Minimalist /// Maximalist

There are a lot of types of tea culture, and for me, I find all have their mark on my own tea sessions. There’s the gorgeous minimalism of and essence of tea for example, and there’s the direct maximalism of white2tea on the other side (at least in a lot of the art, as w2t is minimalist in other ways), the quality-focused community of teaswelike and daxue jiadao, the friendly fireside tea sessions, the spiritual global tea hut community, the edgy, music-focused kuura, and it goes on and on and on. After going on Instagram and seeing the way people are drinking and talking about tea around the world in so many different ways, the question is always, what am I going to do today with my tea?

As natural as just grabbing a tea and a teapot on autopilot and drinking it while doing/watching whatever is, I find the nature of tea to be an opportunity to set an intention, using tea culture as an inspiration. For me, there is not just one ideal. I can decide to put on Laraaji ambient zither music and have a very meditative tea session, where the tea sparkles in the light through the window as I breathe in the fresh evocative aroma of incense. I can feel my body relax as I seem to suspend time. Where did I get this from? Was it participating in tea ceremonies at Puerh Brooklyn? Was it from drinking tea with friends? Was it from watching’s stories and reading the half-dipper and mgualt doing the same sort of things? I have to say yes, it’s all of that and more. But this is not my only way of drinking tea, and it’s not the only ideal either.

Sometimes I have a very different kind of session. I get a loud, huge chabu I bought from white2tea, with art I really don’t intellectually understand, pick a rough-looking pot, grab a high end tea, grab a cassette tape or a phone and some headphones and just blast a playlist. Not ambient music – just my favorite music, anything. Intense, energetic, noisy, whatever I want. Time doesn’t stop, but it seems to melt, as one track plays after another, one pot after another, the teaware seeming to be the architecture of some nightclub, tea in technicolor. Where did I get this from? White2tea stories, of course — but it’s almost as if it’s something I would have done anyway, but also w2t gives me permission to do this and feel like I’m not the only one.

There’s also beginner’s tea – just the first gongfu puer sessions I ever did – it was just making tea in a quiet room, that’s it – no frills, no distractions, no preconceptions, no ideals. I remember how powerful those experiences were, and that’s still something I like to return to.

It feels like tea would be inherently minimalist, as it’s such a slow activity, but it’s really not that simple. Tea drinking is very fluid, and there’s maximalism in minimalism and vice versa. In a quiet, simple, low-stimulus tea session, everything is amplified, and the complexity of the tea is revealed. And in a noisy, musically and visually overwhelming tea session, everything blends into one seamless whole. I’m thankful for the tea community being so diverse, as it brings continued inspiration to my own tea table and to my life.

Water Review #10 – Sant’Anna

A HUGE HUGE HUGE thank you to sjt from and Sara from for smuggling this water to me. Sara stopped by Puerh Brooklyn last Sunday to give me two 1.5L bottles of this water – a common water found in Italy. Water is heavy, so this is no small favor! Sjt has been working on replicating this water from scratch on his blog, which you should definitely check out. Amazing detailed explorations and experiments.

What’s interesting about this water is that it’s incredibly low TDS, at 22, but has been reported by sjt to have amazing aroma, body and texture. How could this be? I was very excited to try it, and it really delivered.

be like the baby, drink sant’anna

Untitled 03

7.2g 110 ml glazed pot

Electric kettle

Water: Sant’anna

TDS: 22

Ca: 3.3

Na: 1.5

HCO3: 11

Conductivity: 37 uS/cm

Silica: 6 (measured)

Arrives surprisingly deep and savory. Already really detailed in the middle and back of the mouth with big aftertastes and a sort of effervescence of flavors on the tongue. Whoa! 

The taste is not too strong at all but is very present. It doesn’t attack the front of the mouth but instead hits the whole palate at a moderate pace, about 2-3 seconds after the sip arrives. I can already tell there is a balance here. It seems so textured and rich for a water this light. Compared to Poland spring origin which is more forward and front of mouth (still with body).

Steep 2: vivid, oily, citrus oils, wood oils pungency is there like bright hops (think New England IPA) what’s funny is I’ve had and made many waters that have this sort of arrival, but end up tasting muddy and flat – this holds up that structure without weighing itself down. But it’s not being too nice! The strength of a water like Truth Serum from way back in the early experimental days, so high in sulfate – there must be a good amount of sulfate in here doing its job to deliver plenty of strength and potency. Empty cup aroma is so nice, honey and flowers.

Leaves inside the teapot look happy. Always a good sign. 

Steep 3- Really enjoyable and refreshing, full. You can taste the medium -endness of this tea, strengths and limitations. There’s a slight leafiness that brings it down to its level of $68/200g. 

Steep 4- You can start tasting how lean this water is, as I’ve reboiled it a few times the texture starts to decrease a little bit. It still rings with very present flavor, very easy to drink, and the texture still holds together. I feel like I can taste layers of fine details. The huigan is ringing and buttery. Astringency is not a problem at all, less astringency than average. 

Steep 5- Oily – it really highlights flavors you would usually find in a scotch, and I don’t mean smoky – I mean the alcohol-soluble fruits, peel oils, savory herbs, wood… But somehow here conveyed by water. Fresh and deep.

Steep 6- Qi is definitely there. I have a feeling that when the tea tastes good, it activates and allows the circulation of qi, as well as the focus and attention conducive to experiencing it. But anyway… The tea maintains great structure, tasting deeper into the leaf, as the high notes fade away to a fruit pectin and wood oil kind of experience. It’s sweet, not too sweet, bitter, not too bitter, has tannins, but not too much. I do have to say the arrival of flavor is much more immediate now; pretty much instantly when you take a sip there’s the citrus oils being presented. There’s a little peach juice too that comes later.

Later steeps- simply fades out elegantly. Some heavier waters make the tea go a bit off tasting in late steeps, but this water simply has nice, sweet, quiet late steeps. 

From this session, I can tell – this water is definitely the type I look for, but on the lightest possible end of that. It’s amazing what it does with so few minerals and I believe everything here is in balance, with enough silica and good dissolved gases to be just as water should be. It makes me think my previous experiments are not too far off track. It’s just so pure and precise, and I love how it delivers every aspect of the tea. I’m very excited to try it with some mid-aged puers, like 2016 Treachery pt. 2, and also some dancong against nyc tap in a side by side. Thanks again to Sara and sjt!

Water Review – Experimental Recipe 9/8/22

These are some casual session notes for a water recipe I created as part of my ever-continuing research.

Major ions in mg/L

Tea Urchin 2019 LaoManE 

It started out very fluffy and nondescript, and kept that throughout the session, and there’s a strong astringency throughout. However, underneath those there’s a fairly cohesive quality, although it lacks a solid present weight. It’s as if the astringency breaks apart the “ball” of tea that would be there. The astringency is good quality, but way too much. Anyway, underneath all of this is the beautiful citrus-spice flavor, with less bitterness than expected. So… where’s this astringency from? Signs point to potassium, as it’s very common for it to cause astringency, but natural waters with potassium don’t have such a severe effect. They also have different compositions, though. 

The body of the tea is really nice, as well as the residual oils. The throat/bitterness is not great, though. It’s too candied and mild, I’d prefer some deeper yun and stronger bitterness from this tea. Why is the bitterness so low? There’s plenty of sulfate, so it should be high. My only explanation would be an excess of bicarbonate due to a measurement or calculation error. The bicarbonate could be eating up the bitterness and potency. The last possibility is the zerowater pitcher making the water alkaline due to trace NaOH. This would be solved by purchasing a good RO filter.

I came back to water chemistry recently because I’ve been watching so many chemistry videos on YouTube – I realized that although the chemistry in mineralizing water is fairly simple, the work itself, the trial and error, and the problem solving is very deep and interesting. Hearing stories from research chemists made me feel like I’m in the same boat – trying to accomplish a goal and trying different ways to get there, with no idea when you’ll find the solution. 

2012 TU the orchid in valley

Really highlights the woody aspects. Initial taste was not a good experience but it grew to be more engaging with high quality rear tastes and deep flavors with a little heat and acidity too. Very pencil shavings-y. A bit juicy, which is nice. Could be 3x more though. Astringency medium. 

2017 YS wild jinggu 

Water diluted to 3/4 strength

Immediately smoother, round, still has a weird bitter co2 taste maybe? But a beautiful presentation. It sort of tightens into a slightly astringent finish when I’d like it to expand on release. Overall a nice session.

Some encouraging results! These sessions will give me a direction forward for future water batches. I’m simply enjoying the exploration.

Water Review – Untitled (New Version)

1 Liter of hand-crafted water in a beautiful glass bottle arrived at my apartment last week. This is the new iteration of Untitled by Arby at Empirical Water based on some of my previous feedback on the water. This new version was reviewed by mgualt here. You may remember my review of the previous version was very positive, but I later realized it could use improvements in texture to give a more natural and expansive experience. In the past months I’ve been working on my palate, trying many blends of bottled and filtered waters, getting a better understanding of the range of characteristics of waters for tea.

Fortune teller

6.8g 110ml glazed pot

Novak ceramic kettle

Water: Untitled 

Steep 1: 

Very substantial texture. A very oily steep. Tasting older than usual. Rich. Mushrooms, roots, herbs, mint, strength. Huigan (aftertaste echo on the breath) is sweet bubblegum and lemony root beer. Qi is warming and uplifting. 

While I drink this, a huge, dense, dark thunderstorm started – I wonder if nature is mad that we’re taking over its job? Regardless, nature is making water too. 

Steep 2:

A longer steep around 25 sec: seriously good delivery. Very detailed and smooth. Prolonged expression of flavors. There’s definitely a sense that this favors dark, sweet flavors, but does so in a satisfying, forward-enough way. Specifically, there’s a sweetness on the front of the tongue that is distinct and vivid, coincident with everything else. It’s quite fun to visualize where all the flavors and sensations are happening. Definitely makes the tea feel like a gastronomic event.

Steep 3: 

Quicker steep, fairly buttery, a bit watery. Astringency is low-medium. Really long satisfying aftertaste and throat feel, and nice body feel as well. 


Watery entry but with texture. It’s as if the tea creates a textural void which is then gradually filled with flavors. It starts with the root bitterness, then the sort of buttered popcorn and honey, then the light citrus and florals and herbs at the end. They are all present at once, but the focus shifts. 


More bitterness, still nice rich oils. Still nice thickness but still has a watery quality, unlike really heavy waters that are all thickness and density with no refreshment or space. Simplifying in taste a bit to wood oils, like fresh oak.


Getting really woody now, and something that reminds me of lime jello. Astringency medium high. 


Last, long steep

The storm is over!

Not too strong, still nice layered mushrooms and wood and herbs. A bit less sweet, more dry in a nice way. 

Trying a green oolong:

Leaf of the east dong ding in 100ml gaiwan- 

It’s got a good taste of the roast and a good body and sweetness, but it is lacking that upfront fragrance and refreshing presence. Not the best fit. Still has a nice complexity to it, but a bit subdued. Still enjoyable. 

Water rating: 8.2 – great for teas focused on richness and deep complexity, and usable across the spectrum of teas with what I would expect to be varying results. Really nice water that really doesn’t feel artificial. Nicely done Arby!

Water Evaluation – Wuyi Water

I recently completed a gallon of water from one of my water recipes, and the result is interesting! I designed it based on the mineral content that I could find of various bottled waters related to wuyi yancha, like Wuyi Nongfu. This recipe is loosely based on loose data, but follows some conventions. These conventions are a dominance of bicarbonate, low sodium, <80TDS, and medium to high silica content. This is also similar to what you might find in Seattle, but just a bit heavier.

This batch was double distilled in glass from bottled Poland spring water, with a bit of fractionation involved. Silica content is 8 ppm. The water was well aerated before bottling overnight and brewing the next morning. I made some Old Ways Tea Da Hong Pao in a glazed Jiri Lang pot.

Initial onset is sweet and gentle, with a lot of the action happening in the rear throat, mineral tastes. Texture arrives a bit thin but some structure builds on subsequent steeps. Aftertaste is very long on the breath. The water does not feel heavy, there is a refreshing quality. A lot of nice sweetness and very integrated roast with some fruit and toasty rocky flavors. Some astringency but not very much. With this water, the tea doesn’t burst with flavors, it calmly settles into them.

Overall, it’s a bit too veiled for me, but worth trying. I’d love to try some real Wuyi Nongfu someday to compare. I wonder how to improve this water – for now I’m not sure, and as usual will keep making different waters and exploring. There seems to be a few things in my water making process that need improvement regardless of recipe, so I’m looking forward to working on those too.

Review: Empirical Water “Untitled” and “Original”

Over the past few months, Arby has been making progress on his water recipes, crafting and dialing in various waters for tea. His online store,, is launching soon, and he sent me four waters to test. So much progress has been made and I’m excited to see how these waters affect the tea world. Although Arby and I work separately, and I don’t know what these recipes specifically are, I can tell we have reasonably similar standards and ideals, so when Arby sends me water, I know to look forward to some really nice and fresh sessions. Let’s get into it.


White2tea 2020 Turtle Dove white tea – 3.3g/50ml gaiwan

This water is definitely aerated: 

You can see those little air bubbles forming

Lots of small leaves as it’s near the last of my cake, but it’s a tea I know and love. 

Original is a water that is made without a Sodastream, a la truth serum / complex syrup. This allows it to be easier to make and very concentratable. 

Turtle dove with Original sips light and floral with a richness and slight oiliness. Immediate first impressions are positive here. The taste of the tea is quite present and fills the mouth. It’s sweet and the floral notes are vivid. I’m struck by the amount of thickness in a tea so light: 

There is definitely texture without significant astringency. The tea melts in the mouth leaving behind tea oils that coat the mouth. Am I dreaming?

Now for some critique: the water is very present, but I could see it becoming fatiguing after a while. There’s a slight sharpness to the water, by no means excessive, but it does lean a bit forward. I think this is something many people will like, but I do notice it’s a bit “hot”. Perhaps the warm edition will be more calm in that respect.

I’m impressed right off the bat. Present but not too present, sweet but not too sweet, thick but not too thick, potent but not too potent. Well balanced on the forward side. 8.2/10

Note: all ratings-out-of-10 in this post are Session Ratings – more sessions would be needed to form a well-informed Water Rating.

Original Warm:

White2tea 2021 Fox down black tea 3.2g/50ml

The texture on this session feels a little flatter/more collapsed. Wet leaves smell of fruit leather, raisin and chocolate. On the second steep, a little thickness is building. The tea is sweet but there is a certain restrained or veiled quality. Velvety. 

Immediately I think I would rather drink this tea with Original non-warm. The tea has nice structure but it doesn’t have that refreshing quality that I crave. I’d say Original non-warm is more refreshing. Perhaps 20% warm and 80% original could be a nice sweet spot. 

I’m getting those bubbles I like. A good sign. I’m also feeling pretty calm while drinking these, which means these waters work well with the body. 

As my distillation setup drips away in the background, tasting this water and tea, I’m feeling proud of how far handcrafted water for tea has come. I’m also very inspired to make my own waters again in due time. 



2003 Hong Kong Henry conscientious prescription 

This water is an updated version of what I last reviewed. I liked the old version very much and am excited to try the update. This is a water which contains calcium carbonate and therefore requires carbonated water to produce. This increases the labor involved but also increases the possibilities for the composition of the water – mainly a reduction in sulfate, chloride and sodium. Let’s see if it’s worth the trouble:

Wet leaf smells of old wood furniture, grandma’s closet, wet sand, and the like.

I find the tea made with this water extremely friendly and gentle, yet present. Immersive. There is a je ne sais quoi here. Buttery. Huge echoes of flavor. Can’t shake the sensation of butter, like I just ate bread and butter or buttered popcorn. I’ve noticed this with some of my own waters too. 

Texture is a different kind than that of Original. With original, there was a nervous thickness and presence – with Untitled there is a calm, settled thickness and presence, with a structured hierarchy of flavors. First, a sweetness on the front of the tongue. Then, old woods on the sides traveling backward. Then, light tannins coating the mouth with buttered popcorn flavor. Then a deposit of aged fruit/citrus woody oils. Finally it all clears away into sweet buttery huigan (aftertaste). Empty cup aroma is nice too. 

This is quite elegant, the qi is great, warmth and relaxation. I like this as much as the old version, but this one is definitely different. Very refined. 


Untitled Warm:

Kettl tokujou sencha – 3.4g in 100ml shibo

A gorgeous sencha that rivals many gyokuro. I’ve actually made a couple waters for the fine people at Kettl to try, and got some positive feedback. If you’re in NYC, definitely visit their Brooklyn location!

I find it interesting that a warmer version of Untitled would be good for green tea, but I imagine it has something to do with a texture and umami focus. 

As an aside, the smell of the steam of all of the waters is really clean – Arby has a great filter system and probably fewer VOCs in his water supply. I should really get an undersink RO. There is a salty smell to the steam, though- I wonder what it comes from.

Oh baby. Really umami-focused sencha experience. Not as much on the front of the mouth, all toward the rear and middle. Buttered snap peas, sweetness, thickness. Purity. For me, it’s impressive, but it’s not refreshing enough. Like with Original, I would rather use the regular version of Untitled. 

This is still an elaborate, pure, direct and complex cup of sencha. On the second steep, that pure leaf/grass taste is coming through. Even a slight dryness that I like. Sweating – this is a lot of tea today! Impressive globular texture for sure. 300ml of sencha feeling like a very significant amount with this water!


I’ve noticed I’ve been engaged this whole time. With these waters, there’s always something new, each steep is dynamic, the tea goes to your core. With so many bottled and tap waters coming up short, these waters could change everything for many people who want to connect with their tea in that special elevated way. 

Arby noted to me that the waters are all fairly close in total mineral content, so they are very well suited for blending. This allows you to tune the water to your liking, and experiment, all while being confident your tea sessions will be nice no matter what.

Water Review: Untitled by Empirical Water

I’m going to be doing a quick water review of Arby’s new recipe he sent out. This is called Untitled – there are multiple versions of it, this one being the most intense, designed for brewing in porcelain. I’ve been working on water too, but haven’t had the time to blog yet! I have been making waters of my own, and also putting together a framework of water understanding that has greatly deepened my connection with water and tea. I’m really excited about this water and that Arby is starting his own company, Empirical Water. I don’t know the composition of this one, so let’s go in blind!

White2Tea 2017 Year of the Rooster

6.7g/100ml gaiwan

Immediately on the first steep, there’s a sense of structure to the tea. There’s a softness and a clean open feeling. This is definitely a low sodium water! The flavor focus seems to be in the middle of the mouth, which is really interesting. Sweet, savory, with huigan.

One thing I notice is it’s not too sweet. On the front of the mouth where you would usually find sweetness with a previous recipe, there’s a more complex bitter savory flavor. Wonderful oils of concentrated puer extract, full of little fruits. There’s a nice power here without being overbearing. I can tell this water is dialed in.

The flavor arrives gradually as I take a sip, revealing different aspects slowly but not too slowly at all. There’s a great sequence to this water, it’s like a song, not a picture. It definitely is making strong tea – the highlight is menghai mushroom notes, and I imagine this would do perfectly for something like Yang Qing Hao or Bi Yun Hao older productions, as well as aged factory tea. The texture is really amazing, I’m sure Arby aerated this somewhat, which is something I should do more too.

As for qi, my body feels quite comfortable drinking this tea, no jitters even though this is very strong puer. My mouth feels fine too, just a layer of velvety tannins, perfectly appropriate to this kind of tea at this age. I noticed the tea really feels gentle in the mouth with a little bit of acidity, so I decided to test: The pH of the tea at steep 7 is 6.5. That is just on the acidic side of neutral, and shows that what I’m tasting can be measured empirically.

This water really behaves quite close to a natural water, which is exactly what I like to see. I feel like everyone making water right now has a slightly different angle, and it really brings to light the invisible truth that there is an endless variety of waters with an endless variety of characters. For me, it’s like tea was made to manifest that variety in the most beautiful way.

Session Rating: 8.2/10

Water Rating: 8/10

On Britas

Hey everyone! Long time, no blog. Hope everyone’s been enjoying their tea in the meantime – I know I have! I took a trip up to Setting Sun Tea Hut in Vermont, which has beautiful tea, an awesome experience, and great well water for tea – they don’t even have to filter it. There, we had tea with tetsubins, clay kettles (chaozhou and novak), and copper kettles. The differences in each were striking – I had never tried a tetsubin before. I am sure there is a reaction going on in there on the iron-water interface.

Something like this, and this might not be the only one.

In the above reaction, the iron from the kettle binds with the water and releases hydrogen ions. Interestingly, a similar thing happens in a Brita filter, the most popular water filter around.

More than meets the eye

I’ve been familiar with them for a long time, but only recently did I understand what a Brita filter does. If you have a TDS meter, you may notice that water run through a Brita has around 20% lower TDS reading, and has a more acidic pH. They curiously don’t advertise these two features – probably because “alkaline water” is believed to be better than acidic. But why and how does it do this to the water?

In addition to activated carbon, which improves the water’s taste, Britas contain ion exchange resin pellets. In this case, these are beads that specifically accept a calcium ion (Ca2+) and give off hydrogen ions (2H+). The result of this is twofold. First, the hardness of the water is reduced, due to reduced calcium. Second, the alkalinity of the water is also reduced, because (and this is what I just figured out) the acidic hydrogen ions are neutralized by the HCO3- buffer forming H2CO3, or carbonic acid.

I used to think this was a very mild and subtle change – after all, TDS only goes down 20% on average. But recently, I took very hard, 500 TDS spring water that scales aggressively when boiled, ran it through the Brita, and boiled it. And what did I find? No scale at all. I was shocked! This means that almost all the temporary hardness (calcium-bicarbonate) is taken out. The resulting tea was way different. With the unfiltered 500 TDS water, tea is thick and muted. After the Brita, the water measured only 220 TDS, and the tea was hollow and forward.

This is when I realized that Brita filters radically alter the mineral profile of water. They cause already forward waters to be more forward and hollow out/brighten up, and cause less-present waters to become thinner and milder, but also brighter. Now, don’t get me wrong, they can still make good tea – in fact, I had a great session with an older raw puer last week with Brita-filtered NYC (Brooklyn) tap water. However, it’s definitely worth knowing that Britas don’t just make your tea taste better, they radically alter the mineral composition – and not always for the better. It’s worth testing for yourself – what do you like? Brita, or something like a Waterdrop that doesn’t change mineral content at all? (EDIT – waterdrop now reduces hardness…..) Or even a blend? I personally am still alternating between many different options in order to learn more.

Photo by Joey Tea Time

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

NOTE: The recipe was called Simple Syrup at the time of this review, and is now called Complex Syrup to reflect the complexity of the tea.

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 ( new water recipe (which I helped a bit on) against a good, well-reputed tap water. Check out his post on it at 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. Complex 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)

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

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: Complex 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 Complex Syrup is steeping darker and denser. Wet leaf aroma on NYC is sweet and light, while on CS it’s richer. Nyc session is on light, sweet hay, some oils. CS 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 CS 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 CS 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 CS. 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. CS 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 CS 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

CS Session Rating: 8

NYC Water rating for this tea: 7.5

CS 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. CS savory, smoky, tart, richer. Much darker in color. CS 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. CS 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 CS, it’s full force. Perfect grippy tannins, yiwu sweet syrup, and all sorts of candied and wood flavors. CS makes it deliver like a whisky. Qi is definitely from CS, 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 CS, 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 CS is making it not sour. I think, perhaps the increased sweetness in CS 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. CS very strong. Huigan, fruity, bursting with citrus peels/furniture polish. It’s clear here that there’s more in CS.

NYC Session Rating: 6.9

CS Session Rating: 8.2

NYC Water rating for this tea: 5.8

CS Water rating for this tea: 8.8

Overall impressions:

Wow. The catchphrase for Complex 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 CS. 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 Complex 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 CS session rating: 8.1/10

NYC Water rating: 6.7/10

CS 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!
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

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


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!!


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.