Friendly barista makes coffee using 3M water filters

The Cold, Hard Truth about Hard Water, Chlorine Smell and Beverage Quality

Your water could be undermining your restaurant’s beverage quality control.

  • You only get one chance to make a first impression and, for restaurants, it’s critical that it be a good one. Perhaps more than in any other business, the customer experience must be consistently exceptional, or you risk permanently losing patrons. From décor to food quality to staff interactions, every detail matters in today’s competitive market, where another dining choice is typically just a few doors down.

    But if your tap water smells like chlorine or customers are served bitter espresso, that impression irreparably suffers. The water you use in your establishment can affect the taste, appearance and consistency of the meals and drinks you serve customers.

Water basics

  • To understand how water affects your restaurant, it first helps to look at how water gets to your establishment in the first place. Once the water is drawn from its source, the Centers for Diseases Control (CDC) traces its route to your faucet: First, the water is subjected to various filtration and other processes to remove dirt, sediment, dust, particles, viruses and other materials. Some filtration and other treatments are more effective than others and may leave some sediment behind, causing water hardness in your kitchen. Hard water has more dissolved materials such as magnesium, calcium and other compounds.

    Water may also be treated with a disinfectant like chlorine or chloramine, to kill any remaining bacteria, viruses or parasites to ensure the water is safe to drink. In some cases, municipalities or water systems may add fluoride to the water. This may result in tap water that tastes like chlorine.

    The types of treatment, water source, region and local factors may all affect the water you use in your restaurant, including the taste and appearance. Bitter espresso and coffee products, chlorine smell, foggy ice cubes and even water scale build-up are all typically caused by water quality.

    Even when it meets safe standards for drinking and use, water may have an odor, taste, color, or cloudiness caused by “secondary contaminants,” according to the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency (EPA). For example:

    • Metallic taste or smell may indicate the presence of copper, iron, manganese or zinc
    • Sulfur taste or smell may be caused by hydrogen sulfide or sulfate-reducing bacteria
    • Salty taste may be caused by chloride, sulfate or other total dissolved solids (TDS)
    • Discoloration or cloudiness may be cause by aluminum, copper, foaming agents or other elements


    These variables may be attributed to geography, chemicals and additives, bacteria and other factors. Even when the water is deemed safe, these variations can affect beverage appearance and taste. After all, customers don’t want a discolored or cloudy glass of water or a bitter espresso—the two beverages that typically make up the first and last impression of an establishment. And when water is heated, these issues are more noticeable. Carbonation will also intensify the taste of the water used.

    Differences in taste and composition can even be found in bottled water. While some have very low TDS, others may have as many as 500 milligrams per liter (mg/L). Coffee prepared with different mineral levels will taste different. The Specialty Coffee Association of America has set standards for various water attributes, including that it be odorless, colorless and have a TDS range of 75 to 250 mg/L. Restaurants or eateries with multiple locations should use these guidelines to ensure consistency of taste and quality across locations.

Improving water quality


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