Monday, October 08, 2007

Ways to improve water

I think I was one of the first (tea blog) to suggest the use of bamboo charcoal to improve the quality of water. I have received a lot of positive feedback that active bamboo charcoal does help to make the water (and the tea) better since then. Lately, I also found this interesting blog entry about an experiement with bamboo charcoal.

Actually, Hélène, one of my French readers, has sent me an e-mail with her findings about bamboo charcoal. Since her findings have caused a lot of discussion in French, I think I should translate her experiments in English:

"I use Reverse Osmosis (RO) water for my teas, but I noticed that these wouldn't display there nicest aromas. It was as if they were 'veiled', 'cloudy' behind the taste of water. My water has a measure of 20 mg/l for Total Dissolved Solids (TDS). Now, here is how I use your bamboo charcoals:

I place 1 piece of active charcoal in the cold water in my 1 liter kettle. I bring it to a boil and wait 1 minute before removing the charcoal. The taste of the water becomes more lively. I feel it tickles my tongue a little, but without the mellow feeling I was expecting. When the water was cold, I tested the water again and found out that the TDS remained at 20 on my instrument. I have obtained the same results each time I made the test. Therefore, I conclude that the bamboo charcoal does not add minerals. Then I had an idea: why not add a little salt? Some natural sea salt?

And so I started to make new experiments with different quantities of salt. I came to the conclusion that my teas tasted best when the TDS was around 200-230. Best is to use an instrument, of course, but with some training, I learned to make without it. Actually, for 1 liter of water, 4-5 grains of (big) salt are enough, which is like a pinch of salt.

Important remark: if you add water to the water in the kettle, salt is still there and so you have to be careful not to add to much. For information, my measuring instrument comes from Hanna instruments.

You may wonder about the taste of salt? Actually, I don't feel my water salty at all! It's just if the TDS is above 230 that I start to feel that the water becomes too heavy."

The fact that the bamboo charcoal doesn't add more minerals (maybe there is an exchange of minerals?) is probably due to the fact that filtering bad elements is the main function of active charcoal. In case of RO water, there is not much to filter, so it's also interesting to see that the bamboo still improved that water by making it more lively.

Hélène's idea to use salt is a great intuition, since she didn't know that salt was added to make tea during the Tang dynasty, as was reported by Lu Yu in his Tea Classic. The reason why salt helps to improve water is the same as why they would use it in the old times: salt acts as a taste lifter/enhancer! What a fascinating experience! Thanks again Hélène for sharing!

Of course, you can only add a little salt if your water is very low on minerals. And this is also the reason why the best water does contain some minerals (like Na) to enhance the taste of tea without overshadowing it.

For those who are interested to also 'somehow aquire' bamboo charcoal to improve your water, I use this opportunity to remind you that if you order from my selection, you will receive 2 free pieces of bamboo charcoal with your order!


Anonymous said...

Hi Stephane,
Interesting! I really didnt know what you had sent me! I thought it was some type of compressed tea and I really wasnt willing to try it! Do I just add it to my kettle when I boil the water? How many times can I use it? I have very hard water and the calcium build up is quick if I dont use filtered water so this may help greatly.

Steph said...

This is a very fascinating conversation!

TeaMasters said...

Before its first use, you must wash the charcoal with your hands in cold water to take away the dust. Then boil it for 10 minutes and take the charcoal out when it's still in the hot water. This way it will dry very quickly (or you can dry it in the sun). Now the charcoal is activated and ready for use.

There are several ways of using it:
- add it to cold water for long periods of time
- put it in the kettle (the heat will accelerate its effects).

If your water is very hard, using loose bamboo charcoal may not be sufficient to make it excellent. You may still have to filter it first.

wils1981 said...

I came across a japanese website which sells bamboo charcoal for many different purposes. They even show you how to make your own from bamboo chopsticks!!! They suggest this method to prepare your water:
1. Raw charcoal is dirty and not suited for boiling. Wash them under running water. You can use a scrub brush to help in the process. Do not use any detergent! It will destroy the beneficial effects of the charcoal and will spoil the water.
2. Sterilize it in boiling water. Use a large uncovered pot. Boil for about 10 minutes.
3. Put the charcoal into a colander to squeeze out the water and let it cool down. Gently submerge the charcoal in a container poured with tap water or well water. Use about 100 grams of charcoal for every 1 liter of water.
4. In order to prevent dust from entering, cover it with a dishcloth and let it sit for 1–2 days. It is recommended to use a container made of stainless steel, porcelain enamel, ceramic, or glass.
5. Pour this water into a vessel and use it for cooking or put it in the refrigerator as a drinking water. This is your sterilized water! Refill the container containing the charcoal with water to make more purified water. You can repeat this process for one week.
6. Clean the dirt off the charcoal once a week. The method is: boil, let it cool down, and dry it for one week. To use the charcoal again, simply start from number 1 method. It is best to prepare two sets of charcoal and rotate them weekly. In this way, the charcoal can be used for 6 months! But take note that the mineral amount of the charcoal will gradually deplete after 10 days of use.

TeaMasters said...

Thank you John for these instructions for cold water. It is also possible to add the charcoal in the kettle. The initial cleaning and boiling is the same.