Addressing Water Quality Issues: An Introduction


By Scott Manley, La Marzocco

When issues with brewing and grinding equipment arise, a technician uses all available information to assess the issue in order to affect a repair, restoring the equipment to full working order. This starts at the time of the initial service request, either by a phone call, email, or – possibly for some of you more senior members – a pager. From this first contact we are already engaged in a process to repair the equipment, before we are even physically present to investigate the issue, and we attempt to get as much information as we can about the problem from available sources. We usually call the cafe and hope to speak with someone who has observed the problem and can describe it, and if we are lucky can do a bit of troubleshooting. If we have the time, or a long drive ahead of us, we may contact a colleague or the manufacturer if the description of the problem or equipment is unfamiliar to us, vague, or unique in nature. We may also consult prior work orders for the equipment to see if a pattern is evident. We reach out to resources before arriving on-site so that we present ourselves as professionals fully equipped to handle the situation. And from this we are already planning the repair, before we have even arrived. 

After arriving on-site, we further engage with the barista or manager to get as much information about the time and events surrounding the problem, the “who, what, when, where, why” of it. And quite often not all of this information is available, for instance if we arrive after a shift change, or the equipment failed in the middle of the night and the openers just found it that way. At this point we  get hands-on with the machine to verify that there is, in fact, an issue. We take all the evidence we have gathered, combine it with our own direct interaction, and proceed to repair the equipment. We then verify the repair is correct by operating the machine, and sometimes having the barista operate the machine while we observe them. Along the way, underlying all this work, we do one thing over and over - test. Root-cause analysis, baby!

Fixing a water quality problem is no different. Sure, there are some new skills to learn, tools to employ, mindset to acquire and strategies to master; but really anyone who can repair an espresso machine can do this. Heck, there are even some cool new tools that involve using chemicals other than caffeine. And it’s a lot easier than it looks.

The important takeaway from this brief article is the importance of testing. All issues arising from water quality start with accurate testing. And more testing, the better. Unless we know what is in the water to begin with, we cannot control the output from the filtration system. We as coffee technicians have, by and large, taken it for granted that water filtration was in somebody else’s wheelhouse. Though, if we actually look in the that particular wheelhouse of most cafe operations, we find it empty. Nobody's steering the ship!

Well, no more my friends! We are going to take charge of the water situation. And we are going to start with learning how to quantify what is in our water and take appropriate action to correct any deficiencies. In further articles we are going to learn about:

  • Common vocabulary about water topics
  • Strategies to test, address and correct for deficiencies in product water
  • Using testing equipment, such as portable meters, dip strips, titration kits and collecting samples for off-site laboratory testing
  • Installing and maintaining technology to filter and condition water

Until next time, you can always reach me on Slack with questions.

In the meantime, if you would like to jumpstart your water knowledge I can suggest the following:

And these links to Five Senses Coffee blog:

Let us look forward to a bright future free of scale, corrosion and misinformation. See you there!