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Fresh beans from a good roaster ground just before brewing is the central mantra for creating great coffee. But have you considered the water you’re introducing to those beautiful beans? We’ve explored the best bottled water for coffee and made a list of our top options. They are:
- Crystal Geyser Alpine Spring Water
- Volvic Natural Spring Water
- Evian Natural Spring Water
- Saratoga Natural Spring Water
- Mountain Valley Spring Water
- Acqua Panna Natural Spring Water
Water chemistry has a huge impact on coffee flavour, as the folks at Balance Coffee explain here. Coffee needs the right minerals at the right concentrations. One option is to start with distilled water and add minerals yourself to achieve the optimum balance. But if you want to keep things simple, you can just use one of the six bottled water brands discussed here.
Why water matters when you make coffee
We’ve all experienced variations in the taste of our tap water. Hardness and softness describe the level of mineral content. Sometimes chemicals like chlorine are added during treatment. Even the makeup and condition of home plumbing infrastructure affects water flavour.
Brewing the best coffee possible is not as simple as hoping the water tastes good enough straight out of your tap.
Trace minerals in tap water bind with flavour compounds during coffee extraction, and pH can swing the profile to either sour or bitter. There are techniques such as distillation or reverse osmosis that will pull just about everything out of your water and make it ultra-pure, but that can produce coffee that is flat and tasteless.
Magnesium and calcium are the most important minerals to have in balance when brewing coffee. Magnesium boosts the extraction of coffee’s brighter flavours, chiefly an organic compound called eugenol. Calcium highlights darker notes and contributes to a creamy mouthfeel.
Water pH is another factor. The ideal pH for brewing coffee is a neutral 7, with wiggle room on either side. More acidic water can enable more delicate flavour compounds to come through but results in weak extraction. More alkaline water facilitates extraction but can suppress flavour. That’s why the middle road is best in the case of pH.
Should you use tap water for making coffee?
There’s no easy answer to this because tap water varies a lot from place to place. Even the pipes bringing water to your faucet can contribute trace minerals, changing water chemistry from house to house in the same neighbourhood!
Municipally treated water often has chemicals such as chlorine and fluoride added, sometimes so much that you can smell and see the faint blue of a swimming pool in your bathtub. Chlorine odour doesn’t play well with coffee.
The base mineral content of your water will depend on the aquifer in your area, because it is a function of the stone and soil through which the water has traveled. Securing water reports or doing testing yourself can give you insight into what kind of water is supplying your home.
For coffee, you may be better off starting from a clean, controlled point by mixing your own minerals or buying bottled water.
Hard water and soft water
“Hard” water often gets a bad rap, with homeowners installing water softeners to condition the water they use for drinking, cooking, and bathing. However, the terms “hard” and “soft” are not quality judgments. They refer to the mineral content of the water.
Hard water contains more minerals, including the calcium and magnesium ions discussed above. Because it has more dissolved minerals, it can cause scale to build up on your dishes and equipment. Scale is essentially mineral deposits that look like crusty white powder. Many coffee-brewing machines come with instructions to “descale” the machine every few months using a special solution that breaks down these deposits and washes them away.
Soft water contains fewer minerals. Naturally occurring soft water comes from aquifers of hard, impervious stone that does not contain easily dissolved compounds such as calcium.
DIY water for coffee brewing
One approach to achieving balanced water that produces the best coffee and espresso is to take ultra-pure water and add in the minerals yourself. This method allows you ultimate control over your water chemistry and allows you to experiment with creating a flavour profile that suits you.
The two main minerals are easily available: sodium bicarbonate (baking soda) and magnesium sulfate (Epsom salts). There are many “recipes” using slightly different ratios of these two substances. Each has pros and cons and some are more suitable to specific brew methods than others.
For example, harder water with higher minerality is better for short brewing times (think espresso), whereas softer water will help prevent slower brewing methods from over-extracting.
The downside of mixing your own coffee-brewing water is that you must use ultra-pure water with no mineral content to start with. A high-quality reverse osmosis filter will enable you to prepare your tap water on demand. Otherwise, you will need to purchase distilled water from the grocery store.
The best bottled water for coffee
If you don’t feel like playing home chemist and you’re looking for a consistent, accessible option for your daily brew, a quality bottled water may be the solution. Keep in mind that much like tap water, not all bottled water is the same. Some have a variety of minerals added for taste that may make your coffee taste worse, and some are highly alkaline which can result in a cup with no personality.
Here are our favourites:
Crystal Geyser Alpine Spring is bottled at seven protected natural springs around the U.S. It is consistently right in the neutral sweet spot, having a pH of 7. While minerality varies slightly depending on which spring the water came from, this water is on the softer side. The total dissolved solids (TDS) range between 90 and 110 milligrams per litre.
Similar concentrations of magnesium and calcium offer balance to brewing, while the low minerality protects against over-extraction during longer brewing methods.
Crystal Geyser Alpine Spring was founded in 1990 and remains an independent, family-run enterprise. The company invests in environmental measures that will both protect their product and ensure the vibrancy of the ecosystems that rely on these springs.
Volvic is another dead-on neutral pH spring water, bottled in France at the Clairvic Spring north of the Puy de Dôme. The Puy de Dôme is a dormant volcano, and the surrounding bed of lava rock offers a high level of natural filtration. The spring has a balanced mineral profile containing calcium and magnesium in moderate amounts, and other trace minerals. TDS in Volvic is measured at 109 milligrams per litre.
Like Crystal Geyser Alpine Spring, Volvic’s similar amount of calcium and magnesium help to balance acidity and mouthfeel in the cup.
Volvic is active in improving water access in Africa and creating healthy water drinks with low sugar, especially for kids. Volvic’s parent company, Danone, invests in a variety of environmental initiatives including regenerative agriculture, carbon neutrality, and water stewardship.
They also celebrate their unique single source by offering a yearly three-day event where visitors can experience the area through sports and festivities.
Evian, also owned by Danone, is bottled from several natural springs on the south shore of Lake Geneva. It has a slightly higher pH of 7.8 and higher minerality than Volvic. It contains about three times as much calcium as magnesium and has a TDS of 300 milligrams per litre. The higher calcium concentration brings out a more silky mouthfeel and darker, creamier flavours during brewing.
They’ve been a public company since 1859. Danone, then the BSN group, acquired the brand in 1970. In addition to parent company Danone’s various environmental initiatives, Evian is striving to become totally carbon neutral by 2020 and use exclusively recycled packaging by 2025.
Bottled from natural springs in Saratoga Springs, N.Y., Saratoga Natural Spring Water has a pH of 7. It has low minerality and a TDS of 73 milligrams per litre, with higher calcium than magnesium. This is another water on the softer side, which may be more suitable for slower brewing methods or cutting down the acidic flavours of coffee.
The Saratoga Spring Water company was founded in 1872 and remains active to this day creating a variety of still and sparkling bottled water products. They bottle in glass at a New York facility close to the water source. As a company, they are committed to environmental stewardship and supporting American-made products.
Mountain Valley Spring Water is bottled in Hot Springs, Ark., where commercial bottling began in 1871. It has a TDS of 221 and a higher pH of 7.7, one of the harder profiles on our list. As such, it could be a good choice for faster brew methods like espresso and Aeropress.
Mountain Valley was the first bottled water to be distributed all over the U.S. and has been served in the U.S. Senate since 1920. The company is a conscientious guardian of the pristine landscape that surrounds the spring.
Acqua Panna has a higher pH of 8.2 and medium minerality with TDS of 121 milligrams per litre. A product of Italy, this water is bottled from a natural spring high in the mountains of Tuscany. The minerality is well balanced for extraction but some may find that the higher pH causes the coffee to taste more dull.
Commercial bottling began at the spring in 1880 and it later became the first still water to be bottled in plastic. The Acqua Panna brand is now owned by San Pellegrino, a subsidiary of the Nestlé company. The company is so careful about the flavour of their water that they even suggest food and wine pairings.
Our top pick for the best bottled water for coffee is Crystal Geyser Alpine Spring. It contains adequate minerals to develop a robust flavour profile in coffee but not so much that it could contribute to scale inside delicate equipment like an espresso machine. It’s high-quality, widely available, and makes a delicious cup of coffee.