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  1. #1
    Junior Member
    Join Date
    Jul 2012

    Water Questions for Espresso, Coffee, and Ice Machine

    Hello All,

    First post on the forum and need a little help. I have been reading through all the posts on water filtering/softening, and am a little confused. I am about to open a dessert bar where I will have coffee and espresso drinks. I am about to purchase a Rancilio Classe 8 or 9 machine and will have a basic Bunn coffee maker (into airpots).

    The retail space I am taking over used to be a coffee shop, and it is clear that he had some kind of softening/filter system in place, but removed it. I have had 2-3 companies out to look at the plumbing, and have been given several conflicting messages. I was looking at having a whole shop system put in.

    One thing to know, is that I live in Houston, TX where the water is very hard (have not had it tested, but know it is beyond the limits you want for machines)

    One guy came in and wanted to sell me a Reverse Osmosis system filter system. He said this is what starbucks uses and that it is the best. I read the posts regarding waste. He said that with the RO system, I would not need a traditional softener. He also said that with a traditional softener, you would get the taste of sodium in the water. Anyone experience this?

    From the other posts I think I understood that you want softened water going into your Espresso machine, but not your coffee machine? Is that correct?

    Additional question - Am I better off putting a whole filter/softening system in, or just in-line stuff at each machine?

    Anyone know what you should use on an ice machine?

    How is taste affected by traditional filters vs RO systems?

    Sorry about the questions spewed throughout the post


  2. #2
    Senior Member
    Join Date
    Aug 2004
    Des Moines, Iowa
    Well obviously that guy knows Starbucks has an RO system but failed to see that they also have a water softener before the RO. /shakes head

    I've gone on some serious rants about RO on here and to be brief with you I'll try to keep this simple. If your water is over 10 grains in hardness it is suggested you have a water softener before your RO system. The reason being is its far simpler for the RO to remove salt ions then it is to remove calcium from the water. This will also extend the life of your RO membranes about a year longer. Most people get about 2 years on a set before they have to swap them out. Otherwise extremely hard water will chew them up pretty fast.

    The main problem with softening and using a RO system is the rejection of water to make water. Having a softener and a RO will waste a lot of water. The softener will have to run a regeneration cycle every so often and that's dependent on really how large of a system you go with and how hard your water is. Example if you bought a 20,000 grain softener and you had 10 grain water (capacity/grains=total output per cycle) your softener would soften 2000 gallons of water. At this point the system will run a regeneration cycle flushing brine water over the resin and down the drain. Depending on size of softener it could be as little as 5 gallon.

    Your RO systems have gotten a lot better with age. There are plenty of newer models out there that are high output high efficiency. The down size is you almost always need a high output model to get high efficiency. Everpure makes an HO/HE that is based on 600 gallons a day usage and higher. They are nice because you only dump about .5 gallon to make 1 gallon of drinking water. If you were to go to a Home Depot and purchase one of those under the counter systems for a few hundred dollars they are a whole lot less efficient. They can dump as much a 4 gallons to make 1 gallon of drinking water. My rule of thumb is if you don't have to plug your RO into a wall outlet your probably not getting a HO/HE model. High efficiency requires pump pressure and lots of it. Most of the time you'll see them pump the water around 150 to 300psi over the membranes for optimum efficiency.

    A lot of people choose not to run RO because it creates better water but because they don't want to pay for it. Softening only what you need and running cartridges to each machine is cheaper up front period. You can't beat it. But on the service side of things if your RO equipment is running perfectly in 5 years when they crack your espresso machine open it will be clean inside. Heck at 10 years you might think about descaling it. Most places that have water softeners will need to have their first overhaul at 5 years because its already scaled up from calcium.

    Now as for the taste of RO water. If you strip the water to a perfect 0 ppm on a TDS meter then yes it will taste bad. Has a slight metallic taste to it. Also its slightly acid in nature. The water is trying to buffer itself out with mineral content so it will search it out. Bad news for a copper boiler as it will pit the boiler. The other problem is water 20 - 25 ppm or less is non conductive so fill systems won't register it. So just short of RO water for scientific research and for hospital use most of the RO systems you'll be looking at will buffer the water automatically. Most have a mixing valve of some type that will bypass a small fraction of filtered water but not processed through the RO membranes back into the mix. This should bring your RO up around the 50 to 70ppm bracket. This also helps greatly with the taste of the water. Some of the older systems that would strip the water to 0ppm that didn't have a mixing valve used a calcite feeder to bring the mineral content backup to a suitable level.

    So here are my recommendations in order of okay to best.

    In-line filters, the kind that have no physical mounting head and usually rest horizontally. They are kinda of a pain in the ass to change. A lot times I find cartridges that have been in place for years because it was forgotten behind the brewer.

    Mounted heads behind or underneath the counter for each individual piece of equipment. It works great when you have an existing location and you want to drop in filtration for each individual item. I do a lot of setups like this. Normally they are adding a new piece of equipment and it needs softening or some type of filtration. Also is great again for existing locations and you don't know where the water line is running or branching off to. So its just easier to add cartridges where you need them.

    Water filtration heads in the backroom, kitchen, basement anywhere it can be located and placed all in one location. Normally you'll find this on new build outs. You have a water closet where you'll install one head with multiple cartridges based on how much water you need to filter. Then you'll just plumb off the head for each individual machine. This is where you would also have your water softener as to make it easier to plumb filtered watered to the softener and off to the espresso machine and other items that need filtered and softened water.

    Water softener and Reverse Osmosis system located in the water closet. The other thing I should mention is if you can do a water closet make sure you have a bypass installed for each system as well as a complete bypass of the water filtration system as a whole. If the softener fails or the RO you can bypass it keeping your store online.

    Of all the clients I service quite a few have a Great system. A few have the Best and there several Good stores out there as well. I encourage everyone to look beyond Okay. Inline filtration maybe okay for your ice machine on your freezer at home but its not okay for your store.

    Oh as for commercial ice you can use RO water just fine. I'd say a lot of people around here end up using a carbon block filter with scale inhibitor on their machines. Most people are mainly concerned with removing sediment along with taste and odor from their ice.
    Have you ever walked through the aisle of your local grocer and smelled the death of a dying bean?



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