dinsdag 24 februari 2015

Getting a Bestmax Premium water filter

Last week a friend brought me a BWT Bestmax water to replace the DV8 that I had. The advantage of this new filter was that it has a built in bypass so some amount of Ca minerals that the resin in a DV8 and Bestmax replaces with Na / sodium can be mixed back in for a better coffee extraction.

Then I read that the newer "Premium" version of the Bestmax filter uses Mg(Magnesium) ions instead of Na which further enhances the water taste and subsequent coffee extraction.

Online, BWT are very brief about what exactly sets this filter apart from the rest. I find that generally, water filter manufacturers are terse in explaining the exact workings and most text has words like rich, full taste, particle-free and pleasant. 

I assume manufacturers keep the text vague for two reasons: first, the competition is not to be made any wiser and second, consumers may be taken aback by technical specifics. Anything beyond the absolute necessary, like mention of Calcium ('scales up your machine'), Sodium ('harmless') and Magnesium ('rich') would leave the impression that there's something chemical about the device and one does not want that, even though the best of coffee brews is of course teeming with delicious molecules with complicated names if you get to know them better.

Anyway I decided to get one and try it out.

At first it seemed quite difficult to find a dealer of this "Premium" version. The Dutch BWT office  referred me to a store in Amsterdam but when I visited the shop, the sales lady knew precious little about coffee equipment or water treatment.

Her colleague who is the local expert in this field was in their other shop across the street and when I emailed him with my questions I got no reply so I tried finding the filter from the Dutch BWT office.

They did not have these special products in stock themselves as they are distributed from the Belgian office but they referred me to Danny van der Kuijlen, their national representative for coffee professionals. He told me that Van Pommeren, the store in Utrecht specializing in kitchenware, espresso machines and their own roasted coffee brand, has enough of the "Premium" filters in stock so I headed there, got one and installed it at home.

Bestmax Premium ready to unpack

Some info from their website

Unpacked ready to install

A little more tech data

Ready to go make coffee!
In the first test of filtered and unfiltered water my friend who brought me the original Bestmax filter nor I could clearly distinguish the taste.

Over the coming days I plan to do some measurements with the pH and ppm meters as well as with hardness droplet test methods and add those findings here.

The espresso (see below) came out delicious but that may have been equally fine with the water I had before the swap. They are lovely Colombian beans that I roasted almost a week ago.

BWT is developing a Reverse Osmosis system which might be the next best thing. The water will be filtered to first be so pure as to be impossible to extract coffee with and in the next steps the minerals needed for the optimal coffee extraction will be added in the right proportions. Some specialty coffee places like Stooker in Amsterdam have a large version of this procedure, but BWT will produce a compact version, about the size of a pc box.

Before I will try that, the current filter will be able to supply about 3,500 liters of water to make coffee with. More than enough and lots of time to wonder if it makes a difference.

At least it will not scale up my machine.

Israeli coffee site featuring my "on the road" setup

The current, expanded version of the rig is better ;-)

zaterdag 21 februari 2015

When to change the Brita cartridge?

100% to 0%
The Rocket Giotto espresso machine at my girl friend's place uses water from a Brita filter. This filter has a timer that counts down from "100%" to zero over a number of weeks but that time span is totally unrelated to the actual use of the filter so it's useless as a reminder to change the filter cartridge for a fresh one.

I reset the timer a few times before replacing the filter but then I mostly forget how often I have reset it and I take out a new cartridge when I start to feel worried about the water hardness, which is subjective and unpredictable.

Brita themselves suggest replacing it every two months or after every 40 gallons of water taken from the pitcher although local water hardness may vary greatly and thus influence the life span of a filter cartridge. So that's not a great help either.

It would be nice if Brita supplied a test kit to see when the water quality delivered by the filter is deteriorating.

For those who want to skip the tests below, a short and simple conclusion: find a GH droplet test for aquariums, one that measures 1ºdH per droplet in a 5ml test tube. If it takes more than 5 droplets for the water to change color, replace the cartridge. It's a cheap test too.

For more in-depth info, read on...

There's information about aspects of water hardness here:

  1. http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Water_softening 
  2. http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Carbonate_hardness
  3. http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/DGH

Test kits
This morning after coffee I took out a few test kits that I have:
  1. HM Digital EC/TDS/TEMP COM-100 water quality tester
  2. Velleman digital pH meter
  3. "Raw Water Hardness Reagent" measuring TH from Advantage Chemicals
  4. Tetra Test GH drop test 
  5. Tetra Test KH drop test

Water samples
I filled three bowls with water:

  1. Water from the tap, unfiltered
  2. Water from a used Brita filter
  3. Water from a brand new Brita filter

All three samples were 16ºC:

test set up

These were the results:

The ppm does not change much because a resin based filter like the Brita replaces most Ca ions (which can cause scaling over time) with Natrium (sodium) or Magnesium ions. Basically, harmful particles are replaced with harmless ones and the total count of particles does not change drastically.

To get zero ppm, one would need an osmosis type filtration (and then add the elements we want for fine coffee extraction later).

I was a bit surprised that the TH droplet measurements seemed more in proportion to the GH results than parallel the measured KH values.

I did the KH test twice to be sure, the second time using 10ml instead of 5ml so 1ºdH difference was then indicated by two drops of reagent.

Apparently, in these tests at least, a filter that has been used for a while can still be effective in lowering the KH substantially even though the GH (drastically lower at the onset) is already increasing.

The TH droplet technique is equally helpful as the GH to check the current effectiveness of the filter cartridge.

70-140 ppm is said to be "medium hard water" and fine for the espresso machine, so the "old" filter that I just replaced could have been used longer.

Quick and easy test?
The electronic ppm meter is useful and convenient as it shows a significant difference between unfiltered water and a brand new or used-but-okay filter. Using it I'd say: replace the filter if it reads a ppm above 325. You'd be on the safe side, still be a long way from the unfiltered water quality.

The Velleman digital pH is not useful for this cartridge testing. It merely measures a marginal difference between samples and does not separate an old (but still good) filter from tap water.

Also, if I want to take the time to set up a droplet test, just one type of droplet test, either the TH or the GH, would tell you enough.

The GH droplet test is the cheapest. I paid about 6 Euros for it, whereas the digital ppm meter was around 80 Euros (plus I bought special calibration fluid to ensure it is working perfectly in the range that I am testing).

donderdag 19 februari 2015

Waterspel / Playful Water

(English translation below the video)

Buiten de vrije natuur zie je maar zelden water dat nog werkelijk weet wat “spelen” is. Het meeste douche- en badwater is vandaag de dag levenloos, het spuit of klotst wel maar afgezien van spetters op de vloer speelt het weinig klaar.

Ook in de keuken gedraagt het water zich slaafs, al zie je soms, wanneer een kleuter in de afwasbak mag spelen, dat het water enkele ogenblikken wordt verleid tot een vrolijkheid die je in moderne stedelijke gebieden vrijwel niet meer aantreft.

Toen ik vanochtend even werd weggeroepen van de afwas, betrapte ik bij terugkeer het water in een vrolijk spel met een koffiekopje. Wanneer water zo druk en beweeglijk is, merkt het een mens niet op zolang die zich langzaam beweegt. Zo slaagde ik er wonderwel in het waterspel tot zeer nabij te benaderen en wist ik enige unieke beelden te maken van dit blijkbaar toch maar zeer ten dele gedomesticeerde water.

Het is kleinschaliger dan de beroemde fontein van de Saoedische Koning Fahd maar je ziet dezelfde opwaartse drang en misschien, als ik het zo vrij zeggen mag, meer gratie in de wijze waarop het water na een zweefmoment de neerwaartse energie weet te pakken, waarbij grote druppels, voor even los gekomen van de rest, vliegensvlug weer een nieuwe samenhang zoeken.

Ja je maakt wat mee.


A rare glimpse into the hidden life of water.

In our modern city conglomerate one rarely sees water that still knows how to "play." Most of our bath and shower water is lifeless. You encounter it as a steady spray from the shower head or you feel it sloshing sullenly around you in the bath, but apart from a rare splash on the floor mat it doesn't do much at all anymore.

Present day water in a kitchen seems to have no will of its own either. It is a rather slavish fluid, although on a very rare occasion, for instance when a toddler is allowed to play in the basin, one can observe, for a brief moment, a certain frivolousness in the water which is virtually nonexistent in postmillennium H2O in urban space.

So I was more than surprised this morning after I had been called away to the door to accept a parcel. On my return to the kitchen, where I had been doing the dishes, I caught water in a playful game with a coffee cup. 

When water is very agile it does not notice the presence of a human as long as one moves ever so slowly. Thus, I managed to approach the water, coming miraculously close and I succeeded in catching some unique footage of this water that turns out to be, after all, much less domesticated than we all have come to consider it.

dinsdag 17 februari 2015

Coffee Night at the Torpedo Kitchen

Yesterday night, Foodtube's Ronald Hoeben hosted a discussion about coffee in the miniature Torpedo Theater in Amsterdam.

His guests were Edward Beumer and Erik Oosterhuis from specialty coffee place "Trakteren" in the J.P. Heijestraat and Tewis Simons, who founded Bocca coffee roasters with his brother.

Most of the recent history and basics in specialty coffee were discussed.

Tewis told how a coffee farmer they work with has innovated to be able to offer his customers any of his five varieties of coffee beans processed in any way they prefer. And to inspire other farmers as well, they arranged for a coffee farmer from Ethiopia to travel to this farm in Colombia so both farmers can compare methods an share new ideas.

Edward explained how the success of chains like Starbucks, and on a small Dutch scale the Coffee Company have tremendously helped to open the market for smaller more specialized and dedicated entrepreneurs who bring a higher quality of coffee to the public. Every time someone enters their shop to taste real specialty coffee for the very first time is a very rewarding experience and it shows that there is still a world to win.

For the major old family owned brands who provide practically all coffee to supermarkets and most cafe's, the newcomers in the roasting business are not a threat, just a very marginal noise on their screens. Nevertheless you see the big brands changing their image and packaging to also include "single origin" beans, and differentiating roast colors. At the same time, the huge companies are not a real threat for the micro roasters as the Illy's of the world can never logistically manage to get the freshest coffee to the customers at the same speed as local roasters can serve their local customers.

On the other hand, the current trend to roast ever lighter profiles might put off some part of the public with the acidity it brings to the cup.

Ten years ago, as Bocca just started, they were laughed at by some potential customers. "If I buy your beans, who will buy me my espresso machine and grinders?" one cafe owner asked them. This is one reason why Edward and Erik always bought their own equipment, so they can be independent of any supplier and buy only the coffee that they like themselves, just as the Bocca brothers only roast and sell beans that they personally find delicious.

All three guests at the table had stories about top rate restaurants, even with Michelin stars, who can't handle their beautiful espresso machines well enough to serve a decent cup of coffee at the end of an exquisite dinner, even though Bocca customers can send their unlimited staff to Bocca barista training for free.

Tewis Simons and his brother were even invited by the owners of such a star restaurant to demonstrate their way of preparing exceptional coffee drinks. There was surprise at the ease with which they could produce these, but at the end the conclusion was that "our guests are not ready for this excellent taste, it's too special for them."

Edward Beumer, Erik Oosterhuis, Ronald Hoeben

Tewis Simons, Edward Beumer

Tewis Simons, Edward Beumer

Erik Oosterhuis, Ronald Hoeben

Erik Oosterhuis

Tewis Simons, Edward Beumer

Edward Beumer

Tewis Simons, Edward Beumer

Edward Beumer

Intermission: filter coffee preparation

Erik Oosterhuis

dinsdag 10 februari 2015

Sunny stroll around Bad Kohlgrub

When the sun shines over the snowy hills it does so with almost blinding intensity. Some tracks indicated by my little Garmin Oregon GPS were illustrated around me by animal footprints, confirming that under the deep snow there was some kind of path.


Animal tracks leading the way
Landscape art

maandag 9 februari 2015

Wiles of the Wile

In my recent blog about moisture meters, I described purchasing one on Alibaba.

Today a friend came by, visiting me in my vacation "home away from home" in Bad Kohlgrub and he brought along his Wile55 moisture meter which he purchased directly from the manufacturer in Finland.

We were excited to compare the two.

My Asian "Wile65" seems to be a clone rather than an original as produced for the Finnish company of the brand and indeed there is no logo and "Wile" name on it as there is on the Wile55 directly from the source.

The original Wile55 is almost perfectly identical to the clone. The top metal parts are chromed (mine isn't) and thus more shiny. The display of the 55 has no backlight which the "65" has and the LCD displays are also a bit different. The Wile55 is specifically calibrated for coffee and cocoa, the "65" has a long list of grains it measures with coffee at the end of it.

We each measured a number of green bean batches, some moist and some very dry. It turns out that my clone is consistent with the original in measuring beans around 11% moisture, but only after I calibrated my instrument to take 4.1% off the initial measurement.

It seems that in my instrument, there was another grain name at the bottom of the list and someone maybe replaced it with the word "coffee" without also changing the implied scale calculation on the standard measurement.

I assume this because even after this manual calibration, if we took an older bean with low moisture value, my instrument measured a significantly higher value (an Amaro Gayo bean measuring 8.5 on the Wile measured 10.1 on mine).

With beans around 11%, both instruments could be convinced to measure the same values consistently, especially if they got exactly the same cup of beans in turn.

To be able to use my device with some meaningful reliability I would need to take a series of measurements in the higher and lower moisture regions, map these in a spreadsheet and then see if any of the other grain settings in the menu us closer to the results on the original device.

Then I would need to draw up a table to compensate the reading to get a reliable result.

For me that's too much hassle so I will book the expense under "interesting device, nice price but no dice"!