Saturday, August 08, 2015

The importance of good water

Elisabeth from Canada shares this summer story and the first 2 pictures of this article:

"As I packed for my two weeks in nearby mountains, I made up a selection of teas to try with friends and these included your top Da Yu Ling, 2015 Concubine Oolong and 7542 sheng puerh 1999.
All of these teas had been pleasant enough to try in Montreal, but none came across with the expected wonderful qualities, whether in a gaiwan or teapot, Brita filtered water, double filtered, etc. In fact, I was wondering if it was worth the expense of reordering these special teas.

To my amazement, each of the three, brewed in water from my vacation area, was a complete revelation. The pure, freshness of Da Yu Ling, deep, sweet, tingling quality of the puerh and  roasted, honey-like richness of the Concubine Oolong; miraculous flavours came through with such ringing clarity, no fussing with temperature or filtering of water. I had one simple 250 ml red clay Yixing pot with a broken lid, left behind last summer and it served for all three. The clean air and pine scents probably contributed, but the water was softer than city water, fresh and cold.

Although I haven't been able to recreate the experience at home, It remains in my mind as a high note and reference for all my tea brewing throughout the year. Luckily, the filtered ‘hard’ water at home does bring out nice flavours in a few other teas, leading me to think that there may be a good water-tea match to be made in almost any circumstance if one experiments.

I would like to know your thoughts when time allows."

Thank you very much, Elisabeth, for sharing this interesting story connecting tea and travel. I recently made similar experiences with the teas I brought to Europe. All the changes have an impact on the tea, but I think that you have correctly identified the factor which has the highest impact: WATER.

That's why I started my 3 European tea workshops with water tastings and why the first chapter of the "Tea Masters guide to brewing Oolong Tea" starts as follows:

"A. Water: mother of tea

A cup of tea is 99% of water! Before we focus on the 1%, we have to get the 99% right! Too many teas are ruined by waters that are heavy with Chlorine or minerals. Tang dynasty writer Lu Yu (733-804) wrote the first book (Cha Jing) about tea. He insisted on water quality as he found out that “the best water comes from mountain sources. Next is river water in valleys, where the river is neither too quick nor too slow. And worst are most underground waters from wells. Water at the bottom of a cascade is also very bad, because it is too agitated, sour."

But it’s not just heavy waters that make tea taste bad. Distilled and reverse osmosis waters also don’t make good tea, because they are so pure that they lack the energy and life that comes from natural water."
2000 years old Roman cistern in Aptera, Crete
The first step to solve the water problem is to realize that you have a problem!

Then, it's a matter of testing your teas with different waters and/or experimenting with additives (like bamboo charcoal, which you can find here). An under counter water filter system usually performs better than a simple Brita filter. At home, I'm using a 2 step filter system with a 5 micron pre filter and a Pentair/Everpure water filter. This gives me good results, very close to my favorite local mineral water. What filter(s) to use will depend on the profile of your tap water, how heavy it is.

For mineral water, I recommend to try those with fewer than 200 mg of Total Dissolved Solids (TDS). This information is always on the label.

Summer travels can be a great opportunity to rediscover your teas and taste how sensitive they are to changes in water, mood, tea ware... I'm glad that you could get the most of these 3 great teas thanks to a switch to fresh water!
Water is the mother of tea


Chris le Comte said...

So what is your favourite local mineral water?

TeaMasters said...


In Taiwan, my favorite mineral water is "Yes".