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.