Adventures in Water

This post is OUTDATED, but I’m leaving it here for history’s sake! This was very early in my work and play with water. 

Around a year ago, I read in the book “The Ancient Art of Tea” that water can be seen as the limiting factor of tea. To paraphrase, if the tea leaves are 10/10 quality, and the water is 8/10, then the resulting tea will be 8/10. It’s well known that water affects the quality of the tea. In fact, MarshalN said that water is more important than tea leaves in terms of potential to improve the quality of tea for your money, although I can’t find that specific post right now for some reason. Here’s some more evidence from the blogosphere that water matters: (Scroll down a bit to the part about distilled water)

I started drinking tea with friends right when I started thinking about water as it relates to tea. It quickly became apparent that because of my water, my tea sessions at home did not meet expectations. Flavor was muted, body was thin, and instead of enjoying the tea with friends, we felt really unsatisfied and ended up experimenting with water instead. It took many attempts before I figured out a water “solution” that works for me.

First, I tried the babelcarp water app. It tells me how much epsom salt and gypsum to add to my filtered tap water to approximate a mineral water. I added enough to approximate volvic because I had decent results with that brand in the past. It sort of worked, but not really. I could try that again, but the problem is that epsom salt and gypsum are both sulfates. They don’t contain any carbonates, which would help make calcium carbonate, which thickens the body of the tea. So, I found that to be a good step, but not completely what I was looking for. I also tried using sticks of bamboo charcoal in my kettle, but that made the tea lose its vitality entirely. I think it was overpurifying the water and removing dissolved gases.

Then, I tried making water based on this brewing water calculator meant for mineralizing water for beer. The resulting concoction was much too thick for tea, and left a sort of slimy feeling on the teeth, but it was making my tea ultra thick, which was a step in the right direction. Without thickness, tea (puerh in particular) isn’t very fun, and you’re not extracting the full flavor.

I started trying every conceivable brand of bottled water that I could get my hands on. Iceland spring, Volvic, Crystal Geyser, the local supermarket brand, and then finally Nestle Purelife. Some waters were thick, some left a layer of scale on the surface of the tea, some were harsh, and some were quite refreshing. Volvic was thick but muted in taste, while Iceland Spring was refreshing but harsh. Shunan Teng, who runs Tea Drunk in New York City, told me that Nestle Purelife is the only bottled water she likes for tea. So I was using that for a while, with decent results. I realized that I could actually reverse-engineer Nestle Purelife to make my own. I bought calcium chloride, epsom salt, and baking soda, and added it to my filtered tap water with my estimations of how much is in Purelife based on reports on their website. And then, suddenly, my tea came alive.

My tea became thick and full, miles better than the pure filtered tap water without minerals added. It was even coming out a bit better than Purelife. I tried white2tea’s carbolic soap oolong with it, and it was phenomenal. Tried again without the minerals, it tasted weak and underwhelming. These minerals were helping me get what I needed out of $1/gram tea. The water was no longer limiting the tea, in other words.

I have been tweaking my recipe ever since. I have found that potassium bicarbonate and potassium chloride tend to make the tea ultra ultra harsh even in very small quantities. I stick with epsom salt, calcium chloride, and baking soda, because they react to produce calcium carbonate (chalk) to enhance body, and the dissolved magnesium enhances the flavor.

One thing that helped my tea immensely was switching water filter pitcher brands. I had been using Brita and Nakii pitchers, but once I ran out of those filters, I decided to try the Waterdrop. I am in love with this pitcher. Sometimes, I make tea just with the filtered water from this pitcher, and it’s really decent. I decide to use the mineralized water when I just want that extra juice from my tea. This is with Brooklyn tap water, so your milage may vary.

My current recipe is, for every gallon of filtered tap water (you could also try distilled water, but I haven’t done this), add 75 mg baking soda, 75 mg calcium chloride, and 75 mg epsom salt. (UPDATE: My current recipe is 100 mg baking soda, 75 mg calcium chloride, and 50 mg epsom salt.) This results in a water that is still refreshing, with enhanced thickness, taste and throatiness. Hopefully you can try this, let me know if it works for you, and maybe it will save you from the headaches I have had on the way to figuring this out. Water is very very complicated; there are whole books on water and there are even water sommeliers. With water, it’s much deeper than it seems on the surface.

Making some water on the floor.

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