Best Espresso Machine Water Softener

BY BORIS POVOLOTSKY - 29 Jan 2023

The importance of water for espresso machine

Espresso machines are a staple in many coffee shops and households. They are known for producing delicious, concentrated shots of coffee that can be used to make a variety of drinks. However, to ensure that your espresso machine produces the best possible coffee, it is important to pay attention to the water you feed your espresso machine with.

One of the main factors that affect the quality of coffee from an espresso machine is the mineral content of the water. Hard water, which is high in minerals such as calcium and magnesium, can potentially cause scale build-up in the machine and eventually pollute the water coming through your ground coffee. This scale can clog the water lines and damage the heating elements, leading to poor performance and a shorter lifespan for the machine.

While descaling your machine is a routine some users prefer over investing time and money in water solutions, some manufacturers recommend avoiding descaling if possible. Generally, I presume descaling your machine once every 2-5 years won’t damage your unit irreversibly to a serious extent, this recommendation is probably designed for users that descale regularly instead of using preventative measures, meaning feeding your machine with a good water solution.

That being said, finding the best water solution for your espresso machine isn’t the easiest task. There are endless threads on the forums and Facebook groups. Some solutions aren’t possible in certain household conditions, others have great tap water and only need a “light” solution, while others would prefer to utilize Reverse Osmosis solutions. Let’s see what can we do to make sure we get the best water for our espresso machines.

Water Softener Solutions

To combat the effects of hard water, many coffee enthusiasts turn to water filtration solutions such as Reverse Osmosis (RO) and water softeners. RO systems use a membrane to filter out dissolved minerals and impurities, while water softeners use ion exchange to remove hardness-causing minerals. Both of these solutions have been shown to improve the performance and longevity of espresso machines whilst maintaining or even improving the quality of your coffee cup. Let’s briefly explore the pros and cons of Reverse Osmosis and touch on other water solutions, too.

Reverse Osmosis

Reverse Osmosis is a purification process that yields distilled water. RO involves using special filters to remove impurities and contaminants from your tap water by filtering large particles like chemicals and minerals, allowing only water molecules to pass. The impure parts are flushed away. It’s important to understand that whilst RO removes contaminants that pollute your espresso machine, it also removes the good parts. This is why it’s recommended to use a remineralization filter at the end of the RO chain or add minerals in some other way.

In case your machine isn’t directly connected to your water supply system, you can consider using Rpavlis recipe which we’ll go over shortly.

Rpavlis Recipe

Rpavlis recipe is named after Doctor Robert Pavlis who was (R.I.P) a chemistry professor and who had contributed a lot to a coffee enthusiasts forum HB. Among his contributions was the recipe many hobbyists use to this day, some with slight modifications. Essentially, this recipe calls for a balanced amount of mineral contents in your water, to satisfy scale-free requirements and a good taste profile. The recipe itself has endless combinations to suit your choice of containers/gallons/tanks/etc.

Rpavlis recipe is simply adding 10mg (0.1g) into 1 liter of pure water. Since this is hard to measure, it’s convenient to first make a concentrate in a bottle and add small amounts of concentrate to a larger amount of water container.

Let’s make a 1-liter concentrate that will last you a long time.

  1. Take 1L bottle of distilled water
  2. Add 10 grams of Potassium Bicarbonate to your concentrate 1L bottle.
  3. Then, add 40ml of the concentrate into a gallon of distilled water. This is your espresso machine water. No hardness, scale-free worry-free.
  4. For liter bottles, simply add 10ml of concentrate into 1L of distilled water and use this for your espresso machine.

This is just simple mathematics, you can use any water jug and any container. Some use 5 gal containers and add the powder directly, bypassing the need for a separate concentrate. For this, you’d simply add 1.9g of Potassium Bicarbonate directly to your jug, swirly gently, let it dissolve for 5-10 minutes and you’re good to go.

Third Wave Water

Another popular water solution that is gaining traction in the specialty coffee industry is “third-wave water”. This solution is specifically formulated to provide specific flavor profiles suited for various kinds of beverages: espresso, filter, and cold brew. It doesn’t bypass the need for distilled water, meaning you should add a third-wave water packet to distilled water. It’s very convenient and much easier than making your own recipe, but it also costs considerably more.

Water Softeners

Personally, I use a manual water softener. It turned out to be the cheapest solution and fitted my needs the best for my current circumstances. I’d say that this solution is best if your tap water isn’t too hard, and while I can’t say how hard is too hard, I can say that mine was less than 200ppm. If it would have been around 250-400+ I’d be seriously considering a RO system.

With that aside, a manual water softener requires regular maintenance of adding 1 kg of kitchen salt into the resin filter once every 3-6 months to keep your machine scale-free. In addition to that, the refreshing step involves running water through the softener for about 1.5 hours to avoid salty water getting into your machine and damaging your palette as well as your machine.

While there are much more sophisticated softeners than mine, I probably would look elsewhere for that price range. The DVA 8L softener is relatively cheap to justify the hurdle.

That’s All

In conclusion, the quality of the water you use in your espresso machine is crucial to its performance and longevity. To ensure that your machine produces the best possible coffee, it’s best to first analyze the contents of your tap water for alkalinity, general hardness, and if possible, chlorides. High chlorides would likely require an RO system, generally soft water may only require 1 step “soft” filters from brands like BWT. In any case, you must get a testing kit, I got the API kit for gH and kH tests.

Disclaimer:_ I’m not a water guy. I’m just some guy on the internet who loves coffee, researches the internet, and devours every bit of information I can find on coffee (until it reaches severe nerdiness). So, please consult a technician or a licensed water guy for the best solution for your circumstances._


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