Water Recipe #4 “Simple Syrup” vs. NYC Tap Water

I just moved to NYC, which is famous for its tap water quality. I’m currently distilling water in glass behind me while writing this review, listening to techno and doing a side by side Tap vs Recipe water review. I’m pretty excited that I can do all this at once! I recently watched a James Hoffmann water for coffee video where he compared four water recipes without a control, and everyone in the comments was quite upset about it. So, I decided to review Arby’s (empiricaltea.com) new water recipe (which I helped a bit on) against a good, well-reputed tap water. Check out his post on it at https://empiricaltea.com/water-recipe-simple-syrup/ and try his 10x concentrate method, which lets you make a concentrate you can then use to make ten gallons! I just made one gallon this time, but it’s more accurate to use Arby’s method. Simple Syrup was designed to be more friendly to drink than Truth Serum, but will there still be flavor complexity? And how will it do against normal tap water? Let’s find out.

The Recipe:

(To purchase the materials you need, please visit the Water Guide.)

Short instructions: in one gallon of distilled or other 0 ppm TDS water, add each mineral one at a time. Carefully weigh each mineral on a milligram scale (not a regular gram scale) and make sure all of it has made it into the water and none is left stuck to the tray. Clean the tray between weighing each substance. Wait at least a minute between adding each mineral. When done, wait 20 minutes for the minerals to dissolve, shaking occasionally. If you have a different size container, use 1 gallon = 3.785 L to convert the amounts. For example, if you’re only making 1 liter, divide every amount by 3.785.

221.0 mg/gallon Baking Soda (NaHCO3)
99.6 mg/gallon Calcium Chloride (CaCl2)
45.7 mg/gallon Gypsum (CaSO4.2H2O)
141.5 mg/gallon Epsom Salt (MgSO4.7H2O)
Recipe

Calcium12
Magnesium4
Sodium16
Potassium0
Bicarbonate42
Sulfate21
Chloride17
Silica0
Resulting ion concentrations in mg/L at pH 8.3
Hardness45.5 mg/L as CaCO3
Alkalinity34.7 mg/L as CaCO3
Hardness to Alkalinity Ratio1.31
TDS (calculated, will not measure nearly this high due to ion conductivities)112 ppm
Electrical Conductivity at 25ºC (calculated, expected to measure)189 μS/cm
Other statistics
Electrical Conductivity at 25ºC175 μS/cm
pH (Measured with new fancy pH meter)7.9
TDS (calculated from Electrical Conductivity error and calculated TDS)104 ppm
Measurements

Tasting Procedure:

Side by side, small gaiwans, with a bland snack in between sessions.

Session 1: 2020 White2Tea Turtle Dove

3.6g/50ml gaiwan, 100ºC

Early impressions: Simple Syrup sips with thickness, smoothness, florals and caramels coming in after a watery start. NYC water much more watery, with less presence but more quiet subtle tastes. On the second steep, it’s clear that Simple Syrup is steeping darker and denser. Wet leaf aroma on NYC is sweet and light, while on SS it’s richer. Nyc session is on light, sweet hay, some oils. SS is on very complex, sweet fruit syrups, more oils, density. A little bit grippier, but no mouth drying, just some light tannins. These two parallel gaiwans are the same tea, but in the cup, they’re so different. The SS cup is more present – not more forward, just more taste overall. The NYC cup could be perceived as more refreshing.

Please be good water…

Mid-session: The SS cup has the clearest most vivid note of blueberries I’ve ever witnessed in a tea. The NYC tap is more subtle buttery sweet floral hay. A deep throatfeel is also present in SS. Aftertaste is more long-lasting. It’s much more dense, double IPA dense, but still in a full range of flavors. NYC Empty Cup Aroma (ECA) is better.

Long Late Steep: NYC sort of bitter, nice aftertaste of brown butter and various green raw vegetables. SS also bitter, but more concentrated, a bit more upfront, thickness, an evaporating quality, wood oils, syrups (haha), sort of this idea of flowers with muscles (strange). Pepper. Back to the NYC cup, a little bit more easy to drink, but the tannins dominate without much else to engage.

Ideally, the SS could be modified to be more refreshing while maintaining its complexity and delivery of flavors – but this is not simple, and as is, it was very very impressive and I enjoyed it more than NYC tap water for this tea.

Notice on the left, SS is slightly darker

NYC Session Rating: 6.8

SS Session Rating: 8

NYC Water rating for this tea: 7.5

SS Water rating for this tea: 8.4

Session 2: 2008 Tung Ting Yiwu Anniversary

Let’s try a Malaysia-stored aged Yiwu…

3.6g/50ml gaiwan, 100ºC

Early impressions: NYC slightly sour, light but with savoriness, slight smoke. SS savory, smoky, tart, richer. Much darker in color. SS has sweetness, sweet wood, sugariness underneath. NYC doesn’t have that same sweetness and instead has a thin herbal quality. Qi immediately – no way to know which cup it’s from. SS deeper and sweeter. Thick oils. NYC more refreshing, but I’m not sure that’s good for this tea. Perhaps more leaf would be necessary with NYC. Second steep of NYC is still weak and watery, starting to open up. It’s so much lighter. With SS, it’s full force. Perfect grippy tannins, yiwu sweet syrup, and all sorts of candied and wood flavors. SS makes it deliver like a whisky. Qi is definitely from SS, wiggly upward fluid sensation.

Mid-session: NYC strength starting to build, but there’s something weak and eggy about it. I filtered it through a good carbon filter, so it’s not from the water itself. With SS, I’m getting more information, conveyed well. Much better balance than Truth Serum. Present, sweet, clear wood-plum, not sour. NYC is reading sour, while SS is making it not sour. I think, perhaps the increased sweetness in SS is balancing it out.

Long Late Steep: NYC very oily, sweetness and dark fruits coming through, strong woody tannins. Not a ton of tertiary notes coming through – simple. SS very strong. Huigan, fruity, bursting with citrus peels/furniture polish. It’s clear here that there’s more in SS.

NYC Session Rating: 6.9

SS Session Rating: 8.2

NYC Water rating for this tea: 5.8

SS Water rating for this tea: 8.8

Overall impressions:

Wow. The catchphrase for Simple Syrup should be “get more out of your tea” because that’s exactly what I got during this review. I didn’t even think the NYC water was flawed, but then again, I started making recipes in NYC because I wasn’t getting enough of an experience from the tap water. The side by side brought great perspective to just how much more flavor you get out of a well-tuned, well-designed recipe like SS. The mouthfeel was also great, and even when I oversteeped I wasn’t punished for it like I was with Truth Serum sometimes. Truth Serum is good as a tool, but Simple Syrup brings great enjoyment, with vivid, bursting notes across the flavor spectrum.

By the way, NYC water changes all the time, so it’s quite difficult to get good data on it. However, the conductivity was 104 μS/cm. This is about 70 TDS.

Average NYC session rating: 6.85/10

Average SS session rating: 8.1/10

NYC Water rating: 6.7/10

SS Water rating: 8.6/10

More water and tea pics can be found on the tea secrets Instagram! Check out the Water Recipes page for a list of all recipes you can try. The Water Guide is just getting started, but check back for updates there.

Replicating Water from the Xi River and Making Tea With It

I’ve been wanting to try Chinese tea with Chinese water for a long time, because it would be so cool, but only recently did I stumble upon some good data that I could use to replicate Chinese water at home. This water is a replica of the Xi River in winter (seasonal variation in natural water is significant, as TDS changes around 50% from winter to summer.) The main branch of the Xi River is located west of Guangzhou, but the basin of the river extends all the way to Kunming, in Yunnan. This water is rather difficult to make, and can not be made without a Sodastream. I used a new method to get silica into the water, and decided to test the new method by adding double the silica that was in the data. I don’t think it should make too much of a difference, but I wanted to note it here. Silica is not an ion, so it doesn’t have as significant an effect on extraction, only on texture (as far as I know now!)

After a lot of work over two weeks, here it is.

2750 ml

The water was distilled from my local tap water, which recently tested over the safe limit for PFAs, a pollutant that can cause health problems. I get a kick out of removing pollution from water by purifying it – distilling water removes PFAs entirely, and I distilled this water three times. Two of these distillations were in glass laboratory equipment dedicated to water. This resulted in my base water being some of the cleanest and purest I’ve managed to create, with the downside being 10 hours of distillation time to get only 2750 ml. I’m sure I can cut that time down in the future. I’m just really happy I can get pure tasting water at all, as it was a big struggle just a year ago. The distilled can go side by side with lofoten and hold its own! It’s not perfect by any means, but it is around the same level as very good natural waters bottled in glass.

Once I had this base water, I had to add the minerals to it. It wasn’t too difficult really, and took around an hour and a half to get everything measured and added properly. I’ve shared the water with friends and family and they’ve remarked that it tastes like water, nothing is wrong with it, and it’s rather dry (not drying, but referring to not too sweet). I suppose that is a success as water is concerned, though I’d love to make water that makes you go “wow!” I personally find the water quite voluminous in a nice way, but we will get to that later. The big curiosity is, does using (replicated) Chinese water “work” with tea grown near it? Does it express the taste as nature intended? Let’s find out.

Aimed for 34 ppm silica, tested at 30. Quite close!
Calcium43
Magnesium8
Sodium7
Potassium3
Bicarbonate148
Sulfate30
Chloride5
Silica34
Ions
Hardness139 mg/L as CaCO3
Alkalinity121 mg/L as CaCO3
Hardness to Alkalinity Ratio1.15
TDS (calculated, will not measure nearly this high due to ion conductivities)243 ppm
Electrical Conductivity at 25ºC (calculated, will not measure this high due to ion behavior)350 μS/cm
pH (measured)8
Electrical Conductivity at 25ºC (measured)303 μS/cm
Stats

Testing the Water with Tea: White2Tea 2016 The Treachery of Storytelling Pt. 2

6.3g/100ml

I chose Treachery because it’s a tea that demands good water, all about power and subtlety, in an interesting stage of aging, just beginning to darken in leaf color. It demands a water that can bring out both the youthful and aging side of the tea. It also has an energy that I’d like to experience in a comfortable way throughout the session. Aside from those considerations, I’m open to any outcome here, as it would be interesting to see how water that may be similar in mineral profile to what the tea “drank” in order to grow will interact with the tea and the experience of it. I’m not sure that tea drinkers even use tap water in China, depending on the area, or if the tap water is not altered in mineral content from the river water, but it’s worth a try for curiosity’s sake.

The water hits the teapot, sending an immediate aroma of flowers and dried fruit upward. The rinse pours a pale straw yellow. Empty pitcher smells of sweets. The leaf in the pot is intensely fragrant, like sunscreen and leather.

After the first steep is poured, immediately scale is forming in the kettle. This water is rather heavy, so I expected this to happen. It is kind of strange how rapidly this occurs, but I think natural water of this heaviness would do the same thing.

The taste of the first steep – bitter. Watery. Smooth. Many subtleties immediately – I’m delighted! Oiliness focused on the front of the tongue, evaporating into many tiny flowers and fruit essences. This is the most clear this tea has ever tasted for me. A brilliant oily soapiness blooming into a rose flower aftertaste. ECA is mild.

Second steep – the mouthfeel is so very soft, the silica is making a huge difference. The tea sort of inflates in the mouth. Juicy. Qi hits here. Downward qi, clarifying. The wateriness persists, refreshing. Extremely smooth, a lot of rear activity, experience of drinking moving from front to back to front. Leather and tobacco fairly obvious here, but the body and watery quality make this steep seem almost crystalline.

The Pyrex pitcher has never been more relevant

Speaking of crystals, unfortunately there’s a colossal amount of scale forming unlike any I’ve ever seen, forming crystalline globs on the bottom of the kettle. Luckily they’re not actually stuck together, just powdery scale collected in various spots on the bottom of the kettle. I’m sure this is changing the mineral content quite a bit, removing calcium carbonate from the water. This scale looks different than usual, so it could be silica in the scale too.

Lots of scale.

Third steep was similar to second.

Fourth steep – great bubbles on the surface of the tea, meaning we haven’t lost too much bicarbonate to scaling. Beginning to be a more full-mouth-all-at-once-experience. Darker, deeper, tannins showing up. Something that reminds me of citrus, like deep tangerine, or bitter orange juice. Smoother than any water I’ve ever made by far. 30 ppm silica is a big difference. The water holds together nicely. Huge focused relaxed energy. In tune. Heating in back. Not very sweet, like a very dry orange wine (white wine with the skins kept on) or a wild ale. Big pollen huigan!!

Seriously.

Fifth – Under-lid aroma is flowery, in a settled way, not like a brand-new tea would be, balmy. The scale is not showing up in the cup at all, though, which is nice. I’m very happy right now, for many reasons – the base water is good, the tea is good, the mineral composition is natural, the result is somewhere in the liminal space between natural and… well, not artificial… what is this? I guess this water is a secret, nobody has ever tried it, let alone with tea, except maybe people in the Xijiang Basin have this running in their house all the time. That’s a secret from me, I’ve sort of taken this water out of context and placed it in a new context that reflects a reality that I’ve probably made up. Not the first time this has happened in tea culture. Please contact me if you know if this water is used by many people. I believe it is similar to Guangzhou tap water, which is taken from six tributaries of the Pearl river, and the Xi is one of the main tributaries. I’m aware of water pollution in china too, so if everyone uses bottled water, or if it’s a mix, I appreciate the info. Back to the session – I’m getting a woody-stemminess, and awesome petroleum power. The tea isn’t heavy though, it still floats and has structure.

Sixth – What is this water? I mean, when you have a beyond burger, it’s kind of natural, but it’s fairly obvious you’re having something that’s been built from something else. But with this, I distilled water, which is what nature does with clouds and rain. Then I added minerals, which is what happens when water flows over rocks. There are some things missing, like the volatile scents of rocks, which are a real thing, such as the many volatile compounds that cause the petrichor effect after it rains. But chemically, it’s nearly identical to natural water at this point. It’s more like a photograph, or a sculpture of nature.

artificial (adj.)
late 14c., “not natural or spontaneous,” from Old French artificial, from Latin artificialis “of or belonging to art,” from artificium “a work of art; skill; theory, system,” from artifex (genitive artificis) “craftsman, artist, master of an art” (music, acting, sculpting, etc.), from stem of ars “art” (see art (n.)) + -fex “maker,” from facere “to do, make” (from PIE root *dhe- “to set, put”).

Earliest use in English is in the phrase artificial day “part of the day from sunrise to sunset” (as opposed to the natural day of 24 hours). Meaning “made by man, contrived by human skill and labor” is from early 15c. The word was applied from 16c. to anything made in imitation of, or as a substitute for, what is natural, whether real (light, tears) or not (teeth, flowers). Meaning “fictitious, assumed, not genuine” is from 1640s; that of “full of affectation, insincere” is from 1590s. Artificial insemination dates from 1894. Artificial intelligence “the science and engineering of making intelligent machines” was coined in 1956.

Sixth (cont.) – present. Roots, like fennel, parsnip. Dry huigan, dry mouthcoat, but not drying. Dry in taste in every aspect. Rather elegantly dry. The idea of sweetness is still there though, thank goodness.

Seventh – a 45 second steep, lighter than expected, too short of a steep. Taste is fairly mild here. I’m surprised at the slow extraction. Still has dried raspberry, creamy, qi. While the next steep is happening, let me talk about the chemistry of this water. High in bicarbonate, calcium and sulfate, higher potassium than normal, medium-low sodium. Low in magnesium. The potassium and sulfate contribute to the dry flavor and depth. The low magnesium and high calcium create a smooth and settled profile, and may cause the slower extraction.

Eighth – 2 minutes, good color, more present. Still quite watery in a way, but I’ve heard of this tea being like this. It’s watery but not underextracted. There’s plenty to chew on here. Oats and grains, definitely. I love the purity of the base water, free from plastic. My body is refreshed, back sweating, butter and bubblegum aftertaste. The tea is always shifting, elusive. Foresty taste, dense deep mouthcoat.

Ninth – Ripe peach. Only noticed this obvious note now, the florals were so distracting earlier! Getting more and more ethereal, focused on aftertaste, so vivid. There’s something natural and microbiological about the tea, as if some sort of fermentation is happening in the cup, like wine. It’s not close to sour or anything, but complex and active, alive.

Tenth – I am out of water in the kettle, let’s see if a fresh boil will revitalize it. A smell in the glass water container confirms that this water is indeed odorless, which is great. Tenth steep, still from the first boil, same boil as the last nine steeps, is a bit flat, but still nice. Suntan lotion, banana, bubblegum, irises, corn. Mouth is happy, not dried out at all. Pleasantly coated in tannins.

Eleven – fresh boil, 3 minute steep. Actually not enormously different. A bit more vitality and strength. This session overall is very relaxed, yet bitter, watery, yet potent. I love a good paradox in a cup! Sessions with other waters have been sort of similar, but not as bitter. It’s much less bitter than, say, the Truth Serum water recipe would make this tea. Grape skins, red and white.

Twelve – Final steep, ten minutes. Still so smooth, mild, chewy. Tobacco, simmered root vegetables, oils, coconut. Such an endlessly interesting profile and cohesive texture.

Session rating – 8.8/10

Water rating for this tea – 8.5/10

Reviewing the Water Itself

Drink up!

55ºF. Odorless, it hits the mouth, very thick and full for water. Holds together well. Mildly sweet, can taste the air in the water. It really is smooth and dry in the same way that the tea made with it is. Aftertaste is pure enough, could be more pure. Extremely slight CO2, not as much as Saratoga. The sulfate expresses itself with a thickness and presence. Really smooth, not particularly crisp, heavy but empty. Satisfying water with a sort of plain, ordinary and natural character. Could be more thirst-quenching.

Water rating – 8.1/10

What did I learn?

First, Xi River is really heavy. Unless there’s something I don’t know about how to get scale to stay in water and not precipitate out, it’s just a water that scales aggressively. I feel like the time investment that it took to make this water was worth it in the same way that the money investment for Treachery is worth it. I learned that silica makes a positive difference. I also learned that I can make good base water now, albeit with great effort. I got to know Treachery more, the qi was extremely comfortable and beneficial. This is good tea water in my book. I thought it could be a bit more present, but there was a sort of authenticity to what I was replicating here, or at least my idea of it, having never tried it. It tasted ordinary yet elegant, and seemed to express the tea in a beautiful, rather emotional way. I want to improve my process and make more water – I have plenty to replicate and even more water to create and design. I really enjoyed this session and process – it is like reverse-engineering nature.

Water Review #3 – Lofoten

This will be a challenging review – this water is so light! However, there’s plenty here to taste and notice. Hope you’ve been enjoying the reviews! Expect some more tea water recipes in the next couple months too. By the way, when tasting water, always use a clean glass, cleaned with hot soap and water and air-dried.

Today’s water is:

Lofoten

Origin: Lofoten, Norway

Bottle: 888 ml Glass

Mineral Content:

Calcium1.7
Magnesium1.0
Sodium7.6
Potassium0.4
Bicarbonate7.3
SulfateNot reported
Chloride13
Nitrate0
SilicaNot reported
Ion concentrations in mg/L from Water Quality Report
Hardness8.35 mg/L as CaCO3
Alkalinity5.98 mg/L as CaCO3
Hardness to Alkalinity Ratio1.4
TDS 30 ppm
Electrical Conductivity at 25ºCNot reported
pH6.8
Cations charge.5079
Anions charge.4864
Water quality report error4.4%
Other statistics
Electrical Conductivity at 25ºC66 μS/cm
pH~6
Drinking Temperature55ºF (12.5ºC)
Measurements (mine)

I paid $10 for this bottle of water at Salacious Drinks, so I expected a premium experience. Spoiler: it’s premium for sure. The bottle is incredible, with its enormous sloped cap and airline-like graphic design/font choice. The water itself seems to be from a freshwater reservoir. The inhabitants of Lofoten get this water out of their tap, it seems… lucky them! Thanks to the Lofoten water crew, we can get it too, well-bottled and presented.

At 30 TDS, this water is all about purity and subtlety. No smell. Taste is initially neutral-sweet. It is light and seems to hold together well in the mouth. I can taste some dissolved gases, like oxygen. There’s a slight salinity in the mid-aftertaste that’s really pleasant. It comes off as ultra-crisp, smooth and light with a very slight bitterness. Dominance of chloride with little/no sulfate causes it to taste smooth and clear. The taste is really flawless – the glass bottle imparts no off taste, and nothing went wrong during bottling. Quite often, water in a glass bottle can have a plastic or metallic taste because of a variety of factors: a plastic cap liner that underwent heating, plastic pipes on the bottling line, etc. Lofoten has really excellent quality control and tastes completely clear. I always feel good whenever I drink it – it’s somehow energizing. If you want a flawless, light water, this is a perfect choice.

For tea, this water would make extremely pure and refreshing sencha.

91 points

Water Review #2 – Saint-Geron

For such a big market, I’m astounded at the lack of water reviews available online. Why is hardly anybody talking about mineral water compared to wine, beer, whisky and other spirits? I’d like to really dive into the water. So, let’s continue with this series of water tasting!

Today’s water is:

Saint-Geron

Origin: Saint-Géron gallo romain source in Auvergne, France

Bottle: 750 ml Glass

Mineral Content:

Calcium79.1
Magnesium53.7
Sodium225.5
Potassium18.4
Bicarbonate1,128.9
Sulfate20.4
Chloride44.2
Nitrate0.1
Silica28
Ion concentrations in mg/L from Water Quality Report
Hardness418 mg/L as CaCO3
Alkalinity925.3 mg/L as CaCO3
Hardness to Alkalinity Ratio0.45
TDS 1158 ppm
Electrical Conductivity at 25ºCNot reported
pH6.2
Cations charge18.64
Anions charge20.17
Water quality report error8.2%
Other statistics
Electrical Conductivity at 25ºC 1423 μS/cm
pH(forgot to measure)
Drinking Temperature60ºF (16ºC)
Measurements (mine)

I love the tall, squarish, elegant glass bottle. With its non-twist bottle cap (you need a bottle opener for this water), you’d better be quite thirsty or have company, because you’re not going to be able to re-cap it. I’ve never had this water before, and am excited to try it. I ordered it from Salacious Drinks, the colorfully-titled US water importer and distributor.

Upon opening, a few bubbles rush up to the surface, but not many. I actually notice a few tiny crystals of calcium and/or magnesium carbonate in the glass! The smell is quite fresh and mineral, the faint smell of petrichor. The smell is also slightly sweet. Initial taste: I was worried the bubbles would be too light from what I read, but there’s just enough natural carbonation here to give a tickling effervescence. It’s actually wonderful to have a carbonation level like this, as it doesn’t overpower the water itself and doesn’t hurt/fatigue the tongue. The body is very expansive, and the taste is rather sweet with a sodium bicarbonate salty softness in the back. The high TDS of 1158 doesn’t present itself as heavy here – it’s rich yet clean. It’s crisp even at 60º – very impressive. Low sulfate and chloride (and near-zero nitrate) give it a clean and clear taste, and high magnesium brings quite appreciated sweetness and presence. The 28 mg/L silica seems to help hold the water together nicely, as the texture is cohesive.

As the water is held in the mouth, the bubbles fade, leaving a very silky texture with a sweet-saltiness. There’s little to no milkiness in this water. There’s also a pleasant dry/crispness, possibly from potassium. It’s good that this water is carbonated, as without the bright, light carbonation it would likely come across as too dull and salty. I’m amazed at the sweetness and brightness under that huge bed of bicarbonate.

What other complexities can I find here… well, it’s not really that complex! The bubbles/magnesium can come across as a bit fruity in the front, as the bubbles are acidic. There is a “rock” taste here, very generally. Not limestone, but more a gray-colored rock… shale? Need to learn geology and taste some rocks I guess (semi-kidding)! Overall, drinking this water was very pleasant and satisfying. Did it blow me away? No. Was it well-composed and “executed”? Yes. It’s well-bottled, well-presented and there’s no wonder people have been drinking it since 1884.

For tea, this is not something to make tea with in any capacity. But maybe before or after it would cleanse the palate well and prepare it for something slightly earthy or mineral.

85 points

tea is only as good as the water you make it with

I’ve come across a lot of analogies when talking about water for tea. A memorable one is: tea is the music, water is the speakers. Thats pretty close to how it is, but maybe tea is the music and water is the orchestra playing it. Both of these analogies involve the reproduction of music, but with the orchestra analogy there’s more responsibility given to the water. Furthermore, the orchestra would have a conductor, which would be the human brewer. But then, is the teapot the first chair, the best player in the orchestra? Or would that be the dominant flavor? No, the dominant flavor is part of the musical composition. Then, the cup must be the acoustics. But isn’t the acoustics the actual space that the tea drinking is happening in? The teapot might be the instruments that the orchestra is playing. So the water is playing the teapot, which is playing the tea into the cup; all led by the brewer.

I’ve gotten feedback on discord from people who tried a different water and were struck by how big of a difference it made, more than teaware, brewing temperature, ratio, or any other parameter. Water can be heavy, light, vibrant, muddled, astringent, subdued, dense, spacious, fluffy, metallic, smooth, and more. Water can, by the way it extracts, cause tea to be any of these things. You can even have a smooth water that makes astringent tea, so there can be a mismatch. That’s like how a shy violin player can play quite loudly and with great presence on stage.

The point is, there are many different kinds of water, and different levels. You wouldn’t yell at a 6th grade orchestra for not sounding like the Vienna symphony. So, either you have to accept your water as it is, with its flaws, or you have to figure out something better. I’ve found that there’s not much you can add or change with a bad water to make it better, just like there’s not much you can do with a not-so-talented orchestra to make it world-class. For the orchestra, you basically have to kick out all but the best players, and then replace them with better ones. With water, it’s similar. By diluting the water, you make room to introduce a better group and balance of minerals. Since every water is different and mineral content reports are so spotty and often incomplete, it’s hard to know what to add to the diluted water. So, it’s often easier to simply throw out the old water and get a new one.

With the modern recycling crisis and the expense of water transport, coupled with the non-availability of good water in glass bottles for any reasonable price, and the difficulty of making 0ppm TDS water to make recipes with (home Reverse Osmosis filters make 10ppm usually, depending on starting TDS, and distillers don’t make good tasting water, at least that I’ve tried) we as tea drinkers have to get lucky with our tap, or make do with a difficult and imperfect solution for the time being.

Impractically Pure Water

Water Review #1 – Saratoga

I know this is a tea blog, but I am so interested in water that I’ve begun to focus on it more. It turns out, every water is different – it only takes one side-by-side to notice the differences. I haven’t seen any water reviews online, so I thought I might give them a shot, as someone who’s been working with water for a few years.

Today’s water is:

Saratoga Still

Origin: Sweet Water Spring, Saratoga Springs, NY OR Pristine Mountain Springs, Stockbridge, VT

Bottle: 750 ml Glass

Mineral Content:

Calcium11
Magnesium2.3
Sodium8.6
Potassium0.6
Bicarbonate41
Sulfate5.5
Chloride14
Nitrate0.54
SilicaNot reported
Ion concentrations in mg/L from Water Quality Report
Hardness37 mg/L as CaCO3
Alkalinity34 mg/L as CaCO3
Hardness to Alkalinity Ratio1.08
TDS 75 ppm
Electrical Conductivity at 25ºC140 μS/cm
pH7.14
Cations charge1.128
Anions charge1.190
Water quality report error5.5%
Other statistics
Electrical Conductivity at 25ºC142 μS/cm
pH7.1
Measurements (mine)

First off – the presentation of Saratoga is gorgeous. The elegant, transparent blue glass bottle hides the contents: you know there’s water in there, but you want to get it out of the bottle to really get a look at it. This presentation is reminiscent of wine bottles, where the product is hidden from view, but not invisible.

The smell of the water is odorless. You might think all water is like that, but it’s not the case. For light mineral waters, odorless is often the expected goal, especially in glass.

The mouthfeel of Saratoga is rather fluffy. This suggests that there is a lot of dissolved gas/air in it. At first, it’s rather sweet and cloud-like, but quickly multiple things become apparent. The water has a bit much CO2, giving it a stale taste, similar to when you leave a glass of water out too long. This can be considered a feature of this water, however I don’t totally love that quality. Amidst this slightly flat taste, the mineral profile asserts itself. For a medium-light water, there’s plenty of taste here. A generally sweet calcium presence balances out a fairly dense bicarbonate-sulfate earthiness aftertaste. The high chloride brings a bit of brightness and smoothness – the water is very smooth. I wouldn’t say it tastes clean, though – the excess co2 is really obvious in both the front and back of the mouth, and combined with the minerality it comes across rather bold. There is a slight milk/cream feel to the water, but much less than harder water. It’s not very dry, there’s rather a general sweetness and density to the water, despite its fluffiness.

For tea, this is a good water – it makes smooth tea with enough complexity, and the TDS is in a good range for all sorts of tea.

I would appreciate if it said which of the two sources were in the bottle. When I drink Saratoga, I’d rather it be from Saratoga rather than some “backup spring” in Vermont. I wonder if they blend them together, or if some bottles are Vermont water and some are New York. If anyone knows, send me a DM!

78 points

Between (Three) Teapots

I was recently featured on Crimson Lotus Tea’s livestream show, Between Two Teapots! I got to talk about water with Glen, founder of Crimson Lotus Tea and with Arby, my friend and water collaborator. We drank the same tea with the same water recipe that we created, Truth Serum. Two hours long, I feel like we only scratched the surface. Here it is for you to watch!

I found it amazing that Glen noticed an obvious difference in the tea brewed with Truth Serum compared to his normal water. This is due to the Hardness to Alkalinity ratio (see the WIP Water Guide) being twice as high as his usual. The sensory overload of extraction that you can get with TS is really quite fun to explore! I can’t wait to make more waters that are a bit more subtle and subdued, while still delivering plenty of power. Feel free to message me on IG @teasecretsblog with any water questions – I’m here to help you dial in your tea.

A study in everyday chaxi

This is a project for a book club I am in. We read the essential tea book, Puer Tea: Ancient Caravans and Urban Chic. For this project I took photos of every tea session I had for a couple weeks. I tried not to do anything special and just take a quick photo – these sessions were not set up to be special for these pictures. I will then see if there’s any patterns or observations about them that link to ideas in the book.

The first session presents itself as a global chaxi – jianshui teapot from yunnan, jianshui bowl from the czech republic, teacup from slovakia, mat from siberia, rock from walden pond, pyrex from USA. Surrounding the chaxi are hints of the personal context of me, the experiencer.
The duck cup, made in Jingdezhen, says on the bottom, “made in the ming dynasty, LOL!” joking about the idea of authenticity. In the book, authenticity plays a central role. This duck cup reminds me of White2Tea’s Treachery Pt. 1, which reads “This tea is fake” on the wrapper.
“‘being loyal to one’s senses’ is actually mixed up with conscious and unconscious acceptance or rejection of external influences” (Zhang 202). Would I ever use a pyrex if not for White2Tea? No! The name of this mat from Tea-Masters is “dark connections” and I like to think about all the connections present underneath the circumstances and setup of the tea session.
hua – transformation, gradual change (145). Light illuminates the chaxi, different every time. Also notice what changes and what stays the same.
“it is upon bad fortune that good fortune leans, it is on good fortune that bad fortune rests” (Lao Tzu, Zhang 145)
Occasionally you’ll see accumulation of teaware in the background. Sometimes sessions are messy like this.
The book discusses how it was said that if you don’t buy lots of puer tea early on, you’ll regret it later. This was a big idea in the Puer bubble of 2007, which is discussed in chapter 5. I think about the sheer volume of tea produced in that time, and the sheer number of tea sessions I’ve consumed – maybe there’s sometimes a similar problem? This picture is a bit blurred in places, but the tea in the pitcher is crystal clear.
Look at the contrast from the last picture. I think I had just been on a hike, opened the windows, switched cloths.
Light shining from the left, lonely teapot in the back right. Jiri lang cup and pot. “a return to the original vague ‘raw’ situation” (Zhang 119)
Puer tea is valuable, but what is the true value of Puer tea?
“The yunnanese themselves said that yunnanese things were “earthy” (tu), rustic, or backward” (Zhang 94). Here the earthy things are from europe. The tea itself here has been “made elegant” somehow. Or has it?
Flavorless flavor was mentioned in the book somewhere. An idea that’s hard to pin down.
Some body, some body, some body, somebody (TwoDog 2020). Do you think puer tea is somebody, like it has a personality? Or is it just Some Body, just plant matter?
“One such tourist, a nostalgic woman from Guangzhou, had imagined before her journey that she would be able to sit on the flagstones of the Tea-Horse Road in Yiwu, fantasizing about caravans ringing their bells” (72).
I really like this quote (on the kindle)
A switch to a more “traditional” porcelain pitcher.
The jianghu of puer tea, a central concept in the book, is basically – puer tea is contextualized and defined by multiple actors. Even me and you. To me, even a teapot is an actor in this jianghu, this space where wandering knights battle it out and debate, a highly individualized space.
More jianghus and jianghu actors – tea shops, blogs, instagram, discord, vendors.
Not forest tea, but tastes like a forest.
Regular dinner plate, now a tea plate. Two favorite tea books on the left.
puer tea close up, when you look in this way, you don’t understand at all.
Reading The Time of Tea, a similarly academic tea book. By comparing different contextualizations, you can begin to understand. I don’t think you can understand puer tea from one point of view, just like there isn’t one chaxi here that is the most correct. I do like the sunny ones, though.
Another session lost to time…
“Imagined originality” (53) I feel like I stopped looking for Puer tea’s authenticity in a historical context long ago, or was never interested in the first place. Traditional handcrafted tea processing is a technique passed down, and as long as the basics are right, it’s more interesting to have your tea here and now.
“these connoisseurs’ standards suggest that both the raw and the aged are authentic” (54).
End?

Thanks for reading! Remember, tea never ends… I’m having more right now!

Replicating my own tap water

I finally got my water tested!

With the help of Ward Labs, now I know what minerals are in my tap water. For $48, they analyze any water you send them for the main important ions, plus iron and nitrate. I was really excited when I got the results, because they confirmed a lot of my hunches about its composition from simply tasting tea made with it and comparing with my various experiments. Without further ado, here is the composition of my local Massachusetts groundwater.

Calcium18.2
Magnesium6
Sodium68
Potassium6
Bicarbonate29
Sulfate21
Chloride128
Silica8.6
Nitrate2.4
Iron0.02
Ions
Hardness70 mg/L as CaCO3
Alkalinity13 mg/L as CaCO3
Hardness to Alkalinity Ratio5.36
TDS (calculated, will not measure nearly this high due to ion conductivities)268 ppm
Electrical Conductivity at 25ºC (calculated, expected to measure)552 μS/cm
pH6.9
Stats

It’s immediately apparent that there’s a lot of sodium and chloride in this water. I had a feeling this would be the case, as our roads are heavily salted in the winter and that all goes into the ground. I also had a sense that with such a high TDS, but no scaling, a lot of the mineral content would be salt. This salt doesn’t make it taste salty at this concentration, but does increase the mineral taste of the water and adds a bit of viscosity.

The other strange thing about this water is the high Hardness to Alkalinity ratio of 5.36. This is caused by medium calcium and magnesium but very low bicarbonate. I’ve never seen a hardness to alkalinity ratio this high in a natural water – they are almost always between 0.5 and 1.4. But, this is proof that water comes in all different shapes and sizes. When I make tea with my tap water, I notice that it does lack some of the deep texture that it would have with more bicarbonate, doesn’t scale as it would with more bicarb, and has very present flavor and brightness, as those bright acidic tastes are not buffered by any bicarbonate alkalinity. It’s not particularly harsh water despite this high H:A, it’s actually really smooth and enjoyable. The silica in there is a nice bonus, too.

Cupping the replica tap vs the real thing

I decided to replicate the tap water with distilled water and various salts, down to the milligram. I even added some eidon silica concentrate. Then, I used a cupping set to see if there was a difference – I want to see how fake water stacks up to the real thing!

Tap on left, fake tap on right

I used a dancong from Yunnan Sourcing to do this comparison, with 3.1 grams in each 150ml mug, steeping for 5 minutes. The fake tap came out a bit darker than the real tap, but it was pretty close.

Real Tap

Smooth and oily with fragrance

Texture better, airy, thicker

Fake Tap

More rear focused

More astringent

More robust

Despite my criticisms of the remade tap, they were fairly similar, with the same general idea – high fragrance, high minerality, low alkalinity. The flavors were similar as well. I have a theory why they were so different – I used sea salt instead of pure salt. Sea salt is 30 percent magnesium chloride. Whoops! So, to anyone making a mineral recipe with salt, including Truth Serum, it makes a big difference if you use pure NaCl (which is hard to find without anti-caking agents, but there’s a link in the Water Guide). This experiment will be worth repeating in the future with pure NaCl.

What did I learn?

The general takeaway, besides the impurity of sea salt, is that fake water is an approximation, and there are many factors that make natural water superior to it. (Edit: this is to say, given the same mineral profile. An artificially made good mineral profile is better than a naturally bad one.) Now that I know the mineral content of my tap water, I can make small (or large) adjustments to it to modify how it behaves with tea. I really appreciate that my tap has good amounts of sulfate and chloride, as I can always fall back on it for a decent cup of tea.

Sorry for being so slow on the water guide, there’s a lot to type. It will get done though! Let me know if you get your tap tested, and what the results are!

Water Recipe #3 “Truth Serum” Updated Version

This is a review of the updated Truth Serum water recipe. I reviewed the old version here, but Arby at empiricaltea.com has changed the recipe quite a bit, and he prefers it over the original. Let’s see how it performs now! He recommends making a concentrate of the recipe, which is a great idea. To test it out though, I’m just making a single gallon batch. What’s apparent from looking at the recipe is that it’s very similar to the last recipe, 2/3 Heavy. The difference is that he added NaCl to be able to increase the sulfate and bicarbonate. This isn’t really how it happened, as he tweaked the first version of his recipe over many iterations, but it’s interesting that the recipe arrived in a similar place to 2/3 Heavy.

It’s also important to note that I used a special method to make this recipe. I frankly don’t know if it changes anything, I would have to make it the normal way and then cup it against this batch – hopefully I’ll get around to it! Basically, instead of adding the minerals directly to the water batch, I added them to a pyrex beaker of distilled water and stirred them with a glass rod. When they dissolved completely, I poured that into the main batch. This way, every mineral dissolved on its own, so there’s less of a chance of impurities reacting in solid form. The idea is that if minerals are dissolved in water that already contains ions, weird reactions could take place, so this method avoids that. Let me know if you’re a chemist and if that’s a real concern or not!

The Recipe:

(To purchase the materials you need, please visit the Water Guide.)

Short instructions: in one gallon of distilled or other 0 ppm TDS water, add each mineral one at a time. Carefully weigh each mineral on a milligram scale (not a regular gram scale) and make sure all of it has made it into the water and none is left stuck to the tray. Clean the tray between weighing each substance. Wait at least a minute between adding each mineral. When done, wait 20 minutes for the minerals to dissolve, shaking occasionally. If you have a different size container, use 1 gallon = 3.785 L to convert the amounts. For example, if you’re only making 1 liter, divide every amount by 3.785.

34.5 mg/gallon Table Salt or Sea Salt (NaCl)
167.25 mg/gallon Baking Soda (NaHCO3)
77.2 mg/gallon Magnesium Chloride Hexahydrate (MgCl2.6H2O)
167.1 mg/gallon Gypsum (CaSO4.2H2O)
15.4 mg/gallon Epsom Salt (MgSO4.7H2O)
Recipe
Calcium10
Magnesium3
Sodium16
Potassium0
Bicarbonate32
Sulfate26
Chloride13
Silica0
Resulting ion concentrations in mg/L at pH 8.3
Hardness36.8 mg/L as CaCO3
Alkalinity26.2 mg/L as CaCO3
Hardness to Alkalinity Ratio1.4
TDS (calculated, will not measure nearly this high due to ion conductivities)99 ppm
Electrical Conductivity at 25ºC (calculated, expected to measure)170 μS/cm
Alkalinity % from Sodium and/or Potassium100%
Other statistics
Electrical Conductivity at 25ºC161 μS/cm
pH8.0
TDS (calculated from Electrical Conductivity error and calculated TDS)94 ppm
Measurements
The batch

Tasting Procedure:

All teas were tasted on the same day, with the same batch of water. The kettle was refreshed for every new session. Crackers were eaten between sessions. Water was boiled in a glass kettle using gas for the initial boil and an infrared hot plate during the session.

Session 1: 2018 White2Tea Smoove Cocoa Minis

Arby recommended I try a ripe, so here goes. For info on performance with fragrant teas, there should be enough results from Session 3 with the Green Hype cake.

4g/50ml gaiwan, 100ºC

Early impressions: Wow! Thick and expansive. Bitter. Woody. Second steep was around 20 seconds. Black as ink. Holy cow. There’s something really really nice about this. The coffee-cola is very pronounced, but there’s also activity in the front. A short steep to see what’s really going on… still has a great complexity and full color. Getting qi as well. There’s a sharpness that’s evident in a lot of higher Hardness to Alkalinity waters here, but you’re rewarded with body, viscosity, and really striking depth of flavor. Wood, acidic earth, and of course, nice cocoa.

so dark

Mid-session: Consistent dark color and root beer chocolate in the back of the mouth. Deep aftertaste, but unlike the previous version of the recipe, plenty of vibrance and sweetness. I think it’s the chloride! Anyway, even with very short steeps, still delivers enough strength and color.

Late Steeps: As expected, gradually diminishing sweet molasses, mushroom, earth and vanilla cream. Mouthfeel remains pleasant, no drying.

Session Rating: 7.9

Water Rating for this tea: 9.0

Session 2: 2001 Zhongcha Huangyin from Teas We Like

3.4g/50ml gaiwan, 100ºC

Lots of saponins in the rinse

Early impressions: Aroma coming from the wet leaf is intense. Barbecue sauce. First steep is sweet, sour, smoke. Stable bubbles in the center of cup on second steep. Aged sprite aroma on wet leaf up close. Taste is vibrant, dynamic, evolving, hard to pin down. Juicy! Lime juice in front, but not as sour. The citrus is dominating, which is extremely unusual for this tea. Let’s see what happens.

Mid-session: Density coming in now, some astringency, but appropriate. I seriously don’t know what I’m tasting right now. Wood bitterness, not hitting the sides of the tongue very much. The session so far reminds me of natural waters, mouthfeel especially. Ok, hitting the sides of the tongue with sour wood, light earth taste in back, great great throatfeeling, refreshing. Honey aftertaste. I’m finding this tremendously different and enjoyable. Heat in upper back, general relaxation. It’s really tasting younger this session than usual. I’m really taking my time with this one. Tobacco leafiness, light mulchiness. Tons of resin and even bubblegum, or gum base. A little bread dough too, sourdough. Sweet and bitter, sour and savory. (not salty).

not very dark

Late steeps: Beginning to dry the tongue. Good texture. Really a lot happening up front, lingering bitterness in the back. Definitely arrives in the front this time, where last week it arrived in the back. I can’t think of any explanation – I would usually associate sulfate with more rear mouth flavor, but something’s going on here I can’t explain. I guess the sulfate and chloride are in balance for this water profile. Citrus sandalwood aftertaste. I think there’s plenty going on in the back, but it’s simultaneous with the front. There might be some variation in this cake that could account for this difference in taste and lighter color. But it could also be the water! This was a very avant-garde session. Highest qi so far.

Session Rating: 7.5/10

Water Rating for this tea: 7.5/10

Eating lunch! Then an hour break.

Session 3: 2019 White2Tea Green Hype

3.3g/50ml gaiwan, 100ºC

Early impressions: Delicious. Full of candy sweetness, smoke, savoriness, brininess, sweet huigan, honey, citrus, black tea bud sweetness, body. Wet leaf smell deep and pleasant. Rather salty this time. Salted lemons, is this springbank 10? It’s got notes that I would usually get in much more expensive teas. Texture is great. Taste is nice and present, front-focused again.

😀

Mid-session: savory, back of mouth presence suddenly. Rather expansive texture. Definitely evokes the idea of a “serum.” Smoked fruit. Olive oil. Minerals. Floral mouthcoat. Definitely delivering on the top notes. Sweetness and depth both are here. I feel like with the original Truth Serum, there was depth, but not enough sweetness, so this is a welcome change. Strong lime and even avocado oil here. Astringency is medium-high, rather appropriate for this young, strong raw puer.

Late steeps: Gasoline. Still sweet, still textured. Leafy, astringent honey. Some pineapple taste. Grapefruit rind. Huigan isn’t tremendously strong, but it’s there. Energy is very high, caffeine. Buttery. Lemon jelly pastries. Sweetness and gasoline taste continues through the last drop.

Session Rating: 7.5

Water Rating for this tea: 8.0

Overall impressions:

A definite improvement over the previous version of the recipe, definitely more of an all-round water. It really has a great balance and works well with at least the three types of tea I tried. It’s also not overly heavy. This water will be hard to beat – I’ll be using it as a benchmark from now on. Perhaps it can be improved with potassium for more back of mouth complexity, but who knows? If your tap water is no good for tea or you are at all curious about water, please give this recipe a try!

Average session rating: 7.6/10

Water rating: 8.2/10

More water and tea pics can be found on the tea secrets Instagram! Check out the Water Recipes page for a list of all recipes you can try. The Water Guide is just getting started, but check back for updates there.