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)
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
TDS (calculated from Electrical Conductivity error and calculated TDS)106 ppm

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.


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!


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.


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


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.


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.


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.


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.



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.


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.


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.


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.


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.


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


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 a winemaking 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!
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!!