September 6 2015
A cup of tea simply can’t exist without water – this much we know! As the saying goes, “bread and water can so easily be toast and tea”. So it is entirely reasonable that the quality of the water will have an effect on the taste of your tea. In fact, it is crucial.
For instance, Japan is incredibly fortunate to have outstanding quality water straight from the tap, and it suits their teas perfectly. (As an aside, when we visited the family in Miyazaki last year and sat down with Shigeru, he leaned across the table and the very first thing he said was “what is your water like in England?!” He is fascinated by the chemical make up of water and the effect is has on tea). Whereas our water here in Dorset is at the completely other end of the spectrum to theirs.
Good quality water can elevate your tea into something truly great, revealing the complexities and nuances contained within your infusions. In China, it was said that great tea in ordinary water would become ordinary, and ordinary tea in great water would become better. So we can see how essential water can be in our enjoyment of tea.
Hard Water Here in Dorset we have the pleasure of some incredibly hard water packed full of minerals like calcium and magnesium (where we are is particularly chalky). It is also has a habit of scaling up kettles with limescale. Lovely. Boiling water removes any bacteria etc. but the minerals remain, and can have a large impact on the flavour of your tea. It can be nightmarish battling with calcified hard water while enjoying tea, especially when it comes to lighter infusions. White teas and Japanese green teas especially can suffer terribly as a result.
Soft Water The picture is a little more rosy here. There are fewer minerals to interfere with the flavour of your tea, although it should be noted that higher sodium levels can sometimes be troublesome. The main bit of good news is that you won’t have to de-scale your kettle anywhere near as much as us folks in Dorset, and we’re all secretly very jealous.
Pure water Pure distilled water, contrary to how it may appear, isn’t all that much good either. The complete lack of any minerals at all can leave your tea tasting quite ‘dull’ and flat. We want a little personality, but nothing too overbearing.
So what kind of water is best?
The renowned tea scholar Yu Lu said that water drawn from the centre of a flowing mountain stream is best. Seeing as many of us don’t have some useful mountains nearby, what other options do we have at our daily disposal?
Tap Water If you have hard tap water, an easy fix is to use a regular high street filter (various different kinds on the market). These typically charcoal filters will help remove some of the minerals that have a detrimental effect to the flavour of tea. We’ve had some success with the well known high street brand filter jugs.
If you want to take things to the next level, there is an array of very impressive filtration systems on the market. Reverse osmosis systems are quite amazing. Ideally, the pH you’re looking for with tea is something neutral – around 7 – and typically RO will sit somewhere between 5 and 6, but it is a world better than hard mains water scaling up your kettle and tainting your tea.
Bottled Water As the water in our Dorset area is very badly behaved, whenever we have a tasting session, or are trying a new tea for the first time, we look to bottled water. Mineral water is best avoided (the clue is in the name) so we opt for spring water instead. Just promise to use water from a responsible source and recycle the bottles when you’re finished.
Let’s finish with a good Chinese Proverb:
Water is the mother of tea, teapot its father, and fire the teacher.
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