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How Can You Have An 'Ideal TDS' If You Don't Know What's In The Water?

The most common question we get from the many people we talk with in the Specialty Coffee Industry is undoubtedly, "What should my TDS be?"  Whether it's coffee, espresso, or both, when coffee guys start to talk water, this is typically the first place the conversation goes.  However, for the sake of your coffee's quality and your equipment's life we must implore you to consider more.  Allow me to give you a sufficient diving board for jumping into water and better controlling this variable of your business.


We've all heard the rather played out phrase 'Coffee is 98% water'. 

In fact, we're guilty of continually beating that drum ourselves (see our website); but what does that statement even mean?  Primarily, it means that the quality and consistency that you seek to craft through the purchasing, roasting and brewing of your coffee ultimately falls to the mercy of the water quality you use.  I know, I know...I'm being that overly dramatic water guy.  Or am I?


Water chemistry is complex and if nothing else, dynamic. 

It is known as the 'universal solvent' because its polar nature (H-O-H) allows it to dissolve and absorb a little bit of everything it touches.  This is why your water’s TDS typically includes metals, minerals and organics in its content.  Furthermore, water changes seasonally, geographically, with temperature, by source and by treatment.  It is a soup of reactions that are largely dependent upon the characteristics of which it contains – insert the painfully long list of dissolved solids here.  Given these factors, we begin to understand that is rather impossible....and dare I say, foolish....to seek out any one-shoe-fits all standards.  Rather, using a range of acceptance like our friends at the SCAA originally intended we can more realistically produce the quality and consistent results we seek.  Simply put, we have to look at water on a case-by-case basis.


Additionally, we cannot just focus on one or two aspects of our water, like Hardness and TDS.

We must look at all of our water's contaminants to best control the water variable.  Las Vegas can certainly tell you what high Chlorides can do to brand new, beautiful equipment.  West and South Texas can tell you what an over-abundance of Sodium and/or Sulfates can mean for beverages.  Water high in sediment or silica, low in pH, it all can have a direct impact on both the drinks you make and the equipment you use.


We are truly excited about the pursuit to better understand water that is taking place in Specialty Coffee.

We want to contribute to this education in any way we can.  That being said, I would like to offer two primary starting points:

  1. Treat each opportunity for filtration as its own event because more than likely (even if just a mile down the road) that water will present unique challenges along the way and it's much easier to plan for it on the front end than when you are in the thick of things. 
  2. Lean on your water treatment suppliers.  You are the coffee experts, and that is your primary focus.  I'm sure you didn't get into this because of your love or insatiable interest for water.  However, your water treatment supplier is expected to be the expert.  Press them, litter them with questions, put high expectations on them, do whatever you need to do to ensure your water is remaining an ally and not an enemy to your business.


Be on the lookout for future blogs speaking to various dissolved solids in your water and how they impact your business.  In the meantime, if you have any thoughts, questions, concerns or criticisms I'd love to hear them.

Featured Image CreditSlayer Espresso


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