Going to Portland + Water is Coffee

posted in: musings | 2

Just a little freeform thinking this morning… First off, I’ll be heading to Portland to teach some postgraduate seminars next weekend. My windows of time are VERY small, so we’ll see how much I can cram in coffee-wise. I fly in late Friday night, then I teach 8-5, plus setting the room up, etc, so I have about an hour in the morning and evening on Saturday and Sunday to hustle into the city from the¬†outskirts to try to hit some places. So stressful! LOL I will obviously try to take a lot of pictures and report on my trip, share my route, put together a “How to Get as Much Caffeine in an Hour in Portland” tours, etc. LOL

Now, water. When you think about the fact that a cup of coffee is about 97-98% water, it’s obvious that the water is a darn important component of coffee and will have a major effect on its flavor. Mentally, though, it seems hard to wrap my head around the fact that this clear stuff really does that much. Well, my eyes have been opened.

Our work coffee situation is as dire as it gets. Think gigantic bucket of Folgers and a dripper that never gets cleaned and a thermal carafe that also never gets cleaned and you’re in the ballpark. Once, I took a sip and it was SALTY! I couldn’t believe it. The gal who made it said, “I read you can take the bitterness out of coffee by adding a little salt to the grounds.” No, you take the bitterness out by not using a cesspool to brew it in and not using Folgers and…. well, I’m preaching to the choir here probably.

So, obviously something that cannot be worked with. I switched to tea at work and honestly I’m not much of a daytime/afternoon/evening coffee sort of guy anyway, so I really just needed something occasionally if I needed a second cup or a daytime pick me up or whatever. Tea is easy and I like tea, but it’s not coffee.

I picked up a small Clever dripper to do the job at work, using Filtropa filters. The coffee is always kind of “off” and weirder still, no matter what coffee I take with me to work it ALWAYS tastes EXACTLY the same. Weird, right? So, I’ve played with grind size, immersion time, dose, etc etc etc. Nothing. Always the same.

I figured it was the Filtropa filters coupled with the small size of the Clever (you’re good for about 300g of water if you take it to the VERY top). The smaller the volume of coffee the more important the paper becomes. It was a good excuse to buy an AeroPress. Thinking, “Problem solved!” I brewed with the AeroPress at work for the first time yesterday and, guess what? Same flavor. WTF?!

So, that means one thing: something about the water we have at work is making my coffee messed up. In fact, I used the Able DISK in it so I could be 100% sure no paper (not that that little piece of paper would taint a whole cup of AeroPress, but still) flavor was happening, and the same flavor was there. So it has to be the water, that’s the last variable. Or the water’s fine and the Bonavita Travel boiler thing I use is imparting flavor into the coffee.

So, those will be the last two experiments: I’ll bring the Bonavita pot home and use it at home and see what happens. If it tastes weird at home, then that boiler is leeching something into the water (scary). I’ll also fill up a glass milk bottle with water from home and take it to work and use that water and see what happens. Oh, and I should probably bring the Clever home with the Filtropas and see how it tastes here.

What’s really crazy is that my house is about 5.5 miles from work, so it’s probably the same water supply. I’m not sure how to research where water comes from in different parts of the city, so that would be something fun to do if I get bored over the holidays or something. Maybe something happens to the water once it hits the building, like filtration or something? The water itself tastes great, I drink it all day, but it seems to hate being heated up and mixed with coffee.

Am I losing it or has this happened to others, too?

2 Responses

  1. Jason Young

    I’ve experienced issues similar to this in Kansas City Kansas, Olathe, and Lawrence when it came to coffee and water. A few years ago, I made one of the best decisions ever………I purchased a water dispenser and religiously keep a good supply of 5 gallon water bottles in stock. I refill them at Whole Foods, the Merc, or anywhere that you trust is serving the best quality filtered water. Various debates on Reverse Osmosis vs Distilled water and coffee. I basically wasn’t interested in clogging up my machines with lime and scale from city tap water. In addition, the overall quality of coffee based drinks is much improved with better water.

    Another thing, the plumbing in one’s home and place of business has huge impacts on the water once it reaches the glass. Definitely sounds like there are some issues in your plumbing. Hate to even guess but it could be sludge, rust, lime, calcium, or other deposits.

    But man, hope you have time to experience the awesome coffee scene in Portland. I was there for a few days with no obligations besides “Coffee” and I barely touched the surface of what Portland has to offer in regards to coffee. Definitely hit up Stumptown, Water Avenue, Heart, Barista, Coava, and so so so many more! Don’t forget about the food trucks.

    Stop by Coffee Division and ask for Angie McDaniel. She is a recent transplant to Portland and is a Barista there. You probably already know her. She will lead you right.

    Good luck.

    • KCcoffeegeek

      Thanks, Jason! I was in Portland to teach earlier this year, too, and did make it to Stumptown. I literally have one hour each on Saturday and Sunday to hit as many places as possible, so it will be interesting to say the least! LOL

      The interesting thing about the water problem is that the water tastes great by itself at home (Merriam) and at work (near Corporate Woods). If one is “off,” though, it’s definitely at work because that’s where my coffee is all tasting weird. Certainly doing bottled water like you suggest would be good for consistency. If I come home with one more “thing” related to coffee, though, I’ll probably be living on the streets so that one will have to wait until I live in a bigger/different home someday and can have a dedicated coffee lair.