The Truth About Water and Your Boiler
Amazing isn’t it - that something so pure, so cool and clear, can have such a significant affect on your coffee? Too hard or to soft, water affects the taste - as well as the longevity of your espresso machine. But a little preventative maintenance every three months or so will keep your machine brewing flawlessly for years to come.
Behind the Scenes
Cleverly veiled, water is filled with unseen minerals like calcium and magnesium carbonate. Large amounts of these elements, often found in unfiltered tap and well water, can be damaging to the inside of an espresso machine. You see, minerals tend to build up quickly due to the high temperatures and pressures the machines operate at, and the build-up will alter the flow of water within the machine. Visualize for a moment limescale building up on a shower door. Unsightly, but because you see it you will clean it. Just because the boiler is hidden within the espresso machine doesn’t mean the limescale isn’t there. Limescale will accumulate rapidly in an espresso machine, just like on a shower door - causing lower water pressure and inhibiting your machine’s overall performance.
Hard or Soft Water
So how do you reduce the amount of minerals found in water that cause limescale build-up? There are several ways to lower the mineral content in your hard water - without causing any adverse effects to the machine. The first step is identifying what type of water you have. Is it hard? Is it soft? By simply testing your water with test strips you can tell its makeup. Test strips can be found at any pet or pool supply store. It is recommended that water hardness be no more than 50 particles per million (ppm) for optimum performance. If your results are high, one of the easiest ways to lower the hardness and soften your water is with a high-quality carbon filter or charcoal filtration system. Other easy ways to alter the mineral content are to let the water stand for several hours or heat it.
Distilled or Deionized Water
When you distill or deionize water, you virtually eliminate all the minerals, good or bad in the water. By removing all the ions through the process called reverse osmosis, the water molecules begin to search for other ions to re-connect with. Using this type of water in prosumer machines like a Livia, Expobar, ECM and Grimac may be harmful because these machines have electro-magnetic sensors in their boilers. These sensors detect water only when minerals are present. If the electro-magnetic sensors are not recognizing the water, it may cause the boiler to overfill or lead to other malfunctions. Additionally, the deionized molecules will attach to and take away whatever ions they come in contact with - often the heating element inside the boiler or the boiler itself. Deionized water has also been linked to the corrosion and pitting of metal components within the boiler. In addition to possibly damaging your machine, using distilled or deionized water has been known to leave you with dull and flat tasting coffee. By removing the minerals, you also remove some of the flavor that positively affects the taste of coffee.
If you decide to use bottled water in your espresso machine for whatever reason, be it you have well water or you just prefer the taste of bottled water, make an effort to recognize its mineral content. On average, bottled mineral water contains more than 250 ppm of naturally occurring minerals - more than the recommended 50 ppm for optimum performance. So just because you’re using bottled water, doesn’t necessarily make it mineral free. In fact, there are several distinct types of bottled water: purified, mineral and spring water. The most common type of bottled water though is purified water - meaning it has been distilled or deionized. Spring water on the other hand is bottled directly from the underground springs that flow naturally to the surface - so there is a plethora of naturally occurring minerals found in it.
No matter what type of water you’re using - you will need to descale or decalcify on a regular basis. A good rule of thumb is every two to three months. When you decalcify your machine, you are removing the mineral and calcium build-up that has accumulated in the boiler, brew group, frothing wand and other related parts. When minerals build up in the espresso machine it affects the taste of your espresso, as well as clogs the water lines and valves and restricts the water flow necessary for proper operation. Most super automatic machines that have digital displays automatically notify you when decalcification is needed. If your machine does not have this option, you will have to remember to decalcify the machine on a regular basis. And when it is time to decalcify, you will want to refer to your owner’s manual for complete instructions. Descaling and decalcifying your machine on a regular basis will keep your machine running smoothly for years to come, because removing limescale build-up allows your machine to maintain constant brew and steam pressure. Taking care of your machine and choosing the right water doesn’t require a lot of effort, but it makes a ton of difference in the taste and performance.