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
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.
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.
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.
I’ve been working on making good water for tea for almost two years now. A recent article on TeaDB mentioned puer tea storage as a “wicked problem” where there’s so many variables and not very good or clear feedback. Water for tea has proven to be a similarly wicked problem.
Natural vs. Artificial
What’s the difference between natural spring water and artificial purified mineralized water? Obviously, spring water comes from nature, and purified remineralized water is man-made. But what is the actual difference between these two substances? Does spring water have some magic structure, or is it just a good mineral balance?
What is in water?
There are 11 substances besides water that are in drinking water in various forms.
These are 11 of the variables we can manipulate in the study of water. Where do you even start?
The Challenge of Purity
Getting purified water in a small scale is extremely difficult. My tap water comes from a dirty river, so cleaning it up has been a struggle. Distilled water bought at the store commonly comes in bottles that reek of plastic, are expensive, and pollute the environment. My local supermarket’s Reverse Osmosis machine produces water with a chemical aftertaste, likely from the monthly bleach treatment.
Distillation at home can be done with a distiller, but these are full of metal tubing and leave the water tasting quite strange. Also, distillation doesn’t remove odors in water very well, so distillers come with charcoal packets which don’t quite remove the taste. I purchased a $300 unit and despite the positive amazon reviews, it produced drinkable, but obviously metallic water.
I’ve also distilled in a closed all-glass setup, but the VOCs (volatile organic compounds) are reabsorbed back into the water along with high concentrations of CO2, which makes the water taste not very nice. Basically, you can have water free of minerals, with 0 TDS (Total Dissolved Solids), but full of gross gases and non-conductive chemicals from your water supply. However smartwater gets their water, I would like that too, but it’s probably a piece of equipment worth a ton of money and bigger than my apartment.
I have a home RO (Reverse Osmosis) system, but the high pressure concentrates hydrogen sulfide into the end product, and I get eggy water. Also, the TDS is only divided by 10, so there’s some minerals left. It’s quick though and not metallic, so that’s what I’m working with.
If someone knows how to get pure water at home (or anywhere) without any metallic taste, plastic taste or dissolved grossness, that tastes like absolutely nothing, please comment on this post. It would help my research a lot, and I can share my findings with others.
Probably 10% of people are getting the most out of their tea leaves, water-wise. There is so much that can go wrong with just the mineral balance of water that can ruin your tea. I also believe there are new heights in water quality and mineral content that could beat any spring water. If you disagree, please tell me why this wouldn’t be the case.
P.S. I am aware that this is a problem in coffee that has been partially solved by various companies, i.e. Third Wave Water and gcwater. These could point in the right direction, but tea is not coffee, and there’s reasons these recipes might not be optimal.
Sometimes there are tea sessions that just aren’t good. People don’t talk about them usually because they just aren’t notable or interesting – they are moments of failure. Usually, the explanation for these sessions is “I just wasn’t in the zone.”
During tonight’s ripe session, after a full day of water research (yes, I’m diving deep into water for tea), I was kind of bouncing back and forth between the computer and the tea table, sort of half focused. Suddenly, a song came on: Mind Mischief (The Field Remix) by Tame Impala. I have been listening to both Tame Impala and The Field for years, but didn’t discover this song until I heard it repeatedly on White2Tea’s Instagram and Snapchat stories. When I kept hearing it there, I started to wonder, “yeah, it’s a cool song, but what does Paul see in it that makes him listen again and again?
This is a pattern of thinking that I believe is central to modern tea culture. What do people see in Yang Qing Hao that makes them buy it by the tong? What do people see in old Yixing teapots that make them obsessed? What makes people buy those $130 samples of old Liu Bao from Essence of Tea? And on and on.
I closed my eyes as the song played and suddenly I was lulled into a sense of happy peaceful nostalgia (yes this reads like a bad college admissions essay but it’s the truth) where my old neighborhood flashed before my eyes, the cul-de-sac with its fresh mulch, the happy feelings of freedom so different from what I find most of the time in my young adult life.
When I opened my eyes, I saw everything with startling clarity – I mean to say that colors were more vivid, details were more pronounced. The texture of the modern zhuni teapot contrasted against the plate, the whiteness of the porcelain, the waste bowl, the chabu (tea mat), everything. I suddenly felt like I was capable of greater things, to transcend my everyday life.
When you invest time and or money into tea and or teaware, you are buying opportunity for moments like this. It’s not about always having the best tea session; that can be taken away, but nothing can take away the opportunity for an incredible, eye-opening experience.
In the world of tea, what do we gain with experience?
What’s the difference between an experienced tea drinker and a relative novice? I’m not an expert, but I’m closer to being an expert than I used to be. I’ve also interacted with many people I would consider to be experts, especially in certain areas. Here are a few things people seem to collect along the way.
Tea and teaware
I’ve not met any tea enthusiast who does not have a sizable collection. From people with over 100 teapots to those with entire rooms full of tea, there exist tea-fans so obsessed that they have gone beyond practicality. The more you learn about tea, and the more tea you learn about, the more temptation there is to buy it. Marketing is getting better and better, limited releases are everywhere (white2tea, pu-erh.sk, others), and the selection of teaware is unbelievable. It is very difficult to purposefully reduce the size of your tea/teaware stash over time, and the best way is a sale or swap.
The ability to relax and enjoy
In order to fully enjoy tea, one must drop everything else (aside from possibly a good book or album). I mean to say that worry and tea don’t go well together, especially not worry about tea. I see most (not all) beginners quite concerned about if they are making the tea “right.” Eventually, an expert learns to let the tea make itself. This is done partially through development of personal style and habit, and otherwise learning how to relax and make tea at the same time.
The ability to make good tea
Of the ten thousand ways to make tea, not all are good. Making good tea is about maximizing good qualities and minimizing bad ones. It is an iterative process that comes from many attempts. The more pots one has, the longer it takes to learn their nuances, and the worse the available water is, well, you gotta figure out a solution. The better the water is, the easier it is to make good tea. The point is, people usually get better with experience, or at least develop some character and style in their resulting tea.
Some tea sessions stick out over others for various reasons. With experience, the list of memorable tea sessions lengthens. That time I had HK Henry after a long, stressful day. The outdoor session at the pond in the woods. That six-tea marathon session. The tea masterclass where the puers just got older and older. That time the tea made me tear up (it happens to more people than you think!) That first bitter-turning-to sweet taste of raw puer. And the list goes on.
I’ve met some people online and offline in the tea community. Some of these friendships go beyond tea, but it’s perfectly possible and okay to have deep friendships entirely about tea. There are one-sided relationships too – some people serve as the experts and others as the novices. The best way to put your own tea journey in context is to show others what you are doing and compare with what they do. This is not to say that people with more experience are necessarily correct, but that they may have reasons for what they do that you can think about as you decide what to incorporate in different ways.
Personal opinions / the (dis)respect of others
The tea culture is a generally polite place full of different opinions. Most tea-learning is confirmed by experience, and people don’t easily let go of that which they’ve learned from experience. There are usually reasons for differing opinions but they are not easy to figure out. So, there are commonly long arguments about, for example, tea storage, unglazed vs. glazed clay, vendor choices, whether a tea is good or bad, and water (this one seems especially contentious). This is what makes tea so exciting to an expert, especially one who is willing to change their mind.
Appreciation of non-tea
The more one learns to enjoy tea, the more that enjoyment spills over into non-tea elements. Whether it’s the world of alcoholic beverages, from single malts to wine to beer to eaux-de-vie, or just appreciation of nature, tea is about exploring the richness of the world to the fullest extent. Eventually, one learns to enjoy simply living and breathing.
Patience and its rewards
Patience is a virtue, and tea requires patience. Waiting for the water to boil takes patience. Waiting for the hot tea to cool a bit takes patience. Waiting for those loooong steeps at the end of a session takes patience. And all that patience is rewarded with a slow, steady adventure. It’s quite uncomfortable to wait so long doing nothing when you are a tea novice, but eventually it becomes clear that doing nothing is the gateway to a clear experience of reality, or something like that.
Learning from mistakes / Beginner’s mind
It’s easy to mess up a session, or brew a tea for a significant other that evokes the reaction of disgust, or spill tea all over your pants. It’s also incredibly common to have your most expensive tea with your favorite teaware and be completely let down by the result. This is learning, and why the best approach to tea is not as an expert, but as a beginner, open to whatever may happen in the current circumstance. The tea experts I respect the most don’t have any pretentious attitude, but simply know how to enjoy and share tea in their own way, and especially are good at listening to experts and beginners alike.
P.S. I’m doing a lot of hard, time-consuming, mildly expensive work with water, and plan to share it with the world around March 2020. Sorry for the wait, but distilling water takes many hours, and my glass lab equipment is in customs. Thanks for reading!
1) Bubbles on the surface of your tea are a good sign
Sometimes, when pouring tea from a pitcher into a cup, I notice a group of bubbles collecting on the surface. Sometimes, they pop or slowly move to the side of the cup, but occasionally they stay in the middle. Mgualt calls this the “jello effect” and it has to do with the saponins in the tea coupling with the right mineral balance in the water. Usually a cup of tea with jello effect will be thick and have good vitality. I have also had this happen with just water rinsing out the empty cup and pitcher, but this could be residual saponins on the teaware.
2) Excess bicarbonate in water leads to softer texture, but less flavor
I’ve taken a small hiatus from adding salts and other substances to my water (besides charcoal), but when I was adding baking soda (sodium bicarbonate) I noticed this trend. High bicarbonates = softer tasting water. FIJI water is known to be soft and it contains 153 mg/L bicarbonate, which is very high. Seeing that target total mineral content in my opinion is 40-100 mg/L, just the bicarbonate level in FIJI exceeds that. This is why I don’t use FIJI for tea, you can’t really taste the tea. Why this is, someone please let me know the chemistry.
3) The difference between 60% and 65% puer storage humidity is very significant
At 60, my puer becomes pretty sour and flat; at 65%, it’s sweet and active. That’s about it, it’s an obvious difference from smelling the cakes. I still happily drink puer stored at 55%, but if I had more humid storage space freed up I would place the tea in that.
4) A standard 6 gram tea session is a lot of caffeine and takes a lot of time
After my week without tea, suddenly I couldn’t get through a full session without my heart racing. For me, a session is 6 or 7 grams/100 ml, but I know others easily get through 10 grams/150ml in a sitting. This isn’t crazy, but it is enough to push your tolerance so that you may need tea to function, which isn’t what I prefer. A 100 ml session is significant, and maybe a half-size session daily will keep the caffeine addiction to a minimum, and make the larger sessions that much more special. Also, a gongfu session takes me around an hour and a half, mostly spent letting the tea cool and heating water. This is a significant amount of time and isn’t advisable to do daily unless you wake up reasonably early.
5) Slightly alkaline water is better than slightly acidic water
This is just a general trend, around 7.8 pH is nice and strong, while 6 pH like Voss is tart and thin. I don’t understand water pH, but that’s just something I noticed.
Thanks for reading and feel free to discuss with your tea friends.
If you’re getting tired in the evenings, consider how much tea you drink. I just did one week with no caffeine, when usually I would have around 9 grams of tea per day. Now, with only two grams of gyokuro I can reach my caffeine limit, where I have a sufficient buzz and my heart tells me “no more, that’s enough.” I noticed that now when I have my sessions, since I am more sensitive I am enjoying the sessions so much more. When tea is not necessary in an addictive sense, it is much more of a joy.
Today I had YS 8891 red label in a YS Hei Jin Gang clay yixing. I used to think the pot was terrible (too porous, no flavor) but actually it makes the tea so soft, the notes that are left over are very enjoyable and on average the tea is thicker than in porcelain. Speaking of porcelain, look forward to a post on comparing different porcelain cups.
Since I am so sensitive, I just ordered a 45ml (tiny) yixing so I can enjoy a strong, yet tiny session with only 2.5g of sheng. I have a 50 ml shibo from stefan andersson but it burns a bit when holding it and I’m beginning to see the deep benefits of yixing.
I have yixing pots and european clay pots and it will be interesting to note the similarities and differences. Overall, to refresh your tea experience, go a week without it. It’s the best thing you can do.
I’ve said I would get a full cake of this once I’ve accomplished a major life goal. I haven’t yet, but it never stops motivating me. This tea proves that cakes with Zhongcha wrappers come in all different varieties. I’ve had another yellow mark private order (from teas we like) that’s completely different in material and storage. The white2tea little yellow mark is an all-around powerhouse. It’s got honey sweetness, deep fresh woodiness, and everything in between. High notes, low notes, it’s just deeply satisfying. It’s one of those teas you have to stop and appreciate for it’s yun and its balance. I would consider it the standard by which I compare aged raw puer.
In regards to tea, I go by this maxim: the deeper, the better. Mi Lan Xiang means Honey Orchid aroma/flavor, but they do not all come the same. Many Mi Lan Xiangs give you just honey and orchid flavor with nothing else special about it. But this one had a deep almond note in there as well as rich wood incense tones that made it obviously next-level.
I had two sessions with it, including one at walden pond. During that one, a little girl yelled, “look mommy, he’s having a tea party!” It made me pretty happy. I could think of few more magical places to drink tea. Circumstances aside, this tea has a lot of depth and yun.
My first gyokuro from O-cha, and so far the best. I’ve also had the suigyoku, the yame and the shirakawa, but they’re not nearly as good. I purchased it in August 2017 and finished it rather quickly.
What makes it stand out is its long-lasting electric sweetness; a sweetness that you can’t get to the bottom of. Some teas are nice and sweet for a bit, but the length of the sweetness here was notable. This taste balanced out the overwhelming umami so that they played off each other.
Tsurujirushi is so intense that whenever I shared it with a friend, they became stunned silent, almost confused. While drinking this tea, it’s impossible to have any other thoughts; it overloads the palate in a very arresting way.
Compared to other gyokuros, the yame is too one-dimensional umami and a bit astringent, the suigyoku was not vibrant enough for me, and the shirakawa was nice but more mellow.
This tea is so powerful it once made me feel like I was on a whole other existence. I consider all pu-erh.sk productions to have some sweetness, so it’s not like this is just a bitter bomb. The aftertaste is usually around ten minutes long. Lao man’e is not always that easy to find. This having the characteristics of older trees makes it interesting to have a tea that is extremely bitter, but not harsh. Anyone could get some young factory tea to be bitter but this is a different world. It’s got textured bitterness that evolves over time and one of my favorite intense qi profiles.
This was kind of a life-changing tea for me. It was the first nice raw I ever tried, and a good choice for that. It’s a really sweet tea with a bitter backbone, which provides for an awesome depth. It’s nice having your first qi experience along with that taste, very fun and happy. A couple years later, it still delivers pure joy.
In food science, there’s a term called the bliss point which usually refers to how much added sugar is the perfect amount to maximize pleasure. In this blend, the honey-pollen sweetness is just perfect, while you can still taste the woodiness, high florals and deeper richness. I’m on my third cake now, my first two purchased in early 2018 and the new one bought just recently in mid 2019. You can taste some aging on the new cake, where it’s a little deeper and less bright. It’s exciting to taste the transformation, but the peak time for this tea is six months to a year after pressing, and then probably many years later, depending on the storage. I would buy the 2018 to get an idea of that, or the 2017 if you want the original.
Hello from Tennessee! I’ve had a couple hundred teas or so in my life, so I thought it would be cool to reflect on which ones I enjoy(ed) the most. Comment with your top ten if you want. Doing this exercise taught me a lot about my personal taste, so it could be revealing to you also. All these teas are highly recommended!
The cheapest tea on the list. Cheap, but with a deep flavor that you only get after 7 years of Guangdong dry storage, no more, no less. The Dayi house taste is good, and it’s here. The range of flavors in the blend is very wide, and the amount of flavor (and caffeine) is wonderful. As long as I would not steep it for more than a second, the tea was not harsh. The smoke was well integrated, and I think this is a product of the storage. It makes me just as happy to drink as any expensive cake out there. Frequently, tea can surprise you.
It’s a sencha that tastes like high mountain oolong. Significant throaty bitterness, spicy note, really deep qi, tea drunk feeling. Umami is absent here because there is no nitrogen fertilizer used. Goes nine steepings easily. Thanks to pedant for recommending this, it really made me realize that tea can absolutely surprise you. It’s not a novelty-only tea, as the dry potency of the tea is satisfying.
It’s unusual to find quite aggressively stored tea that still has power to it, but this tea has small traces of white mold and a dark liquor, and I can get it whenever. Supposedly from Kunming Factory (now closed), serious qi experience with very intense thickness and a sort of coffee throatiness occasionally. Very relaxing and energizing, it’s quite therapeutic to drink. Living tea is offering something here that is actually tough to get; quite decent quality leaves that are well-aged for an affordable price.
Now sold out, this brick has a very soft taste. It’s a really powerful tea that you have to be careful with. This tea is a favorite because it revealed how subtlety and power are not mutually exclusive. The malaysia storage isn’t really that wet, quite dry actually. If I didn’t know it was da xue shan, I would assume it was a Yiwu because of the sweetness. It’s subtle but it hits all areas of the mouth and has a full profile with some savoriness. Tastes much fancier than its price.
A lot of people make a separation between those who “nerd out” about tea and those who are spiritually connected to the tea. The zen people say “don’t think about the taste of the tea just make it and drink it” and the tea nerds say “don’t worry about stories about zen monks and health benefits just make it and drink it.” The “just make it and drink it” is common to both approaches, of course.
For a very long time, I have been just making and drinking my tea, with a sort of soft focus and presence: I pay attention and relax. But recently, I have been consciously analyzing my tea as I drink it, like some kind of sommelier searching for flavor notes. Now why would I do such a thing?
The level of focus required in order to determine what kinds of flavors are present in the tea is surprisingly deep. The fact that taste is subjective doesn’t change the fact that the tastes are there waiting to be uncovered. Perhaps they don’t need to be labeled, especially because I can’t tell my longans from my gardenias, but at least you can group your raw tea-drinking sensation into different dimensions of flavor. For example, low notes vs high notes: you can think “this taste, although I haven’t a clue what it resembles, is low.” Also, does it last a long time? When does it arrive, and when does it leave? Do the successions of notes have a rhythm?
Yun is a term that, according to chinese tea lexicon Babelcarp, means “literally Rhyme, but in a tea context, Aftertaste, or more generally, the elusive essence of experiencing a given tea.” It’s used as Yan Yun when it refers to a Wuyi rock oolong’s “rocky” taste/aftertaste. Now why would it be called rhyme?
My personal view on Yun is that it occurs when the succession of flavors has a rhythm. In poetry, a rhyme only happens with a rhyme scheme, which is essentially rhythmic:
I drank my tea alone today
It seemed to me sublime
For when I focused deep within,
I found a splendid rhyme.
The rhyming words go in a specific place rhythmically: if they were anywhere else in the poem, it would feel different, and probably not rhyme at all.
I sipped a tea with a friend
She hated it because
It didn’t have a rhyme at all,
It wasn’t a very good time.
See, that’s awkward and bad. So, when a tea has Yun, or rhyme, it is because the interplay of flavors over time is rhythmically structured. By focusing and bringing these flavors to consciousness in real time, you can experience the essence of the tea as if it were a poem and a song. This strikes a perfect balance between the meditative and the enthusiast approaches to tea, which usually oppose each other. I used to look for qi more than yun, but perhaps they are two sides of the same thing!