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The First Alkaline Water Cafe in the Bay Area Claims It Brews Better Coffee

San Jose’s Coffee and Water Lab uses reverse osmosis alkaline water to engineer a seriously exceptional cup of joe

Coffee and Water Lab

Alkaline water is having a moment. Just ask Shaq, the newly unveiled spokesperson for a company and lifestyle brand that pedals the “pure,” pH-balanced drinking water touted by some for having more health benefits than the regular stuff. Or Gwyneth Paltrow, who has partnered with a different brand, or Beyoncé, who required titanium straws to sip it on tour. Locally, there is a new water lab in San Jose, which may be the first and only alkaline water storefront here in the Bay Area. But these owners getting in on the game are actually more excited about what alkaline water can do for your cup of coffee or tea, rather than for your health.

Married couple Luis Pedroza and Amy Hsu opened the minimalist Coffee & Water Lab in San Jose’s Mitsuwa Marketplace area in June 2021, with an emphasis on technology, environmental impact, and of course, great coffee. Just four months in, customers are buzzing — about its matcha sourcing, knowledgeable staff, and stunning, cutting-edge equipment, which they say produces a seriously exceptional cup of joe.

Pedroza and Hsu have backgrounds in branding at major food service corporations, including General Mills, Nestle, and Kerry Foods, and they’re positioning the shop as a global coffee brand leveraging Silicon Valley tech. To produce the alkaline water used for brewing, the Lab starts with San Jose water. “We pretreat it, then run it through a commercial reverse osmosis system. This strips everything out of it, and turns it into medical grade water,” Pedroza says. Then, they put minerals back into it, like magnesium and calcium, at “just the right levels of extraction for tea and coffee.” Then, it’s run through the platinum-coated, titanium plates of Japanese-made Kangen alkaline units, finalizing its process into alkaline water. All that to say, it’s different than the alkaline-branded stuff you can buy in your average grocery store, which Pedroza says is simply baking soda–enhanced. Additionally, they use a Bellwether to roast coffee, the Bay Area-born product known as the first electric, zero-emissions commercial coffee roaster.

As for why alkaline water makes for better coffee, Pedroza says that while taste is of course subjective, he finds the improvement undeniable. “I have discovered on my coffee journey that when you go to somewhere like Switzerland, and the water comes out of the faucet like Evian, that the coffee is just fantastic. I started doing experiments with the mineral content of the water we use to brew coffee and teas at home, and discovered there’s a big difference.” He says that while San Jose water is perfectly safe to drink, it’s hard, meaning it has a higher mineral content that can affect the taste.

Inside the Coffee and Water Lab
Coffee and Water Lab

Coffee and Water Lab’s menu is vast — Pedroza is a coffee lover, Hsu more of a tea person, he says. When they were in early stages and touring cafes, there were times he would be excited to check out a coffee place, while it would be less interesting to her. That helped inspire the menu, Pedroza says, realizing it was likely a common familial conundrum. “We wanted it to be widely appealing. I don’t like things that are so curated that they become sort of sterile,” he says. The Lab uses single-origin beans sourced from the Honduras COMSA Women’s Lot, a cooperative with 15 farms owned by women. There are pour-overs and cold brew, including the popular nitro cold brew; espresso drinks, including honey sea salt and lavender lattes in addition to the standards; a wide-ranging selection of teas and matcha drinks; alkaline-based sparkling drinks, granitas, and ice cream floats. And food: various toasts served on Shokupan milk bread, desserts including affogato and mochi matcha waffle pops, and pastries, bagels, and doughnuts. And they’re adding Japanese-Hawaiian lunch plates soon.

Coffee and Water Lab

While some in the industry like to claim as-yet-proven health benefits of alkaline water, Pedroza won’t go quite that far. “The restructured water is great for hydration,” he says. “I just say that it’s great tasting and very good for keeping hydrated. We get a lot of people who come in dehydrated without even realizing it, complaining of headaches and such, who feel better when they leave. That’s one of the very best parts of running the shop,” Pedroza says.

The Coffee and Water Lab are Pedroza and Hsu’s full-time jobs now, and they’re enjoying being settled in the Bay Area near Hsu’s family after decades living abroad. Pedroza says they’re working on perfecting their system so they can grow — eventually, and in the Bay Area to begin. Still, the Lab was inspired in part by the cafe culture Pedroza experienced while living in places like Japan, South Korea, and Australia, and one day, he says, “I’d love to bring this concept back to Asia at some point.”

While those plans may be a ways off, the Coffee and Water Lab is decidedly of the now, Pedroza says. “There’s a growing third-wave coffee scene happening here in the South Bay. There’s Voyager, Chromatic, Big Mug Coffee Roaster, Nirvana Soul, and now us. It just seems like the area’s turning into a third-wave coffee destination, and it’s exciting to be a part of that.”