Following the brewing instructions precisely, you find the tea doesn’t taste as good as it did in the shop? As most tea shops boost a customized water system, it is likely the difference lies in water quality.
Over a thousand years ago during China’s Tang Dynasty, the tea master Lu Yu wrote that adding salt to boiling water neutralizes unwarranted flavors present, allowing the flavors of tea to shine through. He did also claim that the best water for brewing tea comes from the center of a swiftly moving mountain stream. Though Lu Yu makes for great literary effect for tea drinkers today, the majority of the modern world is complacent with the water supply network that provides treated water to our cities. Safe for drinking but not ideal for tea brewing.
So we ask, what’s in your water besides water?
With 98% of tea being water, tea will be only as good as the water we use to brew it. Meaning, water can have a dramatic impact on flavor, aroma, and mouthfeel.
As a purveyor of fine tea, we consider it important to understand water purity, hardness, and brewing temperature. Water purity measures the total dissolved solids like metals, salts or any other impurities. There isn’t just one solution and good water for tea can contain anywhere between 50-150ppm. Higher amounts of solids tend to give water a metallic flavor, while too little will make the water taste flat and dull and therefore our tea.
Water hardness measures the amount of calcium and magnesium in the water. At a level too high (over 120ppm) much of the components in the tea will not extract leaving the flavor flat and the brew cloudy with a peculiar oily film on the surface. A level too low (below 10ppm) transforms into a bitter and astringent brew. As an optimal water quality for tea seems to require a balance of fine components, a water filter sounds like a good investment for any tea connoisseur.
We fall back on the one-size-fits-all policy here, but ideally, you can configure the water to support flavor profiles in different types of tea. By opting for bottled water—for example, choosing soft water with a low mineral count can help bring out the light, floral characteristics of white tea. While higher oxidized teas like oolong and black tea are able to withstand hard water with higher mineral content.
Similarly, the brewing temperature of the water should correspond to the type of tea brewed. Steeping allows tannins, amino acids, aroma, and flavor to be released from the leaves. Delicate leaves with little processing such as white and green types require less heat (70-80°C) to release compounds, while others of higher oxidation need the water to be around 80-90°C to aid a full extraction. For this, we recommend following our brewing instructions—carefully prepared by our tea experts, when trying a tea for the first time.
Within our ever-expanding landscape of tea can we find tea utensils all with none but the goal of aiding a perfect brew. Our new Tea Fellow kettle with a temperature gauge is one such example, which you can discover here. It brings us to the hands-off convenience of heating water to the precise temperature. Though, some continue to hold fast onto the anecdotal way of the ancient Chinese:
Heating a pot of water. There appear bubbles the size of shrimp eyes. The water is 70°C. When bubbles inflate to the size of crab eyes and the water has reached 80°C. With the next phase at 90°C, the bubbles become as sizeable as fish eyes before exploding into a rope of pearls. With which the water is a boiling 100.
To make the most out of the plentiful aromas and flavors fine tea has to offer requires a few more factors to note. 4 more in fact, which we explain in our Basics to Brewing.