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
Alkalinity % from Sodium and/or Potassium100%
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. 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.

Water Recipe #2 “2/3 Heavy”

This recipe was formulated in November 2020. I made a heavier version of this recipe first, which I called “heavy” and then cut it down to 2/3 concentration, hence the name, 2/3 Heavy. I could have done a more creative name, but it’s what we’ve been calling it on the tea discord where a few other people have been making it and enjoying it, as well as the previous recipe, Truth Serum, which was developed after. Big thanks to Arby and everyone in #water on the CommuniTEA discord for helping out with evaluating this recipe! This water is more chloride focused than sulfate, and includes potassium. It was designed to have a little bit of everything: fragrance, presence and depth.

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.

133.4 mg/gallon Baking Soda (NaHCO3)
22.7 mg/gallon Potassium Bicarbonate (KHCO3)
92.2 mg/gallon Magnesium Chloride Hexahydrate (MgCl2.6H2O)
119.5 mg/gallon Gypsum (CaSO4.2H2O)
26.8 mg/gallon Calcium Chloride (CaCl2)
Recipe
Calcium10
Magnesium3
Sodium10
Potassium2
Bicarbonate29
Sulfate17
Chloride13
Silica0
Resulting ion concentrations in mg/L at pH 8.3
Hardness36 mg/L as CaCO3
Alkalinity24 mg/L as CaCO3
Hardness to Alkalinity Ratio1.5
TDS (calculated, will not measure nearly this high due to ion conductivities)84 ppm
Electrical Conductivity at 25ºC (calculated, expected to measure)144.3 μS/cm
Alkalinity % from Sodium and/or Potassium100%
Other statistics
Electrical Conductivity at 25ºC 139.4 μS/cm
pH7.9
TDS (calculated from Electrical Conductivity error and calculated TDS)81 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: 2019 White2Tea Fireflake Dancong

3.3g/50ml gaiwan, 100ºC

This is a strong, punchy, intensely fragrant oolong with a high roast.

Early impressions: brews up dark, more orange than your typical dancong. First steep is sweet, floral, and buttery. Bitterness throughout the mouth, but not unusual for this tea. Taste in the front of the mouth is immediate, and on the swallow there is a present bitter roast aftertaste. Second steep is intensely dark. Dense taste of sweet chocolate and coffee with butter and tannins. Obviously too strong, but has redeeming qualities. I guess my ten second steep was overkill! Switching to flash brews. Viscosity is medium. Activity in front and back of mouth is equal.

Very dark for dancong

Mid-session: Tea is still strong. Quite sharp arrival, sides of tongue has roasty sourness, but it all blooms into a thick fragrance that evaporates in the mouth. General flavor is sour roast with floral butter in the aftertaste. Astringency is medium-high. Thank goodness for the sweetness here to balance that all out. I have had worse sessions in the past with this tea. It’s full of character, but it’s a beast. More of a rushed flash steep brings a more balanced profile, intense fragrance and roast but with viscosity and refreshing fruit notes.

Late Steeps: I definitely feel like I’m getting a complete picture of this tea. The taste and aftertaste are fully present. This tea is not letting up on the strength front, drying up my cheeks. Aroma on the gaiwan lid is extremely enjoyable as well as the wet leaf, pungent floral, and cooked celery. (?!) Around steep 8 this tea is settling into a much more pleasant stage, with a nice warm profile of nutty floral aroma with a buttery taste in the front of the mouth, like brown butter. Caffeine is strong, amazing get-it-done energy. Warming to the core also, while most dancong usually cools you down. Loving the sugary greenness as the roast fades later in the session. This is a tea to flash flash flash until it lets up, then enjoy rewarding late steeps.

Session Rating: 6.5/10 – Overwhelmingly strong and punchy, but with plenty of redeeming qualities to be a success.

Need a break already! Then we will press on to two teas I tried last time.

Session 2: 2001 Zhongcha Huangyin from Teas We Like

3.4g/50ml gaiwan, 100ºC

Early impressions: Wash smells very clean, earthy sprite aroma. Two rinses as this is one chunk. Elaborate wet leaf aroma, full of citrus and darker fruits, earth and wood. Liquor on the first steep has the yeasty smell that you usually get with aged sheng when you use much harder/heavier water, like toronto water for example. This is encouraging, as I like that note but I don’t like tons of scale in the kettle. This recipe doesn’t scale at all. Nice present early taste, generally sweet wood. Still opening up. Glorious raisin-craisin smell in the gaiwan. Water does affect the wet leaf smell more than you might expect! Now at a peach color, the tea produces great viscosity, medium thick. Flavor first hits in the back, surprising! In the front of the mouth there is sweetness, sparkling feeling, but a lot of the activity is happening in the back of the mouth with gentle wood bitterness. I am blown away by the texture though, extremely pleasant.

Middle: Vivid. Clear dirt-earth-dust in the back, fruit expressing itself in the front. This tea seems to move back-to-front, which is quite unusual. It first hits the sides of the tongue, then the back, then the front. Flavors are sweet, some floral qualities, but the sensation is deep gentle bitterness. Low astringency. There’s a cinnamon stick quality to the sweetness, and the bitterness is primarily wood. The front of the mouth has some powerful astringency now, but not excessive. Brown sugar, pine resin, root beer (birch beer tree). The clarity of experience here is striking, nothing seems to be hidden at all. It is rather sharp and quite immediate, but the experience of drinking lasts a good, dynamic 30 seconds. Energy coming through now, heating in arms and clarity.

Late: Maintains complexity while evolving. Leaf decay, bittersweet, honey, grains. Still present, hits in the front more immediately now with the lightest of brown sugar and hardwood. Two minute late steep – clear front presence, sweet grapey winey quality, like wine aged in a whisky barrel… in the forest. Extremely aggreable.

Session Rating: 8.0/10 – in a completely different way from Truth Serum 1.0, this session hit the mark: for thickness, complexity, and presence. Somehow bright and deep all at once.

Session 3: 2019 White2Tea Green Hype

3.3g/50ml gaiwan, 100ºC

Early impressions: Wet leaf immediately a smoky, floral, sweet, buttery affair. First taste – sweet ripe stonefruit. Smoky, but more like smoked fruit than fruity smoke. Great sweetness. Definitely front focused at the outset. Immediate taste. Complex sheng gasoline. Oily and energetic. More please!

Beautiful leaf

Mid-session: So bright and upfront, sparkling on the tongue. Artichoke, snap peas, fresh apricot, red bell pepper, and a rice crispies sort of sweetness. Astringency is medium here, oiliness is also medium. In the throat, there’s a huigan, and mostly pine bitterness, like hops. There’s a toasted rice graininess that brings it into the scotch whisky realm, as if it were a young single malt. Energy is generally uplifting, with heat in back. Longer steep has more bitterness, which is quite satisfying if a little straightforward.

Good tea here

Late steeps: Wet leaf has the most pure leafy-smokiness. Taste beginning to settle into a sort of smoked lemon-lime soda, with a backbone of bulang gasoline strength. Very cool fermenty sourness coming in, like a sour beer. Rather glorious dynamism for a sheng in this price bracket. Green leafy aftertaste throughout the mouth with a tannin-coat. Pectin. One minute late steep, still fresh, but with obvious peppery notes coming in.

Session Rating: 7.4/10 – I’m rather blown away and I don’t think you can do much better than this with this particular tea. Incredible experience of changing flavors.

Overall impressions:

This medium-strength recipe provides a well-rounded experience, with high clarity, fragrance, and sweetness with appropriate rear-mouth activity and viscosity. 2/3 Heavy strikes me as a good benchmark for custom standardized water, as I felt I was getting front and back of mouth activity for all three teas. It doesn’t strike me as particularly dishonest, but it may make flawed teas taste passable rather than highlighting their flaws. I don’t always get such good results with this recipe, but I was very patient in measuring and dissolving each mineral this time, and my patience was rewarded. Additionally, I got less conductivity error than last time, which is quite encouraging. Overall I’m very pleased and am testing many variations of this recipe side by side to better understand water.

Average session rating: 7.3/10

Water rating: 8/10

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.

Water Recipe #1! “Truth Serum 1.0”

Today marks the beginning of a new series of weekly water review posts! Arby from http://empiricaltea.com/ and I have been working on some water recipes for tea. His epsom salt and baking soda water recipe was one of the first I tried years ago, so it has been really cool to connect with him. This week’s recipe has been a long time in the making, and was a collaboration between me and Arby, although I consider this to be his recipe as he made most of the decisions and did almost all the testing, while I offered advice. He designed this water to accurately reflect both the positive and negative qualities of all types of tea, hence the name “Truth Serum.” I’m really excited to share it with the world, and also to try it with a few teas and give my impressions of it. He also has an updated version of this water recipe on his blog, so definitely check that out! License: No commercial use of this recipe is permitted without permission from the creators.

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.

214.4 mg/gallon Baking Soda (NaHCO3)
93.3 mg/gallon Magnesium Chloride Hexahydrate (MgCl2.6H2O)
26.7 mg/gallon Epsom Salt (MgSO4.7H2O)
199 mg/gallon Gypsum (CaSO4.2H2O)
Recipe
Calcium12
Magnesium4
Sodium16
Potassium0
Bicarbonate41
Sulfate32
Chloride9
Silica0
Resulting ion concentrations in mg/L at pH 8.3
Hardness45 mg/L as CaCO3
Alkalinity33.75 mg/L as CaCO3
Hardness to Alkalinity Ratio1.333
TDS (calculated, will not measure nearly this high due to ion conductivities)113 ppm
Electrical Conductivity at 25ºC (calculated, expected to measure)186.5 μS/cm
Alkalinity % from Sodium and/or Potassium100%
Other statistics
Electrical Conductivity at 25ºC175 μS/cm
pH8.0
TDS (calculated from Electrical Conductivity error and calculated TDS)106 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. Table water crackers were eaten between sessions and sometimes between steeps to clear the palate. Water was boiled in a glass kettle using gas for the initial boil and an infrared hot plate during the session.

Session 1: 2020 White2Tea Turtle Dove

3.3g/50ml gaiwan, 100ºC

First of all, it seems like the water is measuring slightly under on the conductivity meter, and I’m not sure why yet. There’s about a 6% error, which I don’t think is too bad. I’ll test again tomorrow after the water has settled a bit.

Early impressions: This is normally a fragrance forward tea, and I’m getting fragrance, but also a lot more. Aroma from the wet leaf is nice and potent, floral. In the mouth, it’s very coating, with creaminess and sweetness. Very floral aftertaste. Depth, likely from the sulfate. Root vegetables. I have to say, there could be more high-note fireworks in the front of the mouth, but they come in the aftertaste after swallowing. The more vegetal notes are apparent while the tea is in the mouth. Thick texture.

Yummy

Middle of session: Soothing. Good herbal and peppery taste. Hay and cream base is present. Consistent bubbles on the surface of the tea. Sticky texture, no astringency. Honey-sweetness. Great ECA (empty cup aroma). I have to say, I would like a bit more brightness here. Feeling some qi, more than with lighter water for sure. Lots of activity in the back of the mouth/throat now. Sweet yunnan black tea huigan. Actually tons of changing tastes in the throat. Vanilla? Some sort of vegetable taste like fresh peas in the pod. Snap peas!

Bubbles

Late steeps: satisfying potency, doesn’t seem to be running out after 9 steeps. This water definitely extracts thoroughly without feeling like your mouth is being extracted, which is nice, naturally! Pushing the steeps longer now, around a minute. Very relaxing. Good presence in the center of the tongue, giving a solid base taste. Not overly sweet, but some sweetness is present. Aftertaste is very nice. Nothing harsh, but a little bitterness to tell you when you’ve steeped too long. Good evolving bitterness when pushed.

Session Rating: 5.7/10 – pretty good, but leaves some front-of-mouth vibrancy to be desired.

Eating crackers…. now onto session 2!

Session 2: 2001 Zhongcha Huangyin from Teas We Like

3.3g/50ml gaiwan, 100ºC

Wet leaf smell is dense and intense, and minty. I’ve had this tea many times, so I’m quite familiar with it.

Early impressions: thick. Detailed and full savory leathery notes, even on the first steep. Pungent sweet incense on the sides of the tongue, wow! Bubbles on surface of liquor on second steep. Wet leaf has a creamy smell to it on top of the other complex incense, earth and wood smells. Takes a while in the mouth to arrive, but worth the wait. Concentrated oily texture delivering mouth-coating complexity. Bitterness with raisin taste in the back. Sweetness just barely present. Some mouth cooling. I love the length of the experience, it really takes 15 seconds for the flavors/sensations to be delivered in sequence.

Amazing

Mid-session: Bitter wood, really natural taste. Astringency appropriate for natural taiwan storage. Deep orange peel, varnish, strength and potency even in a 50ml gaiwan. Solid energy too. Warming in back and grounding. Pushed steep brings some flavors to the front, some tannins, wood aromatics. Very crisp, brisk, if you know what I mean. Alerting taste, astringency. Leaves have opened nicely with a wonderful wet leaf aroma of buttery fruit and wood furniture. Something about the taste/texture suggests wax, in a good way.

Aged raw puer tea

Late steeps: Hints of dried apricot coming in, still a lot of power. The liquid seems a bit heavy, tends to pool rather than splash, but it swallows naturally. Really impressed by the texture, delivery, extraction and rear-throat sensation. Some cool citrus bitterness is happening, extremely present/vivid flavor and sensation. Pleasant acidity. Aftertaste is complex. Lots of warming, nice! Could be slightly thicker. All sorts of incense powders in the taste. Definitely bitter, no doubt about it, but detailed and evolving bitterness, with a subdued, very dry (not drying) sweetness. Also, great longevity, did not get tired after 12 steeps, could probably go quite a few more.

Session Rating: 8.0/10

Having some light food, crackers, water and a break.

Session 3: 2019 White2Tea Green Hype

Ok! Another tea I know well.

Early impressions: wet leaf full sugary intense young sheng smell. First taste is great, coating. Fruit flavors, lime, bit of smoke. Sweetness, but again not overly sweet. On the less-sweet side. Definitely slightly heavy and dense. Again, lengthy arrival, flavors sensations and delivered in sequence over about 15 seconds. Thick! Nice ECA. Savory vegetables and herbs with gasoline potency.

Water Hype!

Mid-session: wet leaf aroma is amazing. Bubbles on surface of tea again. Amazing how there is consistency in totally different sessions from the water’s characteristics. More energy than usual for sure. Briny, I think from the tea, not the water. Good presence in front of mouth with sweet lemon, ashes in the back. Splashing a bit on the top of the mouth which is nice. Rather astringent, which is not unusual for this tea. Potent! Medium mouth-cooling. Salted-watermelon taste (a southern tradition!)

Late steeps: In astringent territory now, but still delivering the base citrus and gasoline-strength. Qi. The fresh citrus is nice, very IPA-like. Cooling cucumber notes hiding underneath the bitterness. Enjoying the texture, grippy and cohesive. Some woodiness/stemminess coming in. Some lemon lip balm notes on the gaiwan lid.

Session Rating: 6.8/10

Overall impressions:

This is a medium-heavy water recipe, with high sulfate and low chloride. As a result it seems to be more rear-of-mouth focused, and less sweetness/fragrance as the tea is in the mouth. Fragrance comes, but mostly in the aftertaste and can be experienced in smelling the wet leaf and empty cup. Strengths include bringing out complex bitterness, full extraction, aftertaste and thickness. Weaknesses include lack of front-of-mouth taste detail, a bit heavy, and lack of immediacy of taste. However, with patience, this water delivers a great, satisfying experience. This water is likely best with aged sheng and darker teas, rather than fragrance-forward lighter teas. Yancha would likely work well also, especially higher roasted wuyi oolongs. Overall, since I do get fragrance in the session, I think it succeeds in capturing the different aspects of tea in a nicely balanced, characterful way.

Average session rating: 6.8/10

Water rating: 7.3/10

A couple drops of silica concentrate improved texture and cohesion in earlier tests, but for evaluation purposes it was not used here. The conductivity error is definitely something to look into. I also have a version with potassium which I have not tested yet. As is, I recommend you give this water a try, as it will possibly show you a different side of your tea than you are used to. Big thanks to Arby for making this recipe and I’m very curious to see his review! Feel free to tag us on Instagram, @teasecretsblog and @arbyavanesian and let me know your results there or in the comments here.

Next week, new water, new teas! Look forward to it!

Ripe Puer as the Dominant Idea

Ripe puer tea is fairly new compared to raw puer tea, and has only been around for a few decades. Therefore it’s commonly claimed that raw puer is the “real, authentic puer tea” and ripe is just an artificial attempt at skipping the aging process of raw puer. Nowadays, ripe puer is by far more popular (and less expensive) than raw. It also has the advantage of being “ready” to drink, while many would consider a young raw to be too astringent to enjoy fresh. My first puer was a ripe one from Mark T Wendell tea company, and it was only 8 years later that I tried my first raw. And I preferred the ripe.

Since ripe puer is more common, and easier to drink, shouldn’t it be considered the dominant form of puer? I think this parallels the coffee world, where dark roast coffee is much more common than light roast, but people who are coffee enthusiasts commonly focus on light and medium roasts. The variation in ripe puer seems to be more narrow than in the countless villages and mountains of raw puer, which are most clearly exhibited in their uncomposted form. But wait a second, what about yancha? Those are all roasted, but could be considered the peak of all tea by some connoisseurs. So then, just because all ripe puer is wet-pile fermented, does this have to mean that it’s less characterful than non-wet-piled puer?

What does the wet pile process do? 

From what I understand, when loose puer is wet-piled, it’s moistened and it heats up a lot. During the 1-2 months (usually) that it spends in the pile, various molds and other microorganisms digest the green parts of the leaves and turn them brown. The bitter and astringent compounds are transformed into less bitter and much less astringent other compounds, and the leaves develop a sweet and earthy aroma. The caffeine is reduced and turned into… something. Also, the energy of the tea overall becomes more grounding and less stimulating, but there’s still caffeine in there. The light floral and other top notes are darkened and toned down by the intense microbial fermentation. 

The Duck says hi

Basically, when you wet pile puer, you’re left with less variation and subtlety between different original raw material than it originally had. Let me qualify this: there is still variation – but the range of flavor and sensation for a ripe compared to a raw is narrower. Ripe puer tends to focus on the earthy, deep fruit, and bready (if you’re lucky) tastes and smells, and nearly never on florals. A young raw puer can feature both specific floral and vegetal tastes and at the same time, deep petroleum and mineral notes. And an aged raw puer can keep some of those higher notes, while incorporating deep fruity and earthy flavors and aromas, like the 2004 biyun hao manzhuan I recently reviewed here

So, since ripe puer, though delicious, has a narrower profile than raw, but is more accessible and ready-to-drink, I think the best way to look at it would be like with dark and light roasts of coffee. Ripe puer is a comfortable, relaxing and simple brew but with an engaging profile when well-crafted. Raw puer is commonly a more challenging tea with a wider range of flavors and aromas, both within a single session and between tea from different ages and areas. Whether one is “more puer” than another is up to you and what you enjoy.

2004 Biyun Hao Manzhuan with Fake Toronto Water

After a couple hours of work, I was able to make a slightly shuffled-around version of the Toronto water recipe from my last post, Replicating Toronto Tap Water. The mineral content is the same. So, I figured it would be fun to make tea with it and take some good old fashioned tasting notes, a-la-mgualt. I’m not too experienced with this kind of steep-by-steep report, but it seems like a useful way to document the experience.

6.5g/100ml zini, glass kettle, 232 TDS (calculated) water, pH 8

Homemade water in the kettle

1.

Nose: Wonderful yeasty-woody smell coming off the liquor, something I don’t get from my normal water or other lighter recipes. Wet leaf extremely surprisingly pungent, sharp wood incense, damp wood shavings, cooked mushrooms, chocolate.

Mouth: Sweet deep fruity taste, like plums and wood. Bready aftertaste, like sourdough. Relieved that I’m not getting plastic taste, as source water is distilled water from the supermarket. Still would like to find a better source.

Body: Calming, warmth in upper back, settling in.

2.

Nose: Pronounced earthy depth on liquor. Wet leaf has pungent chocolate-coffee aroma. Cherries on wet leaf.

Mouth: Nice bubbles on liquor. Oily texture, mouthcoat, mouth cooling. Some precipitation of calcium carbonate on the surface of the tea. Rich, sweet dark chocolate cake taste. Definitely sweet mushrooms as well in the front. Not much bitterness yet. Huigan starting to set in, sweetness mixing with sourdough bread aftertaste.

Body: Warmth, some sweating. Calm and focused. Awake.

3.

Visible scale in the kettle, this is hard water after all!

Nose: Can almost smell ripe tropical fruits on wet leaf. Some florals and balms on empty pitcher.

Mouth: Mushroom soup, almost fatty. Bitterness coming through now, but balanced.

Body: Relaxed and open. Warmth spreading to ribs now. Warm fingertips. Smiling.

4.

Nose: Wet leaf still smelling like warm tart cherries and decaying wood. Liquor has a waxy melted candle-like smell.

Mouth: Texture is quite sticky, settles in nicely after a few seconds. Not overly thick, could be more expansive. Sweet-and-sour taste. Slight mouth drying, could be from the scale.

Body: Alert and grounded.

5.

Thickness

Nose: Wet leaf has deep wood and tobacco.

Mouth: Grappa-like raisin and grape notes, hints of some sort of flower or herb essence. Vivid earth taste. Still great oils. Great complexity in back of mouth, younger-sheng-like fruitiness (citrus huigan)- front is more on fruit sweetness and earthiness.

Body: Dizzy, vivid colors, zoned in. Heat mostly in lower and mid back now, not really present in neck and ears. Interesting.

6.

Really scaling as the water continues to boil.

Nose: Hot chocolate with marshmallows on liquor, wet leaf mostly natural woods.

Mouth: Bourbon-like wood sweetness. Taste getting more subtle now. A hint of yellow squash, but bitter wood incense is quite noticeable. Texture quite thick, definitely some tannins coming through. Vivid jasmine tea aftertaste!

Body: Some swirling energy in fingers and core. Enjoying breathing.

7.

Long steep here, about a minute.

Nose: Some black (red) tea smell. Sweet grasses. Meringue on wet leaf.

Mouth: Amazing bittersweet bready oily taste/sensation. Sunkist Lemon gummies. Fruit pectin. Feels like this water is extracting the tea to the core. Jelly beans (not jelly belly, the cheap kind) and bark mulch. Less structure than I would expect, perhaps the scaling has made the water go a bit flatter. Although I don’t like using the word, there is dirt in the aftertaste.

Body: Floating feeling. Aware of breath, deep and slow. Warmth in forearms.

8.

Nose: Wet leaf has key lime pie. Some granite-like smell. Decaying wood, but not musty. Just warm like old books.

Mouth: Some sort of spice, like a cinnamon stick. Definitely tasting lighter now. More general woodiness and tannins, less fruit.

Body: Very relaxed, could take a nice nap.

9.

Don’t mind the spill…

Poured out the remaining water from the kettle and refilled. Let’s see if this changes the tea…

Nose: Fading a bit.

Mouth: Definitely more lively and expansive in the mouth. Refreshing sweet yeastiness. Texture is great. A little bit of green beans.

Body: Totally chilled out. Very comfortable.

Late.

Loooooooong steep, 3 mins.

Nose: Smelling more spent, faded woodiness.

Mouth: Tannins and wood, with a pleasant sweetness. Nice sugariness.

Body: General warmth.

Experience Rating: 8.2/10

Thanks for reading!

A seriously deep and rich taste with this water. I had this tea with my normal tap water and although it was good, it didn’t have these yeasty rich bready chocolate notes. I would have to say this was a better session than with tap. The scale is annoying, so maybe a slightly lighter version of this water would be even better.

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Replicating Toronto Tap Water

The following is an account of an experiment I did in April 2020.

The Context

I had been messing with water for two years, adding minerals to pure water and trying all sorts of different brands, with varying results. I was having fun, but I knew there was better water out there than what I was making, buying, and getting out of my tap. As I was reading Late Steeps, Marco Gualtieri’s tea notes blog, I noticed he seemed to be getting amazing sessions with aged teas like the 2004-06 Yang Qing Hao productions. I’m aware that now his opinions of those teas have changed a bit, but back then he was enjoying them, getting tons of intense flavor and engaging energy. My experiences with Yang Qing Hao were less stellar, more boring and flat. I started to wonder… what if it was the water? Marco lives in Toronto and was using tap water usually in his older reviews. I looked up the water quality report and thought,

What if I could make Marco’s tap water in my own apartment?

The Process

The first thing I had to do was figure out the mineral composition that I was going for. The water quality report has minimum, maximum and average ranges for each of the relevant mineral ions; for example, the calcium content is between 31.1 and 38 mg/L, with an average of 35.6. I decided to aim for the averages, and see if it led to any problems. I used a slightly modified version of the Khymos mineral water calculator to convert my target ion concentrations into a mineral recipe that I could use.

(Ignore the carbon dioxide and pH, they are wrong, and also it’s not grams on the right column, but milligrams)

The ion charges didn’t match up, so I let the calculator compensate by adding bicarbonate to balance it out. 118 mg/L of bicarbonate was still within the range on the water quality report. This water is very heavy, and pretty hard. However, the hardness is higher than the alkalinity, which basically means that the flavor won’t get eaten up by excess bicarbonate. In general, the hardness to alkalinity ratio should be above 1 to prevent dullness of flavor. However, Icelandic glacial is decent for tea and has a hardness to alkalinity ratio of 0.85. This toronto water replica has a ratio of 1.32.

The amount of each mineral I had to add per gallon was all the way on the right column, in milligrams. I needed seven ingredients in my water to get that Toronto profile. My plan was to add them one at a time until I was done, pretty simple. If you add them all at once, there’s a chance they might react in some negative way.

The gang’s all here

The first five minerals, NaCl, KHCO3, MgCl2-6H2O, MgSO4-7H2O, and CaSO4-2H2O, dissolve fairly easily in water. However, the last two ingredients, MgCO3 and CaCO3 (chalk), are insoluble. So what did I do? Khymos instructs to carbonate the water – put simply, this produces carbonic acid which reacts with CaCO3 and MgCO3 to form soluble/aqueous Ca(HCO3)2 and Mg(HCO3)2. This works, but you end up with bubbly water, which I didn’t want to use for tea – I wanted to simulate what someone in Toronto would get out of their tap.

Bubbling and Debubbling

Debubbling

Luckily, the local Publix supermarket had Syfo Seltzer, a Reverse Osmosis carbonated water with 0 mineral content. My strategy was to make two concentrated solutions: I dissolved a gram of chalk in one bottle and 500 mg of MgCO3 in the other bottle, left it in the fridge over two nights, and rotated the bottles every once in a while until they were clear. Then, when it was time to make the water, I used an aquarium air pump to bubble air through each of the concentrates until the solution reached a pH of 8 or above, meaning all the dissolved CO2 was basically gone. I tried using a vacuum chamber for this another time, but it didn’t seem to work as well.

pH 8!

Making the Water – Putting it all together

A pinch of salt

It was then an iterative process of measuring out minerals, dissolving them in 0 TDS RO water, and then pouring that into the big jar.

Et cetera

After the first five minerals were added, it was time for the CaCO3 and MgCO3 concentrates. I simply measured out the appropriate amounts of each – one ml of the CaCO3 concentrate contained one mg of CaCO3 (in a way) and one ml of the MgCO3 concentrate contained 0.5 mg MgCO3.

This is only some of the chalk concentrate – there’s a lot in this water!
Pouring it in, almost done!
Finished
There are ions in this water is what this reading means

The TDS (Total Dissolved Solids) measured 148, even though the calculated TDS was 232. Quick note about TDS meters – they measure conductivity and multiply that reading by a constant to estimate the TDS. This water is less conductive per mg of TDS than the solution that the meter’s coefficient constant is based on. Bicarbonates are much less conductive than chlorides and sulfates. My meter’s coefficient is actually smaller than the commonly accepted one, too. So, that TDS reading was nearly meaningless, and the water was likely actually the proper TDS.

Taste of Toronto

I’ve never been to Toronto, but the finished water had a nice, natural mineral taste. It really didn’t taste synthetic, and was quite full and soft. I was impressed! The whole process took about three days, with two hours of work total.

Making the Tea

Ok! Now that the water was finally done, it was time to test it out. I had some Yang Qing Hao Jinhao Chawang lying around, so I fired up the kettle and did a little session.

The result was astounding. I had never experienced such a concentrated, thick, powerful tea before, especially from Yang Qing Hao. It’s hard to describe, but it was so satisfying, and I felt the energy much more than other sessions. I could tell that the full potential of this tea was being extracted, but the bicarbonate was providing a wonderful softness and richness. I now understood where Marco was coming from with his praise, when before, with Nashville water and even bottled water, I never got close to this experience.

Many other sessions were had with this gallon of fake homemade Toronto water.

I forget what tea this was
Teaswelike 2001 Yellow Mark
Young Sheng – thick and sweet

It was all amazing. To be clear, this water is heavy. You couldn’t go much heavier than this and have a good experience. But the calcium and magnesium are in perfect balance, as well as the sulfate and chloride, hardness and alkalinity, just a bit of potassium, not too much sodium. This, as I understand it, is a great mineral profile, especially for a water as heavy as this. I also like lighter waters, but there’s something with this Toronto water, this density in the resulting tea, that is extremely addictive. It’s too bad it was so hard to make. I plan on making it again, with a slightly easier method that shuffles the minerals around so I only have to make one concentrate.

So yeah, this is one example of what I’ve been up to in regards to water and tea. If there ever was a tea secret, this is one – water mineral content has an enormous effect on tea. I’m not suggesting everyone should make this water, as it’s rather difficult and time consuming, and maybe not for everyone. I feel like most people know that water has an effect on tea, but don’t know what to do about it. There’s probably a 50-70% chance that your tap water, when filtered to remove chlorine taste, is good enough. But if it isn’t, it might be worthwhile to find a solution (haha) to that problem, to get the most out of that hard-earned tea. Also, it’s just fun to play around with water! This experiment really opened my mind to what’s possible with a little chemistry and imagination, and I’m looking forward to making water that’s even better than Toronto’s.

Thanks for reading!!

Clay teapot comparison – Jianshui vs. Randová

Same tea, different teapots, different results. Hopefully this is interesting to you! I find clay to have an enormous effect on the taste/texture of a tea.

The first teapot is a 90 ml Jianshui teapot from crimson lotus tea. I’ve found it to work well with young sheng and emphasizing sweetness.

cute

The second vessel is an unglazed shibo from Miroslava Randová. It has very sandy coarse clay with a red tone. I wonder how this will compare!

beautiful

Tests were done with 5.4g of w2t 2019 snoozefest in the jianshui and 5.7g in the randová shibo.

today’s tea

clay detail
jianshui detail

Notes:

Immediately on the first steep after the rinse there is a difference. From the jianshui it is soft and sweet. In the randová shibo there is more of a robust character. It’s still sweet, but more mineral and tart also. I would consider the shibo to taste more complex but less smooth. But this is just the first infusion!

you can see the small volume difference between the two vessels – on some steeps I compensated for this by using less water in the shibo. also, there is more leaf in the shibo

I’m very surprised how restrained the tea is in jianshui. Sure, there’s a little bitterness, but the infusion is more quiet. There’s some fruitiness and a lot of sweetness. In the Randová the tea is more expansive with more astringency to coat the mouth. There are more vivid notes of powdered sugar and frosting.

Third infusion, in jianshui it’s quite strong with nice sheng gasoline notes, better aftertaste in the shibo. Starting to be more similar.

Fourth infusion on: jianshui is more rounded, contained and cohesive. Randová is emphasizing more of a rustic taste profile with a lot of focus on the sides of the tongue. The temperature of the tea seems hotter from the shibo. Very satisfying from the shibo, really potent. Much more leafy/astringent in the shibo, and mouth cooling, thick and smooth in the jianshui. Mouth cooling also shows up in the shibo. Still astringent in jianshui on a pushed steeping, but it doesn’t show up until the tea is in the mouth for a long time. I would say the randová shibo has much more flavor up front. It also produces tea with more character.

I’m very surprised how much of a smoothing effect the jianshui has despite being very dense and having a low porosity. For a tea like snoozefest, which is a very characterful sheng, I think I prefer the randová shibo with its mineral-rich taste and emphasis of the outlier character of the tea. For a more comforting, soothing brew, I would reach for the jianshui.

In terms of aesthetic feel, the shibo is quite bulky and natural, where the jianshui is smooth and shiny. They correspond to different moods. I’m glad to know that both of these teapots “work” for young sheng but emphasize different aspects of the tea. You can still taste the wild fruity character of the snoozefest in the jianshui, but it’s deeper within the core of the tea rather than at the forefront.

Let me know if you want me to compare two other clays/vessels with different tea. Thanks for reading!

T

Cha

Water Filter Advice

Keeping it simple!

The Filter Room

There are many water filters out there, from pitchers to RO membranes to charcoal sticks. I have played with a whole bunch, and my favorite kind of filter is this one:

The 1 Micron Carbon Block Filter

Home Master HM Mini

It hooks up directly to the end of a faucet. You remove the aerator and screw it on. Carbon block filters also can come as fridge filters. The activated carbon removes chlorine taste and nasty chemicals from the water, leaving the minerals intact. So, if the mineral balance of your tap water is decent, this might be the best way to powerfully clean it up without taking anything beneficial away.

UPDATE: I now prefer the waterdrop brand filter pitcher, it’s slightly better than these carbon block filters and certainly a bit easier.

Good result!
Tea in the cup

Tips for having a good tea session

Concerning the body, just let it go with the flow. Concerning feelings, let them follow their course. If you go with the flow, you avoid separation. If you follow the course of feelings, you avoid exhaustion.

Chuang Tzu

So you like tea. If you like tea, you probably want to get the most out of each tea session. You may have some special expensive tea that you’ve been saving for the right moment… but how do you make sure you get your money’s worth?

Focus on what you can control, let go of what you can’t

It’s okay to have high expectations, but don’t let them get in the way and throw everything off. The fear of making a wrong choice at the tea table is a self-fulfilling prophecy. It’s easy to overcompensate for the fear of failure by trying to make the perfect tea session guaranteed. Here’s an alternative strategy. If you’ve had a good tea session recently with a less expensive, but similar tea, use the same water and teaware as that session, but substitute in the precious tea. This gives you a very good chance of having a good session, with the added bonus of familiarity.

Another thing you can control is your mental state. Don’t be afraid to take a walk in nature before your session, or meditate if that’s something you do. Tea is meditative, but it’s easy to get caught up and to lose focus if you’re not reasonably grounded and receptive to start.

Stay focused, even if you feel like the session has totally gone south. Tea can surprise you. Imagine you’ve used distilled water for an aged puer in a very porous pot, and there’s almost no taste. You could switch water, but you could instead just notice what’s missing, and appreciate what’s not missing. This will make your future tea sessions more rewarding and will make you smarter. You will at least enjoy using your teaware and being calm and quiet for a half hour.

One recommendation is to put your phone away. Take pictures on airplane mode and play music, but tea is a good opportunity to get some space from the internet. Make posts and discussions later, or save them for more casual daily sessions. I really enjoy reading a book or e-reader while drinking tea.

I don’t recommend trying a new water with a special tea session. Have a couple sessions with daily drinkers that you know and love to calibrate how the water behaves, and decide if you like it. Fancier water does not equal better tea.

Don’t burn your mouth. You may be really excited, but take your time. As the little cards that come with white2tea orders say, steep slow and be patient! If you rush the session, you’ll burn your taste buds and won’t be able to taste very well.

For me, the best tea sessions feel effortless. If you go with the flow, suddenly it can feel like you’re watching the tea session – rather than “making tea” you are experiencing yourself making tea. Then feelings come, and you really start to “vibe.”

Engage your five senses! Even if nothing seems to be happening, or you’re waiting for the water to heat up, there’s plenty to see, hear, smell, feel. You can touch the teaware, but also tune in to your body and feel what’s going on there. And remember to taste even when there’s no tea in your mouth! Aftertaste is one of the nicest parts of a tea session and can keep you very engaged.

If you’re bored, or the tea seems boring, there’s not much you can do. Try it again sometime with whatever different teaware or water you feel like, and see if it was just a bad session or not your favorite tea. If you don’t like it so much, you can use it for a quick mug in the mornings to wake up.

Err on the side of underthinking. Tea is not a problem to solve.

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