As recommended by other users, I use Brita filtered water in my Gaggia Classic espresso machine. Brita sternly warns against using such water for longer than one day. This might be fine when keeping a family supplied with coffee, not so much when it’s just for one. It’s wasteful in terms of water, and also in terms of filter use, as it reaches its throw-way date long before it’s processed the optimum amount of water.
I get through, at most, 3 200ml mugs of café crema a day (think of an Americano, but 100% coffee, no hot water), and often just one cup.
I drink it for one of two reasons. Mainly, to stay awake (I have health problems that force me to sleep at all sorts of odd times whether I want to or not), or for its Theophylline content (helps my breathing, particularly as I’m now so prone to Pulmonary Oedema and other respiratory nasties).
One problem with the Classic is that it’s very hard to see exactly how much water is in the tank (it’s made of transparent plastic, but it’s brown and deep in shadow), so I tend to err on the generous side and keep it full (running out of water can wreck the pump and – probably – the boiler too). This means it has to be emptied and refilled daily. Of late – because this greatly reduces the life of the filter – I’ve been getting a bit lax and using water a couple of days old.
At the weekend I pulled the tank, almost full of 3-day-old water (often sleep overwhelms me before I can get the coffee made), and there, lurking malevolently in the tank, was the swirling white cloud of a flourishing bacterial colony. It might have been harmless, but without the facilities of a microbiology lab at my disposal there was no way of telling, so out it went.
And that’s the problem with filtered water – not only does the filter strip out undesirable compounds, it also strips out the preservative chemicals. Many people feel that these, too, are undesirable compounds, but that’s not a view I share given how many deaths occurred in the past from a contaminated public water supply (see Sir Joseph William Bazalgette for arguably the most well-known examples, resulting in around 25,000 deaths). Hence the one-day rule, because filtered water can “go off” almost as easily as, say, milk.
So I scrubbed the tank, sterilised it with Milton, rinsed it thoroughly then put it back and filled it with unfiltered water. I flushed the system with the fresh water, topped it up again and made some coffee.
As far as I can tell, despite claims to the contrary, coffee made with unfiltered water tastes exactly the same as it does with filtered (though I accept that this can depend upon where one lives, and the degree to which the local water is processed). The main difference is that I’ll have to descale the machine periodically – not exactly a daunting task as long as it’s done regularly and the scale isn’t allowed to build up. Not a problem as I have plenty of citric acid, the descaling chemical of choice. I use it in tiny amounts for pre-treating fruit and veg for hydration, but it’s cheap enough, and sold by the kilo (£8.00/kg), which leave a lot left over for descaling. For a machine the size of the Classic 10g per pint of warm water is recommended (say 2 pints of solution followed by a LOT of plain water).
I’ve just read that a simple citric acid solution isn’t very effective at descaling (but a proprietary and more expensive citric-acid-based product is!). I disagree as, to test it, I descaled a kettle with about 10 year’s worth of scale build-up. I filled it with warm solution (a tablespoon per litre, stronger than I’d get away with in the Classic as the kettle is stainless steel), let it sit until it stopped fizzing – perfectly clean.
However – and this is an important caveat – the Classic has an aluminium boiler (the kettle is stainless steel), so don’t let scale build up for too long, as I said, and don’t let the solution sit in the boiler for more than 15 minutes. For a light user like me, I’d suggest descaling once a month, and backflushing with a suitable compound (I use Urnex Cafiza 2 – very easy and very effective – ideally once a week**).
**For which read “when I remember”!
And on the subject of cleaning, I put a good handful of Basmati rice through my grinder whenever I remember, followed by some cheap beans to remove the rice residue. Buying the “right” product will set you back between about £8 and £20 (or £85 from one of Amazon’s more ambitious Market Place vendors – the same product and same size pack you get for £20!), but Basmati works well for me. The rice has another benefit too. Being a natural product, if any residue should find its way into your coffee, it won’t harm you. Won’t improve your coffee, either but, hey, you can’t have everything…