular type of faucet-mounted Pur filter that adds some calcium and magnesium to the water and improve its taste. You wouldn't want to run all your cooking water through such a filter; that would be a waste; you just want to use it for infused beverages such as tea, coffee, Kool-Aid, etc., and drinking water straight from the tap.


    I've used the Big Berkey 2 stage water filter for years with great success for my cooking and drinking water. I also use a Berkey shower filter. I agree it's extremely important to have minerals in drinking water and I take Standard Process, Food Research, and Biotics vitamins and supplements to assure I have the proper minerals that are deleted through the water filtration system. https://www.berkeyfilters.com/berkey-wa ... r_Computer
    CSD
    Mark A Reitman, PhD
    Professor of Hot Dogs
    Hot Dog University/Vienna Beef
  • Post #9 - April 20th, 2019, 2:04 pm
    Post #9 - April 20th, 2019, 2:04 pm Post #9 - April 20th, 2019, 2:04 pm
    Interesting, Mark. Thanks for the info about the filters you use and other info.

    I'd like to revise my earlier statement about using mineral-filtered water: I think it's worth using not only for infused beverages but for anything for which water is a significant ingredient (although I don't know much about baking; I don't know how minerals in water affect the chemistry there). So far I haven't bothered to use it, though, for water that I'm only going to drain off after boiling pasta or eggs or vegetables, but your comments about hot dogs are making me reconsider.

    (Also, as an aside to new dog owners, you may think, like I did, that filtered water is the best for your puppy, and simply filtered water is fine that way, but high-end-of-medium-, large-, and giant-breed puppies should NOT drink mineral-filtered water because they should not ingest more calcium than what's formulated in large-breed puppy foods, or they may grow too fast and have joint problems later in life. This is why there are large-breed puppy foods; not because such breeds need more energy but because they shouldn't get too much calcium. I am not sure at what age, if any, this ceases to be an issue, but my impression is, not less than a year for medium/large breeds and not less than two years for large/giant breeds.)
    "Your swimming suit matches your eyes, you hold your nose before diving, loving you has made me bananas!"
  • Post #10 - April 24th, 2019, 11:52 am
    Post #10 - April 24th, 2019, 11:52 am Post #10 - April 24th, 2019, 11:52 am
    Katie, thank you for your post and links. I had concluded precisely the opposite--and so looked for some bottled water that was extremely low in both calcium and magnesium. Voss (a Norwegian water) is quite low on both counts. But I hadn't gotten around to testing the hypothesis yet. I had presumed that since the water in Evanston is apparently moderately hard (or harder), that I would need to go toward soft. Apparently, I need to go toward very hard. Fascinating. Now I'll get out there and see what is available commercially and run a few coffee-making tests. Again, many thanks for your information; it was precisely what I was looking for.
    Gypsy Boy

    "I am not a glutton--I am an explorer of food." (Erma Bombeck)
  • Post #11 - April 24th, 2019, 4:12 pm
    Post #11 - April 24th, 2019, 4:12 pm Post #11 - April 24th, 2019, 4:12 pm
    Thank you. I'm glad to be of some help.
    "Your swimming suit matches your eyes, you hold your nose before diving, loving you has made me bananas!"
  • Post #12 - April 25th, 2019, 6:36 am
    Post #12 - April 25th, 2019, 6:36 am Post #12 - April 25th, 2019, 6:36 am
    "Some" help indeed!
    For anyone else who might be interested, I've spent a lot of hours on this and been dismayed to find that there is not one easily accessible list of bottled waters and their analyses. However, I have found a very good site that covers mineral waters from pretty much everywhere in the world and posts each one's mineral analysis. They list waters by country and the most well-known (most easily purchased?) waters have the analyses posted, though the website also lists every known water produced in that country. The site is finewaters.com I have learned from this site that both Apollinaris and Gerolsteiner (both from Germany) have some of the highest available calcium and magnesium levels of all mineral waters; although both are sparkling waters, both are also available as still. So I need to get out and buy me some very hard, good German mineral water, make some coffee, and report back.
    Gypsy Boy

    "I am not a glutton--I am an explorer of food." (Erma Bombeck)
  • Post #13 - April 25th, 2019, 1:39 pm
    Post #13 - April 25th, 2019, 1:39 pm Post #13 - April 25th, 2019, 1:39 pm
    To touch on part of your original question, as well as the quote from Mark Malnati, hard water is slightly alkaline (pH > 7), soft water is slightly acidic (pH < 7); distilled water is neutral (pH = 7). (Neither of the latter two is known for tasting good.) So, any information you could find on the pH levels of various bottled waters could be useful in inferring their hardness and thus their mineral contents.
    "Your swimming suit matches your eyes, you hold your nose before diving, loving you has made me bananas!"
  • Post #14 - June 26th, 2019, 2:55 pm
    Post #14 - June 26th, 2019, 2:55 pm Post #14 - June 26th, 2019, 2:55 pm
    This is something I've wondered about myself. If you've done any experiments, I'd love to hear the results. If you haven't gotten around to it yet, I have a suggestion that might be useful. Just curious, what brewing method do you use?

    Instead of trying to compare several commercially available waters – which probably vary in a dozen or more significant components – another approach would be to start with distilled water and supplement it with increasing amounts of the same magnesium/calcium mix. This would be straightforward with a "water hardener," such as ThirdWaveWater (I have no experience with this product; has anyone here tried it?). Maybe compare Evanston water to distilled, 0.5x, 1x, and 1.5x. The results should quickly let you know if this approach is worth pursuing and in what direction to head.

    ThirdWaveWater is quite expensive, considering its composition – nothing more than magnesium sulfate (Epsom salt), calcium citrate (a common dietary supplement), and sodium chloride. It might seem like a bargain, though, after spending a lot of time poring over water analyses and driving around to find the bottles. Actually, TWW would be cheaper than Apollinaris or Gerolsteiner. If you decide to regularly supplement your water, you could buy magnesium and calcium salts very inexpensively and weigh them out yourself. Maybe even develop your own ionic blend over time, much like refining a favorite cocktail recipe.
  • Post #15 - June 26th, 2019, 4:41 pm
    Post #15 - June 26th, 2019, 4:41 pm Post #15 - June 26th, 2019, 4:41 pm
    Rene G wrote:ThirdWaveWater is quite expensive, considering its composition – nothing more than magnesium sulfate (Epsom salt), calcium citrate (a common dietary supplement), and sodium chloride.


    The only problem with this approach is the introduction of counter ions that will likely impact the flavor more than the desired hardness levels will - in this case citrate and chloride. Unfortunately, there's no easy way to "artificially" harden water without the introduction of these. You could run the water over limestone gravel in a sort of loop and slowly build hardness ;)
  • Post #16 - June 27th, 2019, 6:43 am
    Post #16 - June 27th, 2019, 6:43 am Post #16 - June 27th, 2019, 6:43 am
    Peter,
    I neglected to report back. I tried the Voss (with next to nothing by way of minerals) and didn't find much change from Evanston tap water. I have been very surprised at how hard it is to find either Apollinaris or Gerolsteiner. I have found the latter in many places in bubbly form (it seems that they add the bubbles!) so that didn't help. So, I finally settled on Evian still water since although it is not high in either calcium or magnesium (78 and 24 mg/liter, respectively), it was the highest I could easily find. I thought the coffee was better, frankly. Not remarkably better, but noticeably better all the same. So my aim for a while has been to find either Apollinaris or Gerolsteiner and try them. (I will note that, out of curiosity, I bought some of the bubbly version of the Gerolsteiner to drink straight and you definitely know you are drinking a..."different"...water. I suspect that is largely due to the huge amount of bicarbonate: 1816 mg/liter versus, say, 360 for Evian, which is also high. For the record, the Gerolsteiner has 348 and 108 mg/liter of calcium and magnesium, respectively.)

    Which leads me to ask: does anyone know of a place with a large, diverse selection of bottled waters? I can't seem to find anything except a selection of the same common stuff over and over.

    And finally, found another useful site to compare mineral content. It's a Gerolsteiner site but has data for literally hundreds upon hundreds of brands:
    https://www.gerolsteiner.de/en/water-knowledge/the-mineral-calculator/
    Gypsy Boy

    "I am not a glutton--I am an explorer of food." (Erma Bombeck)
  • Post #17 - June 28th, 2019, 7:16 pm
    Post #17 - June 28th, 2019, 7:16 pm Post #17 - June 28th, 2019, 7:16 pm
    Gypsy Boy wrote:And finally, found another useful site to compare mineral content. It's a Gerolsteiner site but has data for literally hundreds upon hundreds of brands:
    https://www.gerolsteiner.de/en/water-knowledge/the-mineral-calculator/

    And now I've officially become a mineral water geek. I must say that is a cool website. There are also mobile apps!
    "Your swimming suit matches your eyes, you hold your nose before diving, loving you has made me bananas!"
  • Post #18 - July 1st, 2019, 1:22 pm
    Post #18 - July 1st, 2019, 1:22 pm Post #18 - July 1st, 2019, 1:22 pm
    Gypsy Boy wrote:Peter,
    I neglected to report back. I tried the Voss (with next to nothing by way of minerals) and didn't find much change from Evanston tap water. I have been very surprised at how hard it is to find either Apollinaris or Gerolsteiner. I have found the latter in many places in bubbly form (it seems that they add the bubbles!) so that didn't help.


    I checked for you at Shop & Save (here on Archer & Central), and they, too, only had the bubbly form of Gerolsteiner. However, they had a number of Polish mineral waters in both still and bubbly forms, so if you're interested in trying out mineral waters in general, I suggest looking at your local Eastern European markets, as they all seem to have a wide selection, in my experience.
  • Post #19 - July 10th, 2019, 12:50 pm
    Post #19 - July 10th, 2019, 12:50 pm Post #19 - July 10th, 2019, 12:50 pm
    Fresh Farms on Touhy has a range of European bottled waters.
  • Post #20 - August 19th, 2019, 2:13 pm
    Post #20 - August 19th, 2019, 2:13 pm Post #20 - August 19th, 2019, 2:13 pm
    [quote="Gypsy Boy"]Since I'm not a professional, I don't know the appropriate word or jargon to describe what I'm experiencing, but I've noticed--as an almost regular thing--that the coffee there is "thicker" or more "syrupy" than here.[quote="Gypsy Boy"]

    Although water does make a difference, I think the beans are the key player here. A lot of blends in Europe, including in Italy (although not Illy), include Robusta beans, which give the coffee a heavier mouthfeel but don't have much complexity. I have tasted one specialty-grade Robusta, and it was pretty terrible. I train baristas for a living, and I consistently have better coffee in shops here than I did in Italy or France.
  • Post #21 - August 19th, 2019, 2:13 pm
    Post #21 - August 19th, 2019, 2:13 pm Post #21 - August 19th, 2019, 2:13 pm
    "Since I'm not a professional, I don't know the appropriate word or jargon to describe what I'm experiencing, but I've noticed--as an almost regular thing--that the coffee there is "thicker" or more "syrupy" than here."

    Although water does make a difference, I think the beans are the key player here. A lot of blends in Europe, including in Italy (although not Illy), include Robusta beans, which give the coffee a heavier mouthfeel but don't have much complexity. I have tasted one specialty-grade Robusta, and it was pretty terrible. I train baristas for a living, and I consistently have better coffee in shops here than I did in Italy or France.

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