Coffee Makers

  • The Lowdown on Distilled Water

    A common inquiry we receive is in regard to the type of water customers should use in their coffee making equipment. Some folks think that distilled water will be their best bet, as they won't have to worry about scale build up or performing descaling procedures for the life of the machine. While there seems to be as many supporters as there are detractors regarding whether or not it's healthy for the human body, we do know that distilled water is not healthy for your machine. Seriously!

    First up, let's talk about your equipment. Putting water that has a lack of ions or mineral content through equipment that is basically composed of minerals (stainless steel, copper, nickel, brass, etc.) means the water will take that opportunity to take on ions from the surrounding space, contributing to a slow breakdown of those materials. It will essentially leach minerals out of the metal components and degrade the machine's performance over time. Additionally, there are several models of machines on the market (such as the Rockets) that use a minor electrical charge to determine if there is water in the reservoir. If there aren't enough minerals in the water to conduct that charge, the machine's sensor will report that the reservoir is empty.

    Now, let's talk about the coffee. The Specialty Coffee Association of America performed extensive testing and found that the ideal mineral balance is 150 parts per million (ppm). Coffee produced with water that contains this level of hardness is better balanced and a smoother cup. A lower mineral content allows for too much available space, often resulting in an overextraction and a bitter flavor. Conversely, water with a higher mineral content won't have enough available space, so coffee will be underextracted and possibly more sour. As distilled water has hardly any mineral content (roughly 9ppm), using it for coffee preparation will result in a bitter cup.

    We often say that you should use water that you like to drink to make your coffee -- after all, coffee is over 98% water. Another option is to use softened water, which encapsulates the minerals, maintaining their structure within the water while prohibiting their ability to adhere to internal components. This can give you the best of both worlds: A smooth and balanced cup of coffee while also reducing the overall maintenance for the life of the machine.

  • The ABCs of BPA

    Do you find yourself slowly backing away from your drip coffee maker or espresso machine because of all the hullabaloo about BPA (Biosphenol A) in plastics? As you have no doubt heard by now, there have been a wide range of reports regarding BPA -- an organic compound found in polycarbonate plastics -- examining how safe it is to have in containers from which we eat, drink, etc.

    A chemical that's been historically used to make a variety of items (from children's toys to food containers to water bottles to coffee makers), researchers have recently found that BPA emits toxins over time -- especially when it's heated. The long term affects of such leaching can cause health problems like cancer, reproductive abnormalities and neurological problems, just to name a (very nasty) few.

    But don't fret! Many coffee equipment manufacturers, such as Technivorm, AeroPress and Hourglass, have made a point to notify their customers or state on their products that they are BPA-free or that they've decided to switch to a safer alternative. As for Rancilio, Rocket, Delonghi, Saeco and Jura, we've searched high and low for some BPA-free facts, but have only received a verbal guarantee that they are BPA-free and FDA approved.

    HereĀ  are a few tips on how you can make sure your java gear is safe and free of any dangerous toxins you don't want floating around in your cup o' joe:

    • Hard, Clear & Unbreakable: Plastics that are hard and clear are usually made from polycarbonate. Unless the manufacturer states that it is BPA-free, it's the BPA chemical additive that makes plastics clear instead of cloudy or opaque. Check on the manufacturing packaging for an explicit statement, otherwise skip it.
    • Too Hot to Handle: Heat accelerates the possibility of BPA leaching into beverages stored in plastics. Make sure your to go cups are stainless steel where your coffee touches it.
    • Unlucky #7: Take a look at your plastics and find the triangle stamp on or near the bottom of your product. Products consisting of polycarbonate should have the number 7 or sometimes the letters PC.

    However, not all plastics with the number 7 mean they contain BPA. The number 7 can also mean that that certain plastic is in the 'other' category. These plastics are usually soft and pliable, and are not made with BPA. Because some of their products contain components with the number 7 on them, Technivorm has tried to clarify this, also specifically listing which materials are utilized in those products:

    Although judged safe by most testing agencies and reports, a few misleading negative studies have identified plastics marked with recycling no. 7 as unsafe. Some -- but not all -- plastics with the recycling no. 7 are polycarbonate. -- Technivorm

    While a few of their components are a mixture of polycarbonate, they do meet FDA requirements. Technivorm hopes to get closer to being a totally BPA-free manufacturer by getting rid of the use of any polycarbonate in their current and future products.

    But if you're still worried about BPA in your coffee maker, just know that most coffee maker brew baskets are made of ABS plastic and polypropylene for their water tanks -- both of which are BPA-free plastics.

  • Cleancaf or Dezcal?

    Lime, calcium and other trace minerals exist in nearly every water supply, leaving behind white scaly deposits when the water has evaporated. Removing this scale on a regular basis is an essential component of any coffee maker or espresso machine maintenance regimen -- even if you have 'soft' water, there will be trace amounts left over time that can build-up and hinder your machine's performance.

    Some folks suggest using filtered or distilled water from the get-go, so that you don't risk pitting your boiler through repetitive use of the acid required to remove scale. That's certainly one tack to take, but we've found that we prefer the taste of espresso made with water that has some mineral content to it. Because of that, we descale our machines about every three months to ensure that no deposits build up and ultimately burn out the boiler.

    If you prefer minerals in your java as we do, there are a couple of products on the market that will help you keep your espresso machine or coffee maker in tip-top shape: Cleancaf or Dezcal. Which is better? Again, it depends on your preferences.

    Billed as a cleaner and descaler, Cleancaf combines descaling acid with a detergent that will also break down the oils left behind by coffee beans. It also features a blue dye that helps with thorough rinsing.

    Dezcal, on the other hand, is a straight-up descaler -- and an incredibly powerful one at that. While it doesn't have a detergent component, it's a much stronger product and removes more scale; also, it doesn't have a blue dye, which we think is a good thing.

    Of the two, we recommend Dezcal over Cleancaf, but we carry both of them so you can determine which product is right for you.

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